On 21 September City Connect celebrates the birthday of Stephen King, the bestselling horror and science fiction author. His books have sold more than 350 million copies worldwide, many of which have been adapted into feature films, television movies and comic books. Read his biography to find out more about his life and work.
Stephen King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction. As of 2011, King has written and published 49 novels, including seven under the pen name Richard Bachman, five non-fiction books, and nine collections of short stories. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine.
Stephen 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. 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 himself has dismissed the idea.
King’s primary inspiration for writing horror fiction was related in detail in his 1981 non-fiction Danse Macabre, in a chapter titled “An Annoying Autobiographical Pause”. King makes a comparison of his uncle successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of an H.P. Lovecraft collection of short stories 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.”
In 1973, King’s novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King actually threw an early draft of the novel in the bin 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, with paperback rights earning $400,000 at a later date. This first novel by King revolves around the eponymous Carrie, a shy high-school girl, who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who tease her. Sissy Spacek starred in the title role of the 1976 film adaptation and was nominated for that year’s Academy Award for Best Actress.
Soon after the release of Carrie in 1974, his mother died of uterine cancer. After his mother’s death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining (published 1977). The novel was adapted into the 1980 classic horror movie of the same name starring Jack Nicholson and was directed by Stanley Kubrick.
His 1987 novel, Misery, was adapted into a highly successful film starring Kathy Bates and James Caan. Kathy Bates won the 1990 Best Actress Oscar for her performance.
In 2006, King published an apocalyptic novel, Cell. The story follows a New England artist struggling to reunite with his young son after a mysterious signal broadcast over the global cell phone network turns the majority of his fellow humans into mindless vicious animals. 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 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 1986’s It. It 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.
King’s next novel, 11/22/63, was published in 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 is Joyland, a novel about “an amusement-park serial killer”, published on April 8, 2012. It will be followed by the sequel to The Shining (1977), titled Doctor Sleep, scheduled to be published in late 2013.
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 cheque, if you cashed the cheque and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the electricity 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?”
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