Shannon Frost Greenstein

An Open Letter to Stephen King after Reading the Dark Tower Series Turned Me on to Heroin

To start, let me commend you, Mr. King, for penning the best opening sentence that exists in the whole of the literary canon:

“The Man in Black fled across the Desert, and the Gunslinger followed.”

Like, wow.  Holy shit. Fuck me.  That is a HELL of a way to start an epic, and given that you were only nineteen years old when you started the Dark Tower series, that is a MAJOR accomplishment.

So, please don’t think I’m not a fan.  I AM a fan, and a manic one at that, because I’ve read everything you’ve written.  I’ve read everything you’ve written, I’ve read everything written about you, and I know that you went on a cocaine binge and wrote The Tommyknockers in 72 hours, so I really think we’d be friends in another life were we to come in contact.

I’m a fan, but I also have a bit of a complaint. And I’m really bad at conflict, Mr. King, so please forgive me if I handle this badly.  But I read the Dark Tower, and it turned me on to heroin, and I’m just not quite sure how to process that connection.

Now, hold on a minute!  I’m not passing blame!  If anything, this is a COMPLIMENT. Your writing…your words, the beauty of vocabulary twisted and braided like sinuous threads into a story that moves mountains…had the power to find me at two in the morning in the open-air drug market of Wilmington, searching for heroin and lamenting my life choices, all because I read the Dark Tower and it turned me on to hard drugs. Congratulations, Mr. King! 

Ok.  I see I’m offending here.  Let me break it down. 

It was the second book, it was The Drawing of the Three, that did it, that turned me on to heroin.  And you know why?  You know why, Mr. King?  It was because you’re SO DAMN GOOD at setting a mood and establishing the tone that it was enough to transport me to another self, another me on another level of the tower, one universe in an infinite array of quantum universes, a universe where I was decidedly NOT a straight-A student who swore on the grave of Nancy Reagan to “Just Say No”, a universe where drugs were exotic and venerated and took away the pain of abuse and mental illness that hung around my neck like a yoke.

It was the second book in the series, it was The Drawing of the Three, and it doesn’t take a detective to figure out why the Dark Tower turned me on to heroin, because, Mr. King, you describe, in great detail, a character smuggling heroin into New York while simultaneously abusing it himself.  GREAT. DETAIL.  

Mr. King, you do a wonderful job here.  You really convey the struggle he faces, the yearning for absolution, the intricacies of addiction.  You get into some pretty minute details, and they not only enhance the environment you’ve painstakingly built, they also helped a young girl discovering intravenous drugs for the first time learn about the vein in the groin where you can inject drugs and no one will find the needle mark. Thanks, Mr. King!

Mr. King, the Dark Tower changed me.  It’s one of those epics wherein you are not the same person you were before; it changed my chemicals and my paradigm and my ability to reason, think, love, consider, and loathe.  It inspired me, and, though not in a good way, opened my eyes to aspects of existence I had never before considered.  I mean, hey…I got a gun pulled on me behind a fence in Delaware, pressing against my ribs through my sweatshirt, the hand holding it steady and intimidating, waiting for the money its owner demanded as I rushed to comply while wondering vaguely how life had gotten me to this point.  You know what, Mr. King?  It was you!  It was you, the author of the Dark Tower, the writer who wrote about heroin so well that I was compelled to join in on the fun.

Even now, pushing forty, far removed from quantum state wherein I clutched the plunger of a needle and blood coursed and euphoria blossomed and I felt, finally, for once, at peace, I am impressed by what you’ve accomplished, Mr. King.  I’m still a Dark Tower fan.  I still read through your epic compulsively, even The Drawing of the Three, because you can’t forget who you are. And I remember well, as much as I’d like to pretend I don’t, because you also can’t run from what you’ve done.

So, in conclusion, Mr. King, I’mma make this a compliment sandwich.  YOU know…something good, followed by something that needs work, followed by something good.  And we’re already most of the way there.   

Compliment:  Opening sentence awesome.

Needs work:  Please don’t make people want to do drugs.

And, Finally, a Compliment:  Congratulations on your years of sobriety.  It may not feel like it, but they make you a better writer.  And I’ll be lucky to follow that path.


Shannon Frost Greenstein, Burgeoning Writer, Dark Tower Fanatic, and 15 Years Removed from Hard Drugs

Shannon Frost Greenstein resides in Philadelphia with her family and spoiled cats. She is a former Ph.D. candidate in Continental Philosophy, meaning she is no fun at parties and has a lot of debt. Shannon harbors an unhealthy interest in Hamilton, Nietzsche, Game of Thrones, and Mount Everest. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee with work that has appeared in McSweeney'sInternet TendencyScary Mommy, WHYY...actually, you know what, just Google her.