Category: Stephen King

Stephen King – the biography

Published February 20, 2017

(This profile of Stephen King – written by yours truly – was originally published on my old Examiner.com Profile page, which is since defunct. That’s fine by me – that site had turned into a damned tabloid, and I’m lucky to have salvaged this biography intact. Minor changes have been made since the original 2009 posting.)

Where does one begin to discuss “America
s Favorite Boogeyman,” the man who is a brand-name publishing sensation unto himself? Why at the beginning, of course. But the prospect of cramming this long life and prolific career into a short biography is daunting. Nay, even scary. Then again … Stephen King would probably want it that way.

Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine on September 21st, 1947 – the only natural child of Donald King, a “door-to-door Electrolux salesman,” and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, a homemaker. Before Stephens birth, the Kings had been told that Ruth could not bear children, so they adopted a boy and named him David. A few years later, they were happily surprised when Ruth became pregnant with Steve. Well … Ruth was happy. Donald, on the other hand, went out for a pack of cigarettes when Steve was two-years-old, and was never seen or heard from again. Ruth had to scramble fast to support her sons, and hence worked a number of jobs.

After moving across the country a few times (Wisconsin, Indiana, Connecticut), the Kings returned to Durham, Maine when Steve was eleven. Steves maternal grandparents were becoming too elderly to care for themselves, so Ruth King took it on herself to care for them (which she did until their deaths) – after their passing, she worked in food service at Vineland a local facility for mentally-challenged residents. Always a voracious reader, Ruth King encouraged the same in her sons, and both Dave and Steve were often wont to be seen with their nose buried in a paperback (when, of course, they werent down at the local movie house, taking in the latest sci-fi or horror B-picture).

Stephen attended Durham Elementary School and Lisbon High School. It was at the latter where Steve, totally enthralled by the movies he was seeing, decided to write short “novelizations” of them, and sell them to family and friends for a quarter a pop. When a teacher caught him doing this at school, he was stopped immediately, and made to return his profits. Steve had copied the stories on an old manual drum-press that his brother David kept in the basement, and which he “lathered up with the worlds stinkiest, oogiest ink.” Dave cranked out (literally) his own “newspaper” on this erstwhile mimeograph, a combination “family newsletter and small-town bi-weekly” which he called Daves Rag. Steve would become a frequent contributor to the homemade publication, doing editorials, movie reviews and serialized short stories. Steve also wrote for the school paper, The Drum, where his unique sense of humor often caused much controversy. Two things were obvious about Steve in early adolescence: A) he was extremely tall for his age, already standing over 6 feet tall. B) Steve was obviously an imaginative writer, but he had yet to find his niche.

When Steve was 13, he visited the nearby house of an aunt and uncle – digging around in their attic, he found something that would forever alter the course of his life: a box filled with old paperbacks, mostly horror and science fiction, left (ironically) by his deadbeat father. While many of the titles were by more antiquated authors like Stoker and Lovecraft, Steve read them all enthralled. He went on to discover these writersmore contemporary counterparts like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, who taught Steve that the “things that go bump in the night” were much scarier in contemporary American settings. Steeped in the pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s, everything from TV, movies and EC Comics, Steve had, indeed, found his niche … even though it would be years before his work was printed on anything other than an old mimeograph, and priced higher than a quarter. This moribund interest was also viewed with some disdain, as Steve would later comment, “As a kid growing up in rural Maine, my interest in horror and the fantastic wasnt looked upon with any approval whatsoever – there went young Steve King, his nose either in a lurid issue of Tales From the Vaultor an even more lurid paper of some sort or other …” Throughout the rest of his high school years, Steve became increasingly isolated, spending more and more time alone, reading and writing. He felt like an outsider at school – a theme which would show up later in many of his books.


