Too horrible to live.
King says he felt the story about the death and resurrection of a small child went too far and was too sad and disturbing to print.
It stayed in his desk for years, until — at least as legend has it — he finally decided to publish it in 1983 to escape an oppressive contract with a former publisher.
King tells the whole story in an exclusive new interview with EW about the novel he still finds upsetting, the cult-classic 1989 movie, and the new film coming April 5.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Is it true the only reason you finally published Pet Sematary was to settle a book contract?
STEPHEN KING: That’s what happened! That’s the reason I published the book. Otherwise, it would still be in a drawer somewhere.
How did all that go down?
We had signed this bullsh— thing with Doubleday. The old Doubleday in those days. It was called the Author Investment Plan, and the idea was, “We’ll pay you out $50,000 a year, and you won’t have to pay taxes on anything but that.” And to a couple of kids who never had money, $50,000 is like the world. A lot of money.
That would’ve been late ’70s, right?
Yeah, it was actually the mid-’70s, because it was after Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot. And basically, Doubleday just wanted to hold on to that money. I even asked the question at one point, “Well, who gets the interest on this money?” There’s a long, long pause, and then [my editor] Bill Thompson said, “Well, Doubleday does, because they do all the accounting.” But the money piled up.
This was not just the royalty money from Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, but also The Shining, Night Shift, and The Stand. That’s a lot of best-sellers.
Long story short, I had gone over to Viking, and I’d done The Dead Zone and Cujo there, and Firestarter and Different Seasons, too. And [lawyer and agent] Arthur [B. Green] came to me and he said, “You know, you have [this Doubleday agreement].” And by then I was making a lot of money! I was thinking, “Well, Doubleday can go f—‚ themselves,” you know? I don’t even want to go there. They used me very badly.
It was strip-mining. But anyway, Arthur said to me, “If you die, the IRS will beggar your family, because they’ll claim all that money in the Doubleday investment fund is your money. And they’ll have to pay taxes on money that you haven’t gotten.” The money had piled up enough, so I said, “Well, what do I do about this?” And he said, “You’ll have to give them another book and make it part of the agreement that they can publish the book under their bullsh— terms. But they have to break the investment fund.”
And that’s what unleashed Pet Sematary on the world.
For the full King Q&A, go here: Pet Sematary Exhumed — Stephen King looks back at his most disturbing story.