Born: September 21, 1947
Stephen King is a very popular author of horror fiction. In his works he blends elements of the traditional gothic (bleak and threatening) tale with those of the modern psychological (how the mind works) thriller, detective, and science fiction stories.
His early years
Stephen Edwin King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. When he was two years old, his father left the family, leaving his mother to care for Stephen and his older brother, David. She took a series of low-paying jobs to support her children, and as a result the boys saw little of their mother.
As a boy King found a box of fantasyhorror fiction books and stories that had belonged to his father, and he read them all. By the time King was seven he had begun writing his own stories. He enjoyed watching science fiction and monster movies.
"Writing has always been it for me," King indicated in a panel discussion at the 1984 World Fantasy Convention in Ottawa, Canada. Science fiction and adventure stories comprised his first literary efforts. King began submitting short fiction to magazines when he was twelve. He had no success at that time selling his stories, but he did win first prize in an essay competition sponsored by a scholastic magazine. In high school King authored a small, satiric (poking fun at human weakness) newspaper entitled The Village Vomit. He published his first story at eighteen in a magazine called Comics Review.
King graduated from high school in 1966. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Maine in 1970. He married Tabitha Spruce, also a writer, the following year. They have three children.
After graduating from college, King taught English at a high school in Maine and added to his income by holding a number of part-time jobs and by writing short stories for several popular magazines. He did not receive much money from the sale of his stories. Sometimes he was not paid at all but was given extra copies of the magazine to show or sell to other people.
King's first novel was Carrie, published in 1974. It was a huge success, which allowed King to quit his other jobs and write full-time. With this book, King became one of the top writers of horror stories.
King's fiction features everyday language, attention to the details of the story's surroundings, the emotional feelings of his characters, realistic settings, and an emphasis on modern problems. King's popularity comes from his ability to create stories in which evil occurs in ordinary situations.
Many of King's stories are semiautobiographical, meaning that they are taken in part from some of his own experiences. Many of the locations he writes about are based on the places he grew up in when he lived in Maine and other locations. Many of his stories deal with ordinary people who are faced with frightening events they have to try to understand and overcome.
A publishing marvel, King has nearly one hundred million copies of his works in print worldwide. He is the first writer to have had three, four, and finally five titles appear simultaneously (at the same time) on the New York Times bestseller list.
How King approaches writing
Some of King's works are variations (different ways of telling) on classic stories of fantasy and horror. Salem's Lot, for example, is a contemporary (modern) version of Bram Stoker's (1847–1912) novel Dracula, set in an isolated New England town. King's epic (long and large in scope) The Stand is close in structure to J. R. R. Tolkien's (1892–1973) Lord of The Rings. It tells of a battle between the forces of good and evil.
King used to write every day except for Christmas day, the Fourth of July, and his own birthday. Very often he would work on two or three stories at a time, switching from one to another as ideas came to him.
King has also admitted that during the period between 1977 and 1984 he wrote five novels under the pseudonym (a false name used to hide the identity of the writer) Richard Bachman. He did this to disguise the true extent of his prolific (abundant, in great quantity) work. Also, his publisher believed that he had already saturated (filled to capacity) the market.
In his stories King also likes to write about how people relate to one another in scary situations. His characters are taken from both young and older people who come from many different backgrounds. King has said that he just wants to scare people. He likes to frighten his readers after he has made them love his characters. While stressing the importance of characterization (describing the qualities of characters), he regards the story itself as the most essential part of crafting fiction.
Even though he is very successful, King is modest. In an interview with Yankee magazine he said, "I'm leery [cautious] of thinking I'm somebody. Because nobody really is. Everybody is able to do something well, but in this country there's a premium [special value] put on stardom." He also said there is an "occupational hazard" (a danger based on a job) in being a successful writer, because of all the attention a writer can receive.
King had his own personal experience with horror on the afternoon of June 19, 1999. As he was walking near his summer home in Bangor, Maine, he was struck by a van. King had many operations to repair a collapsed lung and multiple fractures (small breaks) to his leg and hip. He then spent many months recovering in the hospital. King did get well but did not regain the same state of health he had before the accident.
The driver who hit King claimed the dog in his van distracted him. It was found he had several driving violations (acts of breaking the law). He was fined, but he did not go to jail, nor was his driver's license taken away.
Movies, television, and the World Wide Web
Many of Stephen King's books and stories have been made into movies for both Hollywood and for television. These include Carrie, Salem's Lot, The Shining, Christine, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile.
In 2000 King's publisher, Simon & Schuster, published his novella (short novel) Riding the Bullet in electronic form. After that King became the first well-known author to self-publish on the Internet when he published several segments of a new book, The Plant, on the Web. In 2000 he also wrote On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. In this book he tried to give advice to people who want to become writers based on his own experiences.
