Stephen King, 2012
Gallery Books : Simon & Schuster
Winner, 2012 Thriller Award for Best Novel
Dallas, 11/22/63: Three shots ring out. President John F. Kennedy is dead.
Life can turn on a dime—or stumble into the extraordinary, as it does for Jake Epping, a high school English teacher in a Maine town. While grading essays by his GED students, Jake reads a gruesome, enthralling piece penned by janitor Harry Dunning: fifty years ago, Harry somehow survived his father’s sledgehammer slaughter of his entire family.
Jake is blown away...but an even more bizarre secret comes to light when Jake’s friend Al, owner of the local diner, enlists Jake to take over the mission that has become his obsession—to prevent the Kennedy assassination. How? By stepping through a portal in the diner’s storeroom, and into the era of Ike and Elvis, of big American cars, sock hops, and cigarette smoke... Finding himself in warmhearted Jolie, Texas, Jake begins a new life. But all turns in the road lead to a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald. The course of history is about to be rewritten...and become heart-stoppingly suspenseful.
In Stephen King’s “most ambitious and accomplished” (NPR) novel, time travel has never been so believable. Or so terrifying. (From the publisher.)
• Birth—September 21, 1947
• Where—Portland, Maine, USA
• Education—B.A., University of Maine
• Awards—see below
• Currently—lives in Bangor, Maine
Stephen Edwin King is an American author of contemporary horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy. His books have sold more than 350 million copies and have been adapted into a number of feature films, television movies and comic books. King has published 50 novels, including seven under the pen-name of Richard Bachman, and five non-fiction books. He has written nearly two hundred short stories, most of which have been collected in nine collections of short fiction. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine.
King's father, Donald Edwin King, who was born circa 1913 in Peru, Indiana, was a merchant seaman. King's mother, Nellie Ruth (nee Pillsbury; 1913–1973) was born in Scarborough, Maine. The two were married in 1939 in Cumberland County, Maine.
Stephen Edwin King was born September 21, 1947, in Portland, Maine. When King was two years old, his father left the family under the pretense of "going to buy a pack of cigarettes," leaving his mother to raise King and his adopted older brother, David, by herself, sometimes under great financial strain. The family moved to De Pere, Wisconsin, Fort Wayne, Indiana and Stratford, Connecticut. When King was eleven years old, the family returned to Durham, Maine, where Ruth King cared for her parents until their deaths. She then became a caregiver in a local residential facility for the mentally challenged. King was raised Methodist.
As a child, King apparently witnessed one of his friends being struck and killed by a train, though he has no memory of the event. His family told him that after leaving home to play with the boy, King returned, speechless and seemingly in shock. Only later did the family learn of the friend's death. Some commentators have suggested that this event may have psychologically inspired some of King's darker works, but King makes no mention of it in his memoir On Writing.
King's primary inspiration for writing horror fiction was related in detail in his 1981 non-fiction Danse Macabre, in a chapter titled "An Annoying Autobiographical Pause." King makes a comparison of his uncle successfully dowsing for water using the bough of an apple branch with the sudden realization of what he wanted to do for a living. While browsing through an attic with his elder brother, King uncovered a paperback version of an H. P. Lovecraft collection of short stories entitled The Lurker in the Shadows that had belonged to his father. The cover art—an illustration of a yellow-green Demon hiding within the recesses of a Hellish cavern beneath a tombstone—was, he writes, the moment in his life which "that interior dowsing rod responded to." King told Barnes & Noble Studios during a 2009 interview, "I knew that I'd found home when I read that book."
Education and early career
King attended Durham Elementary School and graduated from Lisbon Falls High School, in Lisbon Falls, Maine. He displayed an early interest in horror as an avid reader of EC's horror comics, including Tales from the Crypt (he later paid tribute to the comics in his screenplay for Creepshow). He began writing for fun while still in school, contributing articles to Dave's Rag, the newspaper that his brother published with a mimeograph machine, and later began selling stories to his friends which were based on movies he had seen (though when discovered by his teachers, he was forced to return the profits). The first of his stories to be independently published was "I Was a Teenage Grave Robber", serialized over three published and one unpublished issue of a fanzine, Comics Review, in 1965. That story was published the following year in a revised form as "In a Half-World of Terror" in another fanzine, Stories of Suspense, edited by Marv Wolfman.
