A Master’s Degree, Stephen King, and the Future of Beej’s Independent Scholarship

Last weekend, my university held commencement, and I was awarded my Master’s degree in English.  For the first time in my life, I am finished with school for the foreseeable future.  I am sure that I will eventually go back and get my Ph.D. (I am planning on teaching college as a career, after all), but I expect to take a couple of years, at least, off to get my life heading in the direction I want.  So now, I have no classes to keep my writing focused on anything specific, and I have time to read and do research on things I truly care about.  For a while, I had no idea what that really was.  I always had inklings of where I wanted my focus to be when I finally finished school, but never anything concrete.  I was flipping between contemporary lit, film, television, and pretty much anything else that I thought warranted more scholarly attention than it was currently being given.

Then I went to the national Pop Culture Association (PCA) academic conference in New Orleans.  My back-and-forth shenanigans on a concentration were pretty much settled by the time the conference ended.  I cannot think of a time when I have been happier academically than when I was going to panels on Stephen King.  I am not one of those people who has always been a fan of King; I only came to read him during my final year of college, but now, I am a full-blown Constant Reader.  Sitting in those PCA panels and listening to papers written by people with more degrees, more experience, and more sustained credentials than I have got me to thinking: “If this makes me so happy, then why don’t I do this?” 

And it was pretty much decided.  I had started a Master’s thesis on Stephen King’s “The Dark Tower” series, but it was nixed when I got a good way into my first draft, so I already have a little experience (not a lot) in dealing with King and the limited criticism available on most of his work.  I think that for an author who sells as many books and plays such an important role on American pop culture as he does, Stephen King’s work is missing from an awful lot of scholastic arenas.  I don’t know if I will change that, but I will certainly contribute my share to the cause.  King is one of the most prolific (though occasionally hit-and-miss with quality—see “From a Buick 8” and “Gerald’s Game”) authors writing today, with well over fifty (50!) published books since his first short story was published in 1968. 

There is the group of people who argues that Stephen King writes garbage, writes fluff, because he writes so much.  I am the exact opposite; I think it is because he writes so much that there has to be something intrinsically important in at least some of his work.  Sure, like everyone, King is only human and writes the occasional fluff piece, but then there are works like “The Stand” and “The Dark Tower” which transcend popular literature and delve into those places in the human psyche most people, most writers, most artists, are afraid to go.  Or cannot go.

I just finished “Duma Key,” and I am working my way through “Just After Sunset” as I write this.  Even in his two most newly published works, I see traces of what most critics consider nonexistent: the proof Stephen King is a literary author.  I hope that the next few weeks give me the time to write a few ideas down about just how literary some of King’s new novels/stories really are, specifically in comparison to his older works. 

I hope that next time I attend PCA, I will be able to sit on a panel beside Patrick, Mary, and Carl and feel as though I am not outclassed, but among peers.  I am already working on a PCA paper for next year, or rather, working the idea through my head as I tighten my thesis for an abstract.  Surprisingly, I am having some sort of creative explosion where almost everything I read and think about is giving me an idea for a paper, and that’s a good thing.  Maybe it is the stifling I have generally felt in the canonical classroom finally being lifted; maybe it is that I am finally free of graded obligation and can research my own ideas without fear of numerical assessment.  I don’t know.  All I know right now is that I am happy where I am scholastically, and I hope that I can maintain a regiment of reading and writing about what matters to me.  And along the way, if I happen to change someone’s mind or get someone to think about Stephen King (or any other “fluff/hack” writer) in a slightly different light, I will have accomplished my goal.

Now this is not to say that I plan on devoting my entire volume of future scholarship to Stephen King, far from it.  I simply want to place a focus there and try to work myself into a niche that I feel needs more adequate scholarship (specifically with “The Dark Tower”).  Doing all of one’s work on a single author, no matter how prolific and varied his body of work is, would no doubt be draining and academically limiting, so my plan for independent scholarship also involves film and television, specifically ABC’s “LOST” and Fox’s “Dollhouse” and “Fringe” (or as wide as Joss Whedon and/or J.J. Abrams studies).  Unfortunately, even narrowing down my interest to those few series/authors, I know there is only a finite amount of actual scholarship I can do on each while actually becoming (hopefully and eventually) an expert on something.

So that’s where this blog comes in.  See, I knew I’d get around to a point eventually.  I intend to write a bit more for good ole Professor Beej in the vein of scholarship that I simply do not have time to work into publishable papers or presentations.  It might be a random thought on an episode of “LOST” or “Fringe,” or it might be an in-depth analysis of a short story out of a book I am finishing or a thought about a class I am teaching.  Who knows?  It took me a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with this blog because my initial posts lacked, as Jennifer put it, that quirkiness that made them “me.”  They were too lifeless and too SEO (since I also posted them in AssociatedContent.com).  But now I think I’ve found what I want to do with it.  I do not want this blog to get into the casual “OMG LOST WAS SOOOO GOOD LAST NIGHT AND KATE WAS JUST SO HOT!!11!!!1!” fansite/forum garbage, but actual analysis and thought.  So we’ll see how it goes.  Maybe I’ll finally be able to consider myself a writer and get my name out there more than it is right now.  We’ll see.  

By B.J. Keeton

B.J. KEETON is a writer, teacher, and runner. When he isn't trying to think of a way to trick Fox into putting Firefly back on the air, he is either writing science fiction, watching an obscene amount of genre television, or looking for new ways to integrate fitness into his geektastic lifestyle. He is also the author of BIRTHRIGHT and co-author of NIMBUS. Both books are available for Amazon Kindle.


  1. My first interaction with King was on a field trip in the 8th grade. Before we left for home, we stopped in the gift shop where you could buy any sorts of odd and ends…I was attracted to the book section. During the bus ride home, I became enthralled in “The Long Walk” and my love affair with King has only grown. I love that you’re using him and his writings in such a scholarly way.

  2. “The Long Walk” is one of my favorites. I was really curious when I was told the premise whether or not it would hold my attention for a whole novel, but I was hooked from the get-go.

  3. My favorite is definitely “Misery” , then the movie was great as well.

    Stephen is just the best, Dean Koonz come close though !

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