Famed horror novelist Stephen King thinks there are two kinds of writers.
“There are the kind that write for themselves and the kind that write with an audience in mind, even if it is just one person,” King said.
King spoke about his rise from a high school teacher to an audience-conscious best-selling author at a packed Berkeley College Master’s Tea Monday. He traced his beginnings as a writer back to his childhood. While King was sick with scarlet fever as young boy, his mother paid him a quarter for every story he wrote.
“Naturally, I wrote as many as I could,” King said. “I couldn’t get out of bed, but I sent my brother out [to spend the money].”
King began writing at a young age, but his first novel came several years later. While living in a trailer in Maine, King wrote “Carrie.” For the hardcover, he received an advance of $2,500, which he invested in a Ford Pinto.
“My wife wanted to know if there would be any more money coming from this and I told her ‘Yeah,'” he said.
King vividly recalled the day he received the phone call that he said changed his life. His editor informed him the paperback rights for “Carrie” sold for $400,000 — nearly ten times the estimated range of $30,000 to $60,000.
“My mind was literally on fire,” King said. “It wasn’t about the money. It was about the time I would get to write. It was like someone opened a jail cell and told me I was pardoned.”
After receiving his initial payments from “Carrie,” King, his wife Tabby and their two children moved to Colorado, where King stumbled upon an idea for another novel.
One weekend, King and his wife took a trip up to the mountains. They eventually settled at the Stanley Hotel — the inspiration for “The Shining.”
“When I was in my 20s and 30s, it was an obsessive thing,” King said. “You had to tell the story. It was too big for your head, like you had to lance a boil to let out the pus.”
Ideas are not something that can be sought after, King said.
“‘Where do I get my ideas from?’ is a ridiculous question,” he said. “It’s a couple things that come together which are totally unrelated.”
After his talk, King fielded questions ranging from writing tools to film adaptations of his novels.
“Movies fix characters and setting,” King said. “Novels are more liquid, more plastic.”
Despite their plasticity, books have lasting power, he said.
“The movie has two to three weeks in the cinema — three or four months if it’s ‘Lord of the Rings.’ Then it goes to hotel vision … and then to stores,” King said. “The book goes on and on.”
King also championed traditional writing tools.
“My wife used to say ‘Steve married me for my typewriter,'” he said. “She did have a Smith Corona.”
Although he resisted for years, King, at his wife’s request, made the step up to a computer.
“There is something insidious about word processing,” King said. “It’s like ice skating instead of the full-body immersion of swimming.”
Students said they appreciated King for his candidness, which came as somewhat of a surprise to Nicole Lim ’04.
“He was very charismatic,” Lim said. “He was not really what you would think of from his books. He’s a really fun guy.”
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