By Jenny Adkins
The “King of Horror” is a man with dark hair that fades with advancing
age. He has a light stroke of five o'clock shadow spread across a broad face,
and a thin half-smile hanging under a high-set nose. A pronounced jaw-line trails
down to a wide, flat chin. He looks out at the world with dark and contemplative
eyes, which are covered by thick, oval glasses.
He has made a living out of writing about the perverse and unknown,
something that others still find unsettling about the 61-year-old Stephen King.
"Sometimes I speak before groups of people who are interested in writing
or literature, and before the question-and-answer period is over, someone
always rises and asks this question: ‘Why do you choose to write about such
gruesome subjects?’” he wrote in the book “Secret Windows.”
"I usually answer this with another question: ‘Why do you assume that I
have a choice?’"
King first felt compelled to become a writer when he discovered a copy of
H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories in his attic as a child. From there, he contributed
short stories to his older brother’s neighborhood magazine, “Dave’s Rag,” and
started submitting his work to creative magazines. His first novel, “Carrie,“ was
published in 1973, leading to a writing career that has spanned more than 35
As a contemporary ‘great’ who has sold an estimated 300 million books,
King is not afraid of throwing his weight around. He made waves in December
when he launched praise and insult at several different authors, with J.K.
Rowling and Stephenie Meyer among them.
“The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie
Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good,” he said in a “USA
Weekend” interview in 2009.
But King’s comments didn’t end there.
"Somebody who’s a terrific writer who’s been very, very successful is Jodi
Picoult. You’ve got Dean Koontz, who can write like hell. And then sometimes he’s just
awful. It varies. James Patterson is a terrible writer but he’s very, very successful,” he
King has lived a life rife with its own criticisms, but as the recipient of 6
Bram Stoker awards, 6 Horror Guild awards, a Hugo Award, a medal for
Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, and a lifetime achievement
award from the Canadian Literary Guild, he has earned his place among the elite
in the world of the literary.
Life started humbly for King in Portland, Maine, in 1947. He was raised by
his mother after his father inexplicably abandoned the family when King was two.
From there, he experienced the first traumatic event of his life when he
witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train. King claims to
have no recollection of the incident.
He graduated from the University of Maine in 1970 with a degree in
English and married his college sweetheart, Tabitha Spruce, the following year.
But life quickly became a financial strain for the growing King family.
“I was working in a Laundromat for $60 a week, having been unable to
find a teaching position,” he said. “Tabby worked nights in a Bangor Dunkin’
Donuts and came home smelling like a cruller.”
His dream of becoming a writer seemed to be slipping away in the 1970s
as the King family expanded, money became tighter, and King resigned himself
to creating a study in the furnace room of the family trailer. Eventually, the phone
bill became too high for the fledgling family to manage, and the trailer became a
Through repeated attempts to publish his horror novel “Carrie” during his
family‘s formative years, and the several rejections that came with it, King
eventually borrowed $75 from his wife’s grandmother to ride a Greyhound bus to
meet with editors and publishers from Doubleday in February 1973.
Doubleday agreed to publish his novel “Carrie,” and he shot to fame that
year. He also found success with "Salem's Lot,” "The Shining,” "The Stand,” and
his self-described ‘magnus opum,’ "The Dark Tower" series, over the few
decades that followed.
But King’s personal tragedies mounted with his success. In the 1980s,
more than a decade of marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol abuse caused King’s
family and friends to stage an intervention, pulling the evidence of his addictions
from the trash. And in 1999, King suffered debilitating injuries after he was struck
by a car.
The injuries from the car accident--a collapsed right lung, fractures in his
right leg, and a broken hip--led to several years of persistent pain. In 2002, the
pain inspired King to consider retirement, but he has continued to write.
"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,” King wrote on his web site.
The pain from the accident is not the only thing that has changed King‘s
schedule. He has three children and three grandchildren to tend to, along with
his novelist wife and the burdens of growing older.
"I'm not a kid of 25 anymore and I'm not a young middle-aged man of 35
anymore,“ he wrote. “I have grandchildren 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.”
Today, the King family resides in Bangor, Maine, and Lovell, Maine. King‘s sons,
Joseph Hill and Owen King, are both published authors, while his daughter Naomi went
into the ministry.
In November, King approaches the publication of his 55th novel, “Under the
Dome,” his first in nearly two years. After publishing a novel for almost every year of his
life, King said that finding ideas for his stories is often a simple matter of addition.
“I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing
maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it's seeing two things and having them come
together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question, ‘What if?’” he
“ ‘What if ’ is always the key question.”