Imagine growing up in a household in which you didn’t have to do chores. No washing the dishes. No taking out the trash. No cleaning up after Fido. But the one thing your parents did require you to do was to read books. And not just to read them, but read them aloud and record what you read on cassette tapes. That was one of the childhood reminiscences that Owen King shared with an audience of hundreds in the sanctuary of Newton Baptist Church in Newton, Massachusetts. Sitting next to him on stage, his dad, Stephen King, the award-winning horror novelist, added some details.
“Yes. I employed him to read books on tape throughout high school, probably paid him 9, 10 dollars each.”
“He introduced me to things I would never have read,” Owen added.
Father and son made an appearance at the church as part of their book tour to promote their collaboration, the novel, Sleeping Beauties, 721-pages of fright: the story of what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men. I built biceps carrying a copy of the book home.
Cultivating an appreciation of reading through small monetary rewards is a thread that runs throughout the family’s history. Stephen told the audience that when he was growing up in Stratford, Connecticut, his mother would read to his brother and him whatever she was reading: Agatha Christie, Perry Mason books, Great Expectations, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
He said when his mother read him a scene in which the evil Mr. Hyde runs over a child in the street, realizes what he’s done and then runs over her again, crushing her bones, he was hooked.
“I said ‘Ooh!’ I want to do that,” he said to the laughter of the audience. His mother began paying him 25 cents a story as an incentive to keep writing. Most of his stories back then centered on animals. “That was my first pay check,” he said. “Every writer starts with a little bit of talent,” he added, “and hopefully you’ll find someone who will be supportive.” The elder King was supportive of his son’s writing efforts. Owen King has had a story collection and novel published. Stephen King says he didn’t hesitate in agreeing to write this latest work when his son suggested it. “My dad can’t go to a ball game and be at the urinal without someone sidling up to him and saying, ‘Hey! King! I’ve got an idea for a novel.’ “ said Owen, “So I knew I had to be serious about this idea.” The event was sponsored by Newtonville Books.