- This page is about Stephen Edwin King, the writer. See also Stephen King (disambiguation).
Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is a prolific American author best known for his horror novels. King's books have been extremely popular, and are among the top-selling books ever, fiction or non-fiction.
King's stories often involve an unremarkable character—middle-class families, children, and often writers—being submerged into increasingly horrifying circumstances. He also produces more typical literary work, including the novellas The Body and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (later adapted as the movies Stand by Me and The Shawshank Redemption, respectively), as well as The Green Mile. King evinces a thorough knowledge of the horror genre, as shown in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, which chronicles several decades of notable works in both literature and cinema.
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine to Donald and Ruth Pillsbury King. When Stephen was very young, his father (born David Spansky) deserted his family and Ruth raised Stephen and his brother David by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. The family moved to Ruth's home town of Durham, Maine but also spent brief periods in Fort Wayne, Indiana and Stratford, Connecticut. King attended Durham Elementary grammar school and then nearby Lisbon High School .
Stephen King has been writing since an early age. When in school, he wrote stories plagiarized from what he'd been reading at the time, and sold them to his friends. This was not popular among his teachers, and he was forced to return his profits when this was discovered.
The stories were copied using a mimeo machine that his brother David used to copy his magazine called "Dave's Rag" that he published himself. "Dave's Rag" was about local events, and Stephen would often contribute. At around the age of thirteen, Stephen discovered a box of his father's old books at his aunt's house, mainly horror and science fiction. He was immediately hooked on the genre.
From 1966 to 1970, King studied English at the University of Maine. There, King wrote a column in the school magazine called "King's Garbage Truck". At the university he also met Tabitha Spruce whom he married in 1971. King took on odd jobs to pay for his studies. One of them was at an industrial laundry, from which he drew material for the short story "The Mangler". This period in his life is readily evident in the second part of Hearts in Atlantis.
After finishing his university studies with a Bachelor of Science in English and obtaining a certificate to teach high school, King took a job as an English teacher at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. During this time he and his family lived in a trailer. Making ends meet was sometimes difficult, and the money that came from short stories, published mainly in men's magazines, was very useful. King also developed a drinking problem which stayed with him for over a decade.
During this period, King began a number of novels. One of them told the story of a young girl with psychic powers. Frustrated with it, he threw it into the trash. Later, he discovered that Tabitha had rescued it; she encouraged him to finish it as Carrie. He sent it to a friend at Doubleday and more or less forgot about it. Some time later, he received an offer to buy it with a $2,500 advance (not a large advance for a novel, even at that time). Years later, the value of Carrie was realized with the paperback rights being sold for $400,000. Shortly after King started receiving money from the sale his mother died of uterine cancer in February 1974.
In On Writing, King admits that at this time he was consistently drunk and that he was an alcoholic for well over a decade. He states that he'd based the alcoholic father in The Shining on himself, though he didn't admit it for several years.
Shortly after the publication of The Tommyknockers, King's family and friends finally intervened, dumping his trash on the rug in front of him to show him the evidence of his own addictions: beer cans, cigarette butts, grams of cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil. He sought help, and quit drinking in the late 1980s.
King fans will note that the relative wealth of King's characters has risen through the decades, but not as precipitously as King's wealth itself: his earliest works (Carrie, The Shining, as well as much of the work in Night Shift) dealt with working-class families struggling from paycheck to paycheck in minimum-wage jobs; his late-80s work involved middle-class people like teachers and authors; his late 90s work, airplane pilots and others who can frequently afford a second home. All throughout, his work has remained immensely popular.
In the summer of 1999, King was in the middle of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft; he'd finished the memoir section and had abandoned the book for nearly eighteen months, unsure of how to proceed or whether to bother. King reports that it was the first book that he'd abandoned since writing The Stand decades earlier. He had just decided to continue the book. On June 17, he had written up a list of questions that he was frequently asked about writing, as well as some that he wished he would be asked about it; on June 18, he had written four pages of the section on writing. On June 19, he was taking a walk after driving his son to the airport, intending to return home to go see The General's Daughter with his family. As he walked up a hill, a Dodge van crested the top on the shoulder of the road and hit him, throwing him about 14 feet (4.2 m) in the air. Bryan Smith was the driver of the van. King barely missed the driver's side support post in the van and also barely missed a spread of rocks on the ground near where he landed, either of which would likely have killed him or put him in a permanent coma. Unable to get up, King was rushed to a local hospital, which reported that they could not treat him. He was then flown to another hospital; in the helicopter he suffered a collapsed lung. In addition to the collapsed lung, King suffered a leg broken in at least nine places, a split knee , a broken right hip, four broken ribs , and a spine chipped in eight places. Coincidentally, that same year King had written most of From a Buick 8, in which one of the characters dies in an automobile accident, but King says that he "tried not to make too much of it."