From 1966, King studied English at the University of Maine, graduating in 1970 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. That same year his first daughter, Naomi Rachel, was born. He wrote a column for the student newspaper, The Maine Campus, titled "Steve King's Garbage Truck", took part in a writing workshop organized by Burton Hatlen, and took odd jobs to pay for his studies, including one at an industrial laundry. He sold his first professional short story, "The Glass Floor," to Startling Mystery Stories in 1967. The Fogler Library at the University of Maine now holds many of King's papers.
After leaving the university, King earned a certificate to teach high school but, being unable to find a teaching post immediately, initially supplemented his laboring wage by selling short stories to men's magazines such as Cavalier. Many of these early stories have been published in the collection Night Shift. In 1971, King married Tabitha Spruce, a fellow student at the University of Maine whom he had met at the University's Fogler Library after one of Professor Hatlen's workshops. That fall, King was hired as a teacher at Hampden Academy in Hampden, Maine. He continued to contribute short stories to magazines and worked on ideas for novels. It was during this time that King developed a drinking problem, which would plague him for more than a decade.
In 1973, King's novel Carrie was accepted by publishing house Doubleday. King threw an early draft of the novel in the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it. His advance for Carrie was $2,500, with paperback rights earning $400,000 at a later date. King and his family moved to southern Maine because of his mother's failing health. At this time, he began writing a book titled Second Coming, later titled Jerusalem's Lot, before finally changing the title to Salem's Lot (published 1975). In a 1987 issue of The Highway Patrolman magazine, he stated, "The story seems sort of down home to me. I have a special cold spot in my heart for it!" Soon after the release of Carrie in 1974, his mother died of uterine cancer. His Aunt Emrine read the novel to her before she died. King has written of his severe drinking problem at this time, stating that he was drunk delivering the eulogy at his mother's funeral.
After his mother's death, King and his family moved to Boulder, Colorado, where King wrote The Shining (1977). The family returned to western Maine in 1975, where King completed his fourth novel, The Stand (1978). In 1977, the family, with the addition of Owen Phillip (his third and last child), traveled briefly to England, returning to Maine that fall where King began teaching creative writing at the University of Maine. He has kept his primary residence in Maine ever since.
In 1985 King wrote his first work for the comic book medium, writing a few pages of the benefit X-Men comic book Heroes for Hope Starring the X-Men. The book, whose profits were donated to assist with famine relief in Africa, was written by a number of different authors in the comic book field, such as Chris Claremont, Stan Lee, and Alan Moore, as well as authors not primarily associated with that industry, such as Harlan Ellison. The following year, King wrote the introduction to Batman No. 400, an anniversary issue in which he expressed his preference for that character over Superman.
On June 19, 1999 at about 4:30 pm, King was walking on the shoulder of Route 5, in Lovell, Maine. Driver Bryan Smith, distracted by an unrestrained dog moving in the back of his minivan, struck King, who landed in a depression in the ground about 14 feet from the pavement of Route 5. According to Oxford County Sheriff deputy Matt Baker, King was hit from behind and some witnesses said the driver was not speeding, reckless, or drinking.
King was conscious enough to give the deputy phone numbers to contact his family but was in considerable pain. The author was first transported to Northern Cumberland Hospital in Bridgton and then flown by helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center, in Lewiston. His injuries—a collapsed right lung, multiple fractures of his right leg, scalp laceration and a broken hip—kept him at CMMC until July 9. His leg bones were so shattered doctors initially considered amputating his leg, but stabilized the bones in the leg with an external fixator. After five operations in ten days and physical therapy, King resumed work on On Writing in July, though his hip was still shattered and he could only sit for about forty minutes before the pain became worse. Soon it became nearly unbearable.
King's lawyer and two others purchased Smith's van for $1,500, reportedly to prevent it from appearing on eBay. The van was later crushed at a junkyard, much to King's disappointment, as he dreamed of beating it with a baseball bat once his leg was healed. King later mentioned during an interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross that he wanted to completely destroy the vehicle himself with a pickaxe.
During this time, Tabitha King was inspired to redesign his studio. King visited the space while his books and belongings were packed away. What he saw was an image of what his studio would look like if he died, providing a seed for his novel Lisey's Story.
In 2002, King announced he would stop writing, apparently motivated in part by frustration with his injuries, which had made sitting uncomfortable and reduced his stamina. He has since resumed writing, but states on his website that:
I'm writing but I'm writing at a much slower pace than previously and I think that if I come up with something really, really good, I would be perfectly willing to publish it because that still feels like the final act of the creative process, publishing it so people can read it and you can get feedback and people can talk about it with each other and with you, the writer, but the force of my invention has slowed down a lot over the years and that's as it should be.
