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Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American author best known for his enormously popular novels. In 2003 he was awarded The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
King's stories frequently involve an unremarkable protagonist such as a middle-class family, a child, or, many times, a writer. The characters are involved in their everyday lives, but the supernatural encounters and extraordinary circumstances escalate over the course of the story. 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. He also writes stories outside the horror genre, including the novellas The Body and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (adapted as the movies Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, respectively), as well as The Green Mile, The Eyes of the Dragon, and Hearts in Atlantis. In the past, Stephen King has written under the pen name of Richard Bachman.
Stephen King was born in 1947 in Portland, Maine, and has English and Scots-Irish ancestry. When King was two years old, his father, Donald Edwin King, deserted his family. His mother, Nellie Ruth Pillsbury, raised King and his adopted older 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 School and Lisbon High School. He grew to be 6'4" tall.
King has been writing since an early age. When in school, he wrote stories based on movies he had seen recently 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 a newspaper, Dave's Rag, which he self-published. Dave's Rag was about local events, and King would often contribute. At around the age of thirteen, King discovered a box of his father's old books at his aunt's house, mainly horror and science fiction. He was immediately hooked on these genres.
His first published story was "In a Half-World of Terror" (retitled from "I Was a Teen-Age Grave-robber", published in a horror fanzine issued by Mike Garrett of Birmingham, Alabama.
From 1966 to 1971, King studied English at the University of Maine at Orono, Maine. At the university, he wrote a column titled "King's Garbage Truck" in the student newspaper, the Maine Campus. He also met Tabitha Spruce; they married in 1971. King took on odd jobs to pay for his studies, including one at an industrial laundry. He used the experience to write the short story "The Mangler". The campus period in his life is readily evident in the second part of Hearts in Atlantis.
After finishing his university studies with a Bachelor of Arts in English and obtaining a certificate to teach high school, King taught English at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. During this time, he and his family lived in a trailer. He wrote short stories (most were published in men's magazines) to help make ends meet. As told in the introduction in Carrie, if one of his kids got a cold, Tabitha would joke, "Come on, Steve, think of a monster." 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 his first ideas was of a young girl with psychic powers. However, he grew discouraged, and threw it into the trash. Tabitha later rescued it and encouraged him to finish it. After completing the novel, he titled it Carrie, sent it to Doubleday, and more or less forgot about it. Later, he received an offer to buy it with a $2,500 advance (not a large advance for a novel, even at that time). Shortly after, the value of Carrie was realized with the paperback rights being sold for $400,000 (with $200,000 of it going to the publisher). Shortly after its release, his mother died of uterine cancer. He had the novel read to her before she died.
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 even admits that he was drunk during his mother’s funeral while delivering the eulogy. He states that he had based the alcoholic father in The Shining on himself, though he did not admit it (even to himself) 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, dextromethorphan (cough medicine), and marijuana. As King related in his memoir, he sought help and quit all forms of drugs and alcohol in the late 1980s, and has remained sober.
Stephen King lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife Tabitha King, who is also a novelist. They also own a house in the Western Lakes District of Maine. Stephen spends winter seasons in an oceanfront mansion located off the Gulf of Mexico in Sarasota, Florida. Their three children, Naomi Rachel, Joseph Hillstrom King (who appeared in the film Creepshow), and Owen Phillip, are grown and living on their own.
Both Owen and Joseph are writers; Owen's first collection of stories, We're All in This Together: A Novella and Stories was published in 2005. The first collection of stories by Joe Hill (Joseph's pen name), 20th Century Ghosts, was published in 2005 by PS Publishing in a very limited edition, winning the Crawford Award for best new fantasy writer and the Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection. Tom Pabst has been hired to adapt Hill's upcoming novel, Heart-Shaped Box, for a 2007 Warner Bros release.
In his private role as father, King helped coach his son Owen's Bangor West team to the Maine Little League Championship in 1989. This experience is recounted in the New Yorker essay "Head Down", which also appears in the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes. King has called "Head Down" his best piece of nonfiction writing.
In 1999, King wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which involved former Red Sox team member Tom Gordon as a major character. King recently co-wrote a book entitled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season with Stewart O'Nan. This work recounts the authors' roller coaster reaction to the Red Sox's 2004 season, a season culminating in the Sox winning the 2004 American League Championship Series and World Series.