After graduating high school in 1966, Steve attended the University of Maine at Orono. Just like high school, Steve was again utilized for the campus newspaper, where he wrote a column called Steve Kings Garbage Truck. Steve was active in student politics, supported the anti-war movement and, to support his schooling, worked in an industrial laundry (which he would later write about in a short story called The Mangler). While at college, Steve sold a short story, The Glass Floor, to Startling Mystery Stories – it was his first professional sale (not counting I Was a Teenage Grave Robber which appeared in the fanzine Comics Review a few months earlier). Steve graduated in 1970 with a B.A. in English and a certificate to teach high school. However, the most important thing Steve took away from college was Tabitha Spruce, a fellow writer whom he met while working in the campus library. They married in January 1971.

Unable to find work as a teacher, Steve continued to work at the laundry. He also wrote (and was unable to sell) several short novels, including Getting It On (aka Rage), The Long Walk, The Running Man, and the first part of a proposed seven-part epic called The Dark Tower (kind of The Lord of the Rings meets The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly). The rejection slips piled up, and Steve later said of this period: “I began to have long talks with myself at night about whether or not I was chasing a fools dream.” Occasionally he sold a short story to mens magazines like Cavalier, Swank or Dude. By the end of 1971, Steve was hired to teach high school English at Hampden Academy in Hampden Maine – he earned $6,400 per year. The Kings lived in a trailer at this point, and had two kids, a daughter, Naomi, and a son, Joe. Money was tight, to put it mildly, and when the occasional three digit check from the “girlie books” came, it was usually just in time to buy medicine or diapers for the kids.

Discouraged, Steve began work on an unusual story born from two different ideas: adolescent cruelty and telekinesis – the main character, Carrie White, a picked-on girl with no friends and a religious whack-job of a mother, was also possessed of burgeoning extrasensory powers. After only a few pages, Steve, convinced he was writing way out of his element, crumpled it up and threw it away. Later, while Tabitha was cleaning, she discovered the pages, read them, and encouraged Steve to continue. Steve did, and ended up with a 25,000 word novella, too long to sell as a short story, and and too short to be considered a novel. Steve considered the unpublishable book to be “the worlds all- time loser.”

In January of 1973, Steve submitted Carrie to Doubleday Publishing. Within a few months, after rewriting the novel per the suggestions of editor William Thompson, it sold for an advance of $2,500. The Kings did not have a phone, so Thompson had to send a telegram. While wondering what to do next, Steve and Tabitha moved to Bangor. While that publishing advance helped, it was a pittance compared to what happened next. By May of that same year, New American Library purchased the paperback rights to Carrie for $400,000 (half of which went to the original publisher). Of this, Steve later said, “To say that Tabby and I were flabbergasted by this news would be to understate the case – there may be no word in English capable of stating our reactions exactly.”

While waiting for Carrie to be published, Steve sent his editor two other novels in progress: Blaze and Second Coming. Both agreed the latter was the better of the two, and Steve promptly finished it with a new title: ‘Salem’s Lot. During this time, Steves mother, who had been diagnosed with cancer the previous year, died on December 18th, 1973. Ruth King never got to see her sons massive success, but she was able to hold a “galley” copy of Carrie and have it read to her.

After this, the Kings up and moved to Boulder, Colorado, where, after visiting the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Steve was inspired to write The Shining (click the link for much more about this). They stayed there less than a year, before returning to Maine, and Steve finished two more books, The Stand and The Dead Zone. After moving yet again, this time to England, the Kings returned stateside after only three months, where they bought homes in Center Lovell and Orrington (near Bangor), and Steve began a brief tenure teaching creative writing at his alma mater. Their third child, Owen, was born in 1977.

Book sales for Carrie were not stellar, although the reviews were good. It wasnt until the film rights were sold, and director Brian De Palma turned Carrie into a hit movie in 1976 that Steve got the publishing boost he needed … indeed into the stratosphere. Over the next few years, Steve would redefine what it meant to be a best-selling author. His prolific output during these early years included Carrie (1974), ‘Salem’s Lot (1975), The Shining (1977), The Stand (1978), Night Shift (1978 – short stories), The Dead Zone (1979), Firestarter (1980), Cujo (1981), Danse Macabre (1981 – nonfiction), The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger (1982), Different Seasons (1982 – four novellas, including Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), Christine (1983), Pet Sematary (1983), The Talisman (1984 – cowritten with Peter Straub), Thinner (1984 – as Richard Bachman), Skeleton Crew (1985 – more short stories), The Bachman Books (1985 – four early novels published under the Bachman pseudonym), IT (1986), The Eyes of the Dragon (1987), Misery (1987), The Dark Tower II: The Drawing of the Three (1987), and The Tommyknockers (1988).

