20 Facts About Stephen King That Are As Gripping As His Books
Can you guess which movie adaptation this author hates the most?
With more than 60 books under his belt, Stephen King is one of the most famous, successful, and prolific authors of our time. Known best for his horror and suspense books, classics like Carrie and The Shining, the 70-year-old author has been dubbed the King of Horror. His books are guaranteed to have you turning the pages all night long—but be careful, because they’re also bound to give you a few nightmares as well.
And it turns out, King’s real life is just as fascinating as the fictional worlds he creates. From the details of his haunted childhood to which movie adaptations of his books he hates the most, here are the most gripping (and sometimes spooky!) facts any horror fan should know.
If you stacked up all of Stephen King’s books, they’d be taller than the man himself.
And that says a lot, since this author stands 6’4″. In some 45 years of writing, Stephen King has published 31,271 pages across 59 novels, plus five works of non-fiction and more than 200 short stories. His most well-known works include The Shining (1977), It (1986), Carrie (1974), Misery (1987), Pet Sematary (1983), and The Green Mile (1996). Plus, his memoir, On Writing (2000), is considered a must-read for every aspiring writer.
King used to write under a pseudonym—until he killed his alias.
When publishers advised Stephen King against publishing more than one book per year in the late-70s, King published seven novels under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. And of course, Bachman was a fully developed character. According to his “about the author” blurbs, Bachman was born in New York, served a four-year stint in the Navy, followed by 10 years in the merchant marines, until finally settling down in rural-central New Hampshire to run a medium-sized dairy farm. Sounds legit.
A Washington, D.C., bookstore clerk noticed similarities in the writing styles of Bachman and King and exposed the pseudonym in the mid-80s. King came me forward with a public announcement that Richard Bachman had died of “cancer of the pseudonym.”
King holds the record for the most film adaptations by a single author.
Even if you haven’t read any of King’s books, you’ve likely seen the film adaptation of one of his works. The Guinness Superlatives has certified that with 34 movies based on his stories, King has the most film adaptations of any author. Andy Muschietti‘s 2017 adaptation of It was the highest grossing film based off a King work (and the highest-grossing horror film of all time!), earning $327,481,748 at the box office.
But he hates the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining.
Speaking of film adaptations, Stanley Kubrick‘s adaptation of The Shining is widely considered to be a classic. However, King famously hates it. He told Deadline: “The character of Jack Torrance has no arc in that movie. Absolutely no arc at all. When we first see Jack Nicholson, he’s in the office of Mr. Ullman, the manager of the hotel, and you know, then, he’s crazy as an outhouse house rat. All he does is get crazier. In the book, he’s a guy who’s struggling with his sanity and finally loses it. To me, that’s a tragedy. In the movie, there’s no tragedy because there’s no real change.”
Speaking of, King wrote The Shining while staying at The Stanley Hotel.
In 1974, King and his wife were staying in The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado. That night, King had a dream. He writes on his website, “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.” The Stanley Hotel now includes a 30,000 square foot horror film museum.
This is the book that inspired King to write horror fiction.
A copy of The Lurker in the Shadows by H.P. Lovecraft inspired King to write horror fiction. In an interview with Barnes & Noble, King said he discovered an old paperback copy of the book among his father’s things in the attic (King’s father left the family when the writer was two years old under the pretense of “going to buy a pack of cigarettes.”) “I knew that I’d found home when I read that book,” King said.
A 2014 television series adaptation of Stephen King’s novel 11/22/1963 included a nod to the book. It’s title is written on the chalkboard behind high-school English teacher Jake Epping in the series’ first episode.
King banned one of his own books.
King wrote Rage in 1965 and published it in 1977. The book is about a troubled high school student who holds his school hostage at gunpoint. After the book was linked to four real-life school shootings in 1988 and 1996, King had it removed from print. While he himself is a gun owner, King advocates for gun control, and in 2013 published a 25-page essay on the subject entitled “Guns.”
In the essay, King writes, “It took more than one slim novel to cause [the shooters] to do what they did … My book did not break [them] or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see Rage as a possible accelerant which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it.”
Carrie was King’s first novel—and he originally threw it in the trash.
In 1973, King wrote a few pages of what would become his first novel, Carrie—then decided it was no good and threw it away. Fortunately, his wife, Tabitha, found the pages in the trashcan of the then-broke couple’s double-wide trailer and convinced him otherwise. “You’ve got something here. I really think you do,” King quotes her saying in his memoir On Writing. Turns out, she was right. The book sold more than 1 million copies in its first year. It was also King’s first big-screen film adaptation.
King can’t remember writing Cujo.
Throughout the ’80s, King frequently used alcohol and cocaine. In his book On Writing, he wrote, “There’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember writing at all. I don’t say that with pride or shame, only with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good parts as I put them down on the page.”
King wrote The Running Man in just 10 days.
According to On Writing, King wrote the 304-page book The Running Man in just 10 days. The author has said he used to write 2,000 to 3,000 words (or about 10 pages) in a matter of hours. More recently, he says he writes just 1,000 words a day. Phew, we’re tired just thinking about it.
