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Stephen King

Stephen King


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In This Interview

STEPHEN KING

On the father that left his family

On the quality of his writing style

On his addiction to coke

The Stephen King interview, uncut and unpublished

Tim Adams: You’ve just come from the hospital, how are you feeling now?

Stephen King / TIME Cover: October 06, 1986, Art Poster by TIME Magazine
Stephen King on the Cover of Time

Stephen King: I’m great in lots of ways. I’m still getting what they call chronic pain in the leg and the hip, but I’m getting a lot of motion back… When I drove up here when you get out, you’re totally stiff. It’s like my body is 52 years old except for my hip where it’s about 85 now. I never think anymore ‘I’m going to New York,’ its like ‘I’m taking my leg to New York.’ But I’ve been off crutches for two or three weeks now…

TA: Do you need to have more surgery and so on?

SK: The doctor just did some more X-rays. They always get around to blaming you. ‘All that metal,’ he says ‘wouldn’t bother you so much if you were heavier, if you had fat over that part of your body…’ So it’s my fault for not gaining weight…

TA: I really enjoyed your memoir [On Writing], did you find it hard to write?

SK: It was a lot harder to write than I thought it would be. For years I’ve had people saying to me how do you do this or that. And so I thought I’ll write a book and I won’t have to answer these same questions over and over anymore. I got about 150 pages in and then what I wanted to say kind of drifted away from me, and I stopped and then I was about ready to go back to it when I had the accident.

TA: How did it compare to writing fiction?

SK: One of the things that happened half way through the writing book was that there was a novel I really wanted to write. I mean its like sex in a way: you’d rather do it than write about it. But I hope the book will be valuable. I sort of hope it will be a renegade primer. I don’t think teachers will get away with assigning it to 13 year olds, but I hope the 13 year olds will find it on their own.

TA: What made you want to include the autbiographical elements of the book? SK: I wanted to address that central question: why do you write the awful things that you write? and there’s no direct way to answer that question, in a way its like saying ‘why do you like broccoli?’ You can’t explain that, its wired into your system, it’s genetic. But I think there are a set of experiences that turn a potential writer into a working writer, and then there are places in your life were you start to recognise what you want to do.

TA: Was it a therapeutic thing to do?

SK: I wasn’t trying to clear things up with this book. I’m not a big fan of psychoanalysis: I think if you have mental problems what you need are good pills. But I do think that if you have thinks that bother you, things that are unresolved, the more that you talk about them, write about them, the less serious they become. At least that’s how I see my work in retrospect. [Laughs] This was not an attenmpt to write about my life, but in a way I can’t separate, of course, the life from the work. I called the first section of the book CV because I wanted to say, here are my references, ‘here’s where I’ve been. This is how I got here.’

TA: What else have you been working on?

SK: I’ve been finishing a novel called Dreamcatcher, and I’m working on a book with Peter Straub called Talisman II

TA: How does that colaboration work?

SK: It’s like playing tennis, we drew the court, a synopsis, and now we just bat this thing back to each other on e-mail

TA: Whose voice dominates?

SK: At the moment to me the voice that this book has seems more Peter Straub, so I’m trying to wrestle it back a bit…

TA: You seem at pains to try new things. Before your accident you were talking about giving up writing all together. Is that still a possibility?

Stephen King's The Stand
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SK: Well, I’m like a drug addict, I’m always saying I’m going to stop, and then I don’t, what I’ve said consistently is that I hope I know when to stop: when it starts to get repetitive. And I do know that I’m a lot closer to the end than I am to the beginning. I have these Dark Tower books that I’d like to finish, but then things come along and you get interested in them.

TA: What kind of things?

SK: There’s this rock and roll guy, John Mellenkamp, he got in touch with me last November and said ‘I have an idea for a musical, a play,’ so he came over to the house, tuned my guitar for me – and it never sounded better – and he told me this story, a ghost story, sounded great. So then we kind of worked something out. So now he’s sent me a CD of a demo he’d done. So I got charged up by that. I’ve never written for music… And if you want ghosts I guess I’m the “go to” guy… I don’t have a problem with that, but I am interested in trying new things. For a long time I’ve thought about the stage. Misery, for example, is almost a play in a book.

