STEPHEN KING: The desk
Think about this: Stephen King has been releasing one, sometimes two books a year pretty much every year since his first novel, Carrie, was published in 1974. That’s 43 freakin’ years of consistent output! He’s become such a mainstay of our culture that it’s easy to take his genius for granted.
King’s been writing since he was 7 years-old, when he would copy and rearrange the stories out of his favourite comic books. Impressed by her son’s talent, King’s mother urged him to write an original story. He began submitting short stories to horror and sci-fi magazines at age 12 and would use a nail hammered into the wall above his typewriter to hold all his rejection letters. By the time he was 14, the nail wouldn’t hold the weight of the letters anymore and King had to replace it with a larger spike. By the time he was 16, King was still getting rejection letters, although at least now there were hand-written notes of encouragement from editors scribbled on them. By his mid 20s, King was selling the occasional short story to pulp and mens magazines but not nearly enough to make a living. He was working in an industrial laundry, cleaning maggot-infested restaurant and hospital sheets, while his wife Tabitha, also a writer, worked at Dunkin’ Donuts. They had two young children, were living in a trailer and although King managed to find better work as an English teacher, he was starting to despair that his writing career would never take off.
“Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”
King chanced upon the idea for Carrie when he recalled working as a high school janitor. While he was cleaning the female locker room he paid special attention to the shower curtains since he knew the boys lockers didn’t have them. He imagined an opening scene (NSFW) in which a girls locker room didn’t have the curtains and students were forced to shower in front of each other. What if a girl had her period in the shower but didn’t know what it was, and all the other girls laughed and threw tampons at her? How would that girl retaliate? Then King remembered reading an article about telekenisis and how there was evidence that it was prevalent in young girls, especially around the time of their first period. Boom, that’s when two unrelated ideas came together to create something new. King knew he had found an idea for a book and wrote three pages of a first draft while working his teaching job. He hated it and threw it in the trash. It was King’s wife Tabitha who found the pages while emptying the bin and encouraged her husband to finish it. Carrie was published in 1974 and was King’s breakthrough novel. King finished off the decade with a string of bestsellers including ‘Salem’s Lot and The Shining.
By the ’80s King and his family were living in a beautiful house in Bangor, Maine, and King was writing at his dream, massive oak desk. However, he was also an alcoholic and a drug addict. He would write all hours of the day strung out on cocaine and medicate at night with a whole case of 16-ounce beers. In 1985 and at risk of losing his family, Tabitha held an intervention and gave King an ultimatum: get help or get out of the house. Thankfully, King managed to get clean and put his family life back together. And thankfully for us, through it all, he never stopped writing.
I tried to find a picture of the actual massive oak desk King mentions. The best I could do was this brief glimpse into King’s office in an interview from the mid ’80s. You can see it at the 2.40min mark. The newer, smaller desk I’m guessing is this one. I could be wrong about both.
Stanley Kubrick’s personal copy of Stephen King’s novel, The Shining.
This well-worn book, normally housed in the Stanley Kubrick Archive in London but currently on tour in a traveling exhibition, is filled with Kubrick’s notes and comments. Many passages are highlighted, and Kubrick has filled the margins with hand-written notes that run the gamut from notating passages that inspired him, to crossing out sections he found silly.
Stephen King’s 1977 psychological horror novel The Shining has inspired several other works, most notably Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation, a movie widely considered to have elevated King’s story of the possessed Overlook Hotel and its luckless winter caretakers, the Torrance family, to a higher artistic plane. But King himself never really approved of Kubrick’s interpretation: “Parts of the film are chilling, charged with a relentlessly claustrophobic terror,” he said, “but others fall flat. A visceral skeptic such as Kubrick just couldn’t grasp the sheer inhuman evil of the Overlook Hotel.”
Presumably King had a better time playing the board game of The Shining, which won the first Microgame Design Contest in 1998, and about which you can read more at Board Game Geek. King helped with its development by offering consultation as the creator of the world in which the original story takes place. He also offered his services as an early play-tester too. You can tell that the game’s faith lies with King’s novel rather than Kubrick’s film by its use of things that never made it from page to screen as gameplay elements, such as the hotel grounds’ hedge-sculpture animals that come to vicious life.
You can play The Shining board game as the Torrance family, in which case you’ll have to fight those hedge animals. Or you can play it as the Overlook Hotel itself, in which case you’ll control them. Each player has a host of implements at their disposal — ghosts, decoys, the famous axe and snowmobile — all meant to help them accomplish the task of driving the other side away. Think of it as a simplified wargame set in a haunted hotel.
If you’d like to see how you fare, whether in the shoes of the Torrances or the Indian-burial-ground foundation of the Overlook, you’ll find all the game’s materials freely available on the Micrograme Design Contest’s site. Print them out, set them up, and prepare to feel some sheer inhuman evil for yourself.