After 14 years as a brand name writer, after having film directors as respected as Stanley Kubrick, David Cronenberg, and Rob Reiner turn his books into cinematic masterpieces, and after becoming the richest writer in the world, Stephen King had the world by the tail. He had also, in this time, developed a bad case of alcoholism and drug addiction. According to Steves memoir On Writing (2000), his family and friends staged an intervention and, after seeking help, Steve cleaned up. He has remained clean and sober ever since.

Over the next ten years, Steve continued to churn out books like a man possessed. Titles include The Dark Half (1989), The Stand: the Complete & Uncut Edition (1990), Four Past Midnight (1990 – four novellas), Needful Things (1991), The Dark Tower III: The Wastelands (1991), Geralds Game (1992), Dolores Claiborne (1993), Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993 – short stories), Insomnia (1994), Rose Madder (1995), The Green Mile (1996 – originally published as a six-part serial), Desperation (1996), The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass (1997), Bag of Bones (1998), Storm of the Century (1999 – a teleplay), The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999), and Hearts in Atlantis (1999).

Then, on June 19th, 1999, it almost all came to an end. Steve was walking the shoulder of Route 5 in Center Lovell, Maine, when a van driven by Bryan Smith, struck him and knocked him into a ditch about 14 feet away. When help arrived, and Steve was taken to the hospital, his injuries were listed as a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, scalp laceration and a broken hip. Five operations over ten days, and intense physical therapy helped Steve return home – but his hip was still shattered and he couldnt sit at his computer without experiencing intense pain. Later, after his healing had progressed a bit, Steve purchased Smiths van for $1,500 (to prevent it from appearing on eBay), and had it crushed at a junkyard after he had beat the crap out of it with a baseball bat. When Steve did return to writing, he began by polishing up a memoir he had almost completed before the accident, entitled On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (2000), and Dreamcatcher (2000), the latter of which he worked on longhand, with pen and pad.

Following this, Steve published Black House (2001 – sequel to The Talisman, co-written with Peter Straub), From a Buick 8 (2002), Everythings Eventual (2002 – short stories), The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla (2003), The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah (2004), and The Dark Tower VII: The Dark Tower (2004). In 2003, after finally wrapping up his 30-year Dark Tower saga, Steve announced to the world that he was retiring, and would not publish any more books. Said retirement didnt last long, however, and the ensuing years brought Cell (2006), Liseys Story (2006), Blaze (2007 – another early “Bachman” novel), Duma Key (2008), and Just After Sunset (2008 – short stories).

In 1996, Stephen King won an O. Henry Award for his short story The Man in the Black Suit. In 2003, he received The National Book Foundation Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, where his work was described thusly: Stephen Kings writing is securely rooted in the great American tradition that glorifies spirit-of-place and the abiding power of narrative. He crafts stylish, mind-bending page-turners that contain profound moral truths – some beautiful, some harrowing – about our inner lives. This Award commemorates Mr. Kings well-earned place of distinction in the wide world of readers and book lovers of all ages. Though a few of the elite balked, other authors (such as Orson Scott Card) quickly came to his defense. In his acceptance speech, Steve said, “I salute the National Book Foundation Board, who took a huge risk in giving this award to a man many people see as a rich hack.”

In August of 2007, while Steve was visiting a bookstore in Alice Springs, Australia, he was mistaken for a vandal. Unceremoniously signing his own books, a customer reported that a vandal was scribbling in paperbacks in the fiction section.

