Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American author of contemporary horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies, many of which have been adapted into feature films, miniseries, television shows, and comic books. King has published 54 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman and six non-fiction books. He has written nearly 200 short stories, most of which have been collected in book collections. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine.
King has received Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy Awards, and British Fantasy Society Awards. His novella The Way Station (1980) was a Nebula Award novelette nominee. In 2003, the National Book Foundation awarded him the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. His short story “The Man in the Black Suit” (1994) received the O. Henry Award. He has also received awards for his contribution to literature for his entire oeuvre, such as the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement (2004), the Canadian Booksellers Association Lifetime Achievement Award (2007), and the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America (2007).
King’s father, Donald Edwin King, who was born circa 1913 in Peru, Indiana, was a merchant seaman; Donald was born under the surname “Pollock”, but used the surname “King”, under which Stephen was born. King’s mother, Nellie Ruth (née Pillsbury; February 3, 1913 – December 28, 1973), was born in Scarborough, Maine. They were married July 23, 1939, in Cumberland County, Maine.
Stephen Edwin King was born September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father left the family under the pretense of “going to buy a pack of cigarettes”, leaving his mother to raise King and his adopted older brother, David, by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. The family moved to De Pere, Wisconsin, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Stratford, Connecticut. When King was eleven, the family returned to Durham, Maine, where Ruth King cared for her parents until their deaths. She then became a caregiver in a local residential facility for the mentally challenged. King was raised Methodist and remains religious as an adult.
As a child, King apparently witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. His family told him that after leaving home to play with the boy, King returned, speechless and seemingly in shock. Only later did the family learn of the friend’s death. Some commentators have suggested that this event may have psychologically inspired some of King’s darker works, but King makes no mention of it in his memoir On Writing (2000).
King related in detail his primary inspiration for writing horror fiction in his non-fiction Danse Macabre (1981), in a chapter titled “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause”. King compares his uncle’s successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. That inspiration occurred while browsing through an attic with his elder brother, when King uncovered a paperback version of an H. P. Lovecraft collection of short stories, entitled The Lurker in the Shadows, that had belonged to his father. The cover art—an illustration of a yellow-green demon hiding within the recesses of a Hellish cavern beneath a tombstone—was, he writes, the moment in his life which “that interior dowsing rod responded to.” King told Barnes & Noble Studios during a 2009 interview, “I knew that I’d found home when I read that book.”
King attended Durham Elementary School and graduated from Lisbon Falls High School, in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He displayed an early interest in horror as an avid reader of EC’s horror comics, including Tales from the Crypt (he later paid tribute to the comics in his screenplay for Creepshow). He began writing for fun while still in school, contributing articles to Dave’s Rag, the newspaper his brother published with a mimeograph machine, and later began selling to his friends stories based on movies he had seen (though when discovered by his teachers, he was forced to return the profits). The first of his stories to be independently published was “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber”; it was serialized over four issues (three published and one unpublished) of a fanzine, Comics Review, in 1965. That story was published the following year in a revised form as “In a Half-World of Terror” in another fanzine, Stories of Suspense, edited by Marv Wolfman.
From 1966, King studied English at the University of Maine, graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. In the same year, his daughter Naomi Rachel was born. He wrote a column for the student newspaper, The Maine Campus, titled “Steve King’s Garbage Truck”, took part in a writing workshop organized by Burton Hatlen, and took odd jobs to pay for his studies, including one at an industrial laundry. He sold his first professional short story, “The Glass Floor”, to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. The Fogler Library at the University of Maine now holds many of King’s papers.
After leaving the university, King earned a certificate to teach high school but, unable to find a teaching post immediately, initially supplemented his laboring wage by selling short stories to men’s magazines such as Cavalier. Many of these early stories have been republished in the collection Night Shift. In 1971, King married Tabitha Spruce, a fellow student at the University of Maine whom he had met at the University’s Fogler Library after one of Professor Hatlen’s workshops. That fall, King was hired as a teacher at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. He continued to contribute short stories to magazines and worked on ideas for novels. It was during this time that King developed a drinking problem which would plague him for more than a decade.
