Stephen King’s Wife Saved His Writing Career By Digging Through The Trash
If, at any point in your life, you’ve ever picked up a book, chances are you know Stephen King. The legendary horror master practically invented the genre, giving us everything from It and The Shining to Misery and The Stand. But before he was one of the literary world’s most beloved authors, Stephen King nearly gave it all up for good — that is, until his wife Tabitha reached into the trash can.
Yet Stephen’s doubts weren’t unwarranted: by 1973, he and Tabby were flat broke. The crumbling double-wide trailer they shared barely had room for their four-person family, and their rusted Buick had to be held together with bailing wire and duct tape. They couldn’t even afford a telephone.
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Even with a teaching job at Hampden Academy in Maine, Stephen was forced to work a summer job at an industrial laundry and moonlighted as a janitor and gas pump attendant to make ends meet. Tabby also pitched in, working a double shift at a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts.
Hampden High School
Stephen was so poor, in fact, that he couldn’t even afford a typewriter; he had to use Tabby’s old Olivetti from college. Each night, as Tabby cooked dinner and watched the kids, Stephen would retreat to the makeshift desk between the washer and dryer to write — and with limited success.
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Men’s magazines like Playboy and Penthouse weren’t interested in Stephen’s short stories, occasionally picking up one or two of his pieces and paying him just enough to keep the lights on. Fortunately, the aspiring author wouldn’t have to rely on this kind of work for long.
One day at Hampden, Stephen was offered a faculty advisor job for the school’s debate club, a position that’d put a little extra cash in his pocket. Stephen was thrilled at the prospect of making things a bit easier on his family — Tabby, not so much.
When Stephen explained that his new position would leave him little time to write, Tabby immediately shot the opportunity down. And so, Stephen passed on the job, sending him right back to square one — at least, for a time.
Returning to hit-or-miss men’s magazine submissions, Stephen gradually made a name for himself between photos of scantily clad women. Most readers seemed to enjoy his stories of horror and science fiction, though one particular bit of criticism seemed to stick with him.
“You write all those macho things,” one reader wrote him. “But you can’t write about women. You’re scared of women.” Unwilling to resign himself to being a “macho” writer, Stephen resolved to prove her wrong.
His initial idea for a story with a female lead came to him in a daydream. Recalling a LIFE magazine article about telekinesis he’d once read, Stephen remembered that, if the ability existed, experts believed it’d be most powerful in adolescent girls.
He also looked back on his time as a janitor, especially the strangeness he felt the first time he cleaned the girls’ locker room. These two elements — psychic powers and teen angst — seemed like the perfect foundation for a short story. Now, he just needed a protagonist.
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Flashing back to his own high school experience, Stephen looked to two girls he’d known in his youth. One was a timid epileptic whose mother was a strict Christian fundamentalist, and the other a friendless outcast. Both were now dead.
The first girl died alone after suffering a seizure — the second shot herself after battling postpartum depression. With these tragedies in mind, Stephen found it all the more difficult to begin his new story.
In fact, he was so troubled by both these thoughts as well as his own nagging insecurity that, after typing three single-spaced pages, he crumpled up his story and tossed it in the trash. King felt his critics were right — he couldn’t write women after all.
Sebastien Wiertz / Flickr
To Stephen, his main character seemed an annoying, ready-made victim, and the plot was moving too slow for any magazine to take interest in. “After all, who wanted to read a book about a poor girl with menstrual problems?” he later recalled in his memoir, On Writing.
But the next day, beneath a layer of scrap and cigarette ash, Tabby discovered the draft while taking out the trash. When Stephen returned home that evening, he found his wife waiting with the uncrumpled pages.
“You’ve got something here,” she said. “I really think you do.” And so, with Tabby’s help, Stephen gave the story another shot, looking to his wife as he attempted to tackle the complexities of being a telekinetic teenage girl. Nine months later, Carrie was born.
Dark Regions Press
Thirty publishers went on to reject the novel, though one day, as he was grading papers at Hampden, Stephen received an urgent call from Tabby. As she struggled to catch her breath, she read him a telegram from Bill Thompson, an editor at Doubleday Publishing: “Congratulations. Carrie is officially a Doubleday book. Is $2,500 advance okay? The future lies ahead. Love, Bill.”
