The Master Of Malice
“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there
to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support
system for art. It’s the other way around” states Stephen King in his book On Writing
(94). Stephen King is a world-renowned author for his works in horror fiction, fiction,
cinema and television. He has published more than forty novels and written nine
screenplays (Adams 1). Stephen King draws a great deal of his inspiration from his
surroundings, his job and his life experiences.
Stephen Edwin King was born in Portland, Maine in 1947. Stephen came as a
surprise to his parents, Nellie Ruth and Pillsbury King. Mrs. King was told she would
never conceive. The couple had adopted a son, David, Stephen’s older brother. When
Stephen was just a toddler his parents divorced. Nellie moved Stephen and David to
Indiana for a short time then to Connecticut. At the age of twelve, Stephen’s small family
moved back to Maine (Stephen King.com 1-2).
Stephen showed an interest in writing at a young age. When he was growing up
his brother would allow Stephen to write articles for “Dave’s Rag”, his brothers
independently published newspaper (Full Biography 2). Throughout his
childhood he would read articles from horror comics and become inspired. He began to
write short stories and sell them to his mother’s friends for a nickel (King On Writing
15). Stephen graduated from Lisbon Falls High School where he was sought after to be
on the newspaper staff. Stephen sold his first professional story to Starting Mystery
Stories in 1967 (Stephen King.com 1-2).
Stephen King met his wife, Tabitha, while attending the University of Maine at
Orono. Tabitha and Stephen were married in January of 1971. The couple lived in a small
apartment; their only source of income was Stephen’s salary as a laborer at an industrial
laundry. In the fall of 1971, Stephen began teaching sophomore English in Hampden
Maine and working on short stories on the evenings and weekends. In 1973, his first
novel Carrie was published. Not long after that his second novel Salam’s Lot was
published. With the money made from the two novels Stephen and Tabitha moved to
Colorado on the fall of 1974. While there Stephen wrote The Shining, which is set in
Colorado. This novel cemented Stephens place as a popular horror fiction novelist.
Stephen and Tabitha moved back to Maine to start a family. They currently have three
children: Naomi, Joe and Owen (Stephen King.com 1-2 ).
In 1976, Stephen realized he had a problem. He was an alcoholic. He was also
addicted to cocaine. The problem only got progressively worse over the course of eight
years (Adams 6). The problem began to surface in his characters. “I began to scream for
help in the only way I knew how, through my fiction and through my monsters.” (King
On Writing 91-92). Today, King is clean and sober. His only problems are his fears of
insects, dark, death, closed-in places, rats, snakes and deformity. Also Stephen King has
a slight case of paranoia. (Full Biography 1)
In 1977, King began to write novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman.
King made a whole life story for Bachman and told nearly no one that they were one in
the same. Bachman died’ of cancer in 1985. When asked why he did it King replied, “I
wanted to know what was in a name” (Full Biography 10). At the time of his death,
Bachman had published five novels: Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running
Man and Thinner (9). Rage was actually written when King was 18. He drew the
inspiration for the book from his teen years (Adams 5).
On Saturday June 19 1999, at the age of 51 Stephen King was involved in an
almost fatal accident. He was on his daily four-mile walk when he was hit by a car. The
man who hit him was distracted by his dog and lost control of his car. King had to endure
ten hours of surgery to be repaired enough to be able to someday walk. At the present
time, King is well and able to walk (Full Biography 7). The accident gave King, if
nothing else new topics to write about. “You have to put your experiences to use for
you” (Adams 7). King’s negative experiences help to shape his writing carrier.
The settings within Stephen King’s writings are very similar to the places he lives
and works everyday. Although many of the towns’ names in his stories are fictional the
towns themselves are modeled after towns he knows. Some of the settings are based off
trips Stephen has taken. Many of these are set in Maine, but not all of them. The Shining
was based on a weekend trip to a hotel. While staying there, King found himself
experiencing odd feelings of fear. Many of the characters from the book are based on real
life such as Grady, the hotel bartender. The hotel in the novel is eerily similar to the one
the Kings stayed in that weekend (Full Biography 5) The settings within King novels
seem so real they are often referred to by name in other Stephen King books.
