“You’ve got something here” Tabitha said to Steve, after picking up a manuscript out of the garbage.
In On Writing, Stephen King tells of how the idea for the book came to fruition. One day his brother Dave who worked as a janitor in high school. Him and Steve had to scrub the rust stains off the walls of the girls shower and they came upon metal tampon dispensers and the chrome U-rings in the showers with pink curtains so girls can shower in privacy. These pieces formed the beginning of a story: a girl starts to have her period, only she doesn’t know what it is. She freaks out and the other girls embarrass her. An article in Life magazine told of the ability of young people to have the power of telekinesis. Two unrelated ideas: adolescent cruelty and telekinesis.
The problems with the writing of the book was that he didn’t really know this territory and he didn’t much like the character of Carrie White. It was only after his wife, Tabitha King, found the papers in the garbage and urged him to continue that he decided to give another crack at it.
He remembered two of “the loneliest girls” in his high school class when he was teaching. One of them whose mother was a devout fundamentalist. With this, King was able to finish the novel and send it off to Doubleday. He would later get a Congratulations letter in the mail on it being published along with a $2500 advance. The note ended with “The future is yours.” The rest is history.
The book starts off with a news article: Rain of stones reported. Right off the bat, King draws us in with a hook. The kind of thing that Charles Fort would write about in his stories of unnatural events happens on one summer day in 1966. We are then pulled right into an introduction to Carrie White with the now infamous locker room/shower scene, how she is the victim of bullying and sets up the rest of the book with this line: “What none of them knew, of course, was that Carrie White was telekinetic.” Everything you need to know going forward King lets us in on in the opening paragraphs. It’s a perfect introduction for his debut novel.
The thing that always draws me back to King (and so many other Constant Readers) is the characters. With his debut, King showed his strength of belief in people. Take away the telekinesis and you have story that connects with so many. A story about a girl who is bullied in school. Other than Carrie, there’s Tommy- the prom king. A character trope subverted by him getting good grades. You have Sue Snell, Tommy’s girlfriend. The girl whose idea it was to have Tommy ask Carrie out to the prom.
The way King structures his book is through various sources discussing the events that went down. You have The Shadow Exploded which explains the backstory of Carrie and her mother, Margaret. How, instead of comforting her daughter in a time when she is just beginning to discover the menstrual cycle and how terrifying it was, explains the event as “God punishing her” and then locks her in a closet. It is no doubt that Margaret White is the true villain of the piece here and something we will find occurring again and again in King’s novels: the actions of everyday people can be as horrifying as anything that lurks under the bed or can be considered supernatural.
Carrie also acts as the first of many times we are given these King themes and motifs: religious fundamentalism, telekinesis, and bullying of an outsider. The central bully, in this case, Chris Hargensen. She will become the blueprint for the likes of Ace Merrill, Henry Bowers and other sociopaths down the line in King’s work.
I’d like to think “they’re all gonna laugh at you” was something deep in King’s consciousness whenever he decided to publish something before he hit it big. Being passionate about the arts- especially writing and reading- can be alienating. Reading isn’t necessarily advocated in today’s society the way it should be. When you get sucked into a good book, you miss appointments, you’re late for work, you cancel meet ups with your friends.
Your waste basket (or your recycle bin on your PC) will be filled with half finished pieces. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to have a second set of eyes as ole’ Stevie King did. Writing is, after all, a life consuming endeavor. The important part is that you find the people who understand this. If not, and you are surrounded by forces resisting your passion toward it, your thoughts may stray toward a conclusion that Carrie White came to on that fateful day at prom: “Fuck ’em. Let’s burn this motherfucker down.” Hopefully, you take it not as literally as Carrie did.