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Stephen had done it: he’d broken through. And with that $2,500, the Kings could now afford a new car, a new home, groceries, and, of course, a telephone. Stephen hoped the royalties from Carrie would serve to keep his bank account full — unfortunately, he was wrong.
Carroll Hall / Bangor Daily News
The book only managed to sell 13,000 hardback copies, leading Stephen to hesitantly return to teaching in 1974. He began a new novel, The House on Value Street, convinced Carrie had become old news — then, the phone rang.
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It was Bill Thompson again, who told Stephen to sit down for this one. “The paperback rights to Carrie went to Signet Books for $400,000,” he revealed, not a hint of jest in his voice. “200K of it’s yours. Congratulations, Stephen.”
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Since then, Carrie has become one of Stephen’s most iconic works, selling millions of copies and inspiring a film adaptation, sequel series, television remake, and even a Broadway production. Still, Stephen couldn’t have done it alone.
That’s why, printed within the first few pages of every copy of the book, you’ll find the same dedication: “This is for Tabby, who got me into it—and then bailed me out of it.”
Cheryl McKeary / Maine Seniors Magazine
But Tabby can’t take all the credit for Stephen’s masterful storytelling talent. For his entire life, King dreamed about killer shape-shifting clowns, towns taken over by vampires, and even worldwide plagues. Readers can’t help but ask themselves why anyone would want to devote their entire career to the macabre.
That’s just how King ticks. And beneath all the trappings of horror is a fundamental love of stories, a passion that got him through a difficult childhood. His Maine family wasn’t exactly well-off, and their situation got worse when Stephen’s father left them flat.
King’s mother strained to raise him and his brother, though she sometimes had to ship the boys off to other relatives. Watching her work tirelessly in a laundry and drink hard at home, young Stephen feared that she too would abandon him.
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While the King family wasn’t exactly educated, Stephen absolutely devoured books, whether they were comics or literary classics. He claimed he just loved the escapism of stories, though his mother claimed that a traumatic incident made the boy retreat into fiction.
King had no memory of this fateful day, if you can believe it. Supposedly, while playing near the railroad tracks, Stephen saw a childhood friend get run over by a passing train. His mother said he barely spoke for a long time after that.
Regardless of the truth behind this train incident, King became all about books. Instead of doing homework, the high schooler jotted down short stories. He studied English and decided to become a teacher, though the real world threw a wrench in that plan.
Still living with his mother at the time, King found long-term teaching jobs hard to come by. He had to earn some money on the side, so he worked up the courage to start sending out his horror stories to various publications.
These magazine credits offered decent cash, enough for King to start his own family. In 1971, he married his college sweetheart Tabitha Spruce. Though kids were on the way, King devoted as much free time as he could to writing. Still, he had doubts.
But ater Carrie’s success, it seemed like King could do no wrong. Ghastly titles like The Shining, The Stand, Pet Sematary, and It established him as the preeminent name in horror. Always a colorful personality, King relished his bestseller status.
The author played up his bizarre sense of humor on talk show appearances and even decked out his Bangor home to look like a haunted house. Its Victorian features and spooky gate parodied his dark fiction. But King really was entering a troubling period.
Like his mother before him, King became dependent on substances, and not just alcohol. His cocaine addiction overwhelmed him so much in the 1980s that he has no memory of writing certain books, like Cujo!
The Producer Circle Company
The specter of addiction haunted King and bled into a number of his novels. Even when he became sober, however, the author wasn’t past his most difficult chapter. His worst nightmare came to pass on a summer afternoon in 1999, when he went out for a walk.
As King strolled along a local road, an errant driver swerved his van toward the shoulder. The impact sent King flying into a ditch 14 feet away. With many broken bones, a punctured lung, and considerable blood loss, King seemed doubtful to survive, let alone write again.
The author pulled through, though it took months of agonizing recovery. Terrible as the incident was, it opened King’s eyes. He wanted to spend more time with family, especially since his wife Tabitha and his two sons were becoming budding authors themselves.
