Stephen King is among the most famous American authors to have ever existed. He has sold more than 350 million copies of his books, which doesn’t include the massive second hand market that’s interested in buying his books. He’s known as the “King of Horror” because a vast majority of his stories are written to exist within the horror genre. He loves to write about the apocalypse, inanimate objects coming to life, vampires, and other “what if” scenarios that explore the deepest parts of human fear. For instance, what happens if your dead baby comes back to life after being buried in a magical cemetery? Or what’s the worst that can happen when you socially torture a slightly autistic high school student, like Carrie White, for years after her mother has done a number on her?
While most of us are at least somewhat familiar with Stephen King’s tales, many of us know relatively very little about the man who wrote them. However, Stephen King has led an incredibly interesting life that’s interesting even to those too afraid to read his work. Here are 15 shocking secrets about Stephen King that you may not know.
15. Stephen King Grew Up Poor
You may not realize it because of how much money Stephen King’s books have made for him, but Stephen King spent his early years extremely poor. His mom, Nellie Ruth, raised him alone after her husband abandoned their family when Stephen King was only two years old. She struggled to financially provide for her two sons. This might be why many of his novels center around poor or working class families, and the struggles that they uniquely face because of poverty. However, Stephen King hasn’t been poor in a very long time. His recent net worth is estimated to be $400 million.
14. He Tried to Throw His First Novel Away
Carrie is one of the best known works by Stephen King. However, it’s possible that the story may have ended up in a dumpster somewhere instead of being loved by millions. When he wrote the first draft of Carrie, he didn’t feel he could connect to a female character and that his story wasn’t good enough. He threw out the book’s first scene, where Carrie is in the shower, confused and in desperate need of a tampon. Stephen King’s wife found the scene in the trash can and encouraged him that it was good and that he needed to keep on writing the story. Had his wife not found the manuscript, who knows if Stephen King’s career would have taken off the way that it did.
13. The Shawshank Redemption
You may not know it, but the extremely popular Frank Darabont movie called The Shawshank Redemption is an adaptation of the Stephen King novella named Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. The story follows Any Dufresne, a man who feels that he’s innocent of his wife’s murder despite a lot of evidence showing otherwise. He manages to escape prison under a pseudonym. The story was published in the fiction collection called Different Seasons. Two of the other novellas in the collection have also been turned into movies, including 1998’s Apt Pupil and 1986’s Stand by Me, which is based on King’s story called The Body.
12. Early Exposure to Dead Bodies
According to Stephen King, he first learned about the reality of dead bodies when he was only five or six years old. After he asked his mother if she’d seen a dead body, she told him about a sailor that jumped off a hotel building in Portland, Maine before coming to his ultimate demise in the street. She told him how the body splattered and green stuff came out of him. Perhaps this early exposure to the realities associated with death and what happens to dead bodies prepared Stephen King in a way that the usual “going to heaven” story couldn’t.
11. His Initial Stories Didn’t Really Make Him Money
It’s easy to use Stephen King as an example of why you should quit your day job to become a freelance writer or author. If Stephen King can make so much money, you can do it, too, right? Well, probably not. When Stephen King first started selling stories for money, he didn’t make a whole lot of it. On top of his full time job, he had to take various part time jobs to get the extra money he needed to take care of his growing family. If you plan your career based on the path of Stephen King, prepare to stay poor for a while and work your other job.
10. Stephen King Got Rejected, A Lot
Was Stephen King an overnight sensation? Not at all. Stephen King spent years getting rejected constantly. He kept a railroad spike near his desk where he’d skewer his rejection letters by the hundreds. He didn’t allow the constant rejection to get him down. Instead, he used the rejection letters to compel him to submit even more stories and to find more rejection. Eventually, the spike wasn’t strong enough to support the weight of the rejection letters. The next time you can’t find a job, get your story published, or face rejection, remember Stephen King’s dedication to his craft and what it took to finally make it.
