King of Horror Stephen King is the most prolific and celebrated writer of his generation, with a career spanning over five decades that includes books, short stories, ebooks, chapbooks, screen adaptations, magazine articles, directing, producing, and acting. He shows no sign of slowing down, even though on September 21, 2022, he celebrates a milestone birthday. We here at PopHorror are fans and want to wish him a happy 75th!
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, on September 21, 1947, the second son of Donald and Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King. He made his first professional short story sale in 1967 to Startling Mystery Stories. In the fall of 1971, he began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. Writing in the evenings and on the weekends, he continued to produce short stories and to work on novels. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co., accepted the novel Carrie for publication, providing him the means to leave teaching and write full-time. He has since published over 50 books and has become one of the world’s most successful writers. King is the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to the American Letters and the 2014 National Medal of Arts.
Stephen lives in Maine and Florida with his wife, novelist Tabitha King. They are regular contributors to a number of charities including many libraries and have been honored locally for their philanthropic activities.
We all know the story, right? Stephen’s wife, Tabitha, picked Carrie out of the garbage and told him he had something there. She even offered to help him write some of the scenes from the female standpoint. I always wonder what would—or wouldn’t—have happened if she hadn’t picked that manuscript out of the garbage? I am sure the author would have gotten his break somewhere down the line, but I can’t imagine us not having Carrie. That book, along with the film, revolutionized both horror book and films, opening up and expanding a genre to include psychic and supernatural horror. Carrie is also a great revenge tale, and who doesn’t love a good revenge story?
What is just so great about Mr. King is that he can tell a story like no other. You feel so many emotions with his works. You may get scared with some, but you also can have compassion and empathy towards his characters. His villains—Annie Wilkes (Misery – our retro review of the film), Randall Flag (The Stand) and Jack Torrance (The Shining), to name a few—are dynamic, and they give you so many mixed feelings throughout the story. Have you ever read or watched Dolores Claiborne (our retro review of the film)? It’s an underrated gem.
Stephen King is also prolific. He writes not only horror, but also crime, detective stories, fantasy, drama, comedy, and science fiction, and screen adaptions of his stories are some of the horror industry’s most beloved films. You will meet people who haven’t read his books but have seen the films and vice versa, and people who have both read and seen the films. I am on a reading quest to read every Stephen King book. Currently, I am reading IT. I have a special bookcase where I house all my Stephen King books.
Stephen King has had an amazing career that just keeps flourishing. He is still writing and publishing. Most recently, his book, Fairy Tale, was released on September 6, 2022. Looking back throughout the years, it’s clear that he has created so many works for every taste in fiction. I get quite a few people who say to me, “I can’t read Stephen King. It’s too scary.” I always say that Stephen King is not just horror. While he does have many horror titles, which include Salem’s Lot, The Shining, Pet Sematary and Doctor Sleep to name a few, he does have other genres to read, like Eye of the Dragon, The Dark Tower series, The Stand, The Tommyknockers, and my personal favorite, 11/22/63, for fantasy and science fiction readers. He has coming-of-age stories with IT, The Body (which is the basis for the 1986 film, Stand By Me) and another personal favorite of mine, Dreamcatcher. And I can’t forget the hard-boiled detective series, the Bill Hodges trilogy.
Stephen King is the master of short stories. They are my absolute favorites. I always recommend those collections as well, like Night Shift, Different Seasons, and Everything’s Eventual. My first Stephen King book…wasn’t even a Stephen King book. It was Thinner by his pseudonym, Richard Bachman.
King explained why he used a pen name on his website:
I did that because back in the early days of my career, there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept, but I think that a number of writers have disproved that by now. I’m one of them, and the guy who writes the Along Came the Spider books is another one who’s written two or three books a year. Danielle Steel usually publishes two books a year. So the public will accept more than one book from a writer in the course of a year. The thing is, one book is all most writers want to produce or can produce in the course of a year, and some of them only publish a book every two years. Ed McBain is another novelist who publishes multiple books in some years, and his original name was Evan Hunter. That’s the name he’s always published under, and he adopted the pen name of Ed McBain for the same reason I adopted Richard Bachman, and that was that it made it possible for me to do two books in one year. I just did them under different names and eventually the public got wise to this because you can change your name but you can’t really disguise your style. The name Richard Bachman actually came from when they called me and said we’re ready to go to press with this novel, what name shall we put on it? And I hadn’t really thought about that. Well, I had, but the original name—Gus Pillsbury—had gotten out on the grapevine and I really didn’t like it that much anyway, so they said they needed it right away, and there was a novel by Richard Stark on my desk so I used the name Richard and that’s kind of funny because Richard Stark is in itself a pen name for Donald Westlake, and what was playing on the record player was “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” by Bachman Turner Overdrive, so I put the two of them together and came up with Richard Bachman.
Fun Fact via IMDb
Stephen King had originally planned to release the novel, Misery, under his pseudonym, Richard Bachman. While writing it, however, it was discovered that King was Bachman. The author subsequently published the novel under his real name and announced that Bachman had died from “cancer of the pseudonym.”
I’m always going to tell you the book is better than the movie. However, there are some great screen adaptations of King’s works, and we keep seeing more and more of them. So many of his stories have been adapted to screen. I can still remember watching the IT miniseries as a kid, and that bathroom scene scared me. We all talked about it a recess the next day, of course. I also used to watch the edited version of The Shining on broadcast TV. I actually didn’t see the real version of the film until I was an adult, and man, that bathroom scene! At the time I didn’t know it was Stephen King who wrote the original tale, but Stand by Me is one of my top movies, and the story is just top notch. More recently, I have to say Doctor Sleep was phenomenal as well as 11/22/63. I recommend both the books and the screen adaptations.