In early 2002 King announced his retirement from writing, saying that he has said everything that he set out to say.
Stephen King is regarded as a master of the horror story, developing this type of tale to a new level. The ideal format for horror tales used to be the short story, but King is one of the first to challenge that idea. He has written not just successful horror novels, but successful, long horror novels. His fans may take comfort in the fact that retirement is not always permanent.
For More Information
Beahm, George W. Stephen King: America's Best-Loved Boogeyman. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel, 1998.
Collings, Michael R. The Many Facets of Stephen King. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1985.
Keyishian, Amy, and Marjorie Keyishian. Stephen King. New York: Chelsea House, 1996.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000.
Wilson, Suzan. Stephen King: King of Thrillers and Horror. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2000.
Stephen King (born 1947) is a prolific and immensely popular author of horror fiction. In his works, King blends elements of the traditional gothic tale with those of the modern psychological thriller, detective, and science fiction genres.
Stephen King was born on September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. When he was two years old King's father deserted the family, leaving his mother to care for Stephen and his older brother. By the time King was seven he had begun writing stories. After discovering a box of horror and science fiction books in his aunt's house, he discovered his forte. In 1965 his first story was published in Comics Review.
King graduated high school in 1966 and pursued a bachelor of arts degree in English at the University of Maine at Orono. He graduated in 1970 and married Tabitha Spruce the following year.
King began work on a novel about a girl with telekinetic abilities entitled Carrie. When it was released in 1974, the book was an instant success and catapulted King into the top ranks of horror writers.
King's fiction features colloquial language, clinical attention to physical detail and emotional states, realistic settings, and an emphasis on contemporary problems, including marital infidelity and peer group acceptance, that lend credibility to the supernatural elements in his fiction. King's wide popularity attests to his ability to create stories in which he emphasizes the inability to rationalize certain facets of evil in seemingly commonplace situations.
King's interest in the demonic and the paranormal is usually reflected in his protagonists, whose experiences and thoughts serve to reveal psychological complexities and abnormalities. Carrie concerns a socially outcast teenage girl whose emotional insecurities lead her to take violent revenge on taunting classmates by means of telekinetic powers. In The Shining, malevolent spirits in a remote resort hotel manipulate a recovering alcoholic caretaker into attempting to murder his wife and child. Similarly, a haunted car in Christine gains control of an alienated teenage boy. Other works in which paranormal events recur include The Dead Zone and Firestarter.
Some of King's novels offer variations on classic stories of fantasy and horror. Salem's Lot, for example, is a contemporary version of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula set in an isolated New England town. In this work, a young writer and an intelligent youth combat a small group of vampires that turns out to include an increasing number of the town's residents. King's apocalyptic epic The Stand is close in structure to J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings in its tale of a deadly virus and the resulting battle between the surviving forces of good and evil. Pet Sematary, a version of W. W. Jacob's classic short story "The Monkey's Paw," tells of a physician who discovers a supernatural Indian burial ground where the dead return to life and succumbs to temptation after his child is killed. The Talisman, written in collaboration with English horror writer Peter Straub, also recalls The Lord of the Rings in its evocation of a fantasy world in which a boy searches for a cure for his mother's cancer. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger and The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three are two in a series of episodes previously published in periodicals and inspired by Robert Browning's poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came." These books focus on a gunslinger who pursues a mysterious man in black toward the Dark Tower, "the linchpin that holds all of existence together."
King has admitted to writing five novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman to avoid overpublishing under his own name. These novels seldom contain elements of the supernatural or occult, focusing instead on such themes as human cruelty, alienation, and morality. In Rage, a psychopath shoots a schoolteacher and holds a classroom hostage, singling out one pupil for physical and mental torture. The Long Walk and The Running Man focus on near-future societies in which people compete to the death in ritualistic games. Roadwork explores a man's reactions after observing his family, work, and home destroyed by corporate and governmental forces beyond his control. Thinner describes the fate of an obese man who begins to lose weight following a gypsy's curse.
It is intended as a compendium of horror that King has identified as concluding his treatment of children and supernatural monsters. Set in the fictional community of Derry, Maine, the novel focuses on a self-proclaimed "Losers Club" consisting of seven outcasts who successfully fought off a supernatural threat living below the town's sewer system in 1958, unaware that It resurfaces every twenty-seven years to control individuals and kill children as a sacrifice for adult sins. An amalgam of fears, It may appear as whatever frightens an individual, as a vampire or werewolf, or less melodramatically, in the form of crime, racial and religious bigotry, or domestic violence. When It telepathically recalls the Losers Club in 1985, the group's members must rediscover their childhood humor and courage to counter the limitations of adulthood. Although many reviewers considered the novel overlong, Robert Cormier commented: "King still writes like one possessed, with all the nervous energy of a young writer seeking his first big break. He never cheats the reader, always gives full measure. … He is often brilliant, and makes marvelous music, dark and sinister."