King was released from the hospital after three weeks, then went through half a dozen surgeries on his leg and the accompanying physical therapy. In July 1999, he continued On Writing, though his hip was still shattered and he could sit for barely forty minutes at a stretch before the pain became intolerable. Over time his condition improved. It was reported that Mr. King forgave the driver and actually purchased the van in question for $1,500. As mentioned in the author's note of a recent novel, among other places, he expressed a wish to have the car dismantled, which would bring him "great satisfaction".
King has appeared in his Dark Tower series. King incorporated his accident into the final novel, in which the hero Roland Deschain and his friends tried to stop King from being fatally injured by the van.
In King's nonfiction book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King discusses his writing style at great length and depth. King believes that good stories cannot be called consciously and should not be plotted out beforehand but are better served by focusing on a single "seed" of a story and letting the story build itself from there. King often begins a story with no idea how the story will end. He mentions in the Dark Tower series that half way through its lengthy writing period, nearly 30 years, King was approached by a woman with cancer who asked how the book would end as she would unlikely live long enough to hear it. He stated that he didn't know. King believes strongly in this style, stating that all of his better books came from freewriting.
He is known for his great detail to continuity and inside references; many stories that may seem unrelated are often linked by secondary characters, fictional towns, or off-hand references to events in previous books. Taken as a whole, King's work (which he claims is centered around his "Dark Tower" magnum opus) creates a remarkable history that stretches from present day all the way back to the beginning of time (which includes a considerably unique creation myth).
King is also known for his folksy, informal narration, often referring to his fans as "Constant Readers" or "friends and neighbors." He uses this style to contrast with the often gory or scary content of many of his stories.
King has a very simple formula for learning to write well: Read four hours a day and write four hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, he says, you cannot expect to become a good writer.
King also has a simple definition for talent in writing: "If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn't bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented" (from "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully - in Ten Minutes").
Shortly after his accident, King wrote the first draft of the book "Dreamcatcher" with a notebook and a Waterman fountain pen, "the worlds finest word processor".
King's recent years
In 1994, King won an O. Henry Award for his short story, "The Man in the Black Suit", and in 2003 King was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Awards.
Stephen King has also written six books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. King staged a mock funeral for Bachman after the pseudonym was made public, which in turn inspired the book The Dark Half, in which a novelist stages the burial of his horror author pseudonym after having a "serious" novel published, only to find that his alter ego does not want to leave quite so easily.
Stephen King has also written at least one short story under the name John Swithen .
King plays guitar in the band Rock Bottom Remainders, whose members include: Dave Barry; Ridley Pearson; Scott Turow; Amy Tan; James McBride; Mitch Albom; Roy Blount Jr.; Matt Groening; Kathi Kamen Goldmark ; and Greg Iles.
King is also a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox, and is frequently found at both home and away baseball games. He recently co-wrote a book with Stewart O'Nan chronicling their reaction to the Red Sox' win in the 2004 American League Championship Series and World Series. The book is named Faithful.
Stephen King lives in the Bangor, Maine area with his wife Tabitha King, who is also a novelist. He spends winter seasons in an oceanfront mansion located off the Gulf of Mexico in Nokomis, Florida. Their three children, Naomi Rachel, Joe Hill (who appeared in the film Creepshow), and Owen Phillip, are now grown and living on their own.
Naomi recently (2000) shared a "ceremony of union" with her partner and theology professor, Thandeka, at a Unitarian Universalist Assembly in Tennessee.
Films and TV
King optioned his films to student filmmakers for one dollar; yet, disgusted with the treatment most of his work had gotten in film, in 1986 he decided to direct Maximum Overdrive himself, using a screenplay he had written based on his short story "Trucks." The experience seems to have sated his desire to direct.
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04