Writers and mental illness

You don’t have to have a mental disorder to be a great author, but those lightning leaps of imagination and hours spent constructing fascinating stories, multi-layered in meaning and unique in style, can sometimes be linked to mental illness.

Many of the 20th century’s great writers, including Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald, and William Styron, suffered from mental illness. During May, which is Mental Health Month, take a moment to examine the difficult lives of these writers.

Ernest Hemingway, author of such classics as For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, had perhaps inherited a predisposition to mental illness, but it was a bloody plane crash while he was in Africa in the 1950s that set in motion the events that lead to his suicide. As a result of his severe injuries, he was put on high blood pressure medication. In the 1950s, the side-effects could include mental aberrations. In “Papa” Hemingway’s case, the effects were so disruptive that he was hospitalized. The electro-shock treatment they used on him there in no way resembled the relatively gentle voltage in use now. He would return to his beautiful home in Cuba, crying to his fourth wife to not send him back for more shock therapy. His memory was shattered, his health still poor from the accident years ago, and decades of hard drinking had taken their toll. It was on one of these visits home that he shot himself.

Virginia Woolf’s tragic life was part of the award-winning film, The Hours, starring Nicole Kidman. There was so much death in Virginia’s early life – her father, her mother, and her half-sister. It was her brother’s death that led to her first mental breakdown. At the last, the founder of the Bloomsbury group of writers and author of such feminist masterpieces as To the Lighthouse and A Room of One’s Own filled her pockets with stones and walked into river near her home in Sussex.

Both F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, lived a life of glittering parties at fashionable resorts throughout America and Europe. Tellingly, he once said, “Sometimes I don’t know whether or not Zelda and I are real or whether we are characters in one of my novels.” Zelda, herself an author, became increasingly broken by mental illness and ended her days in an institution. Fitzgerald gives vent to some of his feelings on her breakdown in the novel, Tender is the Night. Later, his autobiographical book of essays and letters, The Crack-Up, showed his own fight with depression.

More recently, William Styron, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, and Sophie’s Choice, shared his struggle and victory over mental illness in the book, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Darkness Visible is a short book but a brave one, written with lucidity even in the face of monstrous suffering.

Today, it is cheering to know that as medicine progresses and mental illness becomes less a thing to be hidden than an accepted problem to be treated appropriately, fewer and fewer patients need be driven to the extremes of these writers. With greater public understanding and strides in health care, the prognosis for mentally ill people has improved dramatically.

If you are concerned about your own or a loved’s one mental health, contact your family doctor. The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill can provide background information online. Libraries also stock materials on depression for patients and their families.

You don’t have to have a mental disorder to be a great author, but those lightning leaps of imagination and hours spent constructing fascinating stories, multi-layered in meaning and unique in style, can sometimes be linked to mental illness.

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The ability to feel emotions so deeply was both a curse and gift to many of the greatest writers throughout history. They used writing to express themselves which is why their words still capture the minds and hearts of readers today. These are 7 famous writers who lived with mental illness.

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Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Ernest Hemingway was a charming American novelist who wrote best-sellers such as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom The Bell Tolls. In 1954 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hemingway struggled with alcoholism and manic depression. Many people do not know the extent to which suicide and mental illness ran in his family. Hemingway’s father, Clarence, his sister and brother, Ursula and Leicester, all committed suicide. Hemingway received electroshock therapy many times, but this only provided short-term relief. His depression worsened as time went on and in 1961, he died by suicide. In 1996, decades after his death, his granddaughter, Margaux Hemingway, committed suicide as well. In 2013, his granddaughter Mariel Hemingway made a documentary called, “Running From Crazy,” which reveals the impact mental illness had on her family. She is a successful mental health advocate who works to help others affected by suicide.

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places. -Ernest Hemingway

Charles Bukowski (1920-1944)

Charles Bukowski was a poet and writer who eloquently wrote about the hardships of life and the importance of staying true to yourself. He had a difficult childhood and struggled with manic depression. He channeled his emotional pain into his writing, and related to readers by revealing his experience with mental illness. At the age of 82, Bukowski died of Leukemia. His ability to creatively express his internal conflict is why he is my favorite writer. Bukowski’s words still resonate with people today.