In 1992, Mansfield Stadium, a Little League ballpark (which also hosts High School and Senior League games) opened in Bangor, Maine. This facility, nicknamed the Field Of Screams, was made possible through the efforts and donations of King and his wife Tabitha.
In the 2005 film Fever Pitch, about an obsessive Boston Red Sox fan, King tosses out the first pitch of the Sox's opening day game.
Since becoming commercially successful, King and his wife Tabitha have donated considerable sums of money to various causes around their home in Bangor, Maine.
The Kings' timely donation of funds to the University of Maine Swim Team in the early nineties stopped the program from being eliminated from the school's athletics department; various donations to local YMCA and YWCA programs over the years have allowed both organizations to make much-needed renovations and improvements that would have been impossible otherwise. Additionally, King annually sponsors a number of scholarships for both high school and college students.
The Kings have not demanded recognition for their bankrolling of Bangor-area facilities: The Shawn T. Mansfield Stadium was named for the son of a prominent local little league coach who was a victim of cerebal palsy, while the Beth Pancoe Aquatic Park memorializes an outstanding area swimmer who succumbed to a long battle with cancer.
In the summer of 1999, King was in the middle of writing On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. At the time, he had 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, about 4:30 PM, he was walking on the right shoulder of Route 5 in Center Lovell, Maine. Driver Bryan Smith, distracted by an unrestrained Rottweiler named Bullet, moving in the back of his 1985 Dodge Caravan, struck King, who landed in a depression about 14 feet (4 meters) from the pavement of Route 5.
Oxford County Sheriff's deputy Matt Baker recorded that witnesses said the driver was not speeding or reckless. Baker also reported that King was struck from behind. King's official website, however, states that this was incorrect, and that King was walking facing traffic. In any case, Smith was turned and leaning to the rear of his vehicle trying to restrain his dog, and was not watching the road when he struck King.
King was conscious enough to give the deputy phone numbers to contact his family, but in considerable pain. The author was first transported to Northern Cumberland Hospital and then flown by helicopter to Central Maine Hospital. His injuries — a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of the right leg, scalp laceration, and a broken hip — kept him in Central Maine Medical Center until July 9, almost three weeks later.
Earlier that year King had finished most of From a Buick 8, a novel in which one of the characters dies in an automobile accident. Of the eerie similarities, King says that he tries "not to make too much of it." Certainly car accidents and their horrors had figured into King's work before. His 1987 novel Misery also concerned a writer who experiences severe injuries in an auto accident, and auto wrecks figure prominently in The Dead Zone and Thinner. Christine is even a complete novel where a 1958 Plymouth Fury runs down its enemies. King wrote a segment for the movie Creepshow 2 in which a driver is followed by the bloodied hitchhiker she ran down.
After five operations in ten days and physical therapy, King resumed work on On Writing in July, though his hip was still shattered and he could only sit for about forty minutes before the pain became intolerable.
King's lawyer and two others purchased Smith's van for $1,500, reportedly to avoid it appearing on eBay. The van was later crushed at a junkyard, though King mentioned, during an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, wanting to destroy the vehicle with a sledgehammer. Smith, a disabled construction worker, died in his sleep on September 21, 2000 (King's birthday) at the age of 43.
King incorporated his accident into the final novel of his Dark Tower series, in which the hero Roland Deschain and his ka-tet try to stop King from being fatally injured by the van. In the story, Roland hypnotized both King and the driver in order to make them forget his appearance.
The novel Dreamcatcher, which was released after King's accident, features a character recovering from a car accident. The series premiere of Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital involved the main character, a painter out for a morning run, being hit by a pickup truck, and was also inspired by the accident. In fact the scene was depicted in a way remarkably similar to that in which he described his real accident occurring, the only exception being that the driver in the show was driving drunk in addition to trying to restrain his dog. Template:Endspoiler
In 2002, King announced he would stop writing, apparently motivated in part by frustration with his injuries, which had made sitting uncomfortable, and reduced his stamina. He has since written several books.