In 2000, King published a serialized novel, The Plant, online, bypassing print publication. At first it was presumed by the public that King had abandoned the project because sales were unsuccessful, but he later stated that he had simply run out of stories. The unfinished epistolary novel is still available from King's official site, now free. Also in 2000, he wrote a digital novella, Riding the Bullet, and has said he sees e-books becoming 50% of the market "probably by 2013 and maybe by 2012." But he also warns: "Here's the thing—people tire of the new toys quickly."
In August 2003 King began writing a column on pop culture appearing in Entertainment Weekly, usually every third week. The column is called "The Pop of King," a play on the nickname "The King of Pop" commonly given to Michael Jackson. In 2006, King published an apocalyptic novel, Cell. The book features a sudden force in which every cell phone user turns into a mindless killer. King noted in the book's introduction that he does not use cell phones. In 2007, Marvel Comics began publishing comic books based on King's Dark Tower series, followed by adaptations of The Stand in 2008 and The Talisman in 2009.
In 2008, King published both a novel, Duma Key, and a collection, Just After Sunset. The latter featured 13 short stories, including a novella, N., which was later released as a serialized animated series that could be seen for free, or, for a small fee, could be downloaded in a higher quality; it then was adopted into a limited comic book series.
In 2009, King published Ur, a novella written exclusively for the launch of the second-generation Amazon Kindle and available only on Amazon.com, and Throttle, a novella co-written with his son Joe Hill, which later was released as an audiobook Road Rage, which included Richard Matheson's short story "Duel". On November 10 that year, King's novel, Under the Dome, was published. It is a reworking of an unfinished novel he tried writing twice in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and at 1,074 pages, it is the largest novel he has written since 1986's It. It debuted at No. 1 in The New York Times Bestseller List.
On February 16, 2010, King announced on his website that his next book would be a collection of four previously unpublished novellas called Full Dark, No Stars. In April of that year, King published Blockade Billy, an original novella issued first by independent small press Cemetery Dance Publications and later released in mass market paperback by Simon & Schuster. The following month, DC Comics premiered American Vampire, a monthly comic book series written by King with short story writer Scott Snyder, and illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque, which represents King's first original comics work. King wrote the background history of the very first American vampire, Skinner Sweet, in the first five-issue story arc. Scott Snyder wrote the story of Pearl.
King's next novel, 11/22/63, published in 2011, was nominated for the 2012 World Fantasy Award Best Novel. The eighth Dark Tower volume, The Wind Through the Keyhole, was published in 2012. King's next novel is the upcoming sequel to The Shining (1977), titled Doctor Sleep, scheduled for 2013, and King is currently working on Joyland, a novel about "an amusement-park serial killer," according to an article in The Sunday Times (April 8, 2012).
Black Quill Award
Bram Stocker AWards (14)
British Fantasy Society Awards (6)
Deutscher Phantastik Pries (5)
Horror Guild Awards (6)
International Horror Guild Awards (2)
Locus Awards (5)
Mystery Writers of America Awards (2, incl.,Grand Master)
National Book Foundation, Medal of Distringuished Contribution to American Letters
O. Henry Award
Shirely Jackson Award
World Fantasy Awards (4)
World Horror Convention, World Horror Grandmaster Award
King and his wife own and occupy three different houses, one in Bangor, one in Lovell, Maine, and they regularly winter in their waterfront mansion located off the Gulf of Mexico, in Sarasota, Florida. He and Tabitha have three children, Naomi, Joe and Owen, and three grandchildren.
Shortly after publication of The Tommyknockers, King's family and friends staged an intervention, dumping evidence of his addictions taken from the trash including beer cans, cigarette butts, grams of cocaine, Xanax, Valium, NyQuil, dextromethorphan (cough medicine) and marijuana, on the rug in front of him. As King related in his memoir, he then sought help and quit all forms of drugs and alcohol in the late 1980s, and has remained sober since. The first novel he wrote after quitting drugs and alcohol was Needful Things.
Tabitha King has published nine of her own novels. Both King's sons are published authors: Owen King published his first collection of stories, We're All in This Together: A Novella and Stories, in 2005. Joseph Hillstrom King, who writes under the professional name Joe Hill, published a collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, in 2005. His debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was published in 2007 and will be adapted into a feature film by director Neil Jordan. King's daughter Naomi is a Unitarian Universalist Church minister in Plantation, Florida with her same-sex partner, Rev. Dr. Thandeka.
