- Say you're living your best innocent childhood life, chasing your paper boat as it floats down the rain smattered rivulets running along the curb by your house.
Hurrying faster and faster as the stream turns into a mini river.
In most writer's hands, you'd have a reasonable idea of what to expect next.
But not in the hands of Stephen King.
Now yeah, sure.
When you say Stephen King, your average Joe Schmoe thinks uh, scary.
And you know, hey, that's just fine with uncle Stevie.
Fellow novelist John Grisham has described King as "the current holder of ABLA, or America's Best Loved Bogeyman."
And that paper boat, she's forever lost in the sewer, held hostage by Pennywise the clown and Pennywise doesn't make balloon animals or honk his nose.
He doesn't just do that.
No, he eats children just like you.
Few writers have had the sheer staying power, popularity and prolific output as Stephen King, from insatiably flesh, hungry clowns and cinching cars to telekinetic teenagers and mystical gunslingers.
If there's one author who has taken up valuable real estate in that part of our imaginations, it's Stephen King, but it's not just his monsters that have lasting power.
It's also the very human and very psychological elements in his work that linger.
So come with me, constant reader, while I lead you through the dark and twisted world of uncle Stevie, the King of horror.
(gentle music) Stephen King has been around for a while.
And when I say a while, I mean like bell bottoms and Watergate.
Even before he published his first novel, Carrie, in 1974, he had published dozens of short stories.
To date, King's books have sold more than 350 million copies.
He has published a staggering 61 novels, 11 collections of short stories and novellas and five works of nonfiction.
To say nothing of his screenplays, essays and yes, even a musical with John Mellencamp and T-bone Burnett called Ghost Brothers of Darkland County.
But when King is actually writing, which when he's in the middle of a project is every day, including Christmas, the 4th of July and his own birthday, he's writing a lot.
Any avid King reader knows that when they pick up one of his books that can generally expect a doorstop.
His longest, the unabridged version of The Stand, clocks in at 1,153 pages and was originally so long that the publisher requested he cut 400 pages to lower production costs.
(loud crashing) (cat howling) Says King, "I was asked if I would like to make cuts to The Stand, or if I would prefer someone in the editorial department to do it.
I reluctantly agreed to do the surgery myself.
I think I did a fairly good job for a writer who has been accused over and over again of having diarrhea of the word processor."
In other words, as the verbose author uncharacteristically put it succinctly, "I have a real problem with bloat.
I write like a fat lady diets."
So just how does King maintain such a consistent output over the course of almost five decades?
Well remember that aforementioned strict work ethic that glues King to his keyboard, even on his own birthday?
According to King, "I like to get 10 pages a day, which amounts to 2000 words.
That's 180,000 words over a three month span, a goodish length for a book.
The first draft of a book, even a long one, should take no more than three months, the length of a season."
But King is the first to admit that he's been slowing down a bit.
According to him, "I think it was quitting smoking that slowed me down.
Nicotine is a great synapse enhancer."
And here, dear reader, is where his tale takes a darker turn.
The relentless demon of addiction that not only plagued so much of his life, but also informed a lot of his work.
King has always been open about the dark periods in his life that have influenced his writing, both for good and ill. For example, Cujo a novel about a mother and her young son stranded in a stifling car, surrounded by a rabid St. Bernard is a novel King himself likes, but sadly, he was so drunk that he barely remembers writing it.
Says King, "I was drinking a case of 16 ounce tallboys a night.
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."
On the opposite end of the spectrum is his alien invasion opus, The Tommyknockers, which King claims is an awful book.
When he wrote it in the spring and summer of 1986, he was often working until midnight with my heart running at 130 beats a minute and cotton swabs stuck up my nose to stem the coke induced bleeding.
That the Tommyknockers was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act.
While King did a lot of hard work in the '90's getting clean, a freak car accident in 1999, while he was taking one of his nightly walks, nearly ended his life.
And sometime after an addiction to painkillers entered back into the narrative.
His first book while recovering from the injury, and alien invasion called Dreamcatcher, was the freakish offspring of severe pain and heavy doses of Oxycontin.
