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Exorcism through Prose: Making the Demons Work for You 

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It’s rare to be born with demons. Most of us collect them as we navigate life. One writer chose to use a lifetime of demons to fuel a career that spanned decades, genres and media formats. In his pages, you can glimpse the demons that have haunted him; demons that he exorcised by giving them life through prose. A writer, activist, and pioneer of electronic media, this man has redefined the role of writer in the modern world.

The exorcist found his first demons before he was a teenager. He lived in near-poverty with his mother, relying upon her family for financial support. He became resentful of his father and insecure about his home life.

He grew up hoping for adventure and seeking trouble with his friends. A ramble through the New England woods became a nightmare when he watched as a friend was struck by a train. Though he claimed not to recall the incident, echoes of the train’s menace can be found in many of his stories.

In college, the exorcist found his voice, publishing a volume of short stories with a friend, and dreaming of teaching English. But jobs and publishers were hard to come by, so he abandoned teaching for an industrial laundry, where flickering fluorescents and gnashing machines kept him company. He found solace at his typewriter, where he pecked out short stories filled with twisted plots and dark images. A few were published in magazines, encouraging him to continue his writing at a fevered pace.

He left the laundry for a position at Hampden Academy in 1971, teaching English to high schoolers. It was never his passion, and soon words and demons drew the exorcist away from an academic career. A few thrillers were rejected by publishers but soon he gathered a foothold in the literary world in 1973 with the publishing of his first novel, a terrifying tale of high school.

Finally given the opportunity to make a living writing and finding interest in his early, unpublished works, he worried that publishing multiple books per year would make him seem like a hack. So he got creative. The exorcist split himself in two, publishing tales of horror under his name, and pulp thrillers with a sci-fi twist under a pseudonym.

Now out of academia and writing full time, the exorcist moved from his beloved New England to Colorado. Though he would stay in the mountains of the Mile High State for less than a year, the time was significant. He wrote his most famous work, but succumbed to another demon.

For years, books and stories had been a way to exorcise his demons. His childhood traumas and insecurities were fuel for the impressive volumes of work he produced. He returned to his beloved New England to teach creative writing and concentrate on his novels. A success in the literary world, soon his demons weren’t satisfied with words. Alcohol, pills, and cocaine became his new companions.

Spending nearly the whole of the 1980s in a haze of illicit substances, the exorcist lost his battle against the darkness. He churned out bestsellers he didn’t remember writing. He was cruel to his family. He became the monsters he wrote about.

After clawing his way back to sobriety, the writer threw himself into his work, using the gnaw of addiction as his driving force. He took every opportunity to write: stories, magazine articles, scripts, comic books, and novels. If there were words to be found, he would capture them on the page. As long as he typed, the demons left him alone.

In his attempts to exorcise his demons on the page, the writer created a story surplus. With dozens of short stories published, but not made into films, he decided to use his words to develop the talent of others. Founding the Dollar Babies program, the writer allows any student to use his un-optioned short stories as a student film script. The cost is $1 and a copy of the finished product.

Years of productivity and clean living were shattered by an accident in 1999. While out for a walk near his home, he experienced a scenario that could have easily come from his books. A driver let his attention lapse and his van swerve, ploughing into the writer. Over the hood and into a heap he fell, bleeding and broken on the road.

He lived, but the price for life was extreme. A chipped spine, shattered pelvis, and a collapsed lung put the writer in the hospital for weeks. Though he was told he might never walk again, he began to write as soon as he could sit in front of a computer. But pain is a nasty force. The exorcist couldn’t write for extended periods without it clawing at his broken body.

He decided to retire in 2002, because his injuries made it nearly impossible for him to write. But without his writing, the demons came scratching again. And to keep them at bay, the exorcist did the only thing he could: he wrote. He used his accident as the centerpiece for a TV miniseries and fought through excruciating pain to eke out his next novel.

As his body mended, his mind sought new ways to share his works. A pioneer of e-books, the writer was one of the first authors to publish a work in an exclusively digital format. Though he was once enchanted with the format, it has now lost its lustre for him. Citing the minimal royalties e-publishers offer writers, he has refused to grant digital rights to his most recent works.

A social media star, prolific author and screenwriter, Stephen King still lives and writes in his native Maine, where most of his stories are set. Words flow through the veins of most of the King family: his wife Tabitha as well as sons Joe and Owen are authors. Once a year King performs with his band, The Rock Bottom Remainders, which features King, Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Matt Groening and Ridley Pearson. Whether generating controversy on Twitter, commentating on pop culture, or producing yet another volume of horror, King is one of the most famous voices of the 20th and 21st centuries.

 

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Diana Beechener has a BA in Liberal Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied literary analysis and film history. A proud member of the Washington Area Film Critics Association, she is a journalist and film reviewer for Bay Weekly. She is also a PR blogger and consultant, helping businesses improve their written communications and social media relationships. Contact Diana on LinkedIn.