Stephen King

by OMB Staff on July 18, 2008

Stephen King Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947 to Donald Edwin and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. When King was two years old, his father deserted the family when going to get a pack of cigarettes, leaving his mother to raise King and his adopted older brother David by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. The family moved to West De Pere, Wisconsin, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Stratford, Connecticut. When King was eleven, they returned to Durham, Maine where Ruth King cared for her parents until their death. She then became a caterer in a local residential facility for the mentally challenged.

As a child, King apparently witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. His family told him that after leaving home to play with the boy, King returned, speechless and seemingly in shock. Only later did the family learn of the friend’s death. Some commentators have suggested that this event may have psychologically inspired King’s dark, disturbing creations, but King himself has dismissed the idea.

King’s primary inspiration for writing horror fiction was related in detail in his 1981 non-fiction “Danse Macabre” in a chapter titled “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause” . King makes a comparison of his grandfather successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of an H.P. Lovecraft collection of short stories that had belonged to his father. The cover art—an illustration of a monster hiding within the recesses of a hell-like cavern beneath a tombstone–was, he writes,

    “the moment of my life when the dowsing rod suddenly went down hard . . . as far as I was concerned, I was on my way.”

Education and early creativity
King attended Durham Elementary School. He displayed an early interest in horror as an avid reader of EC’s horror comics, including Tales from the Crypt (he later paid tribute to the comics in his screenplay for Creepshow). He began writing for fun while still in school, contributing articles to Dave’s Rag, the newspaper that his brother published with a mimeograph machine, and later began selling stories to his friends which were based on movies he had seen (though when discovered by his teachers, he was forced to return the profits).

From 1966 King studied English at the University of Maine, where he graduated in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He wrote a weekly column for the student newspaper, the Maine Campus, titled “King’s Garbage Truck”, took part in a writing workshop organized by Burton Hatlen,[1] and took odd jobs to pay for his studies, including one at an industrial laundry. He sold his first short story, “The Glass Floor,” to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967 while attending UMaine.  The Fogler Library at UMaine now holds King’s papers.

After leaving the university King gained a certificate to teach high school but, being unable to find a teaching post immediately, initially supplemented his laboring wage by selling short stories to men’s magazines such as Playboy. In 1971, King married Tabitha Spruce, a fellow student at UMaine, whom he had met at the Fogler Library. That fall King was hired as a teacher at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. He continued to contribute short stories to magazines and worked on ideas for novels. It was during this time that King developed a drinking problem, which stayed with him for more than a decade.

Success with Carrie
On Mother’s Day, 1973, King’s novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King has written how he became so discouraged when trying to develop the idea of a girl with psychic powers into a novel that he threw an early draft in the trash, but his wife, Tabitha, rescued it and encouraged him to finish it. He received a $2,500 advance (not large for a novel, even at that time) but the paperback rights eventually earned $400,000, with half going to the publisher. King and his family relocated to Southern Maine because of his mother’s failing health. At this time he began writing a book titled Second Coming, later titled Jerusalem’s Lot, before finally changing the title to ‘Salem’s Lot (published 1975). Soon after the release of Carrie in 1974, his mother died of uterine cancer. His Aunt Emrine read the novel to her before she died. King has written of his severe drinking problem at this time, stating that he was drunk while delivering the eulogy at his mother’s funeral.

Despite the loss of his mother and his dependency problems, this was an exciting time for King. After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining (published 1977). The family returned to Western Maine in 1975, where King completed his fourth novel, The Stand (published 1978). In 1977 the family traveled briefly to England, returning to Maine that fall where King began teaching creative writing at the University of Maine. King has kept his primary residence in Maine ever since.

Richard Bachman

In the late 1970s-early 1980s, King published a handful of short novels—Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Road Work (1981), The Running Man (1982) and Thinner (1984)—under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The idea behind this was largely an experiment to measure for himself whether or not he could replicate his own success again, and allay at least part of the notion inside his own head that popularity might all be just an accident of fate. An alternate (or additional) explanation was because of publishing standards back then allowing only a single book a year.

The Bachman novels contained hints to the author’s actual identity that were picked up on by fans, leading to King’s admission of authorship in 1985. King dedicated his 1989 book The Dark Half about a pseudonym turning on a writer to “the deceased Richard Bachman”, and in 1996, when the Stephen King novel Desperation was released, the companion novel The Regulators carried the Bachman byline.
Cover of Blaze by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King)
Cover of Blaze by Richard Bachman (a.k.a. Stephen King)

In 2006, during a London UK press conference, King declared that he had discovered another Bachman novel, titled Blaze. It was published on June 12, 2007 in the UK and US. In fact, the manuscript had been held at King’s alma mater, the University of Maine in Orono for many years and had been covered by numerous King experts. King completely rewrote the 1973 manuscript for its publication.

