Stephen King’s first novel Carrie debuted on April 5th, 1974 with little to no fanfare. One might say that, like the novel’s title character, Carrie was always destined to be a late bloomer. Shy to the spotlight, you might find Carrie hanging out at your local library or bookstore, sitting there all but invisible upon the shelf. All the while, of course, Carrie held a great secret. A special power. Quiet and patient, Carrie was waiting to make her mark on the world, to have her revenge on those who had underestimated her, and to make Stephen King a household name. Continue Reading
When I was 10 years old, I sent Stephen King the first thing I had ever written.
It was a short story called “Murder on Washington St.”
The reply I received changed the course of my life forever. Continue Reading
“This is a story about the genesis of insanity.” – Stephen King, The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet
PROLOGUE: LOADING THE GUN
If I try really hard, I can remember it all.
If I close my eyes and really concentrate, it’s almost like I’m right there. I can nearly smell the smells, and hear the sounds of what it was like. The soft elevator music that played in the lobby, and those halls that reeked of aged bodies. I can see myself as a 12 year old boy, visiting my great-grandmother in the old folk’s home. I can recall how she thought my mother was her daughter, or that it was December in the heat of June. Continue Reading
“There are no curses, only mirrors you hold up to the souls of men and women.” – Stephen King, Thinner
A disclaimer before we begin: As is the case with most of these doo-dads, there are spoilers ahead for those who have not read Thinner. More spoilers than usual in fact, as I found it necessary to employ the book’s end in my final analysis. If you, Constant Reader, should wish to check out now, we will hold no grudge, nor lay the blame. For if there is anything to be learned from Thinner (and I believe there is, or I would not have written said doo-dad), it is that blame is like a spinning wheel. Round and round and round she goes… Continue Reading
There is a bit of lore that exists around the origins of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. It was a novel he never intended to publish, the one he felt was “too dark” to unleash upon us Constant Readers. That is somewhat difficult to believe, considering it was only two years before Pet Sematary’s publication in 1983 that King picked up his typewriter and hit us over the head with Cujo, wherein five-year-old Tad Trenton dies by the novel’s final pages. King has said on numerous occasions that he received a lot of flack for that one, to be sure. One of the most popular questions he would get asked at the time is: Why, Steve, why? Why did you have to go and kill the kid?Continue Reading
Night Shift and the Nature of Fear
Let’s talk about fear. We won’t raise our voices and we won’t scream; we’ll talk rationally, you and I. We’ll talk about the way the good fabric of things sometimes has a way of unraveling with shocking suddenness. – Stephen King, Introduction to Night Shift
I finished reading Stephen King’s first collection of short stories, 1978’s Night Shift, a few months back, but have avoided writing down any thoughts on it.
No one wants to expound on a subject of which they feel they have little to contribute, and for me everything that needs to be said about Night Shift was said perfectly by Stephen King in his introduction to the book. In fact, it may be one of the most perfect pieces King has written, if not certainly the most perfect he had written in 1978.
King’s opening act serves as an essay on the nature of fear: why he writes horror, and why people read it. I found myself not only more mesmerized, but more haunted by this than any of the tales in King’s gruesome set list. Continue Reading
Christine & The Roads Traveled
On the evening of February 10th, 2016, John got into his black Cherokee Jeep and went to console an old friend. It seemed like the right decision at the time. He had received Sally’s email just after sundown, informing him of the news that her brother, Peter, had died of an overdose. Sally and Peter had been John’s friends in a time and place that seemed as far away as the memories of his early childhood, and yet it had only been four years ago. These had been his “party” friends. Four years had passed since John made the decision to get sober, and, as such decisions will do, it had created distance between himself and his old friends. He hadn’t told them he couldn’t hang out with them anymore. He wasn’t that kind of guy. He hadn’t even made any concerted effort to stay away from them, really. They just drifted, as friends sometimes do when the road of life they had once tread together diverged in separate directions. Continue Reading
What Makes a Great Teacher
With a title like What I Learned From Stephen King, I suppose at some point you and I are going to need to sit down and discuss the subject of teachers. I also suppose now would be as good a time as any.
Stephen King once said, “Good teachers can be trained, if they really want to learn. Great teachers, like Socrates, are born.” He should know. He taught writing to high school students at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine, plus spent a year teaching as a writer-in-residence at his alma mater, the University of Maine, in the late 1970s while still establishing himself as a writer. Continue Reading
Cujo and Other Grown-Up Monsters
Considered to be one of his darkest works, Stephen King’s Cujo is not for the cowardly. It is relentless in its forward motion, coming at you “like a brick heaved through a window,” as King himself once described.
It’s frightening. It’s gruesome. It’s savage. It’s violent.
It’s also incredibly depressing. Continue Reading
The Long Walk of Life
BEFORE THE WALK
I was having brunch with a friend of mine on a recent Sunday, a horror film actress in fact, who asked: Do you really think there’s anything spiritual about Stephen King’s books?
The question was served cold with a heaping side of skepticism, and it took me slightly off guard. It’s not the first time I have been asked the question since starting this column three short months ago, and I’m always somewhat alarmed by it.
When asked, the first thing that springs to my mind is self-doubt: What if I’m wrong? What if there really is nothing spiritual about Stephen King’s stories and I’m just grasping at straws here? What if I’ve doomed myself to write a monthly column about… nothing? The writer’s worst nightmare. Continue Reading
The Hero in The Dead Zone
When we think of the great many characters conjured by the imagination of Stephen King, we most likely think of Carrie White, Annie Wilkes, Jack Torrance or Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Few authors in history have known how to construct such a vast array of multidimensional villains and villainesses. As a result, what gets lost in King’s sea of personalities are his heroes — the most interesting of whom is arguably one Johnny Smith, the main man of The Dead Zone who awakens from a four-and-a-half year coma with a startling new mental capacity to see both people’s past and their future. It’s a power he doesn’t know quite how to control, and one that isn’t without its flaws. Continue Reading
“If the horror story is our rehearsal for death, then its strict moralities make it also a reaffirmation of life and good will and simple imagination – just one more pipeline to the infinite.” – Stephen King, Danse Macabre
Wisdom can be found in the most unlikely of places, and it is often within the greatest darkness that we find the greatest light.
Alright, alright. I’ll admit they’re clichés – but like most clichés, they also happen to be true. Anyone with a modicum of introspection and a rear view mirror will tell you that it’s the tough times in life we seem to learn and grow from the most. It is the darkness that makes us reach for the light and propels us to examine the human spirit and reevaluate our place and priorities in the world.
If there is anything I learned from Stephen King’s first foray into non-fiction, Danse Macabre, it is that those of us who love a good fright flick or scary read are attracted to the darkness for a wide variety of reasons – many of which leave us with a greater awareness of our inner fears, a questioning of our own mortality, and an increased appreciation that all of our limbs are still intact – or at the very least that our ankles aren’t being hobbled today. Continue Reading