In 1973, King’s first novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King had thrown an early draft of the novel into the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. His advance for Carrie was $2,500; King’s paperback rights later earned $400,000. King and his family moved to southern Maine because of his mother’s failing health. At this time, he began writing a book titled Second Coming, later titled Jerusalem’s Lot, before finally changing the title to Salem’s Lot (published 1975). In a 1987 issue of The Highway Patrolman magazine, he stated, “The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!” Soon after Carrie ’s release in 1974, King’s mother died of uterine cancer. His Aunt Emrine had read the novel to her before she died. King has written of his severe drinking problem at this time, stating that he was drunk delivering the eulogy at his mother’s funeral.
After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining (published 1977). The family returned to western Maine in 1975, where King completed his fourth novel, The Stand (published 1978). In 1977, the family, with the addition of Owen Phillip (his third and last child), traveled briefly to England, returning to Maine that fall, where King began teaching creative writing at the University of Maine. He has kept his primary residence in Maine ever since.
In 1985, King wrote his first work for the comic book medium, writing a few pages of the benefit X-Men comic book Heroes for Hope Starring the X-Men. The book, whose profits were donated to assist with famine relief in Africa, was written by a number of different authors in the comic book field, such as Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, and Alan Moore, as well as authors not primarily associated with that industry, such as Harlan Ellison. The following year, King wrote the introduction to Batman No. 400, an anniversary issue in which he expressed his preference for that character over Superman.
In the late 1970s, King began what became a series of interconnected stories about a lone gunslinger, Roland, who pursues the “Man in Black” in an alternate-reality universe that is a cross between J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Middle-earth and the American Wild West as depicted by Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone in their spaghetti Westerns. The first of these stories, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, was initially published in five installments by The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction under the editorship of Edward L. Ferman, from 1977 to 1981. The Gunslinger was continued as an eight-book epic series called The Dark Tower, which books King wrote and published infrequently over four decades.
In 1982, the fantasy small-press Donald M. Grant (known for publishing the entire canon of Robert E. Howard) printed these stories for the first time together in hardcover form with color and black-and-white illustrations by fantasy artist Michael Whelan, as The Gunslinger. Each chapter was named for the story previously published in magazine form. King dedicated the hardcover edition to his editor at F&SF, Ed Ferman, who “took a chance on these stories”. The original print run was only 10,000 copies, which was, by this time, a comparatively low run for a first printing of a King novel in hardcover. His 1980 novel, Firestarter, had an initial print run in trade hardcover of 100,000 copies, and his 1983 novel, Christine, had a trade hardcover print run of 250,000 copies, both by the much larger publisher Viking. The Gunslinger’s initial release was not highly publicized, and only specialty science-fiction and related bookstores carried it on their shelves. The book was generally unavailable in the larger chain stores, except by special order. Rumors spread among avid fans that there was a King book out that few readers knew about, let alone had actually read. When the initial 10,000 copies sold out, Grant printed another 10,000 copies in 1984, but these runs were still far short of the growing demand among fans for this book. Both the first and second printings of The Gunslinger garner premium prices on the collectible book market, notably among avid readers and collectors of Stephen King, horror literature, fantasy literature, and American western literature, and fans of Michael Whelan’s artwork.
In 1987, King released the second installment, The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three, in which Roland draws three people from 20th-century United States into his world through magical doors. Grant published The Drawing of the Three, with illustrations by Phil Hale, in a slightly larger run of 30,000 copies, which was still well below King’s typical initial hardcover print run of a new book. It, published in 1986, had an initial print run of 1,000,000 copies, King’s largest to date. King had believed that the Dark Tower books would be of interest to only a select group of his fans, and he had resisted releasing it on a larger scale. Finally, in the late 1980s, bowing to pressure from his publishers and fans who were searching for the books (at this point fewer than 50,000 of his millions of readers would have been able to own any of the Dark Tower books), King agreed to release The Gunslinger and all subsequent Dark Tower books in trade paperback and mass-market formats.
In the early 2000s, King revised the original book, The Gunslinger, because he felt the voice and imagery of the original stories of the late 1970s did not seem to fit the voice of the final installment of 2004; King felt the style of the work had markedly changed during the intervening 27 years. The revised version was published in 2003 by his former hardcover publisher Viking. Grant published its hardcover limited edition of the revised version of The Gunslinger along with a prequel story set in the Dark Tower world called “The Little Sisters of Eluria” (originally published in 1998 in the collection Legends: Short Novels by the Masters of Modern Fantasy) in 2009.
