Let me start out by saying I loathe horror stories, usually. I don’t like to be scared, and I will go out of my way to avoid reading scary books and watching scary movies. I especially hate zombies. The movie 28 Days Later, incidentally the last horror movie I will ever go to, gave me nightmares for years.
Strangely enough, Stephen King is my favorite author, even though he writes a genre I detest.
Stephen King’s books aren’t about the plot lines, anyhow. In fact, in his memoir On Writing, King claims that plot doesn’t really exist; situations do. Stephen King’s mastery is in his characters. King himself is quite a character. Born in Maine in 1947, Stephen King spent his early years in Indiana, Wisconsin, and Connecticut before moving back to Maine at age eleven. King’s father, who left when he was two to buy a pack of cigarettes and never returned, was not much of an influence on King’s life. The legacy of his father’s desertion left the family in financial trouble; they moved several times while King was young as his mother changed jobs. When King was eleven, she returned home to care for her aging parents.
King began writing at a young age for his brother’s newspaper, Dave’s Rag . He also wrote accounts of horror movies and sold them to his classmates until his teacher’s discovered what he was doing and made him return the money. However, in On Writing, King says he didn’t mind returning the money so much because most of his friends wanted to keep the writing. He credits this with the first time he was paid for his work. In high school and college, King continued to write, working as a journalist and selling stories to magazines like Startling Mystery Stories and Cavalier.
King graduated from the University of Maine with a BA in English and teaching credentials. He worked in an industrial laundry until he was able to get a job teaching English at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. He continued to work on his writing, often sitting in the laundry room of his mobile home. He married in 1971, and by 1973 had two children and almost no money. When he sold his first novel, Carrie, he recalls being thrilled at being able to buy antibiotics for his daughter, who had an ear infection. His first advance was for $2,500.
As of 2012, Stephen King’s net worth is $415 million. He owns three homes, one in Florida and two in Maine, and he earns millions of dollars on each book. He’s certainly come a long way, and I personally don’t think that is due to his story lines.
Stephen King’s strength in writing is his characters. He has the ability to get into the mind of his characters, whether they are aging alcoholic priests like Father Callahan in Salem’s Lot and The Wolves of the Calla, six year old children like poor George Denbrough in It, pregnant teenage girls like Frannie Goldsmith in The Stand and even stumbling vampires like Floyd Tibbits and corrupt politicians like Greg Stillson in The Dead Zone. King’s ability to understand his characters’ good and bad points makes his characters real in a way many authors never achieve. The situations these characters find themselves in seem almost ordinary, even when the characters are dong outrageous things: time travelling (11/22/63), outsmarting zombies (The Cell), fighting skeleton pirates (Duma Key) or under the influence of evil aliens (The Tommy Knockers).
Besides, he’s a Red Sox fan. What’s not to like?
In addition to linked sources:
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. New York: Scribner, 2000. Print.