Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Dark Dreams: The Story of Stephen King, by Nancy Whitelaw

Stephen King has long been known for being a master writer in the genre of horror fiction. I remember when I was growing up, his books were passed around the middle school classrooms, with much talk of the books that ultimately became movies. We were all terrified of the stories written by Stephen King, but somehow, we could not stay away from them. Regardless of the terror, the gore, or the horror, Stephen King knows how to spin a good yarn, and just as importantly he knows how to develop a believable, real character; someone with whom we can all relate in some way. When I came across Dark Dreams: The Story of Stephen King, by Nancy Whitelaw, I was intrigued. It was on the shelf of our local public library in the youth section. I often find I enjoy youth biographies better than biographies written specifically for adults, because they are more to the point and leave out much of the pointless detail. Since we moved to Maine, many years ago, I have been aware that Stephen King is a neighbor of ours, but I have not put much thought into him, other than the fact that I do not want my children reading any of his books until they are much older. Yet, as a writer myself, I admire his gift and his craft. I decided it was time I read a book about what makes Stephen King tick.

Dark Dreams has an ominous title, but it is a wonderful biography about the life of Stephen King in relation to the current events going on in the world during his lifetime up to this point. It begins with his difficult childhood. His father left the family when Stephen was only two-years-old, and his mother struggled to make ends meet. Stephen grew up in the 1950s when the post war era was booming, but his family in rural Maine was struggling. But his mother was a good mother. She read to him and his brother whenever possible, and she encouraged his love of reading. As any good writer knows, good literature will encourage good writing. Stephen King could be the poster child for this concept. He read voraciously as a child, even skipping out of his school work to read books. He read the horror and science fiction of that day, but he also read the classics and all the old adventure stories. The book claims that sometimes he became so afraid by what he read, that he slept with the light on; but he claimed that one day he wanted to grow up and scare people like that. Not long after he began to write stories, he published an underground newspaper when he was in high school. From there, his love for writing took off.

Over the years, Stephen's wife, Tabitha, has been a great inspiration to him, as have his three children. He had his share of struggles with alcohol, according to the book, but his wife helped him give it all up.

Dark Dreams goes into great detail about the writings of many of his best selling books. From his first bestseller, Carrie, in the 1970s, which was also made into a movie, to the other favorites such as It, Pet Sematary, The Stand, Cujo and The Shining, the book gives glimpses into the interaction he's had with his publishers, editors, and with the public. Many have thought he should have taken out much of the gory parts of his books, but his fans disagree. They say his stories are complete as they are, and should not be changed. I, for one, can say that the stories I have read by Stephen King have always stayed with me.

In reading Dark Dreams, the reader will go away with a better sense about the most popular horror writer of our day. Readers will discover that he is just a regular guy with a regular life; a guy who happens to love to write and has an interest in horror stories. He has a humble past and he has worked hard to get where he is today. He has a family and a home and friends, and like most of us, likes a good story. This book comes highly recommended.

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