King is a fan of baseball, and of the Boston Red Sox in particular; he frequently attends the team's home and away games, and occasionally mentions the team in his novels and stories. He helped coach his son Owen's Bangor West team to the Maine Little League Championship in 1989. He recounts this experience in the New Yorker essay "Head Down," which also appears in the collection Nightmares & Dreamscapes. In 1999, King wrote The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, which featured former Red Sox pitcher Tom Gordon as the protagonist's imaginary companion. In 2004, King co-wrote a book titled Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season with Stewart O'Nan, recounting the authors' roller coaster reaction to the Red Sox's 2004 season, a season culminating in the Sox winning the 2004 American League Championship Series and World Series. In the 2005 film Fever Pitch, about an obsessive Boston Red Sox fan, King tosses out the first pitch of the Sox's opening day game. (From Wikipedia. See complete article.)
King pulls off a sustained high-wire act of storytelling trickery…The pages of 11/22/63 fly by, filled with immediacy, pathos and suspense. It takes great brazenness to go anywhere near this subject matter. But it takes great skill to make this story even remotely credible. Mr. King makes it all look easy, which is surely his book's fanciest trick.
Janet Maslin - New York Times
11/22/63 is a meditation on memory, love, loss, free will and necessity. It's a blunderbuss of a book, rife with answers to questions: Can one man make a difference? Can history be changed, or does it snap back on itself like a rubber band? Does love conquer all? (The big stuff)…It all adds up to one of the best time-travel stories since H. G. Wells. King has captured something wonderful. Could it be the bottomlessness of reality? The closer you get to history, the more mysterious it becomes. He has written a deeply romantic and pessimistic book. It's romantic about the real possibility of love, and pessimistic about everything else.
Errol Morris - New York Times Book Review
a tale richly layered with the pleasures we've come to expect: characters of good heart and wounded lives, whose adventures into the fantastic are made plausible because they are anchored in reality, in the conversations and sense of place that take us effortlessly into the story…We are…reminded again that in Stephen King, we have proof that (as JFK himself once put it) "life is unfair." He is not only as famous and wealthy a writer as any of his time; his work suggests that if a time traveler found a portal to the 22nd century and looked for the authors of today still being read tomorrow, Stephen King would be one of them.
Jeff Greenfield - Washington Post
High school English teacher Jake Epping has his work cut out for him in King’s entertaining SF romantic thriller. Al Templeton, the proprietor of Al’s Diner in Lisbon Falls, Maine, has discovered a temporal “rabbit hole” in the diner’s storage room that leads to a point in the past.... Al confesses that he spent several years in this bygone world, in an effort to prevent President Kennedy’s assassination, but because he contracted lung cancer, he was unable to fulfill his history-changing mission. “You can go back, and you can stop” the assassination, he tells Jake. Jake...is inclined to honor his dying friend’s request to save JFK...[and]once over the initial hurdles, Jake is working under a pseudonym as a high school teacher in Jodie, Tex., an idyllic community north of Dallas...[and] zeroing in on a certain former U.S. Marine who defected to the Soviet Union and has recently returned to the U.S. with his Russian wife....Those folks [who claim Oswald acted alone] may have a problem with this suspenseful time-travel epic, but the rest of us will happily follow well-meaning, good-hearted Jake Epping, the anti-Oswald if you will, on his quixotic quest. —Peter Cannon
In King's latest...the horror master ventures into si-fi. Maine restaurant owner Al tells high school English teacher Jake Epping that there's a time portal to the year 1958 in his diner. Al has terminal cancer and asks Jake to grant his dying wish: go back in time and prevent the 1963 assassination of JFK. Jake's travels take him first to Derry, ME—the fictional (and creepy) setting of King's 1986 blockbuster It—to try to stop the horrific 1958 murder of a family. Later, he heads to Texas, where he bides his time—teaching in a small town, where he falls for school librarian Sadie Dunhill—and keeps tabs on the thuggish Lee Harvey Oswald. It all leads to an inevitable climax at the Book Depository and an outcome that changes American history. Verdict: Though this hefty novel starts strong, diving energetically into the story and savoring the possibilities of time travel, the middle drags a bit—particularly during Jake's small-town life in Texas. Still, King remains an excellent storyteller, and his evocation of mid-20th-century America is deft. Alternate-history buffs will especially enjoy the twist ending. —David Rapp
King [turns] in a sturdy, customarily massive exercise in time travel that just happens to involve the possibility of altering history. Didn't Star Trek tell us not to do that? Yes, but no matter: ... King follows his own rules. In this romp, Jake Epping, a high-school English teacher (vintage King, that detail), slowly comes to see the opportunity to alter the fate of a friend who, in one reality, is hale and hearty but in another dying of cancer, no thanks to a lifetime of puffing unfiltered cigarettes. Epping discovers a time portal tucked away in a storeroom—don't ask why there—and zips back to 1958.... A different world indeed: In this one, Jake...sees an opportunity to unmake the past by inserting himself into some ugly business involving Lee Harvey Oswald, Jack Ruby, various representatives of the military-industrial-intelligence complex and JFK in Dallas in the fall of 1963. It would be spoiling things to reveal how things turn out; suffice it to say that any change in Reality 2 will produce a change in Reality 1, not to mention that Oswald may have been a patsy, just as he claimed—or maybe not. King's vision of one outcome of the Kennedy assassination plot reminds us of what might have been—that is, almost certainly a better present than the one in which we're all actually living. "If you want to know what political extremism can lead to," warns King in an afterword, "look at the Zapruder film." Though his scenarios aren't always plausible in strictest terms, King's imagination, as always, yields a most satisfying yarn.