TA: Are you still finding time to play your own music?

SK: Well The Remainders are going to go out this fall and play with Roger McGuinn of The Byrds. Very odd. So no, I’m not playing enough really.

TA: Did you dream of being a rock star as a kid?

SK: I was never really good enough. I played keyboards in a group, and I played a lot of coffee house guitar, you know in that period when Donovan was into his denim look. And then I didn’t play for a long time. Then we got the band together for the American Booksellers convention in 93, and after a while we got pretty good, to the extent that drunks wouldn’t throw things at us. Probably.

TA: What’s your repertoire?

SK: We do American garage music from the sixties; ‘Louie, louie’. They get me to do things like ‘Last Kiss’ a lot of Bo Diddely stuff…

TA: Reading your book, it seems that there was never a doubt you’d become a storyteller. It feels very much like a writer’s childhood.

SK: I was talking about this with my daughter in law recently. We once gave my son a sax, because he had an idea he wanted to be in the E Street Band, but he never really wanted to play. You’ve got to be hungry for it. My mother said that when she was pregnant with me she’d go out to the road and take the tar up, and chew the tar, because there was something in that tar, that, she, I, needed. It’s like a craving. We like to think about how smart we are. But I think talent as a writer is hard-wired in, it’s all there, at least the basic elements of it. You can’t change it any more than you can choose whether to be right handed or left handed.

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TA: Your dad wrote stories, do you think some of your talent was inherited?

SK: I never saw any of my dad’s stories. My mother said he had piles and piles of manuscripts. He was in the merchant marine before that. And he used to send these things to magazines like Argosy, and True. Magazines that don’t really have an equivalent now, with, like, pictures on the front of guys fighting off grizzly bears with knives. But I never knew that till later… Both of my sons write fiction. My wife’s published five novels, and I’ve done 35 or 36. It’s a gene, like the colour of your eyes…’

TA: Do you think in that sense genetics has altered our ideas of fate, suggested our lives are predetermined?

SK: I don’t know. To a degree. But still there are all sorts of possible variations. Our daughter, for example, is in Divinity School.

TA: What kind of stuff do your sons write?

SK: My younger son is on the fiction program at Columbia grad school. He writes stuff somewhere between bret Easton Ellis and Laverne and Shirley, I guess. Funny, cockeyed stuff. Like that guy T. Coraghessan Boyle… My elder son does a lot of different stuff. Crazy stuff, but great..

TA: Did you encourage or dissaude them from writing?

SK: I wouldn’t want to be blocking their sun, so to speak, but writing is a great job, no heavy lifting, though the pay for most writers isn’t that great, but still, hey, its great, its fine…

TA: You seemed incredibly driven from the time you started out… Were there ever periods of doubt, when you thought it might not happen?

SK: I had a period where I thought I might not be good enough to publish. I started to sell short fiction to men’s magazines while I was in college. I got married six or seven months after graduating, and for two years I sold maybe six stories a year, and I had the money I was making teaching, too, and it was a decent income. And then I sort of got out of the Zone. And for a year or so, I couldn’t sell anything, and I was drinking a lot, wasn’t drugging, couldn’t afford it, and I was writing mostly shit, and then Carrie came along and I was OK again. But during that one year, I just thought I’m going to be a high school teacher, and nothing’s ever going to happen to me.

TA: Can you remember the point where the drinking became a problem?

SK: Well I always drank, from when it was legal for me to drink. And there was never a time for me when the goal wasn’t to get as hammered as I could possibly afford to. I never understood social drinking, that’s always seemed to me like kissing your sister. To this day I can’t imagine why anyone wants to be a social drinker.

Stephen King's F13
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TA: There seemed to be a lot of anger in you in your teenage years. Was the drinking a symptom of that?

SK: Not really. I had a very innocent childhood. Very bucolic. I grew up in a small town. Innocence would describe it. No drugs, no needles, no gang fights. It was a big deal for us if our parents were out and we could play spin the bottle with the girls. Put a few records on. The Sting Rays would play Saturday nights at the Grange Hall.

