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Stephen King’s Surprise Gift

Stephen King Surprise

By Randal C. Hill

It was the early 1970s, and times were tough for Stephen and Tabitha King. They had married young soon after graduating from the University of Maine and produced two children in as many years. Stephen taught English at a private high school near Bangor, and Tabitha worked second shift at a Dunkin’ Donuts shop downtown.

Stephen had always wanted to be a writer, and Tabitha had set up a makeshift desk in the laundry room of their rented double-wide trailer that they called home outside of town. To supplement his teacher’s pay, King wrote short stories for men’s magazines. Occasionally a small check would appear in their mailbox, and the Kings were once more saved from a possible trip to the welfare office.

Stephen came up with a book idea about a girl named Carrie White, a lonely social outcast being raised by an unbalanced religious fanatic mother. King based his character on a pair of ostracized girls that he remembered from his own school days.

In his tale, Carrie White is afraid that she’s bleeding to death when she experiences her first period while showering after gym class, and her unsympathetic classmates cruelly tease and taunt her. But Carrie eventually discovers that she can use telekinesis (the ability to move objects just by thinking about them) to enact revenge on those who have made her school life a living hell.

Three pages into “Carrie,” though, King decided that his idea simply wasn’t working out. He wadded up what he had typed and tossed the single-spaced sheets into his wastebasket. The next day, while cleaning Stephen’s writing area, Tabitha found and read the discarded balls of paper. When Stephen came home from school, Tabitha said, “You’ve got something here.”

With his wife’s encouragement and guidance, Stephen spent the next nine months bringing “Carrie” to fruition. After 30 publishers rejected his creation, Doubleday Publishing Company finally offered a $2,500 advance for the hardcover release of Stephen’s book. It wasn’t enough to let him quit teaching, but it was the most money he had ever earned from a single writing project. The Kings moved into a cramped and rundown Bangor apartment.

“Carrie” sold just 13,000 copies, not enough to let Stephen write full time. But a Sunday phone call changed everything when King learned that Signet Books wanted to buy the paperback rights to “Carrie” for a mind-blowing $400,000, of which, due to various publishing contracts he had signed, Stephen would receive half that amount. Still, it was like winning the literary lottery.

The phone had rung on Mother’s Day afternoon of 1974. Tabitha had taken both children to their grandmother’s house and was on her way home. Stephen decided to surprise his wife with a gift—something unusual, extravagant and expensive! He walked to downtown Bangor, where the only place open was a hometown drug store. When Tabitha returned home, Stephen couldn’t wait to show her his unwrapped gift.

It became the first hair dryer that Tabitha had ever owned. MSN

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