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:
Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for 11/22/63:
1. How would you describe Jake Epping—what kind of man is he? How does his ex-wife see him? How do others see him. How do you see him?
2. Why does Jake agree to go back in time—what are his reasons? At this stage in your own life, would you be willing to travel back to the past? What conditions would you require to do so?
2. Why does King inject the Derry, Maine, subplot into the main plot? Is the Dunning episode necessary to the story—or does it drag down the novel's pace?
3. Describe the world of 1958 in which 2011 Jake finds himself. What is appealing about the era...and what is unappealing?
4. Once in Texas, what does Jake, now George Amberson, come to learn about Lee Harvey Oswald? What kind of character is Oswald? When Oswald arrives on the scene, why doesn't Jake/George just take him out? Why does he delay?
5. Follow-up to Question 4: What makes Jake/George (and the author) conclude that Oswald acted alone? Do you think he did? Have you done any previous reading/research that suggests Oswald was not a lone gunman? (see LitLovers review of Conspiracy by Anthony Summers.)
6. Jake/George has come to believe that life is not random:
Coincidences happen, but I’ve come to believe they are actually quite rare. Something is at work, O.K.? Somewhere in the universe (or behind it), a great machine is ticking and turning its fabulous gears.
What does Jake/George mean? Do you believe in a "great machine," an over-arching fate, or God who oversees and intervenes in our lives. Do "things happen for a reason"? What are your thoughts?
7. What is the nature of time as presented in 11/22/63? Consider the following:
• Time doesn't want to be changed: time is "obdurate." Why?
• Harmonies crop up, similarities in names and events. Why?
• The butterfly effect—what is it?
• The Yellow Card Man—is he a sentinel?
• Time is like a string; changing events tangles the strings.
8. Follow-up to Question 7: What does the novel, ultimately, seem to suggest about the hiuman desire to alter the past?
9. Follow-up to Questions 7 & 8: How does the novel present the notion of history? Is history shaped by individuals whose actions, discoveries, and intentions alter the course of events? Or is history created by the interconnectedness of a multitude of events, generated by forces bigger than any single individual?
10. King has a talent for taking supernatural events and locating them in everyday, mundane settings. How does he do that in 11/22/63? Does he pull it off...or does he falter?
11. 14. Why does Sadie sense that there's something odd about Jake/George? What are some of the ways that George's knowledge of the future betray him? Why does he withhold the truth from Sadie for so long? How would you react if someone told you he/she came from the future?
12. How would you classify this book? Historical fiction? Science fiction? Alternate history? Romance? Thriller? Realism? Is it suspenseful—did you find yourself rushing to turn the page? Were you expecting George to succeed—or fail—in his mission?
13. SPOILER ALERT: Talk about Jake/George's decision to return to 2011. Why does he make the choice he does? Do you wish he had chosen differently?
14. SPOILER ALERT: Talk about the dystopian world Jake returns to in 2011. What were the series of events that led up to the conditions he finds?
15. If you've read other Stephen King books, or seen the movies, how does this book compare with his others? Has he jumped his usual genre...or expanded it? Does that fact that King's normal genre is fantasy-horror make him especially equipped as an author to write a book like 11/22/63?
(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)
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