Recent works by the author include Full Dark, No Stars (2010), Joyland (2013), Doctor Sleep (2013), Mr. Mercedes (2014), Revival (2014), Finders Keepers (2015), The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015), and End of Watch (2016).

Stephen and Tabitha King now divide their time between Maine and Florida – they provide scholarships for local high school students and contribute to many other local and national charities. Of their three children, daughter Naomi Rachel is a minister, and sons Joe Hill and Owen Phillip are both writers. Between them, they have given Steve and Tabby three grandchildren.

With over 70 books published over four decades, an estimated 350 million copies sold, Stephen King holds the record as the best-selling author of the 20th century.

Stephen King quotes:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”

“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”

“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the 
heart of a small boy … and I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.”

“The author who influenced me the most as a writer was Richard Matheson.”

“I know writers who claim not to read their notices, or not to be hurt by the bad ones if they do, and I actually believe two of these individuals. I’m one of the other kind – I obsess over the possibility of bad reviews and brood over them when they come. But they don’t get me down for long; I just kill a few children and old ladies, and then I’m right as a trivet again.”

“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.”

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

Recommended books about Stephen King:

The Stephen King Companion by George Beahm
Stephen King: America
s Best-Loved Boogeyman by George Beahm
Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, editors

SHINING! – a musical based on Stephen King’s classic chiller?

Published March 31, 2012

Now that the infamous musical version of Stephen King’s Carrie has come and gone yet again (apparently the revised stage show wasn’t much better than the 1988 version), I was conversing recently about this with David Squyres – who writes the excellent Stephen King blog: talkstephenking – and the subject came up of other King titles that could be reworked as musicals.

My suggestion: The Shining.

After all, this is a classic story of isolation set in an iconic Bad Place (the claustrophobic setting could be easily replicated on the stage), has over the top themes like malevolent ghosts and a murderous father (the better to go all operatic on your ass), and deals with dysfunctional familial relationships (always good musical fodder).

I could see it going something like this:

SHINING! – a musical in 3 acts
based on the novel by Stephen King
written and directed by Andy Williamson (HA!)

JACK (singing soft and sincere to his son)
“I would never hurt you, Danny – nor slap, nor hit, nor sever.
We’ll be safe right here in The Overlook – forever and ever and ever!”

I can imagine many song titles and production numbers, like:

Ode to Mr. Ullman (Officious Little Prick)
You Gotta Watch Her, She Creeps (The Boiler Song)
Stay Away, Danny (Tony’s Lament)
Closing Day
What’s Up, Doc?
It’s a Long Way to Topiary
Come and Play with Us, Danny
Snow! Snow! Snow!
All Work and No Play (Makes Jack a Dull Boy)
White Man’s Burden (aka Drinks on the House)
Gimme the Bat, Wendy (The Bash Your Brains In Song)
Let Me Out! (The Pantry Song)
Bring us Your Son
Take your Medicine (you damned little pup)!
Redrum, Redrum
Oh, Danny Boy! (pictured above)

I am only half kidding. (Or am I?) Like I stated above, given the over the top, operatic themes of this story, this might could actually work. What say you? Good idea? Or do I have bats in my belfry?

Are there any other King stories which would lend themselves to the musical stage?  I’m thinking Misery is a no brainer … if only to hear Annie Wilkes belt out songs like Number One Fan, You Dirty Bird!, Hog Heaven, They Cheated Us (The Cockadoodie Car Song), and I Wanna Be Your Sledgehammer!

Thoughts? Leave a comment below.

For much more on The Shining, and ALL of its incarnations, read my article King, Kubrick, and The Shining.

They’re all going to laugh at you! Chloe Moretz cast in remake of Stephen King’s Carrie

Published March 28, 2012

MGM’s remake of Stephen King’s Carrie has finally found its lead in talented ingenue Chloe Moretz.  Chloe has been quite in demand of late with starring roles in Kick-Ass, Let Me In, Hugo, and Dark Shadows – not bad for someone who only recently turned 15.

