Stephen King: his childhood, his family, what scares him

Stephen King's new book, 'Joyland,' hits bookstores June 4.

'Joyland' follows a college student who works at a beachfront amusement park and learns about an unsolved murder.

Stephen King’s new novel, “Joyland,” began 20 years ago with a single image the writer couldn’t shake from his head: a boy, in a wheelchair, flying a kite on a beach.

From that image, a story slowly took shape, King told NPR, until it culminated in his latest book, a retro thriller about a haunted small-town carnival.

Set in North Carolina in 1973, “Joyland” follows a heartbroken college student who takes a job at the kooky beachfront amusement park where he learns the secret history behind a gory murder and gets pulled into the eerie world of carnies. The book, which is published by hard-boiled crime publisher Hard Case Crime, is set to hit bookstores June 4.

King, who rarely gives interviews, spoke with both NPR and Parade Magazine about “Joyland.” We’ve included some of the highlights here:

How “Joyland” harkens back to King’s childhood: 

King told NPR he chose Hard Case Crime because the publisher reminded him of his favorite childhood reads. 

“Hard Case Crime is a throwback to the books that I loved as a kid,” King said. “We lived way out in the country, and my mother would go once a week shopping, and she would go to the Red & White or the A&P to pick up her groceries. And I would immediately beat feet to Robert's Drugstore, where they had a couple of those turn-around wire racks with the hard-boiled paperbacks that usually featured a girl with scanty clothing on the front.”

“Joyland” is a tribute to those old-time favorites, scantily-clad cover girl and all.

On what scares him now:

From his mother, King developed a fondness for horror. “My childhood was pretty ordinary, except from a very early age I wanted to be scared,” he told NPR. As a child, he secretly listened to a horror radio show called “Dimension X,” and dreamed of boogymen.

The horror writer isn’t afraid of much these days, except one thing: acquiring a condition like Alzheimer’s disease and losing his faculties. “That’s the boogeyman in the closet now,” he says. “I’m afraid of losing my mind.” 

On his literary family

It turns out writing is the King family business. King’s wife is the novelist Tabitha King, and both his sons are writers, too.

Not surprisingly, all of King’s children, including daughter Naomi, started reading at a young age, thanks in part to Dad’s desperation.

“[S]ometimes in the afternoon [King’s wife] Tabby would say, ‘I can’t deal with it anymore, Steve. I’m going to lie down.’ These kids would be tearing all over the house, and I’d be trying to think of something I could do with them,” King told Parade. “One day, out of desperation, I got a couple of Spider-Man comic books. I didn’t expect much, but they went nuts for that stuff. All of them read early. Owen and Naomi read at 2 or something. They were amazing that way.”

Son Owen King’s recent novel is “Double Feature,” and son Joe (who writes under the name Joe Hill) recently released a vampire book, “NOS4A2.” 

Both sons dedicated their books to their mother, who critiques the writing of all three men, Stephen King included.

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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