In October 2005, King signed a deal with Marvel Comics to publish a seven-issue limited series spin-off of the series called The Gunslinger Born. The series, which focuses on a young Roland Deschain, was plotted by Robin Furth, with dialogue by Peter David, and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Jae Lee. The first issue was published on February 7, 2007, and King, David, Lee, and Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada appeared at a midnight signing at a Times Square, New York comic book store to promote it. The work had sold over 200,000 copies by March 2007. The success of The Gunslinger Born led to an ongoing miniseries published by Marvel, with Furth and David continuing to collaborate, featuring both adapted material from the Dark Tower books and new material approved by King; it also led to a second series of King adaptations in the same format, serializing the events of The Stand.
Although The Hollywood Reporter announced in February 2007 that plans were underway for Lost co-creator J. J. Abrams to do an adaptation of King’s epic Dark Tower series, Abrams stated in a November 2009 interview with MTV that he would not be adapting the series.
In the late 1970s, early 1980s, King published a handful of short novels—Rage (1977), The Long Walk (1979), Roadwork (1981), The Running Man (1982) and Thinner (1984)—under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The idea behind this was to test whether he could replicate his success again and to allay his fears that his popularity was an accident. An alternate explanation was that publishing standards at the time allowed only a single book a year. He picked up the name from the hard rock band Bachman-Turner Overdrive, of which he is a fan.
Richard Bachman was exposed as King’s pseudonym by a persistent Washington D.C. bookstore clerk, Steve Brown, who noticed similarities between the works and later located publisher’s records at the Library of Congress that named 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.” King dedicated his 1989 book The Dark Half, about a pseudonym turning on a writer, to “the deceased Richard Bachman”, and in 1996, when the Stephen King novel Desperation was released, the companion novel The Regulators carried the “Bachman” byline.
In 2006, during a press conference in London, King declared that he had discovered another Bachman novel, titled Blaze. It was published on June 12, 2007. In fact, the original manuscript had been held at King’s alma mater, the University of Maine in Orono, for many years and had been covered by numerous King experts. King completely rewrote the original 1973 manuscript for its publication.
King has used other pseudonyms, such as John Swithen for The Fifth Quarter.
On June 19, 1999, at about 4:30 pm, King was walking on the shoulder of Route 5, in Lovell, Maine. Driver Bryan Edwin Smith (July 16, 1957 – September 21, 2000), distracted by an unrestrained dog moving in the back of his minivan, struck King, who landed in a depression in the ground about 14 feet from the pavement of Route 5. According to Oxford County Sheriff deputy Matt Baker, King was hit from behind and some witnesses said the driver was not speeding, reckless, or drinking. In his book On Writing King states he was heading north, walking against the traffic. Shortly before the accident took place, a woman in a car also heading north passed first King and then the light blue Dodge van. The van was looping from one side of the road to the other and the woman told her passenger she hoped “that guy in the van doesn’t hit him (King)”.
King was conscious enough to give the deputy phone numbers to contact his family, but was in considerable pain. The author was first transported to Northern Cumberland Hospital in Bridgton and then flown by helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. His injuries—a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, scalp laceration and a broken hip—kept him at CMMC until July 9. His leg bones were so shattered that doctors initially considered amputating his leg, but stabilized the bones in the leg with an external fixator. 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 sit for only about forty minutes before the pain became worse.
King’s lawyer and two others purchased Smith’s van for $1,500, reportedly to prevent it from appearing on eBay. The van was later crushed at a junkyard, much to King’s disappointment, as he fantasized about smashing it up. King later mentioned during an interview with Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that he wanted the vehicle destroyed at a charity event in which individuals would donate money for an opportunity to smash it with a sledgehammer.
During this time, Tabitha King was inspired to redesign his studio. King visited the space while his books and belongings were packed away. What he saw was an image of what his studio would look like if he died, providing a seed for his novel Lisey’s Story (2006).
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 resumed writing, but states on his website:
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.