Find what you love and let it kill you. -Charles Bukowski

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

Virginia Woolf was an English writer who published famous novels such as Mrs. Dalloway. She wrote essays about art theory, politics, and discrimination against women. Her approach to writing had a significant influence on literature, but Woolf struggled with manic depression which began to surface at the age of 13 following her mother’s death. Her success as a writer did not ease her mental pain. She looked at herself as a failure. In 1941, Woolf died by suicide after a long battle with manic depression. She remains one of the most brilliant writers of the 20th century, who spoke up about the oppression of women.

How many times have people used a pen or paintbrush because they couldn’t pull the trigger? -Virginia Woolf

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910)

Leo Tolstoy was a novelist who wrote classic works such as, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. In his memoir, A Confession, he writes about his struggle with depression and alcohol abuse. At one point Tolstoy seriously considered suicide which was found in a letter he wrote saying, “The possibility of killing himself has been given to man, and therefore he may kill himself.” However, he did not follow through and at the age of 82, he died of pneumonia.

All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. -Leo Tolstoy

Sylvia Plath (1932-1963)

Sylvia Plath is considered one of the most remarkable writers of the 20th century. She was one of the first poets to use a different genre known as Confessional Poetry, a style based on personal experience and feelings about trauma, death and the psyche. She had many successful books, including The Bell Jar, a fictional novel that parallels with Plath’s life dealing with manic depression. It was during her undergraduate years that she experienced symptoms of mental illness which lead to her first suicide attempt at age 19. Following her mental breakdown she received electroshock therapy, but her battle with depression continued. At the young age of 30, Plath died by suicide. She will always be remembered as a literary pioneer.

Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences. -Sylvia Plath

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a successful writer who wrote classic books such as The Great Gatsby and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Fitzgerald suffered from severe depression, and was known to be a heavy drinker. His alcohol consumption contributed to his physical health declining. Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, also dealt with mental illness and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1930. At the age of 44, Fitzgerald died of a heart attack. Almost 70 years after Fitzgerald’s death, The Great Gatsby and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were made into movies. Each film grossed over 330 million dollars worldwide which shows the impact of Fitzgerald’s work.

You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say. -F. Scott Fitzgerald

Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

Charles Dickens was an English writer with famous books such as A Christmas Carol and one of my favorites, Great Expectations. Dickens lived with depression and insomnia. During these sleepless periods of time, he would walk the streets of London and found inspiration for characters portrayed in his novels. Dickens was wealthy and successful, but the lack of sleep and severe depression affected his ability to write. In 1870 Dickens died of a stroke. He is considered one of the most influential writers in history and his novels still remain popular today.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. -Charles Dickens

4 Brilliant Writers Who Suffered From Mental Illness

Writing is one of the practices used for healing. In therapy, they tell you to write. During periods of grief, they tell you to write. Following a trauma, they tell you to write.

It’s a way to let out the emotions you didn’t know were there. A way to make the burden lighter. So writing heals, right? Well, not always.

A great deal of the most notable writers in history somehow ended up with a form of mental illness.

So, what could be the reason?

Spending time contemplating thoughts can be healthy, but too much of anything is bad. For a writer to fully express their feelings, a certain amount of time is required to be spent alone, thinking. It aggravates the feeling of loneliness, isolation and despair.

Thoughts can be poisonous and minds are not immune. In fact, there are numerous studies suggesting a correlation between creativity and mental illness.

The association between mental illness and creativity first appeared in literature in the 1970s, but the idea of a link between “madness” and “genius” is much older, dating back at least to the time of Aristotle.

“We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched” – Lord Byron, an English poet.

Of course, there’s no denying that their illnesses have had a positive impact on their work, giving them more depth, more meaning and far more credibility, but for some, it may have cost them their lives.

Here are some of the most famous literary figures who lost the battle against their own minds.

Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963)

Stuck in one body with only one life and such limited choices, Plath, known for her heart-wrenching poetry and her semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, suffered from depression since she was in college. The poet made multiple suicide attempts before eventually succeeding in 1963. Her poetry deals with shock treatment, suicide, loneliness and rejection — all subjects with which she had firsthand experience.

