In 1978, Stephen King was invited to be writer in residence at the English department of his alma mater, the University of Maine at Orono. He moved his family into a rented house on a major highway in Orrington. The heavy traffic included transports heading to and from a nearby chemical plant. A new neighbor warned the Kings to keep their pets and children away from this road, which had “used up a lot of animals.” In support of this claim, the Kings discovered a burial ground not far from the house, with “Pets Sematary” written on a sign in a childish hand. Among its residents: dogs, cats, birds, and a goat.
Shortly after they moved in, daughter Naomi’s cat, Smucky, was found dead on the side of the road when they returned from a trip to town. King’s first impulse was to tell her that the cat had wandered away. Tabitha, however, believed this was an opportunity to teach a life lesson. They broke the news to their daughter and conducted a feline funeral, committing Smucky’s mortal remains to the pet cemetery. A few nights later, King discovered Naomi in the garage, jumping up and down on sheets of bubble wrap, indignant over the loss of her pet. “Let God have His own cat. I want my cat. I want my cat,” she was repeating.
The road almost “used up” the Kings’ youngest son, too. Owen was about eighteen months old when he wandered dangerously close to the highway. To this day, King isn’t sure whether he knocked Owen down before he reached the highway as a tanker approached or if the boy tripped over his own feet. Owen had been born with an unusually large head, and the Kings had already agonized over the possibility of losing him to hydrocephalus. This near miss was an unwelcome reminder of the fragility of their children. » Read more
When he was a student working in the University of Maine library, Stephen King inherited a ream (500 sheets) of oddly sized bright green paper, almost as thick as cardboard. (His future wife, Tabitha Spruce got one, too, except hers was robin’s egg blue.) This eccentric material seemed to invite him to write something special.
Two years earlier, in a sophomore course on the romantic poets, he’d studied the Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” He wanted to write something long that embodied the feel of that poem, if not its exact sense. Seeing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (while flying high on mescaline, he told an audience at Yale in April 2003) made him wonder if he could blend two different genres. He wanted to capture Tolkien’s sense of quest and magical fantasy set against Sergio Leone’s “almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”
He started the book during his final year at university. In March 1970, he wrote the iconic first line and the rest of the sections ”The Gunslinger” and “The Way Station” while living alone in a cabin on the banks of the Stillwater River (his three roommates had flunked out one by one, a progression reminiscent of the novella “Hearts in Atlantis”). In that cabin, he experienced ghostly, unbroken silence that undoubtedly affected the mood of what he was writing—unbroken, that is, except for the music of Johnny Winter. He believed at the time he was embarking on the longest popular novel in history, something he estimated would approach 3000 pages. » Read more
After losing his job at Doubleday, Bill Thompson moved to Everest House, but he and King remained good friends, going to lunch and attending baseball games together. In November 1978, Thompson approached King about the possibility of doing a book about horror in movies, television and radio over the previous thirty years.
At the time, King was living in Orrington, Maine and teaching creative writing and literature courses as a writer-in-residence at the University of Maine, his first experience teaching at the university level. In the evenings, he was finishing work on Firestarter.
The concept intrigued King, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about the project at first. It intimidated him. It was easier to tell lies in fiction than write the truth in non-fiction, he thought. It wouldn’t be his first time writing about the nature of fear and why people want to be scared by something entertaining, though. He’d prepared a long forward on the subject in Night Shift, for example.
Thompson was persistent and persuasive. He asked King how often he had been asked why he wrote horror and why people read horror. If he wrote this book, King would never have to answer those kinds of questions again, Thompson argued. All he’d have to do is say, “I wrote this book.” It would be his “Final Statement” on the matter. » Read more