Where did Carrie come from, and why did she haunt Stephen King?

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HE WANTED to be a writer, and he published a few short stories.

He thought he was a writer.

He had written three novels.

But he knew he was a hack.

None of them had been published.

Nobody wanted them.

It didn’t surprise him.

After all, nobody knew him.

Hardly anybody had heard of him.

Who wanted to read his work?

Who wanted to be terrified?

Who wanted to be horrified?

Stephen King with the portable typewriter he used to write Carrie.
Stephen King with the portable typewriter he used to write Carrie.

Who was Stephen King?

He was simply a high school English teacher, and he and his wife were broke.

They were living in a trailer house.

He had been forced to remove his telephone.

Stephen King couldn’t afford to pay the bill.

He typed his stories on a portable typewriter he borrowed from his wife, Tabitha.

He had no typewriter of his own.

And women who read his work roundly criticized him.

He was told: “You write all those macho things, but you can’t write about women.”

Sure, he could.

That’s what he said.

“I’m not scared of women,” he said. “I could write about them if I wanted to.”

The women laughed.

Do it, they said.

He did it.

From the depths of his anger came the bad seed of an insane idea.

From the depths of ridicule came a young girl named Carrietta N. White.

She would be known as Carrie.

King fashioned her from a composite of two girls he had known in school.

He wrote about one of them: “She was a very peculiar girl who came from a very peculiar family. Her mother wasn’t a religious nut like the mother in Carrie. She was a game nut, a sweepstakes nut who subscribed to magazines for people who entered contests.

“The girl had one change of clothes for the entire school year, and all the other kids made fun of her. I have a very clear memory of the day she came to school in a new outfit she bought herself. She was a plain-looking country girl, but she’d changed the black skirt and white blouse – which was all anybody had ever seen her in – for a bright-colored checkered blouse with puffed sleeves and a skirt that was fashionable at the time. And everybody made worse fun of her because nobody wanted to see her change the mold.”

The incident troubled Stephen King.

Perhaps it even haunted him.

He could see the shame on her face years later.

She wore the face of Carrie.

King had originally planned to write a short story for Cavalier Magazine.

He wrote three pages.

He didn’t like the story.

He didn’t like the way he had written it.

King dreaded the thought of one more rejection slip.

He threw the pages away in the garbage dump out back.

It was cold.

Snow was on the ground.

But King’s wife braved the weather, retrieved the manuscript, and urged him to turn the story into a novel.

Might as well, he decided.

He didn’t have any other ideas.

King wrote the story, and it was a strange story, utilizing newspaper clippings, magazine articles, and letters to show how a peculiar girl named Carrie destroys a fictional Maine town as she exacts her revenge on her sadistic classmates.

He finished the manuscript in two months and thought, he said, he had written the “world’s biggest loser.”

But he sent it off to Doubleday and patiently waited for the story to be rejected.

He received a telegram from editor William Thompson that said: “Carrie Officially a Doubleday Book. $2,500 Advance Against Royalties. Congrats, Kid. The Future Lies Ahead.”

Thompson would have called him with the news.

He couldn’t.

Stephen King didn’t have a telephone.

Even he later admitted the work was “raw with a surprising power to terrify and horrify.
The hardback edition sold only 13,000 books.

But the paperback version from New American Library shot out of sight, selling more than a million copies.

King was on his way.

The future did indeed lie ahead.

He tried to track down the peculiar little girl who inspired the novel and then the movie.

He couldn’t find her.

It was too late.

She had, he said, married a man who was as odd as she had been.

Odd.

And peculiar.

The girl who bore the face of Carrie had killed herself.

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  • I have Mr. King’s book On Writing – and have read it several times. But I can’t read his stories – I don’t like being scared. There are readers with every taste.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Alicia, I don’t read Stephen King, but i appreciate his immense talent.

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