The novel delves deep into the invaders, nicknamed shit weasel, that just stayed in their host stomachs only to violently and gruesomely burst from their rectums.
Dreamcatcher is also a book that King is not a fan of.
He says, "I don't like Dreamcatcher very much.
I was pretty you stoned when I wrote it because of the Oxy.
And that's another book that shows the drugs at work."
Addiction is a pervasive theme in many Kings texts.
The Shining, about a troubled father who he gives into his demons, both the ghostly and bottled variety, is a 4547 page metaphor for alcoholism and King admits that there was a part of him that knew he was an alcoholic while he was writing it.
Even though he couldn't admit it at the time.
And Misery, wait, I thought that was about a crazy fan so obsessed with an author that she's willing to kill him to squeeze one final book out of him.
Misery is a book cocaine.
Annie Wilkes is cocaine.
She was my number one fan.
And this is what makes Stephen King so successful.
He uses surface level fears to examine the things that truly horrify us.
It's not that there are literal monsters and demons that stalk us day to day.
It's that King finds metaphorical ways to personify them.
As fellow novelist, Walter Mosley put it, "King's phenomenal popularity is due to his almost instinctual understanding of the fears that form the psyche of America's working class.
He knows fear and not the fear of demonic forces alone, but also of loneliness and poverty, of hunger in the unknown we have to breach in order to survive."
Trauma is always there, an omnipresent part of the human experience.
The trauma of helplessness and loss of agency, the trauma of abuse and fear of your own loved ones.
And the biggest one of all, childhood trauma.
He's done that one a few times.
I mean, the creature from It literally takes the form of whatever will be most traumatizing for each kid ensuring that each and every one of them will have a hell of a time growing up.
This is a whole long-winded way of saying, as Mr.
Diarrhea of the Word Processor put it, "You don't get scared of monsters.
You get scared for people."
This ability to grapple with the deeper, more profound horrors that pervade the human condition has allowed King to branch out into just about every genre, making him a slippery writer to pin down genre wise.
But to reactively label King as just a horror writer is like saying Tolkien is just a guy who writes about jewelry.
For every child-killing clown King has given us, he's also given us a tender love story about loss.
And for every rabid Saint Bernard, we get an inspirational story of redemption from a maximum security prison.
Two of them.
Literary critic, Michael R. Collings, calls this "generic and decisiveness," which English lecturer, John Sears, observes is a hallmark of King's works.
As they demonstrate "an unwillingness or inability to be confined to singular generic categories.
They tend instead to fray at their generic edges, sprawl over boundary, allowing different genres to seep into each other."
This refusal to be confined to one genre is no more abundantly clear than in King's sprawling Dark Tower series.
Eight volumes, spanning 30 years of his career and whose characters, ideas and world made cameos in many of Kings other non Dark Tower works.
If you've read The Dark Tower, try describing it.
Just try it, and no you're not allowed to cheat and give me that Matthew McConaughey movie.
It's only fitting to end our examination of a master storyteller with a story.
This one paraphrased from King himself.
Way back after Carrie debuted, King and his editor were waiting at a crosswalk trying to decide which book King would publish next, Roadwork or Salem's Lot.
There were pros and cons to each, but his editor's main concern was that if they went with Salem's Lot, King would most assuredly be typed as a horror writer.
King said, "I don't care what they call me.
As long as the checks don't bounce."
So they went with Salem's Lot, the modern American vampire bestseller, and the checks certainly didn't bounce.
And the result, well, "I wasn't even typed as a horror writer, a tag I have never confirmed or denied simply because I think it's irrelevant to what I do.
It does, however, give bookstores a handy place to shelve my books" King's work is so expansive, so sprawling and so exhaustively wide and deep that we could spend an entire YouTube channel explaining it.
Maybe we should, but at the end of the day, we need some place to put his books.
Just make sure those shelves are a safe distance from your bed because there's nothing like sharing a nightmare with Steven King.
Good night and sweet dreams, constant reader.