The complete Stephen King – the early years

When asked to name a horror writer most people would quickly utter the name Stephen King – not since Alfred Hitchcock has a creator’s name become so synonymous with a genre and yet King is now up there with those select few whose very names can define a genre. This is deserving since Stephen King has created an impressive body of work that will, no doubt, stand the test of time and continue to be read many centuries from now.

With his first novel, Carrie  King was an instant success but the years prior to the novel’s publication were lean and hard years and by the time of that first novel the aspiring writer was so discouraged that he was on the verge of giving up- indeed he had thrown the first draft of Carrie into the trash in a moment of blackness but his wife, Tabitha retrieved it and encouraged the young author to continue the book. He did and the rest is history.

King received $2.500 as an advance on Carrie which, whilst not a fortune even then was more money than the struggling writer was accustomed to and shortly afterwards fortune was to shine when the paperback rights sold for $400,000. This allowed King and his family to relocate to Maine where he has kept his main residence ever since.

Carrie is written in a epistolary structure through newspaper articles, letters and magazine articles.  And although by the author’s later standards it seems rough, it does have the ability to touch the reader on a primal level. The original hardback sold a mere 13,000 copies, the paperback, released a year later, sold over 1 million copies in its first year. The book came after Rosemary’s Baby but before the Exorcist and it jumped on the trend created by both movies. The latter movie version of the novel was also a massive success.

I’m not saying that Carrie is shit and I’m not repudiating it. She made me a star, but it was a young book by a young writer. In retrospect it reminds me of a cookie baked by a first grader — tasty enough, but kind of lumpy and burned on the bottom.” Stephen King

Salem’s Lot followed in 1975 and was a much more assured work – “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!” King told Highway Patrolman Magazine

King’s protagonist in Salem’s Lot is a writer – Ben Mears is a successful writer who has returned home after twenty five years, planning on writing a book about the old Marston House – a property which holds sinister memories for him. This was the first time that King had used a writer as the protagonist and this was something he would do many more times. Indeed many of King’s best books feature writers as leading characters.

King’s third novel, The Shining again told the story of a writer – though Jack Torrance is nowhere near as successful as Ben Mears, and is suffering from alcohol problems. In many ways Torrance was closer to King than Mears was and the author admitted in his book, On Writing that he was suffering from both drink and drug problems while working on the Shining and other books from this period.

“Sometimes you confess. You always hide what you’re confessing to. That’s one of the reasons why you make up the story. When I wrote The Shining, for instance, the protagonist of The Shining is a man who has broken his son’s arms, who has a history of child beating, who is beaten himself. And as a young father with two children, I was horrified by my occasional feelings of real antagonism toward my children. Won’t you ever stop? Won’t you ever go to bed? And time has given me the idea that probably there are a lot of young fathers and young mothers both who feel very angry, who have angry feelings toward their children. But as somebody who has been raised with the idea that father knows best.  I would think to myself, Oh, if he doesn’t shut up, if he doesn’t shut up. . . . So when I wrote this book I wrote a lot of that down and tried to get it out of my system, but it was also a confession. Yes, there are times when I felt very angry toward my children and have even felt as though I could hurt them. Well, my kids are older now. Naomi is fifteen and Joey is thirteen and Owen is eight, and they’re all super kids, and I don’t think I’ve laid a hand on one of my kids in probably seven years, but there was a time .” Stephen King

The Shining is a deeply disturbing novel – the author manages to bring his own personal demons to life on the page and the book became his first hardcover bestseller.

In the next part we look at those Bachman books.


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