9. He’s Not That Great of a Writer
When you think about great American writers, you think about the work of Mark Twain, Robert Frost, and others. Stephen King usually isn’t on the list for the most skillful, elegant, or high quality prose. King uses simple language and writes in a commercial literary style that has been largely criticized. He justifies this action by saying that his characters are simple and that’s simply the way that the characters would talk or think. He’s gone as far to admit that he’s definitely not a “great” writer, though millions of his fans would likely disagree about that statement to his face.
8. Stealing Famous Stories
Many of Stephen King’s stories are not original in their origins and inspiration. Much like how Disney movies largely borrow from fairy tales, some of Stephen King’s stories are adaptations of classic horror novels and films that he brings into more modern settings. Think about how Salem’s Lot is really a more modern version of Bram Stoker’s famous Dracula character, only a modern retelling of the story as if it happened in a small New England town. Some people even think that Stephen King’s The Stand is pretty close to J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, in more ways than just its length.
7. Stephen King is Richard Bachman
It’s not surprising to discover that Stephen King loves to write. In fact, he loves writing so much that he wrote more novels more quickly than so many other writers at the time. When his publisher and agent said that he couldn’t publish additional works under his name because he wrote so many and he had already saturated the horror market, he decided to publish new books under a pseudonym Richard Bachman. However, fans of Stephen King’s work were not to be fooled and picked up on the fact the real author was actually Stephen King. Eventually, Stephen King came clean about his pseudonym and his works.
6. He’s a Workaholic
Stephen King strongly believes in writing every day, without taking any days off. When he was in the height of his career, he wrote every single day except for Christmas Day, the Fourth of July, and his birthday. He confessed in his autobiographical book On Writing that he sometimes wrote even on those days. Often, he wrote 3,000 words a day or more. In his working style, he’d commit to writing this amount a day no matter how long it took him. This helped him become an extremely successful and prolific writer because of the vast volume of words he was creating.
5. He’s An Avid Walker
Stephen King is an avid walker. He walks four miles each day or more to clear his head, stay in shape and to think through story ideas. In 1999, he was hit by a van and seriously injured. Recovery took him months in the hospital and his health never fully recovered from the accident. The man who hit Stephen King never lost his driver’s license or went to prison because of the accident. He faced only a monetary fine. Stephen King never returned to his prolific writing pace after the car accident because it became painful to sit in a chair for extended periods of time.
4. His Childhood Newspaper
As a kid, Stephen King worked with his also young brother to put together their own newspapers of stories to sell to family members, friends, and school mates. He worked with his brother to typeset each edition of the newspaper, which they self published for different editions. Doing so could take hours. In some ways, this was Stephen King’s first foray into publishing stories for other people outside of his family to read. These newspapers were sold for cents on the dollar. If you could get your hands onto one of these early newspapers, you’d probably be able to get quite a lot of money for it at an auction.
3. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s Son
Novelist Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. Unlike Stephen King’s other son, Owen King, Joe Hill wanted to distance himself from his famous literary father and changed his last name for publishing purposes to “Hill.” He wrote four novels including Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, NOS4A2, and The Fireman. Once he became recognized as a good writer without being associated to his famous father, he let fans know about who he really was, though some of his fans had already figured it out. In addition to his novels, he has published short stories and a comic book series called Locke & Key.
2. Past Challenges With Substance Abuse
Stephen King was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He reportedly took NyQuil, Valium, marijuana, and cocaine extensively in the 1980s. As a result, he doesn’t remember writing some of his novels and short stories, including his novel titled Cujo about a rabid dog published in 1981. Stephen King’s friends and family hosted an intervention. This caused him to seek help for his substance abuse problems. He’s been sober ever since. He’s a great example of a successful person that has overcome his addictions to accomplish stellar things and have a lucrative career. According to Stephen King, he doesn’t drink at all anymore.
1. Rumors About the Middle Years
Stephen King’s longtime wife is Tabitha King. She’s a writer in her own right, with eight novels and two nonfiction books published in her own name. There’s speculation by fans that during the hazy middle years of Stephen King’s career Tabitha King actually wrote some of Stephen King’s books when he was too incapacitated to write. Those who believe the rumor cite how language and style differences exist in these novels when compared to the others. The King family, and many fans, say that this theory is definitely false. Perhaps the only way to know for yourself is to read his entire collection to find the disparities between various books.
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