In 2000, King published online a serialized horror novel, The Plant At first the public presumed that King had abandoned the project because sales were unsuccessful, but King later stated that he had simply run out of stories. The unfinished epistolary novel is still available from King’s official site, now free. Also in 2000, he wrote a digital novella, Riding the Bullet, and has said he sees e-books becoming 50% of the market “probably by 2013 and maybe by 2012″. But he also warns: “Here’s the thing—people tire of the new toys quickly.”
In August 2003, King began writing a column on pop culture appearing in Entertainment Weekly, usually every third week. The column, called The Pop of King (a play on the nickname “The King of Pop” commonly attributed to Michael Jackson).
In 2006, King published an apocalyptic novel, Cell. The book features a sudden force in which every cell phone user turns into a mindless killer. King noted in the book’s introduction that he does not use cell phones.
In 2008, King published both a novel, Duma Key, and a collection, Just After Sunset. The latter featured 13 short stories, including a novella, N., which was later released as a serialized animated series that could be seen for free, or, for a small fee, could be downloaded in a higher quality; it then was adopted into a limited comic book series.
In 2009, King published Ur, a novella written exclusively for the launch of the second-generation Amazon Kindle and available only on Amazon.com, and Throttle, a novella co-written with his son Joe Hill and released later as an audiobook titled Road Rage, which included Richard Matheson‘s short story “Duel“. On November 10 that year, King’s novel Under the Dome was published; it is a reworking of an unfinished novel he tried writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and at 1,074 pages, it is the largest novel he has written since It (1986). Under the Dome debuted at No. 1 in The New York Times Bestseller List.
On February 16, 2010, King announced on his website that his next book would be a collection of four previously unpublished novellas called Full Dark, No Stars. In April of that year, King published Blockade Billy, an original novella issued first by independent small press Cemetery Dance Publications and later released in mass-market paperback by Simon & Schuster. The following month, DC Comics premiered American Vampire, a monthly comic book series written by King with short-story writer Scott Snyder, and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, which represents King’s first original comics work. King wrote the background history of the very first American vampire, Skinner Sweet, in the first five-issues story arc. Scott Snyder wrote the story of Pearl.
King’s next novel, 11/22/63, was published November 8, 2011, and was nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award Best Novel. The eighth Dark Tower volume, The Wind Through the Keyhole, was published in 2012. King’s next book was Joyland, a novel about “an amusement-park serial killer”, according to an article in The Sunday Times, published on April 8, 2012. It was followed by the sequel to The Shining (1977), titled Doctor Sleep, published in September 2013.
During his Chancellor’s Speaker Series talk at University of Massachusetts Lowell on December 7, 2012, King indicated that he was writing a crime novel about a retired policeman being taunted by a murderer. With a working title Mr. Mercedes and inspired by a true event about a woman driving her car into a McDonalds restaurant, it was originally meant to be a short story just a few pages long. In an interview with Parade, published May 26, 2013, King confirmed that the novel was “more or less” completed he published it in June 2013. Later, on June 20, 2013, while doing a video chat with fans as part of promoting the upcoming Under the Dome TV series, King mentioned he was halfway through writing his next novel, Revival, which was released November 11, 2014.
King announced in June 2014 that Mr. Mercedes is part of a trilogy; the second book, Finders Keepers, will be released in 2015. On April 22, 2015, it was revealed that King is currently working on the third book of the trilogy and that its working title is The Suicide Prince.
King is a fan of the Ramones, to the extent that he wrote the liner notes for the 2003 Ramones tribute album We’re a Happy Family. He states that he agreed to write them because he “loved The Ramones from the first time (he) heard them”. Furthermore, King has referred to the band several times in his writing, both in his fiction and non-fiction. Non-fiction references include a mention in King’s book Danse Macabre where he calls the Ramones “an amusing punk-rock band that surfaced some four years ago”. He also wrote about them in On Writing, making reference to “dancing to the Ramones – gabba gabba hey” as one of the reasons he has maintained a good marriage. King included further Ramones references in his fictional work. He quotes the lyrics to the Ramones’ debut single “Blitzkrieg Bop” in his novel Pet Sematary on numerous occasions, as in the sentence “What is it the Ramones say? Hey-ho, let’s go”! In The Dark Tower novel Wolves of the Calla the Ramones get a further mention by the character Eddie Dean who states that “Roland stage-dives like Joey Ramone“. Critics have also noted the Ramones references. Entertainment Weekly, for example, in their review of Black House by King and Peter Straub, note that King’s “trademark references” are in evidence, quoting Dee Dee Ramone. In turn, the Ramones have referenced King on their song “It’s Not My Place (In the 9 to 5 World)”, from their Pleasant Dreams album of 1981 in the line: “Ramones are hangin’ out in Kokomo / Roger Corman’s on a talk show / With Allan Arkush and Stephen King”. Further, Dee Dee Ramone wrote the song “Pet Sematary” in King’s basement after King handed him a copy of the novel. The song was eventually featured as the title song for the Pet Sematary (1989) film and also appeared on the Ramones album Brain Drain (1989).
