September 21: On this day in 1947 Stephen King was born. As told in On Writing, his 2000 “memoir of the craft,” King’s childhood was “a kind of curriculum vitae” of the man and his themes—”a fogged-out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees … the kind that look as if they might like to grab and eat you.” King’s first memory is of imitating the Ringling Brothers Circus Strongboy and dropping a cinder block on his toes. His second, aged four, is of Eula-Beulah, one of an endless stream of babysitters hired by his mother—his father having disappeared when King was two, after going for the proverbial package of cigarettes. Eula-Beulah was very large, and prone to gas: “Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. ‘Pow!’ she’d cry in high glee.” Other memories, related here or in Danse Macabre (1981), tell of fright-night drive-ins, sick-bed seclusions, and creaking-attic discoveries. The unremembered father survived only through his remnants in the attic—a box of sci-fi and horror paperbacks, aborted attempts to write same, scrapbooks from his merchant marine travels, one reel of film. King and his brother pooled their money, secretly rented a projector…:
…and there he is, Donald King of Peru, Indiana, standing against the rail. He raises his hand; smiles; unknowingly waves to sons who were then not even conceived. We rewound it, watched it, rewound it, watched it again. And again. Hi, Dad: wonder where you are now.
Whatever the inspirations, King began writing weird tales early and often. At age thirteen he had his first rejection slip; at twenty, his first sale. At twenty-five—he has two kids now, his wife, Tabitha, having gone into labor with one of them while her husband was watching The Corpse Grinders at the drive-in, the word that he was needed at home announced over his car speaker—he had a $400,000 sale for the paperback rights of Carrie. King gives specific and lasting credit to Tabitha for all this. She saved the manuscript of Carrie when King threw it in the garbage, and she saved him from his slide into alcohol and drug addiction by staging a public intervention.
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.