King's recent fiction is often semiautobiographical in subject. Misery focuses on Paul Sheldon, a pseudonymous author of popular historical romances featuring an indomitable heroine known as Misery Chastain. After writing his first "literary" novel, Sheldon stages a funeral for his alias but suffers an automobile accident and awakes to find himself the invalid prisoner of a psychotic nurse who forces him to resurrect Misery by writing another book. Christopher Lehmann-Haupt commented: "[Unlike] much of Mr. King's fiction, this novel is more than just a splendid exercise in horror. … Not only must Paul create under pressure a story he doesn't particularly want to tell, but he must also make it plausible, even inspired, for Annie Wilkes is a shrewd connoisseur of storytelling, what one might call the ultimate editor and critic. Under her tutelage the experiences of meeting a deadline and being cut take on terrifyingly literal meanings." The Dark Half revolves around Thaddeus Beaumont, a writer who as a child experienced headaches resulting from the incompletely absorbed fetus of a twin lodged in his brain. Although Thad decides to give up his pseudonymous identity as an author of thrillers, his alter ego returns, intent on revenge and forcing Thad to teach him the craft of writing by holding his wife and child hostage. George Stade called The Dark Half "a parable in chiller form of the popular writer's relation to his creative genius, the vampire within him, the part of him that only awakes to raise Cain when he writes."
King has also written two short story collections, Night Shift and Skeleton Crew, comprised of detective, science fiction, and horror tales. Stephen King's Danse Macabre includes autobiographical essays and a critical history of the horror genre in films, television, and literature. Different Seasons consists of four novellas which, like the Bachman novels, focus on the terrors of everyday existence. King has also written screenplays for several films. These include Creepshow and Cat's Eye, which consist of horror vignettes presented in a humorous, comic-book style; Silver Bullet, an adaptation of an earlier novel, Cycle of the Werewolf; and Maximum Overdrive, an expansion of the short story "Trucks," which King himself directed. In this film, a passing comet inexplicably causes motor vehicles to come alive and hold a group of people captive in a highway diner.
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 1, Gale, 1989.
Beahm, George, editor, The Stephen King Companion, Andrews and McMeel, 1989.
Collings, Michael R., Stephen King as Richard Bachman, Starmont House, 1985.
Collings, Michael R., The Many Facets of Stephen King, Starmont House, 1985.
Collings, Michael R., and David Engebretson, The Shorter Works of Stephen King, Starmont House, 1985.
Collings, Michael R., The Annotated Guide to Stephen King: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography of the Works of America's Premier Horror Writer, Starmont House, 1986.
Collings, Michael R., The Films of Stephen King, Starmont House, 1986. □
KING, Stephen. Also writes as Richard Bachman. American, b. 1947. Genres: Novels. Publications: Carrie, 1974; Salem's Lot, 1975; The Shining, 1977; Night Shift, 1978; The Stand, 1978, 1991; The Dead Zone, 1979; Firestarter, 1980; Danse Macabre, 1980; Cujo, 1981; The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, 1982; Creepshow, 1982; Different Seasons, 1982; Christine, 1983; Pet Sematary, 1983; Cycle of the Werewolf, 1984; (with P. Straub) The Talisman, 1984; Skeleton Crew, 1985; It, 1986; The Eyes of the Dragon, 1987; Misery, 1987; The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three, 1987; The Tommyknockers, 1987; My Pretty Pony, 1988; The Dark Half, 1989; Dolan's Cadillac, 1989; Four Past Midnight, 1990; The Dark Tower: The Waste Lands, 1991; Gerald's Game, 1991; Needful Things, 1992; Dolores Claiborne, 1992; Nightmares and Dreamscapes, 1993; Insomnia, 1994; Desperation, 1996; The Green Mile (serial), 1996; The Two Dead Girls, 1996; Wizard and Glass 1997; Bag of Bones, 1997; The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, 1999; Hearts in Atlantis, 1999; Storm of the Century, 1999; Riding the Bullet, 2000; On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (non-fiction), 2000; Dreamcatcher, 2001; Everything's Eventual, 2002; From a Buick 8, 2002. AS RICHARD BACHMAN: Rage, 1977; The Long Walk, 1979; Roadwork, 1981; The Running Man, 1982; Thinner, 1984; The Regulators, 1996. Address: c/o Penguin USA, 375 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014, U.S.A. Online address: www.stephenking.com