- I'm writing but I'm writing at a much slower pace than previously and I think that if I come up with something really, really good, I would be perfectly willing to publish it because that still feels like the final act of the creative process, publishing it so people can read it and you can get feedback and people can talk about it with each other and with you, the writer, but the force of my invention has slowed down a lot over the years and that's as it should be. I'm not a kid of 25 anymore and I'm not a young middle-aged man of 35 anymore — I'm 55 years old and I have grandchildren, two new puppies to house-train and I have a lot of things to do besides writing and that in and of itself is a wonderful thing but writing is still a big, important part of my life and of everyday.
Since 2003, King has provided his take on pop culture in a column appearing on the back page of Entertainment Weekly, usually every third week. The column is called "The Pop Of King", a reference to "The King of Pop", Michael Jackson.
In October 2005, King signed up with Marvel Comics; this will be his first time writing original material for the comic book medium other than two pages in a benefit comic for African hunger relief in the 1980s. The 31 issue series will see him adapting and expanding his The Dark Tower series. The series will be illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Jae Lee. Marvel recently announced the series was delayed until 2007 in order for King to give it the attention it deserves.
In January 2006, King appeared on the first installment of Amazon Fishbowl, a live web-program hosted by Bill Maher.
King, a long time supporter of small publishing press, has recently allowed the publication of two past novels in limited edition form. The Green Mile and Colorado Kid will receive special treatment from two small publishing houses. Both books will be produced and be signed by both King and the artist contributing work to the book. Half of King's published work has been re-published in limited (signed) edition format.
After publishing many wildly successful novels under his own name, King wanted to know if some of his early works (those written before Carrie) would sell without having his name on them. He also worried that many of the non-horror novels he wanted to write would clash with the expectations of his fans. So he convinced his publisher, Signet Books, to print these novels under a pseudonym. The name "Richard Bachman" was supposedly chosen partly in tribute to crime author Donald E. Westlake's long-running pseudonym Richard Stark, and partly in honour of Bachman-Turner Overdrive, a band King was listening to at the time he chose his pen name. Richard Bachman slowly built up a readership despite being published in original paperbacks.
King dedicated all of Bachman's early books — Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Road Work (1981), and The Running Man (1982) — to people close to him, and worked in obscure references to his own identity. When fans picked up on these clues, not to mention the similarity between the two authors' literary styles, horror fans' and retailers' suspicions were aroused. Still, King steadfastly denied any connection to Bachman, and to throw fans off the trail Bachman's 1984 novel Thinner was dedicated to "Claudia Inez Bachman", supposedly Bachman's wife. There was also a phony author photo of Bachman on the dustjacket, credited to Claudia. He also has one of the characters describe how the strange happenings are like a "Stephen King" novel in the book.
Thinner was Bachman's first title to be published in hardback. It sold 28,000 copies before it became widely known that the author was really Stephen King, whereupon sales went up tenfold. The link became undeniable when a persistent bookstore clerk couldn't believe that Bachman and King were not one and the same, and eventually located publisher's records at the Library of Congress naming King as the author of one of Bachman's novels. This led to a press release heralding Bachman's "death" — supposedly from "cancer of the pseudonym". At the time of the announcement in 1985, King was working on Misery, which he had planned to release as a Bachman book.
The Bachman story didn't quite end with Thinner, though. In 1996, Bachman's The Regulators came out, with the publishers claiming the book's manuscript was found among Bachman's leftover papers by his widow. Still, it was obvious from the book's packaging and marketing campaign that it was really written by King. There was a picture of a young King on the inside back cover, and the "also by this author" page listed not only works Bachman was credited with writing, but also works he wrote "as Stephen King." The Regulators was released the same day as the King novel Desperation, and the two novels featured many of the same characters; the two book covers were designed to be placed together to form a single picture.
Around the time of The Regulators' release, King said that there may be another Bachman novel left to be "found". However, no further updates on the state of Bachman's trunk of unpublished works have been issued since that time.
King has taken full ownership of the Bachman name on numerous occasions, as with the republication of the first four Bachman titles as The Bachman Books: Four Early Novels by Stephen King in 1985. The introduction, titled "Why I Was Bachman", details the whole Bachman/King story.
King also used the "relationship" between him and Bachman as a concept in his 1989 book The Dark Half, a story in which a writer's darker pseudonym takes on a life of its own. King dedicated The Dark Half to "the deceased Richard Bachman".
