Stephen Edwin King (born September 21, 1947) is an American author best known for his enormously popular horror novels. King was the 2003 recipient of The National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.
King's stories frequently involve an unremarkable protagonist such as a middle-class family, a child, or many times, a writer. The characters are involved in their everyday lives, but the supernatural encounters and extraordinary circumstances escalate over the course of the story. King evinces a thorough knowledge of the horror genre, as shown in his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, which chronicles several decades of notable works in both literature and cinema. He also writes stories outside the horror genre, including the novellas The Body and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (adapted as the movies Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, respectively), as well as The Green Mile and Hearts in Atlantis. In the past, Stephen King has written under the pen name of Richard Bachman.
In King's nonfiction book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, King discusses his writing style at great length and depth. King believes that, generally speaking, good stories cannot be called consciously and should not be plotted out beforehand but are better served by focusing on a single "seed" of a story and letting the story grow itself from there. King often begins a story with no idea how the story will end. He mentions in the Dark Tower series that, halfway through its lengthy, nearly 30-year writing period, King received a letter from a woman with cancer who asked how the book would end¹, because she was unlikely to live long enough to read it. He stated that he didn't know. King believes strongly in this style, stating that his best writing comes from freewriting.
He is known for his great eye for detail, for continuity, and for inside references; many stories that may seem unrelated are often linked by secondary characters, fictional towns, or off-hand references to events in previous books. Read as a whole, King's work (which he claims is centered around his Dark Tower magnum opus) creates a remarkable history that stretches from present day all the way back to the beginning of time (with a unique creation myth).
King's books are filled with references to American history and American culture, particularly the darker, more fearful side of these. These references are generally spun into the stories of characters, often explaining their fears. Recurrent references include crime, war (especially the Vietnam War), and racism.
King is also known for his folksy, informal narration, often referring to his fans as "Constant Readers" or "friends and neighbors." This familiar style contrasts with the horrific content of many of his stories.
King has a very simple formula for learning to write well: "Read four hours a day and write four hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can't expect to become a good writer."
King also has a simple definition for talent in writing: "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" (from "Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully — in Ten Minutes").
Shortly after his accident, King wrote the first draft of the book Dreamcatcher with a notebook and a Waterman fountain pen, "the world's finest word processor."
King's recent years
In 1996, King won an O. Henry Award for his short story, "The Man in the Black Suit." In 2003, King was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Book Awards. There was an uproar in the literary community over the choice of King.
"He is a man who writes what used to be called penny dreadfuls. That they could believe that there is any literary value there or any aesthetic accomplishment or signs of an inventive human intelligence is simply a testimony to their own idiocy" — literary critic Harold Bloom.
Others in the writing community expressed their contempt of the slight towards King. Orson Scott Card wrote "Let me assure you that King's work most definitely is literature, because it was written to be published and is read with admiration. What [Richard] Snyder [former CEO of Simon & Schuster, who described King's work as non-literature] really means is that it is not the literature preferred by the academic-literary elite.".
King also wrote one short story, The Fifth Quarter, under the name John Swithen. The Fifth Quarter, was reprinted in King's collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes in 1993 under his own name.
King used to play guitar in the band Rock Bottom Remainders but has not joined them on stage for some years. The band's members include: Dave Barry; Ridley Pearson; Scott Turow; Amy Tan; James McBride; Mitch Albom; Roy Blount Jr.; Matt Groening; Kathi Kamen Goldmark; and Greg Iles.
In 2002, King announced he would stop writing, apparently motivated in part by frustration with his injuries, which had made sitting uncomfortable, and reduced his stamina. He has since written several books.
"I'm writing but I'm writing at a much slower pace than previously and I think that if I come up with something really, really good, I would be perfectly willing to publish it because that still feels like the final act of the creative process, publishing it so people can read it and you can get feedback and people can talk about it with each other and with you, the writer, but the force of my invention has slowed down a lot over the years and that's as it should be. I'm not a kid of 25 anymore and I'm not a young middle-aged man of 35 anymore — I'm 55 years old and I have grandchildren, two new puppies to house-train and I have a lot of things to do besides writing and that in and of itself is a wonderful thing but writing is still a big, important part of my life and of everyday."
Since 2003, King has provided his take on pop culture in a column appearing on the back page of Entertainment Weekly, usually every third week. The column is called "The Pop Of King", a reference to "The King of Pop", Michael Jackson.
In October 2005, King has signed up with Marvel Comics; this will be his first time writing original material for the comic book medium other than two pages in a benefit comic for African hunger relief in the 1980s. The 31 issue series will see him adapting and expanding his The Dark Tower series. The series will be illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Jae Lee. Marvel recently announced the series was delayed until 2007 in order for King to give it the attention it deserves.
In January 2006, King appeared on the first installment of "Amazon Fishbowl", a live web-program hosted by Bill Maher.
In January 2006, King participated in the Writers in Paradise program at Eckerd College, St. Petersburg, FL.
On August 1 and August 2, 2006, Stephen King will be doing a reading for his charity at Radio City Music Hall alongside J.K. Rowling and John Irving.
King, a long time supporter of small publishing press, has recently allowed the publication of two past novels in limited edition form. "The Green Mile," and "Colorado Kid" will receive special treatment from two small publishing houses. Both books will be produced and be signed by both King and the artist contributing work to the book. This is just the latest in King's dance with limited editions, which 50% of his published work has been re-published in limited (signed) edition format.
It is also reported on his website that he will be having book signings in the New York City area and the West coast sometime in October with the release of his new novel, Lisey's Story.