Stephen is the King: From Cujo to The Shining!
He lives in my subconscious. The man from our nightmares is actually the bringer of dreams for young filmmakers. Plus an insight into the fridge of my subconscious..
If you lived or grew up anywhere between 1960 and 2021, chances are high that you read a book or two by the most prolific writer in modern history, no, not William Shakespeare, nor JK Rowling, but the indelible polymath that is Stephen Edwin King.
In half a century of writing, King has produced more than 70 books, 63 fiction novels and 7 non-fiction books, as well as over 200 short stories. And material from his prodigious writing career has been adopted into a whopping 86 film and television shows over the same period of 50 years!
There is no one quite like him in the writing world. No one even comes close.
In terms of penmanship, he definitely lives up to his last name. His majesty, King Stephen I.
When it comes to his films, titles such the Academy Award winning Misery, The Green Mile, Cujo, The Shining, The Stand, Pet Sematary and It would all jump to mind, however when it comes to formative impacts of Stephen King on my life, one book stands above all the rest:
This is a relatively obscure book that Stephen wrote together with his friend and writing partner Peter Bachmann. The story is set in 1980s America and follows a young boy who would’ve been my age when I read the book. His mother is dying of cancer and he goes on this great quest into another dimension to try and find a way to heal her. I remember this book taking on biblical proportions in my mind, I couldn’t wait to come home from school and immerse myself into its world. I reread entire chapters because I loved them so much. And for parts of my youth, I even imagined that I was living in this otherworldly existence as depicted in The Talisman.
Reading about this parallel dimension happening side by side to our dimension, really got my imagination going. It inspired to write my first proper short story “The Rainhorse” (shout out to my English teacher Finbar Madden!) about a magical steed that transformed into a time machine whenever it rained outside and someone tried to ride it, unpredictably taking the rider to whatever timeline the horse felt like. I know, genius idea!
So, I owe my overzealous imagination and my first piece of writing to Stephen King.
Dollar Baby! Stephen King’s gift to the art world
Not only did he inspire me to write stories, Stephen has also been a muse for an entire generation of aspiring filmmakers with his Dollar Baby initiative. I had to include the Wikipedia link here in case some of you didn’t believe me, because this initiative is almost too outrageous to believe and some of YOUR favourite films would have ultimately been created thanks to this project of Stephen’s - as one of his scripts would have put a filmmaker on the map who went on to direct the Oscar winning The Green Mile for instance. In a nutshell, Dollar Baby allows first time filmmakers to buy the rights to one of King’s stories for just ONE DOLLAR. You will be amazed at the films that have been created by this. Realising his fortuitous placement in the history of the arts and how being an artist is often a very struggling way of life, he made it easier for artists to exercise their craft: What an amazing human?!
Okay now the voice and request of my younger sister (who is a Patreon benefactor of mine) is urging me to keep my articles to a shorter length. So I’ll try my utmost to keep this under a 1000 words as opposed to the 3000 that I am more comfortable with (there go another 20 words, dammit!)
The best (the only?) vomit scene on Earth
To continue along the notion of how Stephen King infiltrated my subconscious, whenever I feel nauseous I have to remember his words. Luckily enough I haven’t felt nauseous in ages, I think the last time was when I was still drinking and I had had too much cheap red wine to drink and too little to eat. I remember the vomit being red and viscous like shower gel, which grossed me out and made me want to quit drinking.
Strangely enough, I kept drinking for another 3 years after that.
So this is what used to go through my head when I felt like throwing up, I would either find a) an anti-emetic like raw ginger or warm lemonade to curb the nausea or b) in the worst case scenario, an appropriate place to projectile vomit like those people at the pie eating contest in the short story Fall From Innocence: "The Body" (immortalised in the brilliant River Phoenix movie Stand By Me, see below) - the novella that was published as part of a series in the book Different Seasons - which included three other short stories, all of which made it to film.
In the story, sitting around a camp fire, the main protagonist Gordy, tells his friends of an imaginary pie eating contest where one kid takes revenge on all of the bullies in his town via a genius idea and a whole bottle of castor oil - speaking of emetics - which result in the complete and utter “barf-o-rama”. Watch the campfire story below - it is a beautiful bit of story telling and a little glimpse into King’s own childhood.