King is a fan of hard rock such as AC/DC and King arranged for their album Who Made Who to feature as the score for the King directed film Maximum Overdrive in 1986. King has also stated that he likes heavy metal and has named bands like Anthrax, Judas Priest and Metallica as amongst his favourites to write to. In 1988, the band Blue Öyster Cult recorded an updated version of its 1974 song “Astronomy”. The single released for radio play featured a narrative intro spoken by King. The Blue Öyster Cult song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” was also used in the King TV series The Stand.
King collaborated with Michael Jackson to create Ghosts (1996), a 40-minute musical video. King states he was motivated to collaborate as he is “always interested in trying something new, and for (him), writing a minimusical would be new”. In 2012 King collaborated with musician Shooter Jennings and his band Hierophant, providing the narration for their album, Black Ribbons. King played guitar for the rock band Rock Bottom Remainders, several of whose members are authors. Other members include Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, James McBride, Mitch Albom, Roy Blount, Jr., Matt Groening, Kathi Kamen Goldmark, Sam Barry, and Greg Iles. King and the other band members collaborated to release an e-book called Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All (June 2013).
King produced an artist’s book with designer Barbara Kruger, My Pretty Pony (1988), published in a limited edition of 250 by the Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art; Alfred A. Knopf later released it in a general trade edition in 1989.
King has written two novels with horror novelist Peter Straub: The Talisman (1984) and a sequel, Black House (2001). 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 time for its completion.
The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red (2001), was a paperback tie-in for the King-penned miniseries Rose Red (2002). Published under anonymous authorship, the book was written by Ridley Pearson. This spin-off is a rare occasion of another author’s being granted permission to write commercial work using characters and story elements invented by King.
Throttle (2009), a novella written in collaboration with his son Joe Hill, appears in the anthology He Is Legend: Celebrating Richard Matheson. Their second novella collaboration, In the Tall Grass (2012), was published in two parts in Esquire.
King’s formula for learning to write well is: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” He sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met. He 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.”
When asked why he writes, King responds: “The answer to that is fairly simple—there was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.” He is also often asked why he writes such terrifying stories and he answers with another question: “Why do you assume I have a choice?” According to Jenna Blum, King usually begins the story creation process by imagining a “what if” scenario, such as what would happen if a writer is kidnapped by a sadistic nurse in Colorado.
King often uses authors as characters, or includes mention of fictional books in his stories, novellas and novels, such as Paul Sheldon who is the main character in Misery and Jack Torrance in The Shining. See also List of fictional books in the works of Stephen King for a complete list. In September 2009 it was announced he would serve as a writer for Fangoria.
King has called Richard Matheson “the author who influenced me most as a writer.” In a current edition of Matheson’s The 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.”
Ray Bradbury is another influence, with King himself stating “without Ray Bradbury, there is no Stephen King.”
King refers to H. P. Lovecraft several times in Danse Macabre. “Gramma“, a short story made into a film in the 1980s anthology horror show The New Twilight Zone, mentions Lovecraft’s notorious fictional creation Necronomicon, also borrowing the names of a number of the fictional monsters mentioned therein. “I Know What You Need” from the 1976 collection Night Shift, and ‘Salem’s Lot also mention the tome. Despite this, in On Writing, King is critical of Lovecraft’s dialogue-writing skills, using passages from “The Colour Out of Space” as particularly poor examples. There are also several examples of King’s referring to Lovecraftian characters in his work, such as Nyarlathotep and Yog-Sothoth.