“The town knew about darkness. It knew about the darkness that comes on the
land when rotation hides the land from the sun and about the darkness of the human soul”
(King Salem’s Lot 180). The town mentioned is Jerusalem’s Lot, the town that Salem’s
Lot takes place in. Jerusalem’s Lot is a small town in Maine, which is not a real town.
Although, within the story, real surrounding towns are named. This gives the reader an
idea of where the town would be if it existed. The novel, like many others written by
King, is set in present time. The book was published in 1976, while the story ends in
1975 (King Salem’s Lot 22).
“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” is another of Kings novels that
has the setting in a familiar place. The novel takes place in a prison in Maine (King “Rita
Hayworth” 15). Also before the main character was sentenced to prison he lived in a
small Maine town, much like the one the King family currently resides in. Even though it I
is only one small fact, it is undeniable that King is most comfortable writing about what
he knows best.
“The Breathing Method” is another story by King. The story does not take place
in Maine but King could not go an entire story without mentioning his beloved state even
just once. The novella is actually about a man in New York listening to another man tell a
story. In this story, a little boy is adopted into a family that lives in Maine (King “The
Breathing Method” 496).
Stephen King’s “The Body” was popularized when it was made into the film
Stand By Me, which also has references to Maine towns. The story takes place in Castle
Rock Maine. Castle Rock is a small working class town that exists along a long river and
has a train that runs through it (King “The Body” 324). Throughout the novella, there are
many references to past King novels. The boys’ come in counter with the evil trash man’s
dog named Cujo (336) King had previously written a novel entitled Cujo about a rabid
dog. Another instance of past King novel’s being referenced is when the boys are
discussing stupid names for towns’ and they bring up Jerusalem’s Lot (366). Another
reference is stated when the boys are taking about being arrested. One boy states how he
will not be thrown into Shawshank (402). Although none of these places exist in real life
they are very real within Stephen Kings world.
Within Kings writing incidences occur where his characters are themselves
writers or hold jobs Stephen had previously held. The Shining just happens to
be about an alcoholic writer and ex-school teacher (King On Writing 84). Within his
stories there are a few examples of Mr. King using his profession as inspiration.
Salem’s Lot has an exquisite example of King writing what he knows best. The
main character, Ben Mears is a struggling author. He returned to the town in which he
grew up in search of inspiration for his next book (King Salem’s Lot 27). Mears had
only written three books Conway’s Daughter, Air Dance and Billy Said Keep Going so
he was a fairly new writer (27-9). Salem’s Lot was only Stephens second published book
so it is obvious that the feelings of pressure to write another hit book expressed by Mears
come directly from Stephen King’s own head.
Small examples of King using writing as a profession for his characters exist
throughout his writing. Red, one of the inmates, is telling the story of “Rita Hayworth and
the Shawshank Redemption”. He is telling the story to the reader as if it is a journal entry
(King “Rita Hayworth” 4). Also within the story another character, which is only briefly
mentioned, is a writer. “It was obvious this one guard was only interesting in one thing,
compiling information for a book he was writing on prison life.” (29) Although this is
only mentioned briefly it is easy to tell that he is a part of King as much as the main
Another example of the writing profession used in King writing is in “The Body”.
Much like in “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” the person who had the
experience first hand is telling this story. The protagonist Gordie wrote many short
stories as a youth, which were very popular among his friends. As an adult he became a
professional writer and is reflecting back on a particular adventure he had as an
adolescent (King “The Body” 326).
Fictional characters are not drawn directly from life on a one-to-one basis.