The other novellas in Different Seasons were Summer of Corruption: "Apt Pupil" - about a boy who finds out that his neighbour is a Nazi soldier who secretly emigrated to the US (also made into a movie) and A Winter's Tale: "The Breathing Method" about a man who visits a gentlemen’s club only to find out that his whole life has been playing out in his head after a traumatic event happens during his childhood (currently being made into a movie.)
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
And the final novella in Different Seasons you will all know as the genius Hope Springs Eternal: "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption". The director of Shawshank Redemption was actually a recipient of Dollar Baby and the programme was even mentioned in the final film script for the movie! Not many people know this but now YOU do, and should tell EVERYONE you know! Stephen King is a really cool dude with a big heart.
His reasoning for starting the Dollar Baby project was the following:
“Around 1977 or so, when I started having some popular success, I saw a way to give back a little of the joy the movies had given me…’77 was the year young filmmakers – college students, for the most part – started writing me about the stories I’d published (first in Night Shift, later in Skeleton Crew), wanting to make short films out of them. Over the objections of my accountant, who saw all sorts of possible legal problems, I established a policy which still holds today. I will grant any student filmmaker the right to make a movie out of any short story I have written (not the novels, that would be ridiculous), so long as the film rights are still mine to assign. I ask them to sign a paper promising that no resulting film will be exhibited commercially without approval, and that they send me a videotape of the finished work. For this one-time right I ask a dollar. I have made the dollar deal, as I call it, over my accountant’s moans and head-clutching protests sixteen or seventeen times as of this writing.” (written 25 years ago)
What a dude!
I suggest you look through the list of notable films to have been produced through Stephen King’s Dollar Baby programme, you ‘ll be amazed as it is over 30 movies and will include some titles you’ve seen but never would have associated with King.
So this concludes my little sojourn into the influence King had during my formative years - and still has to be honest - when I quit smoking last year, the smoking cessation clinic scene from the original 1989 Pet Sematary movie kept playing over and over in my mind, the one with the cat that was trying to walk on an electrified surface and kept getting zapped - yes, sounds horrific, they used this image to scare people off smoking.
Anyway hope you enjoyed this and I almost managed to keep this under 1000 words (see Anna!!) Hope you learned something new about the King of writing and it painted Stephen in the wondrous light that he should be remembered by. So funny how all his stories are so gruesome and scary and evil, yet he is the sweetest soul there is.
Makes you really think huh?!
Anyway speaking of artists struggling and successful benefactors giving other artists a helping hand, if you can afford to subscribe to this newsletter, I urge you to do so. If you’d rather become a Patreon, you can do that too. Or if you would just like to send me a one off appreciation donation through Paypal (my link is firstname.lastname@example.org) I would be super thankful and it would be much appreciated.
My latest podcast guest, the ever beguiling Lisa McLennan actually bought me a new headset after our last recording, because my voice was too loud. How lovely is that? It’s also the nicest way to tell someone that the audio was a bit screwy. She’s a psychologist, go figure. In case you missed it, here is the podcast again, it is definitely worth a listen as she is one of the smartest people I have ever met:
This week I am interviewing two more guests for The Word - the MIT Media lab engineer Rébecca Kleinberger (watch her TED talk!) and PsycApps founder, psychologist Silja Litvin. So there is a lot to look forward to in coming weeks.
Some of you may also remember, the guest contribution I wrote for Dave Cowen’s Shuffle Synchronicities last week - well, there was a bit of miscommunication on my part and I thought I would be submitting weekly articles to him, so I wrote another one which Dave was gonna publish but then decided to stick his original discernment which was one post per writer PER YEAR ha! Turns out writers actually aren’t the best readers - or maybe it’s just me. Wishful scatterbrains.
So not to let it go to waste like so many of my other scribbles, I have decided to publish it below, for you guys to have a read. (don’t worry Dave, this will be a one off, I ain’t gonna steal your idea brother!)