King acknowledges the influence of Bram Stoker, particularly on his novel Salem’s Lot, which he envisioned as a retelling of Dracula. Its related short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” is reminiscent of Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm.
He also gives Joseph Payne Brennan credit for being one of his inspirations; “Joseph Payne Brennan is one of the most effective writers in the horror genre, and he is certainly one of the writers I have patterned my own career upon; one of the writers whom I studied and with whom I kept school.”
King has also referenced author Shirley Jackson. Salem’s Lot opens with a quotation from Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, and a character in Wolves of the Calla references the Jackson book We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
King is a fan of John D. MacDonald, and dedicated the novella “Sun Dog” to MacDonald, saying “I miss you, old friend.” For his part, MacDonald wrote an admiring preface to Night Shift, and even had his famous character, Travis McGee, reading Cujo in one of the last McGee novels and Pet Sematary in the last McGee novel, The Lonely Silver Rain.
In 1987 King’s Philtrum Press published Don Robertson‘s novel, The Ideal, Genuine Man. In his forenote to the novel, King wrote, “Don Robertson was and is one of the three writers who influenced me as a young man who was trying to ‘become’ a novelist (the other two being Richard Matheson and John D. MacDonald).”
In an interview with King, published in the USA Weekend in March 2009, the author stated, “People look on writers that they like as an irreplaceable resource. I do. Elmore Leonard, every day I wake up and – not to be morbid or anything, although morbid is my life to a degree – don’t see his obituary in the paper, I think to myself, “Great! He’s probably working somewhere. He’s gonna produce another book, and I’ll have another book to read. Because when he’s gone, there’s nobody else.”
His favorite books are (in order) The Golden Argosy; Adventures of Huckleberry Finn; The Satanic Verses; McTeague; Lord of the Flies; Bleak House; Nineteen Eighty-Four; The Raj Quartet; Light in August; and Blood Meridian.
Although critical reaction to King’s work has been mostly positive, he has occasionally come under fire from academic writers.
Science fiction editors John Clute and Peter Nichols offer a largely favorable appraisal of King, noting his “pungent prose, sharp ear for dialogue, disarmingly laid-back, frank style, along with his passionately fierce denunciation of human stupidity and cruelty (especially to children) [all of which rank] him among the more distinguished ‘popular’ writers.”
In his book The Philosophy of Horror (1990), Noël Carroll discusses King’s work as an exemplar of modern horror fiction. Analyzing both the narrative structure of King’s fiction and King’s non-fiction ruminations on the art and craft of writing, Carroll writes that for King, “the horror story is always a contest between the normal and the abnormal such that the normal is reinstated and, therefore, affirmed.”
In his analysis of post-World War II horror fiction, The Modern Weird Tale (2001), critic S. T. Joshi devotes a chapter to King’s work. Joshi argues that King’s best-known works (his supernatural novels), are his worst, describing them as mostly bloated, illogical, maudlin and prone to deus ex machina endings. Despite these criticisms, Joshi argues that since Gerald’s Game (1993), King has been tempering the worst of his writing faults, producing books that are leaner, more believable and generally better written. Joshi suggests that King’s strengths as a writer include the accessible “everyman” quality of his prose, and his unfailingly insightful observations about the pains and joys of adolescence. Joshi cites two early non-supernatural novels—Rage (1977) and The Running Man (1982)—as King’s best, suggesting both are riveting and well-constructed suspense thrillers, with believable characters.
In his short story collection A Century of Great Suspense Stories, editor Jeffery Deaver noted that King “singlehandedly made popular fiction grow up. While there were many good best-selling writers before him, King, more than anybody since John D. MacDonald, brought reality to genre novels. He has often remarked that ‘Salem’s Lot was “Peyton Place meets Dracula.” And so it was. The rich characterization, the careful and caring social eye, the interplay of story line and character development announced that writers could take worn themes such as vampirism and make them fresh again. Before King, many popular writers found their efforts to make their books serious blue-penciled by their editors. ‘Stuff like that gets in the way of the story,’ they were told. Well, it’s stuff like that that has made King so popular, and helped free the popular name from the shackles of simple genre writing. He is a master of masters.”