Barbel Schmidt / The New York Times
But his brush with oblivion also motivated him to write faster than ever; he had to get all these stories out. King became even more prolific in the years after the accident, publishing at least one new novel per year. He pursued other creative outlets too.
A lifelong rock and roll fan, King became the rhythm guitarist for the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band comprised solely of best-selling authors, including Dave Barry and Amy Tan. He got increasingly big in Hollywood as well.
King boasts more film adaptations of his work than any modern author, though he never shied away from sharing his opinions. He famously panned Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining as “a big, beautiful Cadillac with no engine inside it.” But King isn’t against modern trends.
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For a Baby Boomer, the author made a big splash on Twitter. King has shared many photos of his dog Mollie — nicknamed “The Thing of Evil” — and entertaining stories of his career. Perhaps his strangest twist came with a phone call to an unsuspecting bookshop.
Stephen King / Twitter
A voracious reader, Steve Brown got a job at his local bookstore so he could immerse himself in his passion. Unfortunately, he spent most of the day ringing up orders and re-shelving books moved by mischievous kids. But his heart raced when he opened a new shipment.
On that 1985 morning, Olsson’s Books in Washington, D.C. was abuzz over display of fresh hardcovers. Steve grabbed a copy and tore through a chapter whenever he got a chance. Its author was making ripples in literary circles, after all.
The Georgetown Metropolitan
Steve’s fingers trembled as he turned each page of Thinner, written by Richard Bachman. It concerned a sleazy lawyer who, after killing an old Gypsy woman, is cursed to lose a staggering amount of weight each day. The story was yet another hit!
Thinner marked the fifth entry in Bachman’s bibliography — after Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man — but it stood out from the rest. For one thing, this novel involved a supernatural entity. Then there was also the matter of its prose.
It seemed like a ripoff of the leading horror writer of the past decade. Steve recalled, “When I read an advance copy of Thinner, I was no more than two pages into it when I said, ‘This is either Stephen King or the world’s best imitator.’”
However, Bachman came off as a completely different personality than King. In contrast to the colorful Maine-based author, the Thinner author was older and more reclusive. Steve heard some unusual rumors about his past, too.
Reddit / HunterHearstHemsley
Apparently, Bachman worked as a chicken farmer for most of his life before he ever sat in front of a typewriter. He was also severely disfigured, according to some other accounts, though Steve thought his author photo looked extremely normal.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel / Jack Orton
Still, just like Wendy Torrance in The Shining, Steve was petrified by what he saw on the pages of King’s and Bachman’s books. The similarities ran too deep, and the book clerk swore he would get to the bottom of the matter.
Being highly resourceful when it came to archived materials, Steve visited the Library of Congress and requested all of Bachman’s copyright documents. He scanned through the paperwork and found a startling pattern almost immediately.
Library of Congress
Nearly every title was under the name of Kirby McCauley — a man best known as King’s literary agent! Moreover, Steve noticed that Richard Bachman’s author photo bore a striking resemblance to Kirby. The plot around Thinner thickened.
George R.R. Martin
Clearly, Richard Bachman had close ties to Stephen King, or was perhaps working with him. Steve decided to direct his questions to the horror maestro himself. He penned a letter to King, outlining his findings. Maybe Steve could write an article about the mystery.
However, the bookstore worker never got the chance. A couple of weeks later, he was hard at work when he heard his boss call out his name on the intercom. There was a phone call waiting for him, and it was urgent.
Steve could hardly breathe as the voice on the other end launched into a rapid-fire conversation. It asked, “Steve Brown? This is Steve King. All right. You know I’m Bachman. I know I’m Bachman. What are we going to do about it?”
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King invented the entire persona of Bachman, meaning that Steve’s wildest theory came true. The author was surprisingly friendly about the big discovery and offered him an inclusive interview. But the question remained: why would a best-selling author use a pen name?
Steve learned King’s stunning productivity was responsible. He restlessly churned out multiple tomes each year, but his publishers feared saturating the market. Rather than hold off on his latest work — the in-progress classic Misery was the current example — he attributed them to his alter-ego.
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In addition, King was curious if his newer works, particularly those that were a less horror-centric, could find their own audience. His first attempted pseudonym was Guy Pillsbury. He immediately dropped it, however, once publishing insiders discovered that was the name of King’s grandfather.