Richard Bachman appeared in King's Dark Tower series, albeit indirectly. In the fifth book, Wolves of the Calla, the sinister children's book Charlie the Choo Choo is revealed to be written by "Claudia y Inez Bachman". The spelling discrepancy of the added 'y' was later explained as a deus ex machina on the part of "The White" (a force of good throughout King's Tower series which works to assist the ka-tet of the gunslinger, Roland) to bring the total number of letters in her name to nineteen, a number prominent in King's series.
The original editions of the first four Bachman books are now among the world's most sought after original paperback novels, with resale prices in the hundreds of dollars.
After the Columbine High School massacre, King announced that he would allow Rage to go out of print, fearing that it might inspire similar tragedies. Bachman's other novels are now available in separate volumes.
King also wrote one short story, "The Fifth Quarter", under the name John Swithen. "The Fifth Quarter" was reprinted in King's collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 1993 under his own name.
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, generally speaking, 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 grow itself from there. King often begins a story with no idea how the story will end. He mentions in the Dark Tower series that, halfway through its lengthy, nearly 30-year writing period, King received a letter from a woman with cancer who asked how the book would end, because she was unlikely to live long enough to read it. He stated that he didn't know. King believes strongly in this style, stating that his best writing comes from freewriting.
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. Read 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 (with a unique cosmogony).
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), 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 four hours a day and write four hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can't 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, which he called "the world's finest word processor."
Critical responses to King's work's have been mixed. In his analysis of post-World War II horror fiction, The Modern Weird Tale (2001), S. T. Joshi devotes a chapter to King's work. Joshi argues that King's best-known works (his supernatural novels) are his worst, being mostly bloated, illogical and maudlin. However, Joshi suggests that King has produced far superior books, citing two non-supernatural novels -- Rage and The Running Man -- as King's best: in Joshi's estimation, both books are riveting and well-constructed, with believable characters.
In 1996, King won an O. Henry Award for his short story "The Man in the Black Suit." In 2003, when King was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Awards, there was an uproar in the literary community, with literary critic Harold Bloom denouncing the choice:
- He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls. That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy.
Others in the writing community expressed their contempt of the slight towards King. When Richard Snyder, the former CEO of Simon & Schuster, described King's work as "non-literature", Orson Scott Card responded: "Let me assure you that King's work most definitely is literature, because it was written to be published and is read with admiration. What Snyder really means is that it is not the literature preferred by the academic-literary elite." .
King has called Richard Matheson "the author who influenced me most as a writer". Both authors casually integrate characters' thoughts into the third person narration, just one of several parallels between their writing styles. In a current edition of Matheson's The Incredible Shrinking Man, King is quoted: "A horror story if there ever was one...a great adventure story--it is certainly one of that select handful that I have given to people, envying them the experience of the first reading."
King is a fan of H.P. Lovecraft, discusses him at length in Danse Macabre, and has used several of Lovecraft's writing techniques in his own work. Lovecraft is probably influential on King's invention of bizarre, ancient deities, subtle connections between all of his tales, and the integration of fabricated newspaper clippings, trial transcripts and documents as narrative devices. King's invented trio of afflicted New England towns--Jerusalem's Lot, Castle Rock and Derry-- are reminiscent of Lovecraft's Arkham, Dunwich and Innsmouth. King differs markedly from Lovecraft in his focus on extensive characterization, and naturalistic dialogue, both notably absent in Lovecraft's writing. In On Writing, King is critical of Lovecraft's dialogue-writing skills, using passages from The Colour Out of Space as particularly poor examples.
Edgar Allan Poe, one of the fathers to the contemporary literary horror genre, exerts a noticeable influence over King's writing as well. In The Shining, the phrase "And the red death held sway over all" hearkens back to Poe's "And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all" from "The Masque of the Red Death." The short story "Dolan's Cadillac" has a theme almost identical to Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado," including a paraphrase of Fortunato's famous plea, "for the love of God, Montressor!" In The Shining, King refers to Poe as "the Great American Hack".
King acknowledges the influence of Bram Stoker, particularly on his novel Salem's Lot, which was envisioned as a retelling of Dracula. The short story prequel to Salem's Lot, Jerusalem's Lot, is very reminiscent of both H.P. Lovecraft's work and Stoker's Lair of the White Worm.