In 2003, King was honored by the National Book Awards with a lifetime achievement award, the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. Some in the literary community expressed disapproval of the award: Richard Snyder, the former CEO of Simon & Schuster, described King’s work as “non-literature”, and critic Harold Bloom denounced the choice:
The decision to give the National Book Foundation’s annual award for “distinguished contribution” to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I’ve described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.
However, others came to King’s defense, such as writer Orson Scott Card, who 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.”
In Roger Ebert‘s review of the 2004 movie Secret Window, he stated, “A lot of people were outraged that [King] was honored at the National Book Awards, as if a popular writer could not be taken seriously. But after finding that his book On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, I have gotten over my own snobbery.”
In 2008, King’s book On Writing was ranked 21st on Entertainment Weekly list of “The New Classics: The 100 Best Reads from 1983 to 2008″.
King and his wife Tabitha own Zone Radio Corp, a radio station group consisting of WZON 103.1 FM and 620 AM.
King’s first film appearance was in George Romero’s Knightriders as a buffoonish audience member. His first featured role was in Creepshow, playing Jordy Verrill, a backwoods redneck who, after touching a fallen meteorite in hopes of selling it, grows moss all over his body. He has since made cameos in several adaptations of his works. He appeared in Pet Sematary as a minister at a funeral, in Thinner as a pharmacist, in Rose Red as a pizza deliveryman, as a news reporter in The Storm of the Century, in The Stand as “Teddy Wieszack,” in the Shining miniseries as a band member, in The Langoliers as Tom Holby and in Sleepwalkers as the cemetery caretaker. He has also appeared in The Golden Years, in Chappelle’s Show and, along with fellow author Amy Tan, on The Simpsons as himself. In addition to acting, King tried his hand at directing with Maximum Overdrive, in which he also made a cameo appearance as a man using a malfunctioning ATM.
King produced and acted in a television series, Kingdom Hospital, which is based on the Danish miniseries Riget by Lars von Trier. He also co-wrote The X-Files season-5 episode “Chinga” with the creator of the series Chris Carter.
In April 2008, King spoke out against HB 1423, a bill pending in the Massachusetts state legislature that would restrict or ban the sale of violent video games to anyone under the age of 18. Although King stated that he had no personal interest in video games as a hobby, he criticized the proposed law, which he sees as an attempt by politicians to scapegoat pop culture, and to act as surrogate parents to others’ children, which he asserted is usually “disastrous” and “undemocratic.” He also saw the law as inconsistent, as it would forbid a 17-year-old, legally able to see Hostel: Part II, from buying or renting Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which is violent but less graphic. While conceding that he saw no artistic merit in some violent video games, King also opined that such games reflect the violence that already exists in society, which would not be lessened by such a law, and would be redundant in light of the ratings system that already exists for video games. King argued that such laws allow legislators to ignore the economic divide between the rich and poor, and the easy availability of guns, which he felt were the more legitimate causes of violence. Regarding video games, he later stated that he enjoys playing light gun shooter arcade games such as Time Crisis.
A controversy emerged on May 5, 2008, when Noel Sheppard posted a clip of King at a Library of Congress reading event on the website NewsBusters. King, talking to high-school students, had said: “If you can read, you can walk into a job later on. If you don’t, then you’ve got the Army, Iraq, I don’t know, something like that.” The comment was described by the blog as “another in a long line of liberal media members bashing the military,” and likened to John Kerry‘s similar remark from 2006. King responded later that day, saying, “That a right-wing-blog would impugn my patriotism because I said children should learn to read, and could get better jobs by doing so, is beneath contempt…I live in a national guard town, and I support our troops, but I don’t support either the war or educational policies that limit the options of young men and women to any one career—military or otherwise.” King again defended his comment in an interview with the Bangor Daily News on May 8, saying, “I’m not going to apologize for promoting that kids get better education in high school, so they have more options. Those that don’t agree with what I’m saying, I’m not going to change their minds.” King later expressed regret for the remark, saying that he mispoke. He characterized the comment as originating from a “brain cramp”, and the reality of no longer living in the world he grew up in, saying that during the Vietnam War, serving in the military was a great career for some, and for others, a sacrifice of two years of one’s life. King added that he does believe that each person should be obligated to some type of government service or altruism.
King’s website states that he is a supporter of the Democratic Party. During the 2008 presidential election, King voiced his support for Democratic candidate Barack Obama. King was quoted as calling conservative commentator Glenn Beck “Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.”
