You know Stephen King as the master of horror, a writer whose work is synonymous with fear, and the brain behind chilling books like It, The Shining, and Pet Sematary - but what drives King to create such terrifying tales? Any Stephen King trivia buff will tell you the key to his craft can be found by looking to his childhood. King grew up with his mother and brother - his father split shortly after his birth - and his life didn’t get more peachy as he matured.
Aside from the normal hardships many single-parent families endure, King’s young life was full of horrific events that informed many of his stories. He witnessed the passing of one of his friends and lived through several other harrowing events. King has said he doesn’t believe the grim facts about his upbringing have anything to with his stories, but it’s arguable his childhood formed the basis for much of his work.
He Felt Estranged From Other Children His Age
King says he never felt like he was on the same page as children his age; even though he hung out with other pre-teens they weren't all that close. He remembered:
I had friends and all that, but I often felt unhappy and different - estranged from other kids my age. I was a fat kid - ‘husky’ was the euphemism they used in the clothing store - and pretty poorly coordinated, always the last picked when we chose teams.
King Grew Up Reading Pulpy Detective Novels
As much as King owes a debt to the stories of HP Lovecraft, he told NPR his first literary love was the detective novel. Once a week King had the chance to check out new pulp novels, and they affected him more than his writing might suggest. King recalled:
We lived way out in the country, and my mother would go once a week shopping, and she would go to the Red & White or the A&P to pick up her groceries. And I would immediately beat feet to Robert's Drugstore, where they had a couple of those turn-around wire racks with the hard-boiled paperbacks that usually featured a girl with scanty clothing on the front. ... The teaser line that I always loved the most was for a novel called Liz where it said, 'She hit the gutter and bounced lower.' ... I loved that.
King Didn't Think He Was Going To Live To See Age 20
As a child, King was obsessed with the dark side of life, especially the afterlife. The young writer didn't think he had much of a future, and assumed he'd expire after a couple of decades on Earth:
I was terrified and fascinated by death... in general and my own, in particular. I was absolutely convinced that I’d never live to reach 20. I envisioned myself walking home one night along a dark, deserted street, and somebody or something would jump out of the bushes, and that would be it.
He Loved Being Scared As A ChildPhoto: IT/Warner Bros.
The modern master of horror says he spent his early days on the hunt for things that terrified him. Whether it was a book or a radio show, he wanted something that made him sleep with his bedroom light on. He told NPR:
My childhood was pretty ordinary, except from a very early age I wanted to be scared. I just did. I was scared afterward. I wanted a light on because I was scared. There was something in the closet. My imagination was very active even at a young age. For instance, there was a radio program at the time called Dimension X, and my mother didn't want me to listen to that because she felt it was too scary for me, so I would creep out of bed and go to the bedroom door and crack it open. And she loved it, so apparently I got it from her, but I would listen at the door and then when the program was over I'd go back to bed and quake.