Writing Style

In his nonfiction book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King discusses his writing style at great length. King believes that, generally speaking, good stories cannot be called consciously and should not be plotted out beforehand; they are better served by focusing on a single “seed” of a story and letting the story grow itself. King often begins a story with no idea how it will end. He mentions in the Dark Tower series that halfway through its nearly 30-year writing period a terminally-ill woman asked how it would end, certain she would die before the series’s completion. He told her he did not know. King believes strongly in this style, stating that his best writing comes from “freewriting.” In On Writing, King stated that he believed stories to exist fully formed, like fossils, and that his role as a writer was to excavate the fossil as well as he could. When asked for the source of his story ideas in interviews, however, he has several times, including the appearance on’s Fishbowl, answered, “I have the heart of a small boy……and I keep it in a jar on my desk.” (This quote is most often attributed to Robert Bloch, author of Psycho.)

He is known for his great eye for detail, for continuity and for 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. Many of the settings for King’s books are in Maine, though often fictional locations, especially the town of Castle Rock. (Castle Rock was the setting for The Body; when the novella was adapted for the screen by Rob Reiner, Reiner formed a production company, Castle Rock Entertainment, which has since gone on to produce other King adaptations including Dolores Claiborne, Hearts In Atlantis, The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile.)

King’s books are filled with references to American history and American culture, particularly the darker, more fearful side of these. These references are generally spun into the stories of characters, often explaining their fears. Recurrent references include crime, war (especially the Vietnam War), violence, the supernatural and racism.

King is also known for his folksy, informal narration, often referring to his fans as “Constant Readers” or “friends and neighbors.” This familiar style contrasts with the horrific content of many of his stories.

King has a very simple formula for learning to write well: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” He sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met. He 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.”

Shortly after his accident, King wrote the first draft of the book Dreamcatcher with a notebook and a Waterman fountain pen, which he called “the world’s finest word processor.”

King’s writing style throughout his novels alternates from future to past, character development (including character illumination, dynamics and revelation), and setting in each chapter—leaving a cliffhanger at the end. He then continues this process until the novel is finished.

When asked why he writes, King responds: “The answer to that is fairly simple–there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.”

King often uses authors as characters, or includes mention of fictional books in his stories, novellas and novels, such as Paul Sheldon who is the main character in Misery.

Source: Wikipedia contributors, “Stephen King,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 18, 2008). 