King has also openly declared his admiration for another, far less prolific author: Shirley Jackson. Salem's Lot opens with a quotation from Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House. Tony, an imaginary playmate from The Shining bears a striking resemblance to another imaginary playmate with the same name from Jackson's Hangsaman. A pivotal scene in Storm of the Century is based on Jackson's The Lottery.
King was a big fan of John D. MacDonald as he was growing up, and he dedicated the novella Sun Dog to MacDonald, saying "I miss you, old friend." For his part, MacDonald wrote an admiring preface to an early paperback version of Night Shift, and even had his famous character, Travis McGee, reading Cujo in one of the last McGee novels.
King has written two novels with acclaimed horror novelist Peter Straub, The Talisman and a sequel, Black House. King has indicated that he and Straub will likely write the third and concluding book in this series, the tale of Jack Sawyer, but has set no timeline for its completion.
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red, was a paperback tie-in for the King-penned miniseries Rose Red. The book was published under anonymous authorship, and written by Ridley Pearson. This spin-off is a rare occasion of another author being granted permission to write commercial work using characters and story elements invented by King.
Influence on popular culture
Since the publication of Carrie, public awareness of King and his works has reached a high saturation rate. As the best-selling novelist in the world, and the most financially successful horror writer in history, King is an American horror icon of the highest order. King's books and characters encompass primary fears in such an iconic manner that his stories have become synonymous with certain key genre ideas. Carrie, Christine, Cujo and The Shining, for example, are instantly recognizable to millions as popular shorthand for the Vengeful Nerd Wronged, the Evil Car, the Killer Dog, and the Haunted Hotel. Even King himself is so recognizable to the American public that in an American Express advertisement, the writer was able to satirize his spooky image in 30 seconds, and Gary Larson could portray a young Stephen King torturing his toys in a Far Side panel, without extensive explanation.
- King used to play guitar in the band Rock Bottom Remainders but has not joined them on stage for some years. The band's 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 a fan of the rock band AC/DC. They did the soundtrack for his 1986 film Maximum Overdrive.
- King was also a fan of The Ramones, and they wrote the song "Pet Sematary" for the movie.
- Many of his novels feature Plymouth Valiants or Dodge Darts and their derivatives (Scamp, Duster, etc.). Christine was about an earlier Chrysler car, a 1958 Plymouth Fury.
- Stephen King does not own a cell phone, a fact pointed out on the dust jacket of Cell, a horror novel where cell phones become the cause of a massive zombie epidemic.
- King will not sign photographs. He feels that is something that should be reserved for movie stars.
- Most of the settings in King's books are Maine.
- King is friends with film director George Romero, to whom he partly dedicated his book Cell, and wrote a tribute about the filmmaker in Entertainment Weekly for his pop culture column, as well as an essay for the Elite DVD version of Night of the Living Dead (Romero is rumored to be directing the adaptations of King's novels, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and From a Buick 8).
- Unlike some authors, King is not at all troubled when a movie based on his work differs from the derivative work itself, and is often pleased with film adaptations of his work. He has contrasted his books and its film adaptations as "apples and oranges; both delicious, but very different." The exception to this is The Shining, which King criticized when it was released in 1980.
- King is also a fan of the American television series Lost and wrote an essay on the show for Entertainment Weekly. Speculation that King wrote the tie-in novel Bad Twin under the pseudonym Gary Troup has been discredited.
- King is a fan of Michael Crichton as stated on the back of the front cover of A Case of Need, one of Crichton's early medical thrillers.
- As a child, King witnessed a gruesome accident - one of his friends was caught on a railroad and struck by a train. It has been suggested that this could have been the inspiration for King's dark, disturbing creations, though King himself dismisses the idea.
- Stephen King bibliography
- Short fiction by Stephen King
- List of books to which Stephen King has written an introduction
Films and TV
King has granted permission to student filmmakers to make adaptations of his short stories for one dollar (see Dollar Baby).
King made his feature film acting debut in Creepshow, playing Jordy Verrill, a backwoods redneck who, after touching a fallen meteor in hopes of selling it, grows moss all over his body.
Stephen King appeared in season 1 of Chapelle's Show
Nightmares & Dreamscapes, new original series on TNT premiered July 12, 2006. The show is anthology based with each episode featuring a different King story. Episodes include dramatizations of "Battleground", "Crouch End" and "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band".