Lucky for us, Stephen King has high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet and punctured ear drums.
For those reasons he failed a draft examination in 1970 and wasn’t plunged into the bloody jungles of Vietnam. What would a world without Stephen King have been like?
There would be no glimmer of hope from Shawshank Redemption, no heart brake from The Green Mile, or terror from The Shining. Nor would there be Carrie, Cujo and IT for that matter. In fact, we would would be missing over 50 books and 200 short stories from our libraries.
Who knows what would have happened if Stephen had been deployed to Vietnam, but when he was declared unfit for military service, he married the woman he fell in love with in college and started looking for teaching positions.
How It All Began
In all likelihood, Stephen would have been writing anyway, whether it was from a barracks or a laundry room. He sold his first short story in 1967 and wrote a weekly column for the campus newspaper at the University of Maine at Orono. After graduating with a B.A. in English and marrying Tabitha, he got a job at an industrial laundry facility, which is where he wrote many pages of his first novel, Carrie.
Stephen intended to become a high school teacher, but when Carrie sold to a publisher for $400,000, Stephen had the means to write full time. From that point on Stephen would write one, sometimes two novels a year. It was all he ever wanted to do.
“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.”
Many writers would love to be so lucky, being able to write full time. Stephen didn’t waste a moment of his luck. He turned many circumstances or observations into the main ideas for his books. Sometimes, while pondering a “what-if” scenario, Stephen would even dream about it, inspiring him further.
Pet Sematary, for instance, was inspired by the death of his daughter’s cat. He buried the cat in the woods behind the house (where many other neighbourhood pets were laid to rest). He began to wonder, “What if the cat came back?” One night he dreamed about a zombie wondering the street where the cat died and he knew he had to write the novel.
The Shining was another book that a dream inspired. He and his wife were staying in an eerie hotel near the Rocky Mountains. Stephen thought it was the perfect spot for a ghost story.
“That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in the chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”
Inspiration for the plot or theme for all Stephen’s stories came from real life. He always wonders what a natural, mundane moment would be like with a supernatural twist.
“I get my ideas from everywhere. But what all of my ideas boil down to is seeing maybe one thing, but in a lot of cases it’s seeing two things and having them come together in some new and interesting way, and then adding the question ‘What if?’ ‘What if’ is always the key question.”
In On Writing, Stephen reveals that he balances writing and personal life fairly well. He writes 10 pages a day, even on holidays. That’s roughly 2000 words. The afternoons he spends napping (how nice) and answering or writing emails and letters. Evenings he keeps for his family.
Familliarity is important to keeping his routine intact too.
“There are certain things I do if I sit down to write,” he said. “I have a glass of water or a cup of tea. There’s a certain time I sit down, from 8:00 to 8:30, somewhere within that half hour every morning,” he explained. “I have my vitamin pill and my music, sit in the same seat, and the papers are all arranged in the same places.” (From Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King by Lisa Rogak)
Why Do People Love Stephen King’s Books?
Many of the sentiments you hear when people review Stephen’s books are less about the quality of writing (although he is a talented wordsmith) and more about how they were consumed by the stories or charaters. We tend to agree.
Mary’s thoughts: “King’s characters are believable; you feel you know them. Once he has established credible characters, he can take you anywhere, no matter how incredible.”
David thoughts: “He tells a great story with interesting characters, authentic dialogue, plot twists and tense action. His good guys are people you’d like to know, who are moral without moralizing.”
No matter how much praise Stephen King receives, though, he is undeniably, a normal man. He isn’t afraid to mine real life for the plausible “what-ifs.” And once he’s locked into a sturdy track, he puts pen to paper until the story is completed. He may be normal, but he’s bold and persistent. He may have had a lucky break, but he never let an ounce of that luck slip through his fingers. Genius, in the case of Stephen King, came with an imagination and hard work.
(Any unaccredited quotes from Stephen King are from stephenking.com)