By that point, King needed to invent a name in a hurry. He noticed a paperback on his desk by Richard Stark — a moniker used by mystery author Donald E. Westlake. That was half of the answer King needed.
The New York Times / David Jennings
At that same moment, King’s office sound system was spinning a record by Bachman-Turner Overdrive, so the author decided to publish those books as Richard Bachman. Naturally, he dropped the act after Steve’s revelation. But Bachman still played a key role in King’s subsequent career.
King’s dynamic with his alter-ego inspired the 1989 novel The Dark Half, and he cameoed as a biker called Bachman on Sons of Anarchy. King enjoyed telling the story of how he came up with the name too, though it wasn’t the only time real-life events got his creative juices flowing.
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Years earlier, the author was struck by the Stanley Hotel, located deep within the Rockies. At first glance, it was a large and well-maintained inn that housed a variety of guests and events. However, the hotel possessed a rather creepy history.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
The story of the Stanley Hotel began in 1903 when American inventor Freelan Oscar Stanley, founder of the carpet cleaning service company Stanley Steamers, landed on his deathbed with a severe case of tuberculosis. Following medical advice, he and his wife ventured out to Colorado for the therapeutic mountain air.
After a few calm weeks, Freelan became bored of the rural living. So, he and his wife, who had a lot of money, designed a massive 48-room Georgian mansion on 160 acres of land, complete with lavish luxuries to attract guests.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
When their vision was completed and finally opened to the public in 1909, people took interest in it. Snagging a room at the Stanley was a sign of wealth, and everyone who wanted to flaunt their finances showed up.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Indeed, business at the Stanley Hotel was booming right from the start. Though not too long after its grand opening, guests began reporting unusual things happening.
Patrons of the hotel frequently heard strange noises echoing through the winding halls and empty corridors. Many left with an eerie feeling, but it wasn’t until a popular author stayed overnight in the ’70s that the hotel truly developed its frightening reputation.
Stanley Hotel / Facebook
Stephen King, his wife Tabitha, and their son sought refuge in the hotel one wintry evening. They were the only guests in the entire place, which was creepy on its own, but what happened to King while he slept truly chilled him to the bone.
In the dead of night, a nightmare haunted King: a demonic presence was chasing his son all throughout the halls of the hotel. Even after waking, King couldn’t shake the horrible feeling, and he turned his experience into perhaps his most popular novel, The Shining.
The room King and his family stayed in was number 217, which was changed to 237 in the film adaptation of his book. But, there was actually a sinister history to room 217, which may have explained King’s terrifying ordeal.
Duncan PJ / Flickr
In 1911, two years after the hotel opened, there was a severe gas leak in the room unbeknownst to any of the hotel staff. The head housekeeper went in, lit a candle, and was killed instantly when the gas exploded. Her spirit allegedly never left the room.
But Room 217 is not the only area of the hotel said to be haunted. Many visitors claim to have heard the music of a piano coming from the concert hall, even though the room was empty. Some even swore they saw the piano’s keys moving on their own.
There’s also an entity known as “Paul” who apparently haunts the hallways of the hotel. He was once an employee whose job it was to ensure guests followed the 11 p.m. curfew. People claim to hear the words “get out” murmured after dark.
One of the spookiest presences said to roam the hotel corridors is a 13-year-old girl named Lucy. As the story goes, she ran away from home and hid in the basement of the hotel. When employees found her, they tossed her out into the cold, and she froze to death.
Need proof of Lucy? Well, this was a picture taken by a hotel guest named Stephanie Reidl. The photo captures what looks like a small girl dressed in pink standing in front of the wall, but Stephanie adamantly denied there was ever a young girl on her hotel tour that day.
Here’s another unsettling photo taken by a family from Aurora, Colorado, during one of the hotel’s “spirit tours.” You can clearly see the shape of a young girl dressed in white walking down the grand staircase; the family swears the girl wasn’t there when they snapped the picture.
Jessica Martinez-Mausling / Facebook
Of course, all the sightings of apparent ghosts and otherworldly energies do little to deter guests from booking rooms. People from all over flock to the Stanley to hopefully get a dose of the excitement — and the scares — it offers.
