You may not know this about me, but as a kid I was a rabid horror fan. I loved reading scary books, and horror was my genre of choice. Stephen King was my number-one author; the JK Rowling fans of today don’t have anything on me and Stephen King.
My first book of his was Night Shift, a collection of short stories that was and still is a masterpiece, in my opinion. For me it was so good because it not only had the shockers that creeped the hell out of me, like The Mangler and Children of the Corn (which was later turned into a movie), it also had poignant, non-horror stories that made me cry, like The Last Rung on the Ladder, which was about the relationship between a brother and his little sister.
For me, King is the best horror writer of all time. I’ve tried others along the way, like Dean Koontz, but all of them paled next to the master. Dan Simmons comes close—he wrote one of my favorite books of all time, The Terror—but Simmons is more of a fantasy sci-fi guy, and thus far, The Terror is the only truly scary book he’s written.
King, however, is not only the best horror writer of all time, he’s also one of the most prolific authors of all time. To date he’s published almost 100 books: novels, novellas, seven written under the pen name Richard Bachman, and five non-fiction books. According to Wikipedia, he’s also written around 200 short stories, which have been compiled in various books like Night Shift and Skeleton Crew.
I’m proud to say I own most of Stephen King’s oeuvre. Not every single one, of course. I’m a fan but not a stan, like Annie Wilkes in Misery. And, is it possible to be too prolific? Quite frankly, he’s written so many books I can’t keep up anymore. If I happen to come across a new one in a bookstore I will probably buy it, but I won’t tear into it like I did when I was a girl of 12, eager to plumb its dark depths, unmask its monsters and face down its fears. I’m just too busy now, and maybe more than a little jaded. Such is the sadness of becoming an adult.
When I was a tween I used to keep all my Stephen King books stacked on the shelves of a tall closet beside my bed. My youngest sister Marie used to sleep on the bed next to mine, and if the door to my closet was even just slightly ajar, I would have to close it or else she’d be too scared to go to sleep. I didn’t blame her, because my books did have scary covers, like Sissy Spacek covered in blood in the movie edition of Carrie.
Carrie was King’s breakthrough book, and it isn’t even horror in the traditional sense. It’s about a high-school girl with telekinetic powers who wants to fit in and go to prom like any normal high-school girl. But she’s an outsider with a fanatically religious mom, so people are mean to her — so mean that she finally breaks and uses her telekinesis to wreak havoc on the town.
That’s what makes Stephen King a literary genius, IMHO. Though he could literally scare you sick—I got a fever after reading The Tommyknockers one summer—his books were really about the human condition and how horrible people could be to one another, or how loving and redemptive.
My favorites in no particular order include Carrie, ’Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Cujo, The Running Man, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Body, Thinner, Gerald’s Game, Lisey’s Story, and On Writing, where he discusses his creative process and how he gets the ideas for his stories. You might notice that many of his books have been turned into movies and TV series; the greatest for me would be the OG Carrie with Sissy Spacek, ’Salem’s Lot with James Mason (the scene where young Danny Glick becomes a vampire and floats outside his brother’s window made my sisters and I scared to shower at night in any bathroom that had windows), The Shining with Jack Nicholson, Shawshank Redemption with Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and Stand By Me with River Phoenix, which was based on the short story “The Body.”
From looking at his bibliography I notice that I started tuning out around Y2K, the turn of the century, when I was in the thick of my job and marriage, and had to drop most childish things. But the weirdest thing happened after I became a mom in 2002. I suddenly lost my appetite for horror. Yes, I found I couldn’t stomach scary movies anymore. Scott would convince me to watch the occasional hyped one, like The Descent or Hereditary, and I was a total wuss, covering my eyes and squeezing his hand or arm until it turned white.
I can’t explain this sudden turnaround. Maybe it was because as a mom I was the protector of an innocent life, and didn’t want to think about the possible horrors lurking around every corner. Maybe it was because I already had enough horror in my life—not the supernatural kind, but the daily horrors of traffic, deadlines, and all the curveballs life throws at you, and when you get home at night, you want to watch something that takes you away from your troubles, not smashes it into your face.
But as a writer, I am and always will be the King of Horror’s ever-faithful reader. I see there are about half a dozen books of his I haven’t read yet. Perhaps I will spend All Souls Day curled up with one of them.