Carrie tells the story of a shy and picked on teenage loner, Carrie White, and her mother, Margaret, a religious fanatic whose insanity is matched only by her zeal.  As adolescence brings changes to her body, Carrie also realizes that something is changing in her mind: she has the power of telekinesis.  A cruel prank at the prom brings tragic results.

Say what you will about whether or not Carrie needs to be remade, this casting sounds perfect.  This will be the third film version of Stephen King’s first novel.  Brian De Palma’s classic 1976 movie earned Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie Oscar nods for their roles as Carrie and Margaret White.  A not uninteresting version was made for television in 2002 with Angela Bettis as Carrie, and Patricia Clarkson her mom (Bettis was terrific, Clarkson unwisely underplayed her role).  Both Spacek and Bettis were in their late 20s when they played teenage Carrie White and, if this remake moves forward, this will be the first time that an age appropriate actress will tackle the part.  Kimberly Peirce (Boy’s Don’t Cry) will direct.

Within hours of her officially being cast, Chloe tweeted the following:

“Never been so happy in my life! Thank you Kim Peirce and thank u MGM for the chance of a lifetime i will never forget!”

Some have opined that, given Chloe’s age, the opening “shower scene” (wherein Carrie learns that her first period is not Home Economics) will have to be cut.  I disagree.  After all, though De Palma’s take on the scene was filled with steamy, slo-mo nudity, the TV version was able to dramatize the same incident without showing anything.  The same will surely be done here as that “incident” sets the entire story in motion.

Others have commented that Chloe is too pretty to play homely Carrie White.  To this I also disagree.  Chloe’s unique features (dare I say she got that pretty tomboy thing down pat) are perfect for Carrie White.  Simply imagine her with stringy/greasy hair, no make-up, and some of the fire we saw in her eyes during Let Me In … I can already see her orchestrating a symphony of hellfire from that prom stage.

Being considered for the part of Margaret White are Jodie Foster and Julianne Moore.  Both sound great, though Foster earns points in that both she and Chloe were cast in their teen years by Martin Scorcese: Jodie in Taxi Driver, Chloe in Hugo.

PIPER LAURIE AND SISSY SPACEK AS MARGARET AND CARRIE

Between this new version of Carrie, Ron Howard’s Dark Tower project (which recently found new life at Warner Bros.), Ben Affleck’s take on The Stand (please let it be a trilogy), Warner Bros. IT remake (no updates in awhile), the anthology film The Reaper’s Image (featuring the King tales The Reaper’s Image, Mile 81, N., and The Monkey), and Jonathan Demme’s version of 11/22/63, our cinemas will soon be having a full-on King renaissance.  We haven’t had one of those in our theaters since the 1980s, when seemingly every month brought a new King film.

Go Uncle Stevie!  And congratulations, Chloe – you deserve it!

What say you?  Is Chloe a good choice for Carrie?  Is this remake a good idea?

Sound off below.

WORDSLINGER UPDATE 2/20/17

It sucked. 2012’s remake of Carrie was a completely unnecessary project that added absolutely nothing new except some references to cell phones and Facebook. Stick with Brian De Palma’s classic original from 1976. Shoot, even the miniseries version from 2002 was better than this. Chloe was good … albeit too pretty for the part. As for those other King film adaptations? The Stand … on hold. The Reaper’s Image? Dead in the water. 11/22/63? Hulu, JJ Abrams, and James Franco did a very good 8-part miniseries in 2016. The Dark Tower, IT, Gerald’s Game, and Castle Rock are all coming soon.

STEPHEN KING’S 11/22/63 – review

Published November 27, 2011

After publishing 60+ books over nearly 40 years, one would think that Stephen King – “the world’s bestselling author” – would have run out of steam, ideas, or ambition.  While he has, on rare occasion, “phoned it in,” with his latest opus, 11/22/63, he has once again fashioned as compelling a pager turner as he ever has … which is saying something when those pages number around 850.  I finished it in less than a week.

As this novel should be started with as little foreknowledge as possible, this review will be spoiler-free, save for a brief set-up.  You will know no more going in than I did.