About her only novel, she wrote:

“What I’ve done is to throw together events from my own life, fictionalizing to add color — it’s a pot boiler really, but I think it will show how isolated a person feels when he is suffering a breakdown. I’ve tried to picture my world and the people in it as seen through the distorting lens of a bell jar.”

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“Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

Virginia Woolf (1882 – 1941)

Virginia Woolf was an English writer and one of the foremost modernists of the twentieth century. She was diagnosed with depression at the age of 15, battling it throughout her life. After completing the manuscript of her last novel, Between the Acts, Woolf fell into depression again. On March 28, 1941, Woolf drowned herself by filling her overcoat pockets with stones and walking into the river.

In her last note to her husband she wrote:

“Dearest, I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer. I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been.” — Virginia Woolf

Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961)

Hemingway suffered from a wide range of mental disorders including depression, borderline and narcissistic personality traits, bipolar disorder and, later, psychosis. Rather than turning to physicians or therapists for help, Hemingway used alcohol and writing to cope. The author’s mental and physical health deteriorated so rapidly during the last years of his life, until Ernest took his own life in 1961.

“Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.” — Ernest Hemingway

Anne Sexton (1928 – 1974)

Anne Sexton was an American poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. Themes of her poetry include her long battle against depression, mania, suicidal tendencies and her relationships with her husband and children. Sexton suffered from severe mental illness for much of her life, her first manic episode taking place in 1954. After a second, she met a doctor who became her long-term therapist and encouraged her to take up poetry.

“All I wanted was a little piece of life, to be married, to have children…. I was trying my damnedest to lead a conventional life, for that was how I was brought up, and it was what my husband wanted of me. But one can’t build little white picket fences to keep the nightmares out.” — Anne Sexton

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52 Chilling Facts About Stephen King, The Master Of Horror

“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” – Stephen King

Stephen King is the author of 52 novels and around 200 short stories. Many of his books have been adapted into movies, including It, Carrie, The Dark Tower series, and The Shining; he is one of the most successful horror authors of all time. The man’s work ethic is an inspiration to all of us, and he’s proved time and again he knows how to scare better than anyone in the game. Read on for 52 spooky facts about the scream king.

Facts About Stephen King

Stephen King was born in the state of Maine, and still lives in the town of Bangor. King has used Maine as the setting for many of his horror novels.

51. Rolling in the Dough

King has an estimated net worth of around $400 Million. He has luxury cars, his own private jet, and a waterfront vacation home in Florida. Not too bad for a man of letters.

50. Runs in the Family

King’s father, Donald Edwin King, was also a writer, though he wasn’t quite as successful as his son. “I never saw any of my dad’s stories. My mother said he had piles and piles of manuscripts,” King said. His father walked out on the family when King was only two years old, allegedly giving the excuse that he was “going out for a pack of cigarettes.” King never saw his dad again.

49. Maine Called Him Back

Though his family left Maine when he was very young, after stints in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Connecticut, they moved back his home state when he was 11 so that his mother Nellie could care for her elderly parents. After they passed away, she became a caregiver at a local residence for the mentally challenged.

48. Missing in Action

King was forced to repeat the first grade because of his frequent absences.

47. Give it a Chance

Carrie was the first novel Stephen King ever published, but it almost never made it to the publisher. He’d become discouraged while writing the story, and even went so far as to throw the entire manuscript in the trash. Thankfully, his wife pulled it out and encouraged him to keep writing.

46. A Life-Changing Discovery

One day, while Stephen’s brother David was exploring the family attic, he found boxes of his father’s belongings. He called Stephen up to the attic, where Stephen discovered a box filled with horror novels. The very first book King picked up from the box was The Thing from the Tomb by H.P. Lovecraft, and it sparked his interest in becoming a horror writer.

45. Try, Try Again

Stephen King started writing and submitting his short stories when he was 16. Every time he got a rejection letter, he put the letter on a nail on his wall. Eventually, he got so many rejection letters that the nail fell down. King finally got his first acceptance when he was 19 for a story called “The Glass Floor.” He was paid $35.

44. Barely Scraping By

King was raised by his single mother, and his family grew up very poor. His first part-time job was pumping gas, and he eventually started cleaning laundry and working as an English teacher.