TA: So where did the darkness of some thing like Rage come from?

SK: I was 18 when I wrote that. I was coming out of the high school experience. I think anger is a key or governing emotion in boys from say 14 to 18. A lot of rage, a lot of hormones. The only reason I think that in England there haven’t been Eric Harrises and Dylan Kliebolds, you know the kids who cleaned up Columbine High is that English kids don’t have access to guns. It’s interesting if you go back to a high school reunion, and this happened to me. There were women at this reunion who, you know, as a 15 or 16 year old girls I felt like throwing myself at their feet yelling about their beauty or something. And they will talk about those times now and say that they felt ugly and they didn’t have any friends and everyone was talking behind their backs.

TA: If only you’d known then…

SK [Laughs]: Exactly. But everyone has that rage, has that insecurity. Rage allows people to find some catharsis

TA: It sounds like you were sort of on the edge of things at school. Both an insider and an outsider…

SK: That’s exactly right. I was in enough to get along with people. I was never socially inarticulate. Not a loner. And that saved my life, saved my sanity. That and the writing. But to this day I distrust anybody who thought school was a good time. ANYBODY. You can be happy at 8 or even at 28. But if you say you were happy at 16, I’d say you were a — liar, or you were abnormal, disturbed…

Just After Sunset: Stories
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TA: What was the motivation behind you keeping a scrapbook on Charlie Starkweather, the serial killer?

SK: Well, it was never like ‘Yeah go Charlie, kill some more.’ It was more like ‘Charlie: if I ever see anyone like you, I’ll be able to get the hell away.’ And I do think that the very first time I saw a picture of him, I knew I was looking at the future. His eyes were a double zero. There was just nothing there. He was like an outrider of What America might become.

TA: Do you think that impulse – to keep the scrapbook – was a similar one to that which prompted you to write?

SK: The writing was an outlet certainly. I was always fascinated by tales of violence and suspense and horror. Now maybe that’s because I have a particular double x chromosome, or something, and maybe if it wasn’t for the writing I would be an extremely dangerous person. Certainly I’ve written enough really nasty stuff to make that a possiblity. But I’ve tried to be a good citizen, in the sense that I had an ability to talk about these things, and as long as you can keep talking everything will be OK…

TA: Were you ever consciously writing visions of the American future?

SK: No it was always more about situational stuff. Take Rage, it was like what happens if you take a kid, give him a gun, and put him in the class. And then you think well what kind of a kid would do that. And you think well, fucked up, probably, and brilliant, probably. and then you work the whole thing out. The book was the Stockholm Syndrome before the Stockholm Syndrome. These kids all start to swing over to his side. The supposition of the book is that kids at 16 are crazy. Essentially crazy. And I think they are…

TA: Was Lord of the Flies a big influence?

SK: It was. It had a strong influence..

TA: To what extent did you feel you inhabited a character like Charlie Decker in Rage. Or did he inhabit you?

SK: Was Charlie Decker me? Well yes of course in that all the characters are me. The women are me in skirts I guess. But there’s another element involved. It’s that element of inspiration which lifts you past the point where the characters are just you, where you do achieve something almost transcendental and the people are really people in the story. They walk off. That happened the first time in Rage.

TA: Can you create the conditions for that imaginative leap to happen. Can you predict it?

SK: It usually takes you by surprise. When I sat down to work on Dreamcatcher I was in terrible pain, taking all these heavy drugs by the jarful, and I was on crutches, a brace on my leg, and all I knew was when I went to bed at night, I would lie there and I’d think of this guy on a hunter stand, in a tree, like a shooter’s platform, where you go when you’ve been hurt sometimes. And I thought here’s this guy, it’s starting to snow, he wants to get his deer because it’s hunting season, and here comes this thing he thinks is a deer, but it’s a person… That’s all I had. I didn’t know more than that. And I started to write it long hand, not expecting much, hoping it might help with the pain a bit. And suddenly I had this huge, huge book, a thousand pages long. All out of that one situation.