Regarding a recently divorced, thirtysomething school teacher named Jake Epping, the plot has this wounded man receiving an urgent call from an old friend, Al Templeton, who owns a local diner.  When Jake visits Al, he is shocked to discover that the man has seemingly aged years over the course of a day.  It seems that Al, whose rapidly-accelerating cancer has given him only hours to live, has a secret to share, and Jake is the only one with whom he trusts it.  Al’s secret is this: in the back pantry of his retro diner, is a time portal to the past.  Each trip delivers the traveler to the same time and place – Lisbon Falls, Maine, September 9th, 1958 – and, no matter how long the traveler stays, if he returns, it is only two minutes later in 2011 time.  Still with me?

The reason Al has aged so much in so little time, other than his cancer, is that he recently spent over four years in the past trying to prevent Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63.  Due to his illness, Al failed, and returned to 2011 a dying man.  As he tells his tale to Jake (one brief trip to 1958 is all it takes to convince Jake of this impossible story), Jake eventually decides to take on Al’s mission himself (after a trial run or two regarding other lesser matters), knowing full well that messing with such a historically watershed moment might make things worse … much worse … butterfly effect and all.  Especially when the past doesn’t want to be changed.

While one might think that such a story would be full of clichés, predictable scenarios, and political pontificating, this is not the case.  In fact, Jake doesn’t even reach the titular date until page 800.  Most of the book is spent chronicling Jake’s five year stay in the past, where the food tastes better, the music is more innocent, and racism is barely concealed.  While keeping tabs on Oswald to make sure the man acted alone before he makes his move, Jake returns to teaching and falls in love with a tall blonde named Sadie.  Oddly enough (at least to those who only know Uncle Stevie as America’s Boogeyman), the central love story here is the very heart of this novel.

Touching, suspenseful, and damn near unputdownable, 11/22/63 is Stephen King firing on all cylinders, and proving even after four decades that he is still master of his craft.  While some horrific things do occur in this book, this is not a horror novel, and will probably win the man hordes of new fans.  While I, and others, have referred to King as our modern-day Dickens, he is also like a much loved uncle who is returning to spin another fantastical yarn.  One feels like a child reading this book, cuddled up in wide-eyed wonder.  Does praise come any higher than that?  Not from me it doesn’t.

GRADE: A

STEPHEN KING READS FROM HIS FORTHCOMING SEQUEL TO THE SHINING: DOCTOR SLEEP

Published September 26, 2011

It seems to be a time of renaissance for Stephen King.  The world’s best-selling author has never gone away – neither have his 60+ books gone out of print – but between news of his new novel 11/22/63 being released in November 2011, The Stand being adapted for a big-screen trilogy, the Bag of Bones miniseries airing this fall, remakes of Carrie and Pet Sematary on their way, and Ron Howard’s (on again-off again) Dark Tower series seeking a braver studio than Universal (an eighth DT novel, The Wind Through the Keyhole, arrives in the spring of 2012), Uncle Stevie is everywhere.

TWO STEPHENS: COLBERT AND KING – this picture just cracks me up.

King still does book tours. Only rather than manning a lonely table in a book store, he now appears in lecture halls and other university locales, filling thousands of seats.  At these events, he is wont to regale his Constant Readers with stories and anecdotes about the origins of his most loved books (amusingly, every time King drops the name of one of his novels – The Dead Zone, The Shining, IT – the crowd cheers and applauds as if he were a rock star giving snippets of his Greatest Hits).

And now, he is at it again.

Years ago, Stephen King once joked that he wondered what would happen if little Danny Torrance from The Shining and young Charlie McGee from Firestarter, grew up, met, fell in love, got married, and had kids.  That there might be a novel in there somewhere.  Well, while King has not taken that route, he HAS been writing a follow up to The Shining that catches up with Danny some 35 years after the tragic events at The Overlook Hotel.  The book is entitled Doctor Sleep.  Danny Torrance is now a hospice worker who uses his shining abilities to help terminal patients pass on as painlessly as possible.  Things turn ugly, when Danny discovers a group of “psychic vampires” who feed not on blood, but on human energy … or something like that.

