The scene King put in, would, in subsequent drafts, go on to drive the whole story: Danny waking up next to a one-night stand, stealing her money and leaving her infant son wandering about with a full nappy, reaching for drugs on the coffee table. "And I think every alcoholic has a story comparable to that. Something where you actually hit rock bottom."
In his case?
"I don't have anything as dramatic. Of course, in a novel, you're looking for something that's really harsh. Harshly lit. For me, when I look back, the thing that I remember is being at one of my son's Little League games with a can of beer in a paper bag, and the coach coming over to me and saying, 'If that's an alcoholic beverage, you're going to have to leave.' That was where I said to myself, 'That's something I'll never be able to tell anybody else. I'll keep that one to myself.' I drew on that memory."
In Doctor Sleep, Danny fights his past with a more profound sense of terror than anything the woman with the tusk can bring on. The tentacle reach of history has always interested King - "What's inside your head grows. And you don't have any sense of proportion until you see how other people react to it" - as has the futility of trying to escape it. "Take Dan Torrance, who is the child of an alcoholic, child of a dysfunctional family, abusive father, and he says, as people do, 'I'm never going to be like my father; I'm never going to be like my mother.' And then you grow up and find yourself with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and maybe you're walking the kiddies around. And I wanted to see what would happen with that."
For a while, King would write sober during the day and edit what he had set down, while drinking, at night. "As time went on, I started to fumble a lot of the balls. I had a busy public life and a lot of those things got a bit ragged by the end." Did he, like Danny, go to bars and get in fights?
"No. I didn't go out and drink in bars, because they were full of assholes like me."
Stephen King has been at the top of his game for a very long time, but his quirks still give him a quiver of outsidership. Before he became fashionable, he was deeply unfashionable - a nerdy guy writing in a nerdy genre, married with three kids when everyone else in his generation was raging through the 1960s. For a while, he and his wife, Tabitha, lived in a trailer in Herman, Maine (as King once put it, "If not the asshole of the universe, then at least within farting distance of it"). In literary circles, it is a more outlandish background than the most lurid of King's horror stories: Tabitha worked in a Dunkin' Donuts and King supplemented his high school teaching income at a laundry and a filling station. He felt under such tremendous pressure during those years, he says, that it was as if "battery cables were hooked up to your head. Like your brain was a battery."
He was a good teacher - the kids enjoyed his classes - but he felt trapped in the wrong life. "I would teach, and I would come home tired, like I'd been on stage. And then I had to correct papers - more of the same. And there was very little time left for my own work. I can remember thinking, 'Two or three more years of this and I won't be able to write at all.' Because they wanted to give me the debating club, and the play, and stuff like that. There was no discussion of me quitting. We would have had nothing to live on. We were barely making ends meet, living in crappy apartments."
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