Characters are mostly drawn from life. If the reader focuses on whom a certain character
is based on, the stories tend to be unsatisfying with shadowbox celebrities who quickly
fade from the readers mind (King On Writing 188-9). The most prevalent aspect of Kings
life that is reflected through his writing is his life experiences. Many of the characters and
situations found through out his novels parallel his life. An incident such as falling down
a hill behind a gas station sparked the idea for his novel called From a Buick Eight. (231-
2) At times King will write about himself subconsciously. “I was after all, the guy who
had written The Shining without even realizing that it was written about myself.” (88)
Some of his characters only share a few key events with his actual life. Dreamcatcher’s
main character is related to King in two ways. The character had been hit by a car and is
recuperating and is hypnotized by the pain (Adams 17). “Charlie Decker (from Rage) was
me. All my characters are. But the characters are more then me they are real people only
within the story” states King in his Observer interview (16). Even though King uses
himself in his characters they are still independent of him entirely.
In some instances there are only minor characters that mirror King himself. In
Salem’s Lot, there is one character who does not last long in the plot but seems to be
influenced by King’s own life. Father Callahan, the town priest, is a drunk. He hides in
the shadows and tries to hide his problem from the town’s people, but it is no use.
Everyone can easily see that Callahan has a drinking problem (King, 142). At the time
this book was written King had realized he had a drinking problem but did not want to
admit it to his friends and family. King once said “But I do think that if you have things
that bother you, things that are unresolved, the more that you talk-about them, write about
them, the less serious they become” (Adams 2). King uses his writing as a type of
“When you ask yourself what a certain character will do given a certain set of
circumstances, you’re making the decision based on what you yourself would do (or, in
the case of a bad guy, wouldn’t) do” (King On Writing 190-1). At times, King’s
characters share personality quirks with him. In “The Breathing Method” the main
character, David is a self described book worm’. He spent many hours in the club library
searching through new books (King “Breathing Method” 445). King spent a year of his
childhood bed ridden due to chronic ear infections and admits to reading anything he
could. To this day. King will read around 50 books per year. Also throughout the story
David, (who shares his name with King’s older brother) continually had thoughts that the
members of the club were out to get him’. In one instance he declares, “I’m just being
paranoid” (449). Stephen King has self-declared paranoia.
In some instances, there is more than one character that is similar to Stephen King
himself. In “The Body” the storyteller is a writer, like King is. There is one boy in the
group of children the story revolves around that seems to be quite similar to King
as a child. This character is Teddy. Teddy is an odd looking child who had to wear
thick set glasses, wasn’t the bravest juvenile in the group and had ear problems through
his childhood (King “The Body” 295). The interesting part about “The Body” is that it is
set in King’s lifeline time frame. The novella takes place in 1960. The children in the
story are around twelve and thirteen. In 1960, King would have been thirteen. (291)
There is a strong possibility that the gang of hoodlums that star in this book are modeled
directly after King’s childhood friends.
One of King’s philosophies is, the way a person writes and the topics that person
writes about come natural to him or her. There are some events in life that influence ones
writing. There are places in some people’s lives where they start to recognize what they
want to do. King Believes that writing talent is something one is born with. It
is undeniable and it is extremely difficult to become a great writer if one does not possess
the natural talent (Adams 2-3). King believes that a strong desire to write is what fuels
brilliant story telling.
“Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in
your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex and work” (King On
Writing 157). Stephen King is the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation
Medal For Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He is also the world’s best
selling novelist (Stephen King.com 2). When Stephen is not writing he spends his time
playing guitar in a rock band called “Rock Bottom Remainders” (Full Biography 5). The
way King parallels his life with his writing without making it seem like every story is a
biography is amazing. His stories are compelling and inspiring. “These are just interests
which have grown out of my life and thoughts, out of my experiences as a boy and a man,
out of my roles as a husband, a father, a writer and a lover” (King 208). Stephen King is a
phenomenal author who has written many classics of the twenty-first century. He has
cleverly told the world about himself and his life through his immortal words.