Here, in a homemade video, Uncle Stevie reads an excerpt from Doctor Sleep:

For a nice contrast to King’s 2011 public speaking style, check out a 90-minute lecture from Uncle Stevie given in March of 1982 at the University of Dayton.  King is younger and beefier than in the previous videos – with his infamous black lumberjack beard, that has yet to sprout any gray – but is just as entertaining.  He repeats a few of his anecdotal stories, and it is interesting to see how those stories have changed a bit over the decades.  King also reads a short story called The Reach, featured in the 1985 collection, Skeleton Crew.  I read along with him from my own copy, and realized that he had tweaked this story from its 1981 premiere in Yankee Magazine.  This video can be found at Lilja’s Library, one of the best King reference sites on the web.  Check it out

King and Darabont’s The Woman in the Room

Published August 22, 2011

Has there ever been a more perfect marriage of author and director than Stephen King and Frank Darabont?  (Okay, maybe Michael Crichton and Michael Crichton – an author who famously adapted and directed many film adaptations of his own novels.  How cool is that?)  With The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist, Darabont has proven himself as the GO TO guy for King film adaptations.  (Rumor has it Darabont is working on adapting King’s The Long Walk.  Now if we can just get him involved with the troubled Dark Tower project, all manner of things will be well.)  But what of King and Darabont’s first collaboration?  Which, as those in the know … know, was one of the first “Dollar Babies.”

Don’t know the term “Dollar Baby”?

Stephen King has had a long-running policy of offering the rights to his short stories to budding film students for $1.00.  These short films have come to be called Dollar Babies.  One of the very first was Frank Darabont’s The Woman in the Room – the last story from 1978’s Night Shift collection, and seemingly one that was the not only the least cinematic, but wasn’t even really a horror story as it dealt with a man struggling with what to do about his pain-ridden, terminally-ill mother.

In 1980, 20-year-old Darabont contacted Mr. King about adapting The Woman in the Room.  King agreed … and forgot about it.  Three long years later Darabont sent a copy of his finally-finished film to King, who was vePART TWOry surprised to see that the 30 minute short was far better than he had any right to expect it to be.  Years later, when Darabont came looking for the rights to The Shawshank Redemption, King let the novella go based on the strength of The Woman in the Room.

Frank Darabont talked at length about this project to Lilja’s Library (an excellent online King resource) and that interview can be found HERE.

Is this short film as good as Darabont’s later work?  Of course not.  It was shot on a shoestring by a kid and his friends.  Brian Libby, who plays the prisoner, would go on to appear in ALL of Darabont’s later King adaptations.  The film is slow in parts, and maybe even a bit corny, but it certainly did a good job of displaying the talent of the budding filmmaker.

Never seen it?  Good, cause I’ve got it for you below. Or … at least I would if it was available for embedding. It’s not, at present, so … follow these links to watch it on YouTube. Bon appétit.

PART ONE

PART TWO

Stephen King’s FULL DARK, NO STARS – review

Published November 16, 2010

Hello boys and girls.  It’s time for another book review, and today’s book is by our favorite boogeyman, Stephen King.  So grab some marshmallows, pull up a log, hunker up here by the campfire, and let’s begin, shall we?

While I do not claim to be Stephen King’s “number one fan” (such an oogy title can only place one in a cockadoodie category of lying old dirty birdies), I DO fully admit to being somewhat obsessed with the man’s voluminous (to put it mildly) oeuvre.  This has basically been true since I was a teenager and read, back to back, The Shining and The Stand.  Since then, I have pretty much read ALL the King I could get my hands on, quite often on the first day a new novel is released.  His new book is no exception.

While King has referred to himself as “America’s schlockmeister,” he is infinitely more than that.  With over 60 books published over the course of the last 36 years – bestsellers all – the man is a publishing phenomenon unto himself.  Many readers understandably focus on the horrific themes in his stories rather than their humanity, but I would argue that said humanity is what makes his work so truly frightening.  Such emotional involvement makes his tales infinitely scarier than they would be without it.  He is, unquestionably, our modern-day Dickens.

