Several times over the years I’ve written about how I first stumbled upon the work of Stephen King, which launched my full-blown love affair with horror in the 1990s. This is an essay I wrote for the always amazing Robin Furth when she was editing the Book of the Month Club Stephen King Desk Calendar a few years back:
The summer I turned twelve years old, I stumbled upon a secret stash of Stephen King books hidden away on the bookcases in the basement of my parents’ house. It’s not that the books were being hidden from me — my parents never seemed to say “no” to a book or movie I wanted to try, especially considering I saw Aliens on VHS as a kid — but I just hadn’t noticed this particular bookcase before for some reason.
Those same bookcases were also filled with my father’s huge collection of paperbacks by authors such as Donald Hamilton, Ed McBain, and Robert B. Parker–which I would go on to read another year–but the hardcovers with STEPHEN KING emblazoned on the spines were what caught my eye.
There was an old couch in the basement and I often sat there when reading during the summers when it was too hot to play outside. This was where I spent most of the summer when I was 12. Usually the books would follow me up to bed at bedtime.
I started with Carrie, possibly because it was the shortest, but before long I had tackled the first three books of the Dark Tower series and The Stand and Misery everything in-between. I spent that summer devouring each and every one of King’s books, usually late into the night, finishing the day by reading with a flashlight under the covers.
King’s stories seemed to grow from a seed into a great big forest, all right there in front of me on the printed page. Each story was simply written the way it was meant to be — as if it had always existed. King had me in his clutches from the very first page, and I never looked back.
By the time I was in high school, I was still reading every new thing by King I could get my hands on, and thanks to King I had discovered authors like Peter Straub, Robert McCammon, Richard Matheson, Charlie Grant, Dan Simmons, David Morrell, and many others. Not a day went by that I wasn’t reading some used paperback or another at lunch or in study hall.
I was also writing my own stories on a regular basis and soon I was selling some of them to small publications. Although most of my teachers were encouraging, there was the occasional negative reaction to my writing from time to time, and not everyone was pleased with my subject matter. I was actually dropped from an Honors English class without any explanation. The exact reason was never officially confirmed for me, but it was suggested that my writing wasn’t “literary” enough for the teacher’s tastes. Too much of that “commercial Stephen King influence” for me to be taken seriously, you know?
Of course, I didn’t want to be taken seriously. I just wanted to have fun and tell the stories I was hearing in my head.
I’m still doing that now, when I have the time and energy. And now, when I travel home, I find my mother’s Stephen King collection front and center on the bookcases in the living room instead of the basement, with my own books right there next to them. How cool is that?
Of course, I’m still a huge Stephen King fan, and every year I look forward to his next book. Then, when that new book arrives, I take my time and savor every word late into the night, and it feels like that summer when I was twelve all over again.