His books include countless references to the Ramones.
King is a huge fan of the Ramones and you can spot references to the band across his writing. (Most of them are in Pet Semetary, which quotes from “Blitzkrieg Bop.”) In turn, the band wrote the song “Pet Sematary” for the credit scroll of the movie adaptation of King’s book. The song became one of the band’s biggest radio hits and a concert staple. In 2003, King wrote the liner notes for the tribute album We’re a Happy Family: A Tribute to Ramones.
King played in a band with other famous writers.
In addition to being a major music fan, King himself is a musician and notably played the guitar in the band The Rock Bottom Remainders from 1992 to 2012. The band was composed of writers Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Mitch Albom, Barbara Kingsolver, Matt Groening, and Ridley Pearson, among others. Additionally, he and his wife, Tabitha, own Zone Radio, a company that runs three radio stations in Maine, including 100.3, or “Stephen King’s WKIT.”
As a child, King witnessed a horrifying accident—but he doesn’t remember it.
In his book Danse Macabre, King recalls that while he himself has no memory of it, his mother told him that one day when he was about four, he went to play with a friend and came home white as a sheet, clearly in a state of shock. She found out that while the boys had been playing, his friend had been struck and killed by a freight train. (“Years later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket,” he writes. Yikes!)
Some have speculated that the incident could have been the inspiration for King’s book The Body, which was adapted into the 1986 film Stand By Me, about four boys who set off to find a dead body alongside a set of railroad tracks.
These are the two things that terrify the King of Horror.
What scares that man who’s scared more than a few of us out of our wits? Turns out the number 13 gives him chills. “When I’m writing, I’ll never stop work if the page number is 13 or a multiple of 13; I’ll just keep on typing till I get to a safe number. I always take the last two steps on my back stairs as one, making thirteen into twelve. There were, after all, thirteen steps on the English gallows up until 1900 or so. When I’m reading, I won’t stop on page 94, 193, or 382, since the sums of these numbers add up to 13,” he once wrote.
King also has a fear of flying and will often take his motorcycle for book tours. “I travel by plane when I have to—I travel by car when I possibly can,” he told the New York Times. “The difference is if your car breaks down, you pull over into the breakdown lane. If you’re at 40,000 feet and your plane has trouble, you die. I feel more in control when I’m driving than when I’m flying. You hope that the pilot won’t have a brain embolism and die at the controls.”
King almost retired from writing when he was struck by a van in 1999.
In 1999, King was walking down a country road in North Lovell, Maine, when he was hit by a van and thrown 14 feet from the road. He was severely injured, with a wide gash on his forehead, broken ribs, broken hip and leg bones, and a punctured lung. He underwent five operations and had to wear a metal device on his leg for years. In the aftermath, King’s lawyer had to purchase the van for $1,500 to prevent it from being sold on eBay. While still recovering in 2002, King announced his retirement from writing. The decision to retire didn’t stick, though, and the 70-year-old author has published 24 books since.
King has more than 17,000 books in his personal library and has read almost all of them.
In his memoir On Writing, King writes, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Indeed, King is an insanely avid reader and says he gets through 70 to 80 books a year, mostly fiction. His home library includes more than 17,000 books, and he claims to have read all of them, except for a few new additions.
The book-review section of one Maine newspaper was about to get scrapped—until King tweeted about it.
King is just as prolific a tweeter as he is a writer. In January 2019, when King found out that the local Maine newspaper The Portland Press Herald was cutting its book-reviews section, he tweeted about it in order to effect change. “The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram will no longer publish local, freelance-written reviews of books about Maine, set in Maine, or written by Maine authors. Retweet this if you’re from Maine (or even if you’re not). Tell the paper DON’T DO THIS,” he wrote. The paper told King that if his followers bought 100 subscriptions, they could keep the section. They wound up more than doubling their goal.
Any aspiring filmmaker can buy the rights to King’s short stories for $1.
Got a dollar? Then you can be the next person to adapt a Stephen King short story, so long as you don’t distribute it for money. If you go to Stephen King’s website, you can see a list of short stories whose film rights are available, which King calls his “Dollar Babies.” There’s even a Dollar Baby Festival in Belgium where filmmakers can showcase their films made from these contracts.
The author is worth $400 million and has sold more than 350 million copies of his books.
King is definitely one of the most successful authors in the world—but he’s not in it for the money, he says. On his website, King answers why he became a writer: “The answer to that is fairly simple—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.” To learn more about the world’s richest self-made men, check out How the World’s 15 Richest Men Got That Way.
His entire family has a knack for writing.
King met his wife, Tabitha, in the library of the University of Maine, and the two married in 1971. Tabitha herself is a writer—she’s published eight novels and two works of non-fiction—and so is one of the couple’s children, Joseph Hillstrom King (he started writing under the pen name Joe Hill to earn a reputation of his own). Joe has published four novels, two short-story collections, and one comic-book series. He even appeared in the opening and closing segments of the King film Creepshaw! Looking for your next weekend read? Try one of the 40 Most Side-Splitting Reads of All Time.
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