No matter what profession someone aspires to reach the pinnacle of, be it sports, music, medicine, law, or in Stephen King’s case, writing, there has to be a first step. For King, his love of writing, started out by first becoming a voracious reader. He has been quoted as giving the following advice to aspiring writers:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
Born in Portland, Maine on September 21, 1947, King’s father Donald walked out on the family, which consisted of Stephen, his brother David, and their mother, Nellie Ruth, when Stephen was a toddler. When the King boys’ mother, being the sole income earner in the household, left for work, the brothers would take turns reading to one another as a way to keep themselves entertained. From that moment forward, a creative spark to write was ignited in Stephen King. The recent publication of the novel, “Sleeping Beauties,” which he co-wrote with his son, Owen, which was published on September 26, 2017 by Charles Scribner’s Sons, demonstrates that King’s drive toward entertaining the masses with his prose, shows no signs of burning out.
Minus his self-published material, as for example, in his brother’s mimeographed newspaper “Dave’s Rag,” the story “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber,” was King’s first published work, appearing in Mike Garrett’s fanzine, Comic Review: Number 1 published in 1965. A fanzine, is a non-professional publication. From several of the ones that I’ve read, they are normally contributed to by people who have an abiding passion for the subject matter, but they are considered a non-official publication, and writers are not paid for the work they submit. The title for “I Was a Teenage Grave Robber” was inspired by the 1957 film “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” The movie was directed by Emmy winner, Gene Fowler Jr. (The Blue Knight), and starred, Golden Globe nominee, Michael Landon (Little House on the Prairie); Yvonne Lime (Father Knows Best), and Whit Bissell (The Time Machine). In 1967, two years after his publication in the fanzine, King submitted the short story “The Glass Floor” to “Startling Mystery Stories.” The story was accepted by “Startling Mystery Stories, editor, Robert A.W. Lowndes, and published in the fall 1967 edition of the magazine. King was paid $35 for the story, which, when adjusted for inflation, equates to approximately $256 in 2017.
King stated that the idea for the “Glass Floor” came to him one day, when he was walking down a dirt road to visit a friend. For no reason at all, according to King, he suddenly began to wonder, what it would be like to stand in a room in which the floor was a mirror. The plot for “The Glass Floor” is for the most part straightforward, and does not reach the high level of intricacy evidenced by a majority of King’s work that would follow in the years to come.
Charles Wharton is upset by the sudden passing of his sister, Janine. He has no details as to the how and why of her death. At the start of the story, Wharton arrives at the Victorian mansion that Janine shared with her husband, Anthony Reynard. There are only three characters in the story; Louise, Mr. Reynard’s elderly housekeeper, who greets Wharton at the door, is the third character. At first, Wharton is told by Louise, that Mr. Reynard isn’t seeing anyone because he is mourning the death of his wife. When Wharton informs the housekeeper, who he is, she leaves to tell Mr. Reynard, who appears seconds later, and ushers Wharton into the house. The two had not met prior to this occasion. Wharton observes that Reynard is a tall man, who like his housekeeper, appears tired and old, there is a haggard look to his eyes, and his clothes are ill-fitting. Reynard offers his condolences to Charles, and as King writes, he is about to say more, but refrains from continuing to speak.
Wharton and Reynard begin to have a conversation, as Wharton tries to learn what happened to Janine. He grows increasingly frustrated by what he feels are Reynard’s ridiculous answers to the questions pertaining to his sister’s death. According to Reynard, Janine was dusting in a room known as the East Room. In addition to the apparent bad luck associated with the East Room, its standout feature is that the entire floor is a mirror. Janine, had been dusting in the room because she wanted, for an unexplained reason, to have the room painted.
While standing on a ladder, that was designed with rubber grips, Janine falls and dies instantly by breaking her neck. When Wharton demands to be shown the room where Janine died, he is told by Reynard that he can’t because it has been sealed off. Insisting, that if only a few nailed boards stands in the way of seeing where his sister met her end, he won’t let that stop him; Reynard lets Wharton know that the room has been completely plastered over. Reynard stresses to Wharton, that he loved Janine very much, and is grief stricken over her loss, but that nothing more can be done for her. Reynard implores Wharton to let things go, but Wharton can’t do that. Wharton feels that Reynard is obfuscating some truth from him, and he is determined to figure out what it is. Wharton takes a trowel and beings removing the plaster that has sealed off the room.
Was Janine’s death just a tragic accident? Does the East Room cause bad things to happen to those who venture into it? What if anything, will happen to Charles Wharton if he enters the East Room? Will he discover that Reynard has been hiding something from him? What could that something be?
In 1990, Stephen King, gave permission to Weird Tales magazine editor, Darrell Schweitzer, to reprint the “Glass Floor,” in the fall edition of the magazine; at the time King provided an introduction to the story. Prior to the reprint, Schweitzer offered King the opportunity to make any changes he wanted to the story, but with the exception of changing a few words, and making one paragraph break, that King felt was a typographical error to begin with, he didn’t alter anything else about the story. King stated that to change the story further, would make it a completely different story, and he didn’t want to do that. From his own admission, King considers the work unremarkable, and self-critiques the first few pages of the story as clumsy and badly written. Furthermore, in the December 2012 edition of Cemetery Dance, “The Glass Floor” was again reprinted. King has not included “The Glass Floor” as part of any of his published short story collections, but has stated, that he hopes the story will provide inspiration to writers who are amassing rejection slips waiting for his or her big break. He makes no secret that he accumulated five years worth of rejection slips before Robert A.W. Lowndes took a chance on him. King feels that if a writer has drive and determination to keep striving toward publication, that probably sooner or later, someone will recognize a new talent, and turn the aspiring writer’s dream into a reality. I’ve always been interested in reading Stephen King’s first professionally published story, and after searching on Google for a bit, came across a PDF of the story, from the 1990 edition of “Weird Tales” magazine.