Written Works from

Title Type Year
1408 Short Story 2002
All That You Love Will Be Carried Away Short Story 2002
Apt Pupil Short Story 1982
Autopsy Room Four Short Story 2002
Bag of Bones Novel 1998
The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet Short Story 1985
Battleground Short Story 1978
Beachworld Short Story 1985
Big Wheels: A Tale of the Laundry Game (Milkman #2) Short Story 1985
Black House Novel 2001
Blaze (Written as Richard Bachman) Novel 2007
The Body Short Story 1982
The Boogeyman Short Story 1978
The Breathing Method Short Story 1982
Brooklyn August Short Story 1993
Cain Rose Up Short Story 1985
Carrie Novel 1974
Cell Novel 2006
Chattery Teeth Short Story 1993
Children of the Corn Short Story 1978
Christine Novel 1983
The Colorado Kid Novel 2005
Creepshow I Comic Book 1982
Crouch End Short Story 1993
Cujo Novel 1981
Cycle of the Werewolf Illustrated Novel 1984
Danse Macabre Non-Fiction 1980
The Dark Half Novel 1989
The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger Novel 1982
The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three Novel 1987
The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands Novel 1991
The Dark Tower IV: Wizard & Glass Novel 1997
The Dark Tower V: Wolves of The Calla Novel 2003
The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah Novel 2004
The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower Novel 2004
The Dead Zone Novel 1979
The Death of Jack Hamilton Short Story 2002
Dedication Short Story 1993
Desperation Novel 1996
Different Seasons Story Collection 1982
The Doctor’s Case Short Story 1993
Dolan’s Cadillac Short Story 1989
Dolan’s Cadillac Short Story 1993
Dolores Claiborne Novel 1992
Dreamcatcher Novel 2001
Duma Key Novel 2008
The End of the Whole Mess Short Story 1993
Everything’s Eventual Short Story 2002
Everything’s Eventual Story Collection 2002
The Eyes of the Dragon Novel 1987
The Fifth Quarter Short Story 1993
Firestarter Novel 1980
For Owen Short Story 1985
Four Past Midnight Story Collection 1990
From a Buick 8 Novel 2002
Gerald’s Game Novel 1992
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Children’s Book TBD
The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon Novel 1999
Gramma Short Story 1985
Graveyard Shift Short Story 1978
Gray Matter Short Story 1978
The Green Mile 1: The Two Dead Girls Serial Novel 1996
The Green Mile 2: The Mouse on the Mile Serial Novel 1996
The Green Mile 3: Coffey’s Hands Serial Novel 1996
The Green Mile 4: The Bad Death of Eduard Delacroix Serial Novel 1996
The Green Mile 5: Night Journey Serial Novel 1996
The Green Mile 6: Coffey on the Mile Serial Novel 1996
The Green Mile Novel 2000
Head Down Non-Fiction Story 1993
Hearts in Atlantis Story Collection 1999
Here There Be Tygers Short Story 1985
Home Delivery Short Story 1993
The House on Maple Street Short Story 1993
I Am the Doorway Short Story 1978
I Know What You Need Short Story 1978
In The Deathroom Short Story 2002
Insomnia Novel 1994
It Novel 1986
It Grows on You Short Story 1993
The Jaunt Short Story 1985
Jerusalem’s Lot Short Story 1978
L.T.’s Theory of Pets Short Story 2002
The Langoliers Short Story 1990
The Last Rung on the Ladder Short Story 1978
The Lawnmower Man Short Story 1978
The Ledge Short Story 1978
The Library Policeman Short Story 1990
Lisey’s Story Novel 2006
Little Sisters of Eluria Short Story 2002
The Long Walk Novel 1979
Luckey Quarter Short Story 2002
Lunch at the Gotham Cafe Short Story 2002
The Man in the Black Suit Short Story 2002
The Man Who Loved Flowers Short Story 1978
The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands Short Story 1985
The Mangler Short Story 1978
Memory Short Story 2006
Misery Novel 1987
The Mist Short Story 1985
The Monkey Short Story 1985
Morning Deliveries (Milkman #1) Short Story 1985
The Moving Finger Short Story 1993
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut Short Story 1985
My Pretty Pony Short Story 1993
My Pretty Pony (limited edition) Short Story 1989
My Pretty Pony Short Story 1989
Needful Things Novel 1991
The Night Flier Short Story 1993
Night Shift Story Collection 1978
Night Surf Short Story 1978
Nightmares & Dreamscapes Story Collection 1993
Nona Short Story 1985
On Writing Non-Fiction 2000
One for the Road Short Story 1978
Paranoid: A Chant Short Story 1985
Pet Sematary Novel 1983
The Plant Serial Novel 2000
Popsy Short Story 1993
Quitters, Inc. Short Story 1978
The Raft Short Story 1985
Rage Novel 1977
Rainy Season Short Story 1993
The Reach Short Story 1985
The Reaper’s Image Short Story 1985
The Regulators Novel 1996
Riding the Bullet Short Story 1999
Riding the Bullet Short Story 2002
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption Short Story 1982
Road Virus Heads North, The Short Story 2002
Roadwork Novel 1981
Rose Madder Novel 1995
The Running Man Novel 1982
Salem’s Lot Novel 1975
Secret Window, Secret Garden Short Story 1990
Secret Windows Non-Fiction 2000
The Shining Novel 1977
Six Stories Story Collection 1997
Skeleton Crew Story Collection 1985
Sneakers Short Story 1993
Sometimes They Come Back Short Story 1978
Sorry, Right Number Short Story 1993
The Stand Novel 1978
The Stand, The Complete and Uncut Edition Novel 1990
Storm of the Century Screenplay 1999
Strawberry Spring Short Story 1978
Suffer the Little Children Short Story 1993
The Sun Dog Short Story 1990
Survivor Type Short Story 1985
The Talisman Novel 1984
The Ten O’Clock People Short Story 1993
That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French Short Story 2002
Thinner Novel 1984
Tommyknockers Novel 1987
Trucks Short Story 1978
Umney’s Last Case Short Story 1993
Uncle Otto’s Truck Short Story 1985
The Wedding Gig Short Story 1985
The Woman in the Room Short Story 1978
Word Processor of the Gods Short Story 1985
You Know They’ve Got a Hell of a Band Short Story 1993
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