‘You Like It Darker’: 15 Things You May Not Know About Stephen King

Stephen King

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Stephen King's debut novel, while the horror master releases a new collection of short stories this week. Photo: Shane Leonard

If ever there was a writer that required no introduction, it’s Stephen King. 

The celebrated American novelist, 76, has written literally hundreds of novels, novellas, short stories, screenplays and even some nonfiction notably his riveting, bare-knuckles memoir-cum-mentorship guide On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft in 2000 (which was updated and reissued in 2020). King is so prolific that he requires use of a pseudonym – Richard Bachman – just to publish it all. 

For longtime readers, it all began with Carrie. King’s first published novel – inspired by “the two loneliest, most reviled girls” he knew in high school – arrived in April 1974 and remains a standalone classic about alienation and retribution. 

In feting the book’s 50th anniversary earlier this year, the great Margaret Atwood wrote in the New York Times of King’s enduring appeal. “Yes, he shows us weird stuff, but in the context of the actual. 

“The clock, the sofa, the religious paintings on the walls – all the daily objects that Carrie explodes during her rampage – these are drawn from life, as is the everyday sadism of the high school kids that makes Carrie feel as frighteningly relevant as ever.”

Stephen King
Sissy Spacek in the 1976 Brian De Palma horror classic Carrie, based on the Stephen King novel. Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images


Whether his subject matter is horror, fantasy, the supernatural or some mix of the three (It, Carrie, The Shining, Misery, Christine, The Dead Zone, Firestarter, Salem’s Lot, Pet Sematary) or just life itself (The Body a.k.a. Stand By Me, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption), King’s tales are wildly resonant and highly suited to film adaptation sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, a point on which he would unstintingly agree.

On May 21, King releases You Like It Darker, a new collection of 12 short stories, many never-before-published, and described by his publisher, perhaps a smidge hyperbolically, as “some of his best EVER.” To commemorate the new book, we gathered 15 oddball, intriguing, out-there Stephen King fun facts that show that the author’s life is almost as fascinating as the books he writes. 

Stephen King


He’s Quite Funny

He is a master of the horror genre, but King is also exceedingly witty. “In many ways,” he writes in On Writing about a sadistic sitter he once had, “Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell ‘Pow!,’ The Village Voice holds few terrors.”


And Very Candid

Once as a kid, when hiking with his older brother David, King needed to eliminate. Rather than return home, Dave taunted him into defecating in the woods, using leaves as tissue while insisting “that’s how the cowboys did it.” Enchanted by the idea, King proceeded, “wiping my ass with big handfuls of shiny green leaves.” It was poison ivy. “My penis was spared,” he writes, “but my testicles turned into stoplights.”


One Remark Changed His Writing Style Forever

In 1966, in a rejection letter sent in response to one of his short story submissions, King received “a scribbled comment that changed the way I rewrote my fiction once and forever.” It was this: “Formula: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%. Good luck.”


His Mom Stopped Him From Enlisting in the Military

Also in 1966, King contemplated joining the military to fight in Vietnam but his beloved mother – who raised the author and David alone after their father abandoned them – talked him out of it. “Don’t be an idiot, Stephen. With your eyes you’d be the first to get shot. You can’t write if you’re dead.”


Adult Mags Helped Launch His Career

King’s earliest published works appeared mainly in what his Uncle Oren referred to as “the titty books,” or men’s magazines such as Dude, Cavalier, Adam and Swank. “By 1972 they were showing quite a lot more than bare breasts and fiction was on the way out, but I was lucky enough to ride the last wave.”

Stephen King
Stephen King, circa mid 1970s. Photo: © Alex Gotfryd/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images


Lady Luck Has King in Her Sights

King’s wife Tabitha famously rescued an early outline of his breakthrough novel Carrie from the garbage. King was attempting to conjure a bullied teenage girl with telekinetic powers but felt disengaged from the story and its main character. After writing a few pages, he tossed them. Tabitha fished them from the trash. “You’ve got something here,” she said. “I really think you do.” 