43. Making the Grade

King worked as an English teacher starting in 1971. He made $6,400 per year, about $40,000 in 2017.

42. Anonymous

King has published seven novels under the pen name “Richard Bachman.”

41. Jam Session

King played guitar in the literary supergroup band the Rock Bottom Remainders. Other members include Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, and Barbara Kingsolver.

40. Setting the Mood

Stephen King listens to hard rock while he writes. Two of his favorite bands are AC/DC and The Ramones.

39. Taking Over The Air Waves

Stephen King and his wife Tabitha own a radio station in Maine called Zone Radio, which plays mostly rock music.

38. Go, Team!

King is a huge fan of the Boston Red Sox. He even played himself as a Red Sox fan in the movie Fever Pitch, and wrote the story The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon about the Red Sox pitcher.

37. Giving Back

In 1992, King donated money to his town of Bangor, Maine so the municipality could build the Mansfield Baseball Stadium. Today, the stadium is affectionately known as “Stephen King’s Field of Screams.”

36. Hustle Harder

The best advice Stephen King can give to aspiring writers is: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.” So get crackin’!

35. Power Couple

Stephen’s wife Tabitha has written several novels of her own as well, including the titles Candles Burning and Survivor.

34. Two Thumbs Up

Film critic Roger Ebert once wrote that King’s memoir On Writing was the most insightful book for aspiring writers since The Elements of Style. High praise indeed!

33. Tragedy Strikes

In 1999, Stephen King was hit by a van while walking down the street. The accident broke bones in his right leg, hip, and ribs. He also had a punctured lung and a head laceration. A few months later, newspapers reported that King had bought the offending van in order to smash it to pieces. In reality, his lawyers bought the van so that it wouldn’t wind up on eBay. It was crushed at a scrapyard—some stories are too good to be true.

32. The Big Screen

King has over 22 film appearances on IMDB. These roles are mostly cameos he has played in the movies based on his books. For example, in Pet Semetary he plays a minister. Hey, if this whole writing thing doesn’t work out, at least he can fall back on acting.

31. Age is Just a Number

During an interview with Rolling Stone, King said that he disagrees with the labels of “young adult novels.” He himself is personally a Harry Potter fan, though he’s decidedly not a Twilight fan: “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

30. Winter is Coming

Stephen King and Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin played poker together during Science Fiction conventions back in the 1980s.

29. The Devil’s Powder

In particular, King has a history of cocaine addiction, and his family had to stage an intervention to get him to stop taking the drug.

28. The Flash

King is an extremely fast and prolific writer: His 304-page book, The Running Man, was completed in only ten days. He called it “a book written by a young man who was angry, energetic, and infatuated with the art and the craft of writing.”

27. Word Count

In his early days, King could write 2,000-3,000 words, or six pages, in three to four hours. Nowadays King writes 1,000 words a day.

26. Another Record

King has the Guinness World Record for the most motion picture adaptations from a living author.

25. Adaptation

King says that when he goes to see the movies that are based on his books, he never expects the adaptation to stay completely loyal to his original story. As he says, “I know it has an idea that I’ll like because that idea occurred to me, and I spent a year or a year and a half of my life working on it.”

24. Not Impressed

Despite the fact that he enjoys most of the film adaptations of his work, King was famously unhappy with Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining. King feels that the film’s Wendy Torrance was merely a “screaming dish rag” instead of a fleshed-out character, and he didn’t like Jack Nicholson’s portrayal of Jack Torrance. When asked by Rolling Stone what he thought about the huge fanbase surrounding the film, King simply replied, “I don’t get it.”

23. Over-Achiever

King holds the record for the most books on the New York Times Best Seller List at one time. In 1995, he had four books on the list: Thinner, The Talisman, Skeleton Crew, and The Bachman Books.

22. I’ll Drive, Thanks

Even though he writes scary stories, King is still afraid of flying, and when he was younger, he often drove his motorcycle from state to state during his book tours.

22. Independence

King’s son Joe Hillstrom King also wanted to become a horror writer and decided to go by the pen name of Joe Hill so as not to be given preferential or biased treatment. Hill’s novel Horns was adapted into a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe in 2013.