TA: So the story was really a metaphor for your own pain?

SK: It’s related in two ways. The character in the tree stand had been hit by a car and was recuperating, I knew how that felt. And then when I wrote about it, I didn’t think about the pain as much. It’s like being hypnotised…

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TA: Do you ever fear what might come out when you are in that state?

SK: On a couple of occasions I’ve shocked myself. Pet Sematery was appalling when it first came out on to the page.

TA: Is there ever a self-censor at work?

SK: I think I’ve pretty much stunned him into submission [Laughs]…

TA: You must, in that sense have great faith in human nature, trusting yor instincts.

SK: To some degree. There are things in Dreamcatcher which has become an extremely gruesome book, where I found myself pulling back a bit. But I’m older now, it’s a bit harder to do that stuff. Still, I’d hate to think I’d got so case-hardened I couldn’t scare myself.

TA: Has it become harder to stay ahead of real life horrors?

SK: Well certainly since I’ve been writing, I don’t think that society has become any finer. Have you seen that programme Survivor. Pretty close to Lord of the Flies. They kick one guy off the island every week. They don’t actually chase him with sharpened sticks, but you get the feeling they’d kind of like to. I started a book like that about 15 years ago. It was called On the island, and it was about rich people who talked these street kids into going to an island and being hunted, with paintballs. And they get there and they find these guys are actually shooting live rounds,and in my story there were two or three who escaped and waited for these rich guys to come back. I’ve got it on the shelf somewhere. Survivor is a sort of a Stephen King idea, and its a huge hit.

TA: Is there a satirical element in books like that?

SK: I’m not a satirist. I have a sense of humour but I’m very much an American, and in love with my country for better or worse. I’m in this cultre up to my eyeballs. New York isn’t America. LA isn’t America. This is America. New york is just buzz, just this gaseous hype, there’s no story there, not really. The stories are all here, if you know where to look. I can’t satirise my fellow Americans. I am them.

TA: Do you get away from Maine much?

SK: My wife and I have got a place in Florida. So we’ve been down there. Still we are here eight, nine months of the year. I think there was a time when I liked New York and LA more. When I’m in Bangor people treat me as a neighbour not as a celebrity freak with two heads, and that’s too good to give up.

TA: Is that one of the reasons, do you think, for the tremendous loyalty of your readership?

SK: I’m the literary version of the Grateful Dead, I guess…

TA: No one else, no other novelist really, has such a loyal following… What do you put that down to?

SK: John Grisham’s only been in the business ten years… But, no, he doesn’t really have that connection. It really is a kind of Jerry Garcia phenomenon. Whatever they are getting from me in the stories, from my voice, is something that makes them feel comfortable, safe. And that’s funny when you think what it is I write. But that has to be the case.

TA: Do you ever fear your stories will get into the wrong heads?

SK: Every now and then something strange will happen. Some years ago I went to Philadephia with my son to see a basketball game. Tabby was here, and she heard the windonw break and there was this guy there and he claimed he had a bomb (in fact it was a bunch of pencils and erasers and stuff and paperclips). He was an escapee from a mental instititution and he had this rant about how I’d stolen Misery from him. Tabby fled in her bathrobe and the police came… And every now and then there’ll be a letter from someone who is obviously out there in the ozone, people who are convinced I’ve stolen their ideas. One lady wrote to explain how I had overflown her house in a U2 plane and stolen her thoughts for The Shining. But no one has ever actually threatened to kill me, knock on wood. Though there’s a guy out in California, Steven lightfoot, who believes that me and Ronald Reagan conspired to kill John lennon…

TA: Do you get paranoid about such things?

SK: No. I’m not afraid of unusual things. I’m not a compulsive hand-washer, I don’t think there are aliens hearing our thoughts, and I don’t think anyone is coming to kill me. There are things I’ve used that I am afraid of or revolted by: spiders, bats. So no I’m not unusual in that way.

TA: Reading you book your uncles and aunt seemed tremendous characters. SK: Everybody that I knew told stories it seemed, or maybe I just liked the stories and remembered them.

TA: Did they tell stories about your Dad?

