My Life In Books: Carrie

This was the second Stephen King book that I picked up, and again it was from the school library.  This memorable tale of a bullied teenage girl with powers of telekinesis, who gets revenge on her classmates at the high school prom, really resonated with me.  I, too, was a bullied teenager.  After I read this book I started fantasising about what I might do to the bullies if I had telekinesis.  Not surprising that I turned into a horror writer.

What also struck me about this book was how convincingly King, as a male writer, can write about teenage girls – something not all male writers are able to do.

Interspersed with Carrie’s story are extracts of fictitious newspaper reports and witness autobiographies.  The first time I read this book, it struck me as unnecessary padding.  I found out later that this was exactly what it was.  CARRIE was Stephen King’s first published novel.  The story goes that when he finished it, he was so unhappy with it he threw it in the trash.  His wife extracted it, read it, and encouraged him to submit it.  He did, and it was picked up, but the publisher decided it was too short for a novel – more novella length.  King added all the newspaper reports and autobiography extracts to add to the word count.  If only the publishers had known then just how huge King would become, maybe they wouldn’t have cared quite so much.  I wonder if anyone nowadays would dare to tell Stephen King his book was too short (or too long).

The other thing that strikes me now is that if Stephen King was starting his career today, would he be labelled as a YA writer? A lot of his stories are about teenagers.

The main character of CARRIE was 16, but there was no such thing as YA fiction in the 1970s.  CARRIE was always shelved in the horror section.  Nowadays, it seems that if you write a book about a character who is under 18, it’s going to be labelled as Young Adult.  Though I suppose the fact that my school library had a copy of the book suggests it was always considered an appropriate read for teenagers.

When I first wrote SUFFER THE CHILDREN, the main character, Leanne, was 14. It was rejected by several agents on the basis that they considered it a YA novel and they didn’t deal with YA. I always maintained it wasn’t. It was inspired by Stephen King. It seems some agents believe that Stephen King is only read by teenage boys. After getting this message several times, in the end I gave up and made Leanne 18, but since the tone of the story didn’t actually change I still maintain it was never YA to begin with.

I still hold the view that Stephen King fans fans are teens and adults, male and female, and not necessarily horror fans.  King’s stories are accessible to all. Ultimately I think that’s the way it should be, rather than writers having to fit into tidy little boxes.


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