21. It’s In Their DNA

Stephen King’s second son, Owen King, is also a writer and, unlike his brother, doesn’t seem to mind using his dad’s last name. Stephen and Owen also collaborated on a book together called Sleeping Beauties.

20. I am the One Who Knocks

One of King’s favorite TV shows is Breaking Bad. He also likes The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, and The Americans.

19. Can’t Get Enough

King has over 17,000 books in his personal library. He’s read them all except for a handful of the newest ones.

18. Helping the Little Guys

King has put the offer out to any aspiring filmmakers that they can buy the rights to adapt any of his short stories for only $1. They’re called “Dollar Babies,” and King’s website has a list of available options. Independent filmmakers have created the “Dollar Baby Festival” to showcase their work.

17. Stand in Line

King doesn’t like the attention that he gets as a celebrity, and he hates being surrounded by huge crowds. As a result, he only gives out autographs at book signing events.

16. Early Profits

King got his start writing for Dave’s Rag, a newspaper that his brother self published with a mimeograph machine—a cheap, messy device that could print a stencil onto paper. Not long after, he started writing out the plots of movies he’d seen, and would then sell “his” stories to his classmates at school. This was technically the first time King sold any of his writing, but when his teachers found out what he was doing, he was forced to return his meager profits.

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15. Hot Off the Presses

While he was attending the University of Maine, King wrote for the student newspaper, The Maine Campus. He actually had his own column, called “Steve King’s Garbage Truck.”

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14. Saved by the Story

After he finished school, King struggled to make ends meet. He managed to sell a few stories, but these early profits did little to put a dent in his financial woes. For instance, when he received the check for selling his story The Float (now known as The Raft), he cashed it and immediately spent the entire sum to pay off a traffic fine.

13. A Death in the Family

King’s mother, who had raised him all by herself, grew ill in the mid-seventies, and King moved his family back to Maine to be closer to her. She passed away soon after Carrie was published, but at least she got to see at least some small amount of her son’s success. King’s Aunt Emrine actually read the novel to her in the final days before she died.

12. Even With So Many, You’ve Got to Have a Favorite

Of all his novels, King likes 1975’s ‘Salem’s Lot the best. In a 1987 interview, he said: “In a way it is my favorite story, mostly because of what it says about small towns. They are kind of a dying organism right now. The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!” He dedicated the book to his daughter, Naomi.

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11. Crossover

In 1996, King collaborated with none other than Michael Jackson to create something of a cross between a short film and a music video. Michael Jackson’s Ghosts was written by King and featured music from several of Jackson’s albums. The film was screened at Cannes and received a Guinness World Record for longest music video.

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10. Old School

What program do you use to write? Microsoft Word? Pages? Google Docs? Well, as far as King is concerned, the best Word Processor in the world is a Waterman fountain pen.

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9. Harsh Criticism

King is undeniably one of the most popular writers of the 20th century and beyond, but not everyone is a fan of his work. When he received a Lifetime Achievement award from the National Book Awards, the famous literary critic Harold Bloom had this to say:

“The decision to give the National Book Foundation’s annual award for ‘distinguished contribution’ to Stephen King is extraordinary, another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I’ve described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.”

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8. Timeless

Since the publication of Carrie in 1974, Stephen King’s books have never gone out of print, and his second-hand paperbacks are readily available in most thrift bookstores. King continues to be a giant of the horror genre, and it appears he will be for years to come.

7. Greatest Of All Time

Pennywise, the horrible clown that haunts the kids in It, almost wasn’t a clown at all. Originally, King based the book his story on the fairy tale “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” imagining the Losers Club as the goats, the town of Derry as the bridge, and Pennywise as the troll lurking beneath. Eventually, he decided that kids hated clowns more than trolls, which is probably true, and he made the switch.

6. 18. Inner Demons

King has been open about his struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction. Apparently, it got so bad during the late 70s and early 80s that he doesn’t even remember writing one of his most iconic novels, Cujo. Imagine your blackouts producing horror classics? We should all be so lucky.

5. Mourning in his Way

King’s mother died while the author was at the height of his alcoholism—he has even said that he was drunk while he delivered her eulogy.