SK: No he was like an unperson.

TA: Did you want to hear more stuff about him?

SK: I think we were ashamed not to have a father. I think my mother was deeply ashamed to have been left, with these two young boys, when her other sisters kept their husbands. And I think shame is the most readily communicable of emotions and I think she communicated that shame to us. When we went off to school I can remember her very clearly saying to us, ‘now, if anybody asks about your father, tell them he’s in the navy. That’s not a lie.’ Now it wasn’t a lie as far as we knew. But I got the point. I did have a father. No I wasn’t a bastard. So that’s what I said word for word and, of course, there was never any divorce either.

TA: Did you never attempt to find out what happened to him?

SK: Well we did find him, actually. My brother found him. What happened was this. The CBS TV network does these celebrity bios, they’re generally unauthorised, but they are softball, they don’t give you a hard time. They did one about me a little while ago, and they talked to my brother, and my brother had, he remembered, my dad’s social security number, and one of these documentary guys went out and found him… Or I should say at least he found out what had happened to him. My father, it turned out, apparently died in Pennsylvania in the mid-eighties. We even got some pictures of him. He had started a new family: three boys and a girl. My half brothers and my half sister.

TA: You’ve never met?

SK: Not at all. No. Never. They don’t know of my existence, and I think that’s the way it should be.’

TA: Why?

SK: Well, the woman that my father married, and remember he never divorced my mother, the woman was a Brazilian – very beautiful from the pictures I saw – and its reasonable to assume she was Catholic. In that case bigamy is a very serious thing, and it would have serious consequences for those children, and I couldn’t do that to them, couldn’t bring that knowledge. Let sleeping dogs lie, I say… I haven’t talked about all this before because I don’t want that story widely published in the United States, for obvious reasons…’

Tim Adams: Explain the motivation behind the Richard Bachmann books.

SK: I wanted to see what was in the name, but I also wanted to publish those books. They thought I would clog the market. They weren’t really Stephen King books as it was then understood, they were short for a start.

TA: Do you worry that there is an element of chance in your success?

SK: Not worried, but curious. Curious to know whether there’s something in me, or whether I just won the publishing lottery. And I guess its both. But primarily a lot of things came together for me at around the time of Carrie. The book, and the film that was successful. But even then I was not the blue-eyed boy of the season. Peter Benchley was. And where is he now?

DARK TOWER DOOR POSTER
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TA: Did you feel a pressure to repeat the success, after your career took off?

SK: No it was always a pleasure to write. I can never think of a time when I just hacked something out to fulfil a contract or meet a deadline. I might have hacked things out, but it was always stuff I loved.

TA: Did the alcohol ever get in the way?

SK: With alcohol I was just an alcoholic personality. But it was a slow growing thing, compared to the drugs, that is I drank x amount in 1975 and in 1976 it was maybe x plus 20.

TA: And always beer?

SK: Well, beer was what I wanted, but if I couldn’t get beer, I’d drink anything else really. The drugs were different. With cocaine, one snort, and it just owned me body and soul. Something in my system wanted that, and once cocaine was there it was like the missing link: click. Like when you turn on lights it’s on or off, there’s no half way. Cocaine was like my ‘on’ switch. I started in 79 I guess. Did it for about eight years. Not a terribly long time to be an addict I guess, but it is longer than World War II. [Laughs] And that’s how it felt a lot of the time. I didn’t really hide my drinking, but I hid my drugs because I knew right away it was a problem. Nobody lives one day at a time like a drug addict. You don’t think yesterday or tomorrow. You just think now, where is it. I was high much of the eighties, and I’m not a very reflective person, so it never crossed my mind that it was an existential thing, or that it was wasteful or anything else. It was just what I was doing that day

TA: In your book you talk about the effect drinking had on the books. What effect did it have on family?

SK: It’s tough to say. I hid it pretty well, in that they never really knew what was distorting my mood. The tide goes in, the tide goes out and if you don’t know that its the moon pulling those tides you still know when its safe to go to the beach.

TA: Were you lucid most of the time?

