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.
What a wonderful article. I am also a King fan who stumbled upon this great author simply by picking up a book at a yard sale. From that day forward, I devoured every Stephen King book I could also and have my own bookshelf dedicated to his works. It truly. Must be a wonderful experience having your works next to his, front and center… Congratulations… It’s amazing what that man can ignite inside us with his stories.
Thanks for sharing, Leah!
I am so glad you shared this! I, too, fell in love with reading, writing, and horror after discovering a stash of my father’s Stephen King books at the age of 9, and I’ve been unable to put them down since! I was so terrified of the original cover art of Salem’s Lot that I would never leave the book facing up. I am of the opinion that any writer who is influenced by Stephen King – with his evocative imagery, ability to pull readers immediately into the story, and powerful gift of character development, is a better writer because of their engagement with his words. Best of luck to you, keep savoring those Stephen King books, and above all, keep writing!
Thanks! So many writers started reading King at a young age — I love it! In fact, I have probably emailed with hundreds of published authors over the years who say they got started because of King…!
I too share the literary love of Stephen King. My first paperback was The Shining. From then until now I have quite the collection of hard cover books as well as paperbacks. My grandson shares my passion for Mr. King and I am saving my collection to be passed on to him. These books are timeless in their message and I look forward to many more stories from the great mind of Stephen King.
It’s one of the wonderful things about real, print books — they’re so easy to hand down to future generations. I really love reading on my eReaders, but I don’t know if discovering grandpa’s old Kindle — which probably won’t even work at that point! — could ever be the same as browsing through stacks and stacks of your family’s books, gathered over years and years of reading…
Those named have driven me crazy for decades. Not crazy crazy; in awe crazy. Such perplexing flexibility as readers, and writers, will be the key to our survival as humans.
That curious study of how insane we are drives my written machine.
Loved this article. It took me back to the time when I first read King. I was the kid in high school that always had a King novel in addition to whatever school books I needed to lug around from class to class. I remember getting bad grades in English class when we had to write essays as mine stories were always “too long”. I can’t believe that I was getting my creative wings clipped so soon, but I’m very glad that it didn’t stop me from pursuing my own writing career. I only hope that someday I, too, can have my novels stacked next to Mr. King’s on my bookshelf!
Richard Chizmar, the owner of Cemetery Dance, has a great story about Stephen King and high school — Rich’s English teacher was the one who introduced the class to King’s work via “The Monkey”! Now that’s a teacher I would have loved…
Great article. A great tribute to your mom’s taste in writing too. Something tells me she could have told your Honor’s English teacher a thing or two about good writing. My family had that basement stash of books too, best reading of my life.
Nothing beats a family’s personal library to get a kid started on a lifetime of reading!
[…] A fun little coda to My Mother’s Secret Stash of Stephen King: […]
[…] the spirit of My Mother’s Secret Stash of Stephen King, I thought I’d post another essay I wrote about that summer when I was 12 years old. I […]
My first Stephen King was in a magazine, in the 70’s. It was in Redbook, Ladies Home Journal I can’t remember now. The story was “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut”, I think I have saved it in a box somewhere. I now have everything Stephen King I can get my hands on. I thought about that short story for weeks after I read it.
Excellent article Mr. Freeman. I too picked up on Stephen King as a teenager when a friends mother let me borrow “The Stand” (to this day still my favorite King story of all time). I was instantly mesmerized by Mr. King’s use of the English language to draw the reader into his warped (but at times seemingly believable and real) look at ordinary people put into extraordinary situations and scenarios(The Stand, Cujo, Christine…). His writing style puts the reader right into the thick of the story like a horrific nightmare and doesn’t turn them loose until the last punctuation mark of the story. I have yet to find another writer that has “hooked” me like he has.
On a closing note, I have purchased and have been impressed with several of your books which include ” The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book” and “The Painted Darkness”. All I can say is that you should keep on writing, you also are very good at it !
King has this uncanny ability to set a scene and create “real people” to populate it — I’ve never seen another author hit the mark as consistently as him.
Thank you for the kind words about The Painted Darkness and The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book. There will be another SK trivia book next year, this time focused on the movies — hope you like it!
Yeah, when will the Illustrated Trivia Book be out? Is this the one where you had people submit possible questions? I submitted a bunch, absolutely none of them were usable. Every single one trashed Shelley Duvall.
The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book will be out in 2012. Glenn Chadbourne finished up all of the artwork last month and you can see a sneak peek of the cover artwork on my website:
Ooo, purty. I love Glenn’s work.
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