Fridges of the Subconscious
Waking up on Sunday morning, I felt rejuvenated, walking over to my bathroom I truly understood why people referred to it as “a spring in the step.” I had slept well and there was nothing that really bothered me that morning. Even the birds were being neighbourly and keeping their ruckus to a mild volume. With spring beckoning here in New Zealand, the birds were frisky and their song usually reflects this avian hormonal rollercoaster. I felt as though it might be time to clean out the fridge. I couldn’t remember the last time I had cleaned my fridge, so that is probably not a good sign for the task at hand.
If you’re anything like me, fridges are spaces in your house that occupy a no-fly zone when it comes to cleaning, just like the area behind cupboards and that annoying diagonal space between an opened door and the wall.
I hit shuffle on the music maker:
Cloudbursting by Kate Bush.
What a great choice for cleaning house (a euphemism for therapy?,) as this song - and Kate Bush in general - reminds me of my childhood growing up. My dad was a huge Kate Bush fan and Cloudbursting was one of my favourites.
“I still dream of Orgone”
Whilst removing the third empty glass container of green jalapeno water from my fridge, I sing the opening line. This time actually knowing what the fuck Kate is on about in the track. My bedtime reading had clued me up. Everybody by Olivia Laing (thanks to my older sister Françoise for sending it to me) is a great novel about contemporary American history through the lens of the controversial 20th century psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich. The “Orgone” that Kate is talking about in her opening line was a “cure all” sitting chamber that Reich had patented in the 1930s. Everything from arthritis to cancer could be
A couple of years earlier, Reich wrote a treatise in 1929 called “The Function of the Orgasm,” in which he drew the conclusion "there is only one thing wrong with neurotic patients: the lack of full and repeated sexual satisfaction" (those are the italics of Reich’s choosing.) A few years later he would coin the terms “free love,” “sexual revolution” and “sexual liberation.” As you can tell, just like his predecessor and mentor Sigmund Freud before him, and the Catholic church, Reich was obsessed with sex.
“I just know that something good is going to happen…”
How on Earth did that slice of salami get stuck on the underside of the divider? I haven’t bought sliced salami in two years? I move on to one of the main acts in this fridge cleaning show, the transparent hummus container from what must be a good 7 months ago, I know it was that long ago as that is when my girlfriend moved out and I never bought that brand of hummus. Man it was really jimmied stuck to that surface, I pull and pull and it doesn’t budge. Meanwhile I also notice that the little amount of “hummus” content that is still in there has turned purple. Hummus is not meant to be that colour? No, but mould probably is.
The Dip by Atlas
Now my playlist is living up to the name of Dave’s Synchronicity publication. The band that sings “The Dip” is called Atlas. Fitting for my Herculean task of removing this biohazard of a hummus container out of the fridge and into a CAT III biocontainer.
Okay so nearly 65% of the contents of my fridge was either expired or empty containers. Amazing! I fill the sink with hot soapy water and let the emptied containers soak. I decide to take all the dividers out and (“Oh what’s an ice cream container doing in the fridge?”) decide to give them all a good rinse. The cathartic act of cleanliness is starting to manifest itself.
Cleaning is a cheaper form of therapy. No doubt. As I clean out the last of the empty containers and dispose of them, I am both happy and sad. Happy that my fridge is now spotless but sad at how empty it looks. I guess I held on to all those empty containers to make the fridge appear fuller of food than it actually was? A life lesson perhaps.
Khala My Friend by Amnaz
A beautiful song created in the same year I was born, 1975, a good year. A good year to say goodbye to old friends, like funky Hummus containers.
Hello, Khala my friend
Where do you think you're going to?
And the road you're taking
It has no end
Khala my friend come back to me
Khala my friend, cause I'm gonna miss you
Khala my friend..
Congratulations if you made it this far, you are one of my top fans! And that is some seriously dedicated reading. For that you get a reward reminding you to either subscribe to this substack, become a patron on my Patreon or send me a one off donation on my Paypal (email@example.com). You legends, conclusion to the shark (or is it a shark?) story coming next week.
One love ya’ll. Hope it’s been entertaining.