The hotel completely embraces the fact it was the basis for The Shining. Decorating the walls of every room are stills from the movie and artwork dedicated to Stanley Kubrick’s terrifying vision.
In fact, every Halloween, the hotel hosts a massive costume party that anyone can attend. Everyone dresses up to the nines and parties all night long. It’s a fantastically fun way to honor America’s most haunted hotel!
Both Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick helped the Stanley Hotel become a massive tourist attraction. If the spirit of Freelan Oscar Stanley does, in fact, watch over the premise, it makes you wonder what he thinks of everything…
Are you the kind of person who likes to get spooked? There are plenty of haunted locations throughout the country, like the Shanley Hotel in Napanoch, New York. It’s more than just the subject of some silly ghost stories. What people have seen there is just terrifying.
The Shanley Hotel is widely considered the East Coast’s most haunted hotel, to the point that you actually must sign a waiver if you want to stay there, and they don’t allow any guests under the age of 16.
It’s located in the quiet town of Napanoch, New York, at the heart of the Shawangunk Mountains, and features 35 rooms, as well as a hidden chamber in the basement. Most notably, of course, is the countless paranormal activity reported on the property.
This may have something to do with its tragic history. It was built in 1895, and since then the owner’s three children died as infants and an on-site barber’s daughter died after falling into a well. Several other people have gone missing, suffered accidental deaths, or were murdered.
Though there has been supernatural activity reported in every part of the hotel throughout the day, there is a part of the building that was once a speakeasy and brothel in the Prohibition era which remains the most haunted area.
Investigators have confirmed that there is indeed paranormal activity in the “Bordello,” with guests experiencing problems such as shortness of breath and alternating feelings of joy and sadness when they enter the room.
Other strange events reported in the Shanley Hotel include whistles and footsteps (supposedly from the spirit of former owner James Shanley), laughing children when no children are present, and even the sight of apparitions and mysteriously moving objects!
We can’t imagine how terrifying it would be to spend a night here, but America isn’t the only place to shack up with some ghosts. Near a waterfall in the jungles of Colombia sits a strange sight: A massive stone European-style mansion built right into the side of a hill.
The stunning building overlooking the Bogota River and the Tequendama Falls. Was once one of the premier destinations in the entire country, until it sat abandoned for decades. As nature reclaimed the structure, sinister rumors swirled the countryside.
The building was designed and constructed as a mansion in 1923 by architect Carlos Arturo Tapias, for some of Colombia’s wealthiest citizens. It was known for its great beauty and the magnificent view of the falls.
According to local lore, during the Spanish colonization in the 16th century, native Colombian people in the area would jump off the waterfall and become eagles to fly to their freedom, escaping slavery.
The mansion itself, however, served as a venue for indulgence and excess for over 60 years. Carlos was famous for throwing over-the-top parties for the colombian elites. If you went to a party at this place, you were basically a celebrity.
In 1928, just five years after the mansion was built, an addition was complete and Carlos’s mansion became a hotel. And not just any hotel, but the most luxurious hotel the country had ever seen!
When Hotel del Salto first opened it attracted people from all over the world. The architecture was classic and the views were stunning. Carlos Tapias had truly created a destination in his beloved Colombia.
But in the 1950s there became a demand to expand the hotel. The actual construction, however, was slow to begin due to the precarious integrity of the original structure. In the end, no work was ever done the expand Hotel del Salto.
Increasingly heavy pollution in the Bogota river made the whole area stink mightily. People began to leave the area in droves and soon the hotel was abandoned and completely overtaken by nature.
According to local legends, the spirits of the many people who died on the falls during the Spanish conquest in South America and those that later came and followed in their footsteps, still haunt the mansion.
It wasn’t until just a few years ago that the Institute of Natural Sciences of the National University of Colombia decided to convert the structure into a museum as part of their efforts to rehabilitate the area. Even so, the building is still believed to be cursed.
Who knows if they’re right, but It would still be safer to take your vacations somewhere else. but if you’re looking for the place that inspired a classic horror movie and gave meaning to the term “redrum,” there’s only one Stanley Hotel — check out the video.