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Author Picks: 5 Stephen King Novels That Made the Biggest Impact on Me

Share Author Picks: 5 Stephen King Novels That Made the Biggest Impact on Me

Scottish writer Carole Johnstone’s award-winning short fiction has appeared in annual “Best of” anthologies in the US and UK. Her debut novel, Mirrorland, is described by Stephen King as “dark and devious…beautifully written and plotted with a watchmaker’s precision.” More information can be found at carolejohnstone.com

Stephen King was my very first writer crush. I started reading his books when I was fourteen years old, and I’ve been a Constant Reader ever since. When I wrote Mirrorland—a gothic psychological thriller set in an eccentric and frightening house filled with secrets, love, and lies—I chose a quote from Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption as its epigraph. Partly because the story features in the novel itself, but mostly because Stephen King’s writing has had such a huge influence on mine.

King’s greatest skill is his ability to create characters whom we feel we know, or whom we believe are real—and places that we can see and touch and smell and feel. No matter how strange or scary the story, there is always a sense of connection and familiarity. A knowing that we’re not alone; we’re all in this thing together. Narrowing my favorite Stephen King books down to only five has been a tough challenge, but here they are!

The Shining
by Stephen King

THE SHINING is the ultimate haunted-house novel. The setting is suitably gothic: the Colorado Rockies, isolated in midwinter. And the Overlook Hotel is the epitome of a haunted house: echoes of old tragedies becoming very real horrors, and a dysfunctional family ripe for corruption. But it’s also a remarkably personal story about an unhappy alcoholic’s descent into madness and self-destruction—haunted as much by himself as by any ghost. Perhaps the raw honesty of that is why it still feels like such a powerful and timeless story, and why, decades later, King revisited it again in DOCTOR SLEEP.

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The Shining
Stephen King

“THE SHINING tells the story of the Torrence family and their move to the isolated Overlook Hotel after the father, Jack, gets a job as an off-season caretaker. But as the harsh winter weather sets in, the idyllic location becomes completely cut off from civilization and Jack begins to unravel."

Discover more Stephen King film adaptations here.

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It
by Stephen King

Everyone loves to be as scared of clowns as they are of haunted houses—and It/Pennywise is the ultimate scary clown. But IT is also an important coming-of-age story, alternating between past and present, childhood and adulthood—showing how traumatic events stay with us not only in our memories but also in our values, our choices, our actions, and our regrets. The message is that what frightens us doesn’t ever really go away, and that we should never lose sight of what’s more important: the people who mean the most to us.

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It
Stephen King

It: Chapter Two—soon to be a major motion picture in 2019!

Stephen King’s terrifying, classic #1 New York Times bestseller, “a landmark in American literature” (Chicago Sun-Times)—about seven adults who return to their hometown to confront a nightmare they had first stumbled on as teenagers…an evil without a name: It.

Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.

Readers of Stephen King know that Derry, Maine, is a place with a deep, dark hold on the author. It reappears in many of his books, including Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and 11/22/63. But it all starts with It.

“Stephen King’s most mature work” (St. Petersburg Times), “It will overwhelm you…to be read in a well-lit room only” (Los Angeles Times).

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Lisey's Story
by Stephen King

LISEY’S STORY is about a woman mourning the death of her famous writer husband, while being stalked by one of his fans. It’s also a story about marriage: the intimate secrets that only spouses know versus the secrets that we keep from even those we love the most. The novel touches on madness and the fear of succumbing to it. And it’s a story about child abuse and resilience—Boo’ya Moon is a brilliantly realized fantasy world, as wonderful and frightening as Wonderland or Narnia or Oz.

Like Dolores Claiborne, Lisey comes alive on the page; you believe in her completely. And the depiction of the very complex relationship between her and her husband is engaging and moving. It’s not an easy book to read: it’s loud and violent and often angry. But it’s so full of love and life and wonder that, once read, it never quite leaves you alone.

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Lisey's Story
Stephen King

*Soon to be an Apple TV+ limited series starring Julianne Moore and Clive Owen*

The “haunting…tender, intimate book that makes an epic interior journey” (The New York Times), Lisey’s Story is a literary masterpiece—an extraordinarily moving and haunting portrait of a marriage and its aftermath.

Lisey lost her husband Scott two years ago, after a twenty-five year marriage of profound and sometimes frightening intimacy. Scott was an award-winning, bestselling novelist and a very complicated man. Early in their relationship, before they married, Lisey knew there was a place Scott went—a place that both terrified and healed him, could eat him alive or give him the ideas he needed in order to live. Now it’s Lisey’s turn to face Scott’s demons, to go to that terrifying place known as Boo’ya Moon. What begins as a widow’s effort to sort through the papers of her celebrated husband becomes a nearly fatal journey into the darkness he inhabited.

“Intricate...exhilarating” (The New Yorker), perhaps Stephen King’s most personal and powerful novel ever, Lisey’s Story is about the wellsprings of creativity, the temptations of madness, and the secret language of love. It is a beautiful, “rich portrait of a marriage, and the complicated affection that outlives death” (The Washington Post).