On April 30, 2012, King published an article in The Daily Beast calling for rich Americans, including himself, to pay more taxes, citing it as “a practical necessity and moral imperative that those who have received much should be obligated to pay … in the same proportion”.
On January 25, 2013, King published an essay titled “Guns” via Amazon.com‘s Kindle single feature, which discusses the gun debate in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. King called for gun owners to support a ban on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, writing, “Autos and semi-autos are weapons of mass destruction…When lunatics want to make war on the unarmed and unprepared, these are the weapons they use.” The essay became the fifth-bestselling non-fiction title for the Kindle.
King is a public critic of Paul LePage, the Republican Governor of Maine, and has referred to LePage as one of the Three Stooges, along with Florida Governor Rick Scott and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He was critical of LePage for incorrectly suggesting in a weekly radio address on March 18, 2015, that King avoided paying Maine income taxes by living out of state for part of the year. The statement was later corrected by the Governor’s office but no apology was issued. King said LePage was “full of the stuff that makes the grass grow green” and demanded that LePage “man up and apologize”. LePage declined to apologize to King, stating “I never said Stephen King did not pay income taxes. What I said was, Stephen King’s not in Maine right now. That’s what I said.” LePage further told King that he should “make me the villain of your next book and I won’t charge you royalties”.
The attention garnered by the LePage criticism has led to efforts to encourage King to run for Governor of Maine in 2018. Bangor city councilor Joe Baldacci posted on his Facebook page that he was starting a Draft Stephen King effort, and Democratic State Rep. Diane Russell launched a petition drive to encourage King to run. His spokeswoman posted to Baldacci’s Facebook comment that he would likely decline to run, and King himself stated he would not run or serve on March 23 while still criticizing what he said was the “laziness that made him mad” about not checking his tax payments and that LePage had “a problem finding a comfortable pair of big-boy pants”.
King has stated that he donates approximately $4 million per year “to libraries, local fire departments that need updated lifesaving equipment (Jaws of Life tools are always a popular request), schools, and a scattering of organisations that underwrite the arts.”
The Stephen and Tabitha King Foundation, chaired by the author and his wife, ranks 6th among Maine charities in terms of average annual giving with over $2.8 million in grants per year, according to The Grantsmanship Center.
In November 2011, the STK Foundation donated $70,000 in matched funding via his radio station to help pay the heating bills for families in need in his home town of Bangor, Maine, during the winter.
King and his wife own and occupy three different houses, one in Bangor, Maine, one in Lovell, Maine, and they regularly winter in their waterfront mansion located off the Gulf of Mexico, in Sarasota, Florida. He and Tabitha have three children, Naomi, Joe and Owen, and four grandchildren.
King’s addictions to alcohol and other drugs were so serious during the 1980s that, as he acknowledged in On Writing in 2000, he can barely remember writing Cujo. Shortly after the novel’s publication, King’s family and friends staged an intervention, dumping on the rug in front of him evidence of his addictions taken from his office including beer cans, cigarette butts, grams of cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil, dextromethorphan (cough medicine) and marijuana. As King related in his memoir, he then sought help, quit all drugs (including alcohol) in the late 1980s, and has remained sober since. The first novel he wrote after becoming sober was Needful Things.
Tabitha King has published nine of her own novels. Both King’s sons are published authors: Owen King published his first collection of stories, We’re All in This Together: A Novella and Stories, in 2005. Joseph Hillstrom King, who writes under the professional name Joe Hill, published a collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, in 2005. His debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was published in 2007 and will be adapted into a feature film by director Neil Jordan. King’s daughter Naomi is a Unitarian Universalist Church minister in Plantation, Florida, with her same-sex partner, Rev. Dr. Thandeka.
King is a fan of baseball, and of the Boston Red Sox in particular; he frequently attends the team’s home and away games, and occasionally mentions the team in his novels and stories. He helped coach his son Owen’s Bangor West team to the Maine Little League Championship in 1989. He recounts this experience in the New Yorker essay “Head Down“, which appears also in the collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes. In 1999, King wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, featuring former Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon as the protagonist’s imaginary companion. In 2004, King co-wrote a book titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season with Stewart O’Nan, recounting 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 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.