If King’s last book, Under the Dome, was a welcome return to the loooong form he honed with epic favorites like The Stand and IT, his latest, Full Dark, No Stars, is a return to the short form.  These are not short stories – as previously collected in 1978’s Night Shift, 1985’s Skeleton Crew, 1993’s Nightmares and Dreamscapes, 2002’s Everything’s Eventual, and 2008’s Just After Sunset.  This collection of four novellas round out a trilogy which began with 1982’s Different Seasons (the collection that begat such film classics as The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me) and 1990’s Four Past Midnight.  While this collection is not as good as the former, it is better than the latter.  It is also the darkest work Uncle Stevie has published in awhile.  Not quite as dark as if his alter ego Richard Bachman’s name was on the cover, but still quite black.  And bleak.  Hence the title.

And yet, even these bloody (and bloody good) stories each have a moral center.  In fact, the quartet of morality tales presented here plumb the depths of human psychology in ways heretofore … unplumbed.  “I believe there is another man inside every man, a stranger …” King writes.  “How many unsuspected selves could a person have, hiding deep inside?”  That question forms the core of this collection, and asks that we as readers attempt to answer it.  “What would I do in a similar circumstance?”

The first story, 1922, tells of a farmer who not only murders his shrewish wife, but enlists the help of his son to do the dirty deed – the method may seem “dirt cheap,” but there is, of course, a high price to pay down the road.  Even if it is just madness.  And rats.  Lots of rats.  Yes, homage is being paid here to Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and The Cask of Amontillado, but when the teller is this talented, one cannot help but be grippingly entertained.

Big Driver concerns a female mystery writer who, while driving home from a book signing, is raped and left for dead.  While that unsavory event does make one cringe, there is still humanity to the prose.  We are not made to identify with the perpetrator, but rather the victim.  When she, Tessa, recovers, she must decide whether or not to call the police, or take matters into her own hands.  That she picks the latter is not surprising – this is, after all, written by America’s schlockmeister.  Nor is it surprising that Tessa’s revenge is as carefully plotted as one of her mystery novels.  What is surprising is the emotional resonance such a dark tale imbues.  Then again, this is our favorite Uncle Stevie telling the tale.  Maybe it’s not so surprising after all.

The shortest story here, A Fair Extension, regards a dying man who makes a deal with the devil for more life.  The catch is, he must pick someone else to be the recipient of his cancerous bad fortune – someone he hates.  This story reads, of course, like a Twilight Zone episode penned by Richard Matheson (never a bad thing), but the ending is way too abrupt and left me wanting.

The final tale, A Good Marriage, regards a woman who discovers that her loving husband of over a quarter century has been keeping secrets, dark secrets, very dark secrets – he may, in fact, be a serial killer.  The tale also posits that perhaps it really is impossible to fully know another person, even a spouse, and how scary is that?

King himself has been married to his wife Tabitha for almost 40 years – lest one think after reading these tales that he has it out for his own marital partner.  In fact, he dedicates this book: For Tabby, Still.

At 63 years of age, King probably has more books behind him than ahead.  But if Full Dark, No Stars is any indication, the man still knows not only how to how to get under our skin, but to make us grateful for such an invasion.  If only by making us confront our own inner stranger.

Full Dark, No Stars may be unabashed pulp fiction, but it is also psychologically rich.  It may at times be gruesome, but it is also emotionally rewarding.  Then again, I’ve come to expect nothing less from Uncle Stevie.

So, there it is, boys and girls.  Time to head back to your cabins with your reading materials.  You should each have a copy of Full Dark, No Stars, and a flashlight with which to read it under the covers – which is somehow apt.  Just don’t let your counselors catch you.  And if they do catch you, perhaps this book will give you some creative ideas on how to deal with such meddlesome creatures.  MWHAHAHAHAHA!!

BOOK GRADE: A-

Check out my in-depth profile of Stephen King over on Examiner.com.