4. Not Cool in 2017… or 1990…

The movie It horrified audiences, but most fans don’t realize that one scene from the original novel was too disturbing for the film. For some reason, King decided it was a good idea to have the group of kids—the Loser’s Club—engage in an orgy. Yes, you read that right. Unsurprisingly, the scene has attracted much controversy over the years, which is likely why it was omitted from both the 1990 and 2017 onscreen adaptations. Plus…yick.

3. Not Sure if That Makes It Better, Stephen

Commenting on the scene, Stephen said, “I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood –1958 and Grown Ups. The grown-ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children–we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.”

2. Traumatic Memories

When King was a child, one of his friends was hit by a freight train while King and the friend were playing together. King has no memory of the incident. What he does know of the accident comes from his mother: King wandered back home alone, and she found him white as a sheet and unable to speak. As King says, “My mom never knew if I had been near him when it happened, if it had occurred before I even arrived, or if I had wandered away after it happened. Perhaps she had her own ideas on the subject. But as I’ve said, I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it some years after the fact.”

1. Dark Past

It’s believed that the psychological trauma King suffered from witnessing his friend’s death inspired some of his darkest works, though King has never implied as much. Notably, the horrifying memory didn’t appear in his memoir, On Writing, despite the book covering his childhood at length.

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20 things you (probably) didn’t know about Stephen King

Stephen King is the Big Mac of writers (his words, not ours). Unavoidable – an institution. However, unlike the fast food restaurant, King is actually good for your soul and today is his 70th birthday. Which means that he’s been publishing excellent pieces of horror-tinged prose for 44 years and is still going.

Which is pretty incredible. King’s writing is witty, profound and, depending on what age you read his books, a master of suspense/bone chillingly scary (delete as appropriate).

But how much do you know about the man behind Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Misery, It, Pet Sematary and much, much more?

What follows are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Stephen King.

1

He suffers from triskaidekaphobia – fear of the number 13. “The number 13 never fails to trace that old icy finger up and down my spine. When I’m writing, I’ll never stop work if the page number is 13 or a multiple of 13; I’ll just keep on typing till I get to a safe number. I always take the last two steps on my back stairs as one, making 13 into 12. There were after all 13 steps on the English gallows up until 1900 or so. When I’m reading, I won’t stop on page 94, 193, or 382, since the sums of these numbers add up to 13.”

2

A collection of short stories by HP Lovecraft called The Lurker Of The Threshold has often been cited by King as a catalyst in becoming a writer. It was his absent father’s book and he found it in the attic. The cover of the book featured a demon.

3

He once said in a BBC interview that Jack Torrance (The Shining) was his most autobiographical character. At the time he wrote the book he was drinking a lot like Jack. Originally he saw Jack “as a heroic character battling his demons the way strong American men are supposed to do.”

4

The Onion once wrote an article claiming that King couldn’t remember writing The Tommyknockers. He then admitted that it was actually true as he couldn’t remember writing many novels from the 80s due to his alcoholism, including Cujo.

5

King and his wife Tabitha own three radio stations in their home state of Maine.

6

When it was revealed that the writer Richard Bachman was in fact Stephen King, he retired the alias citing that Bachman had died. The cause of death was given as cancer of the pseudonym.

7

He told fellow author Neil Gaiman that if he had the chance to live his life all over again he wouldn’t change a thing. Apart from appearing in an American Express advert.

8

According to Guinness Superlatives more of King’s books have been adapted into films than any other living author.

9

King was declared unfit for military service in Vietnam because the draft board found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet and punctured eardrums.

10

A big fan of The Ramones, he wrote the liner notes for their 2003 tribute album, We’re A Happy Family.

11

King was always interested in drama and cropped up in a number of his movies. He was a man at the ATM in Maximum Overdrive, a minister in Pet Sematary, a cemetery caretaker in Sleepwalkers, Teddy Weizak in The Stand, Tom Holby in The Langoliers, Dr Bangor in Thinner, Gage Creed in the TV version of The Shining and a pizza delivery guy in Rose Red.

12

Originally, he threw the first draft of Carrie, originally intended as a short story, away but it was his wife Tabitha who saw potential and urged him to continue on with it. He ended up dedicating the book to her.

13

The original title for Salem’s Lot was Second Coming but, again, King’s wife Tabitha stepped in and remarked that it sounded like a “bad sex story” so it was eventually changed.