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Everything's Eventual
by Stephen King

EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL is a collection of eleven short stories and three novellas. Some stories are quick, sharp shocks like “Autopsy Room Four,” “In the Deathroom,” and “Lunch at the Gotham Café.” Others are more thoughtful and melancholy: “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” or “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French.” The story “1408” is King’s version of the “Ghostly Room at the Inn” horror story. And the titular Everything’s Eventual is a very creepy and thought-provoking story about a loner whose drawings of strange symbols and designs can mentally manipulate others, even driving them to suicide—highlighting how easily our comfortable lives can shield us from uncomfortable realities or the true damage that we do.

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Everything's Eventual
Stephen King

Includes the story “The Man in the Black Suit”—set in the fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King, the iconic, spine-tingling story collection that includes winners of an O. Henry Prize and other awards, and “Riding the Bullet,” which attracted over half a million online readers and became the most famous short story of the decade, as well as stories first published in The New Yorker, “1408,” made into a movie starring John Cusack.

“Riding the Bullet” is the story of Alan Parker, who’s hitchhiking to see his dying mother but takes the wrong ride, farther than he ever intended. In “Lunch at the Gotham Café,” a sparring couple’s contentious lunch turns very, very bloody when the maître d’ gets out of sorts. “1408,” the audio story in print for the first time, is about a successful writer whose specialty is “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Graveyards,” or “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Houses,” and though Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel doesn’t kill him, he won’t be writing about ghosts anymore. And in “That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French,” terror is déjà vu at 16,000 feet.

Whether writing about encounters with the dead, the near dead, or about the mundane dreads of life, from quitting smoking to yard sales, Stephen King is at the top of his form in the fourteen “brilliantly creepy” (USA TODAY) tales assembled in Everything’s Eventual. Intense, eerie, and instantly compelling, they announce the stunningly fertile imagination of perhaps the greatest storyteller of our time.

Stories include:
-Autopsy Room Four
-The Man in the Black Suit
-All That You Love Will Be Carried Away
-The Death of Jack Hamilton
-In the Deathroom
-The Little Sisters of Eluria
-Everything's Eventual
-L.T.'s Theory of Pets
-The Road Virus Heads North
-Lunch at the Gotham Café
-That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French
-1408
-Riding the Bullet
-Luckey Quarter

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Different Seasons
by Stephen King

DIFFERENT SEASONS is a collection of four novellas: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, The Body, and The Breathing Method. Although short, each story packs in so much characterization and plot. In Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the story of an innocent man wrongly convicted of murder and imprisoned for twenty-seven years, every single character is drawn in meticulous detail. You don’t just believe in Andy and Red—you root for them. You need them to be okay, and no matter how hopeless things get, you always feel like they will be. It’s an immensely satisfying story in the vein of all great revenge plots, although in Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption revenge is found not in violence or justice, but in friendship and love.

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Different Seasons
Stephen King

“You’ll find the themes of hope and innocence weaved throughout the four novellas that comprise Stephen King’s DIFFERENT SEASONS, warped and broken as they may seem. The ways in which they’re tested, sustained, mangled, or transformed are often uncomfortable but always captivating.”

Read the full review by Amar Deol here.

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Mirrorland
by Carole Johnstone

MIRRORLAND is out now!

MIRRORLAND is an Edinburgh-set gothic psychological thriller about two estranged twin sisters, the man they both love, the house that has always haunted them, and the dark and wonderful childhood that they can’t leave behind.

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Mirrorland
Carole Johnstone

“Dark and devious... Beautifully written and plotted with a watchmaker’s precision.Stephen King

“A dark, twisty, and richly atmospheric exploration of the power of imagination” Ruth Ware, author of One by One and The Woman in Cabin 10

With the startling twists of Gone Girl and the haunting emotional power of Room, Mirrorland is a thrilling work of psychological suspense about twin sisters, the man they both love, and the dark childhood they can’t leave behind.

Cat lives in Los Angeles, far away from 36 Westeryk Road, the imposing gothic house in Edinburgh where she and her estranged twin sister, El, grew up. As girls, they invented Mirrorland, a dark, imaginary place under the pantry stairs full of pirates, witches, and clowns. These days Cat rarely thinks about their childhood home, or the fact that El now lives there with her husband Ross.

But when El mysteriously disappears after going out on her sailboat, Cat is forced to return to 36 Westeryk Road, which has scarcely changed in twenty years. The grand old house is still full of shadowy corners, and at every turn Cat finds herself stumbling on long-held secrets and terrifying ghosts from the past. Because someone—El?—has left Cat clues in almost every room: a treasure hunt that leads right back to Mirrorland, where she knows the truth lies crouched and waiting...

A twisty, dark, and brilliantly crafted thriller about love and betrayal, redemption and revenge, Mirrorland is a propulsive, page-turning debut about the power of imagination and the price of freedom.

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