Nine months later, King had the final draft. He would be enormously blessed again in 1999 when, out for his daily walk, he was hit by a careless driver. His injuries included (but were not limited to) a lower leg broken in nine places, a kneecap split in half, a fractured right hip, his spine chipped in eight places, four broken ribs, and a laceration in his scalp requiring 30 stitches. Recovery was excruciating, but recover he did.


He Is…. Uh… Resourceful?

When he learned on Mother’s Day in May 1973 that the paperback rights to Carrie would earn the then-broke English teacher and father of two $200,000, King immediately went out to buy his wife a gift. “The only store that was open on Bangor’s Main Street was LaVerdiere’s Drug. I did the best that I could. I got her a hair dryer.”

Author Stephen King and wife Tabitha King attend 17th Annual Salute to Women in Sports Awards on October 21, 1996 at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. Photo: by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images



He’s a Bit Down About One of His Most Popular Books

King suffered serious writer’s block while crafting the end-of-times classic The Stand (1978). It’s the book that took him the longest to write and is, ironically, the book “my longtime readers still seem to like the best,” he writes in On Writing. “There’s something a little depressing about such a united opinion that you did your best work twenty years ago.” 


His Work Can Be Found in Odd Places

King’s dislike for director Stanley Kubrick’s widely acclaimed 1980 adaptation of his 1977 novel The Shining has been well-documented. Lesser known: The Shining was adapted into an opera in 2016 by the Minnesota Opera. Though it got good reviews and drew crowds, it only played for one week. 


Did We Mention He’s Candid?

King was so deep into the throes of alcohol abuse – “drinking a case of sixteen-ounce tallboys a night” – that he “barely remembers” writing Cujo (1981), about a rabid Saint Bernard that traps a mother and son in a car. At his lowest, he drank mouthwash. 

Stephen King, with Cujo, whose name is also the title of his book about a rabid Saint Bernard, at a book signing party in New Mexico in 1982. Photo: Buddy Mays/Corbis via Getty Images


Like, Really Candid

He admits to being hungover as he said goodbye to his mother, Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, on her deathbed in 1974 and drunk at her funeral that February.


But Not Superhuman

By 1985, “I had added drug addiction” – cocaine supplemented by Valium, Xanax, Robitussin cough syrup and NyQuil cold medicine – “to my alcohol problem,” King writes. He credits an intervention led by his wife with saving his life. 


He’s Capable of Tough Self-Analysis

He describes a pair of mid-90s works – Insomnia from 1994 and Rose Madder from 1995 – as “not particularly inspiring,” because they were plotted out and not crafted spontaneously, his usual MO. “These are (much as I hate to admit it) stiff, trying-too-hard novels. The only plot-driven novel of mine which I really like is The Dead Zone (1979) and, in all fairness, I must say I like that one a great deal.”


All Work and No Play Makes Stephen a Productive Boy

Not surprisingly, King has a writing routine. “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book – something in which the reader can get happily lost.” 


He Digs Motorcycles and Rock Music

On Writing is dedicated to Joy Luck Club author Amy Tan, with whom King plays guitar in an ad hoc writers’ band called The Rock Bottom Remainders. It has also variously included Barbara Kingsolver and Mitch Albom. And King is a dedicated Harley man, who once cracked that his son Joe’s Triumph Bonneville engine sounded “like a sewing machine.”

Author Amy Tan, singer Lesley Gore and Stephen King perform as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders at Webster Hall on June 1, 2007 in New York City. Photo: Evan Agostini/Getty Images


Bonus Round: He’s a Traditional Guy Despite His Wild Imagination

King still wears the $8 wedding ring – one-half of the set he bought for $15.95 at Day’s Jewelers in Bangor, Maine for his 1971 wedding to Tabitha. “That ring only cost eight bucks,” he writes, “but it seems to have worked.” 


Modern Masters: The Essential Stephen King Reading List