14

Rage, his first novel as Richard Bachman, was about a disturbed high school student who held his classmates at gunpoint. After Jeffery Lyne Cox, a disturbed high school student, held his classmates hostage, was found to have read and been inspired by the book and then three similar incidents, King let Rage fall out of print in the US.

15

King was once mistaken for a vandal when he started signing books during an unannounced visit to an Australian book shop.

16

He loved the movie 28 Days Later so much that he bought out an entire screening of it, all 275 tickets.

(Images: Rex/AllStar)

17

Reportedly, King attended a screening of Pan’s Labyrinth and sat next to director Guillermo Del Toro. During the infamous Pale Man chase scene, King squirmed in his seat which Del Toro described as “the best experience ever”.

18

Ronald McDonald was one of the influences for Pennywise.

19

After his near-fatal accident in 1999, King’s homecare nurses were told by their supervisor that under no circumstances were they allowed to make any Misery jokes…

20

A Carrie musical? Yes, in 1988 it became an actual thing. Firstly by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and then on Broadway later that year. Despite being sold out most nights, the reaction was extremely mixed and the $8 million show was closed after only 16 previews and 5 performances. It was brought back briefly in 2012 in an off-Broadway production.

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The study of scare: Rutgers professor and students win Stephen King Challenge

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People get lost in tall grass and find supernatural dread in Netflix’s horror movie “In the Tall Grass,” based on the Stephen King/Joe Hill novella. USA TODAY

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NEW BRUNSWICK — Resident physician of fright Dr. Anthony Tobia and his “terror-ific” team of medical students at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School are taking on the King, as in Stephen King.

This week, they were announced by USDish.com as “It,” the winners who will be paid $1,300 to watch 13 of King’s movies before Halloween.

The twist for Tobia and the future physicians is that they view everything through the lens of psychiatry, Tobia’s specialty.

Every semester, the students who take part in Tobia’s teachings learn about mental illness and behavioral medicine through pop culture. Often, horror films provide the base for the course of study — Tobia is a huge fan of the genre.

Like with many of his pop-culture-inoculated courses, Tobia aims to ensure that these doctors-to-be will never miss a psychiatric illness in their future patients as well as reduce the stigma of mental illness.

“This is no different than traditional teaching at any medical schools — after you learn something in lecture format, you go into the hospital and catch that experience,” Tobia said. “This is another layer to that where they are provided a fictional experience where these horror movies are turned into fictional case accounts of psychopaths.”

During the month of October, the professor and his students typically participate in the annual “31 Knights of Halloween.” The Stephen King Challenge this year is a trip to “Joyland” for the group.

“Tons of students from all levels of education” are participating, he said.

“The students and residents at Rutgers-RWJMS are excited in accepting the challenge of watching 13 selected Stephen King films before Halloween,” Tobia said. “Since receiving notification of our school being awarded the challenge, course directors have been enthusiastically adjusting the curriculum to include the films to prompt teach topics related to psychiatry and mental illness.”

READ: Rutgers professor prescribes a dose of horror for his med students

USDish.com had more than 500,000 applicants go for the ghoul, but the doctor of doom and his cohorts of creep are the ones who get to enter “The Dead Zone.”

The prize of $1,300 will go back to research, Tobia said. Students will be reimbursed when they all go to see “Dr. Sleep” in theaters.

“I have pledged the money to the students and psychiatrists to support activities to learn psychiatry through pop culture,” said Tobia.

READ: Rutgers professor sparks study of psychiatry by infusing pop culture and psychiatry

Tobia typically has as many as 20 pop culture/psychiatry-connected projects going on at any given time.

“We have multiple objectives with multiple levels of training,” Tobia said. “And all of this is reducing the stigma of mental illness.”

To stalk Tobia and the students on this journey on Twitter, go to @ATobiaMd.

Cheryl Makin has been a reporter for more than two decades – the last eight with the USAToday Network. She enjoys sharing stories that inspire, instill hope and encourage smiles. An award-winning journalist, she specializes in articles that tell the human story. She is secretly a princess. Contact her at [email protected]tnj.com, 732-565-7256 or follow her @cherylmakin.

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