A book I also recommend a lot is On Writing. If you are a writer, this is a must read. If you are a reader, it’s also a must read. He sheds a lot of insight on his life and work and offers great advice for writers. The book inspires me, and I have read it quite a few times. This, like many Stephen King books, is a definite comfort read for me.
There’s just so much to love about Stephen King, and I can’t really put that in words. But I’ll say this… we are beyond lucky to have his stories out there for consumption. Whether it’s a book or a film, you know you are in for an experience with a King story. While he provides terror, he has also provides worlds for us to escape into in many genres, characters and stories that stick with you long after you read or watch. Happy 75th birthday, Stephen King!
I, of course, did not list all of his books. If you want to read our rankings of Stephen King books by decade through 2018, please check them out! 1974-1980, 1981-1990, 1991-2000, 2001-2010 and 2011-2018.
Some more birthday wishes from our writers:
I’m a lifelong Stephen King fan.. not just his novels, but the films based on his works as well. I’m not exactly sure what my first King exposure was. I’m pretty sure it was the Salem’s Lot TV miniseries, which terrified me as a kid. Print wise, I’m pretty sure my first King read was Night Shift. I’ve always had a soft spot for his short story work, and Night Shift was my first and is still my favorite of those collections. Speaking as a writer, I will also say that I dust off my copy of King’s On Writing whenever I’m in need of inspiration. There’s so much great advice in there! Happy birthday, Mister King!
There are going to be a lot of tributes to Stephen King for his 75th birthday that covers his life and his works, but one topic that should be discussed is his “never say die” attitude that took him from broke and desolate into the greatest horror author of all time. What people may not know is that King almost didn’t become a writer. There were many chances and reasons for him to quit. For those that have self doubts or anxiety or any reason whatsoever that they’ll never make it as a writer, check out this part of King’s history.
After he graduated from college in 1970, he, his wife, and daughter, Naomi, were living in a trailer in rural Maine. His mother, Ruth, sent him $5 a week to help him out. For the next four years, he couldn’t get anything published in anything outside of lewd men’s magazines. When he was able to get a short story published, he got a whopping $200 for a royalty check. That $200 went to rent, his children, food, and gas. Things got so bad that more than once, King had no telephone because he and his wife couldn’t afford to pay for it. He had to work as a gas station attendant and a laundromat clerk just to keep the lights on.
In 1971, he got a job as a high school English teacher and still had to keep his laundromat gig just to keep the bills paid. Compounding his situation was the fact that his stories were getting rejected by one publishing company after another. He would work all day as a teacher, work extra hours at the laundromat, and then sit at his typewriter for 2 hours before bed to chase his dream. Finally in 1974, Stephen caught a break when Bill Thompson of Doubleday Publishing agreed to go through his manuscripts. Bill said, “Crap, crap, nope, yuck, nope, cra… wait a minute! A bullied high school girl uses telekinesis to get revenge? This may work.”
The at the time short story, Carrie, caught Bill’s eye and he told the author to rewrite it. Originally, King threw it in the garbage because he knew as much about teenaged girls in the 1970s as he did about the Annexation of Puerto Rico. His wife, Tabitha, picked it out of the trash and agreed to help him with the female perspective. King finished it, and Doubleday Publishing published it in 1974. The book was a hit, and the follow-up, Salem’s Lot, was another smash. King never had to worry about money again, and his writing career took off.
This rags to riches story is an inspiration to aspiring writers around the world. King was 26-years-old and living in a trailer when Carrie became a hit. He wasn’t grandfathered in to a writing job like some newspaper writers I know. He wasn’t featured in MAD magazine as a guest writer like Chevy Chase. He had to work from the bottom to the top. You can say whatever you want about the quality of his books, the context of his works, and his political views, but you can never take away the fact that he worked for everything he had. Anyone out there reading this… never give up!
In my childhood, the first thing I’d ever heard about King was that he was “the face of horror.” Decades later, it’s hard not to agree. His world-building in the genre is second to none. He knows when to attack and when to slow the pace down to build characters. He’s found fear on every level and uses his superb writing to make it feel like it’s lurking right outside our doors. Thank you, Mr. King, for scaring each of us in your own way.
Just one look at my bookshelf will show how much the work of Stephen King means to me. Aside from a cheesy Danielle Steel tome that I got out of a mini library at the beach, it’s been years since I’ve read a novel by anyone else. When I worked the late shift at an awful call center job, reading Pet Sematary during my dinner break—and jumping at every little sound!—was the highlight. I’ve spent hours pouring over IT, Needful Things, and countless others… the chunkier the book, the better. And don’t even get me started on the movie adaptations. The Shining and all the others are playing year round in my house. Happy 75th birthday to the most brilliant writer and King of Horror!
Stephen King’s early works inspired so many things in my life, most especially a love of the strange, mystical, and disgusting, and a passion for layered storytelling. He gives his readers perfect descriptions and characteristics of his characters by their actions and dialogue, rather than straight up telling us what he wants us to know. They’re almost always relatable, even if their actions lead to deadly results. His short stories are, dare I say, even better than his novels, with “Grey Matter,” “The Boogeyman,” “The Mist,” “The Body,” “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” “The Long Walk,” and “The Jaunt” being some of my favorite literary stories ever written. His tales are the only ones that I can reread over and over again and never get bored. My obsession with the author even turned into an Any Worhal-style portrait I painted back in high school.
Happy 3/4 of a century, Mr. King!