SK: My wife has told me since that I was hungover every mornng until about two in the afternoon, and from five until midnight I was drunk out of my mind. So she says there was this period of about three hours when she could talk to me like a rational human being…

TA: That must have been pretty tough on her and the kids?

SK: Well, I suppose it must have had an effect. I was never the guy who said ‘lets have a gin and tonic before dinner.’ I’d have to have like twelve gin and tonics and then I’d have to say ‘__ dinner’ and have twelve more. So I guess that was difficult to live with from time to time.

TA: Why did she stay with you?

SK: Well she stuck. But she made it clear that she wouldn’t stick if I didn’t clean up my act… But that was after maybe twenty years. I mean the first time we ever went out I got loaded.

Stephen King: Three Complete Novels: Carrie; Salems Lot; The Shining
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TA: What kind of a drunk were you. Was Jack Torrance [of The Shining] for example, ever close to home?

SK: It never about swinging from the chandeliers or throwing people through the window, or getting laid, or partying. I didn’t go to bars much. One drunken asshole was all I could handle and that was me. I wrote. I don’t remember a lot of it. The kids accepted my drinking as a part of life. Not a particularly pernicious part. I didn’t beat up on them. Basically I don’t think I was so different from a lot of dads who have three or four martinis when they get in from work, wine with dinner and so on.

TA: Well, maybe a little different…

SK: There’s a story I loved about this big blizzard in 76, much worse than the perfect storm, it paralysed everything. The outside world looked like __ Venus or something: no houses, just snow. Boston was shut down for 12 days and the commuter trains were stranded, and the commuters were taken to school gymnasiums. And that night, the police were forced to break into liquor stores, no word of a lie, because these businessmen were getting delirium tremors, they were scaring the children, because they were not used to life where they couldn’t get a shot of whiskey at five or six o’clock. So its a fairly oiled society. And I wasn’t much more out of control than anyone else.

TA: What about your health… have their been lasting effects?

SK: I like to think my coke addiction was a blessing in disguise, because I think without coke, I’d have gone on drinking until about the age of fifty-five and it would have been in the New York Times, ‘writer Steven King dies of stroke’. Once you add the coke, you eventiually tip over, because I know from experience that stuff eats you from the inside out…

TA: When that point came, when your wife emptied all your empties and crap on floor in 1987, did you clean up straight away?

SK: Not really… At that time I was this very successful author, and that kind of success does not really lead you humbly to say ‘yeah, I guess you’re right. I’m an –hole.’ It rather leads you to say ‘who the — are you to tell me to settle down. Don’t you understand? I’m king of the — universe, you know. So it took me about a year to get my –t together, get back on track. The worst of it was 87 to 88 when I was looking for a detente, a way I could live with booze and drugs without giving them up altogether. Needless to say I was not successful in this.

TA: But the writng stayed constant throughout this time?

SK: There were nine months when I was out of gas, depressed. And despite what some people say depression is not conducive to good writing or to bad writing. But then it came back. When I gave up dope and alcohol, my immediate feeling was ‘I’ve saved my life, but there’ll be a price because I’ll have nothing that buzzes me any more. But I enjoyed my kids. My wife loved me and I loved her. And eventually the writing came back and I discovered that the writing was enough. Stupid thing is that probably it always had been.

TA: After the accident were you tempted to back to drinking?

SK: Nah never. If that guy had hit me in 1986 he’d have killed me on the spot because my body was already fucked then, but I was in pretty good shape when he hit me, I exercised a lot. You come out of something like that and you don’t think about alcohol. You think about how you hurt like a bastard all the time.

TA: When you are fit I understand you plan to take it out on the truck that hit you. Do you feel the same way about its driver?

SK: Well, this is a guy who only has a little bit of brains. I can’t blame the guy. If he’d hit me on purpose sure. I mean I sometimes have fantasies about confronting the guy. But Brian Smith is like Gertrude Stein said about LA: ‘There’s no there, there’.

TA: It almost seemed scripted, the whole accident in a grim kind of way. Has it changed your ideas of fate?

SK: That a big question, Tim. I don’t know. I lean more toward the idea that some force is running things than not. Call it fate, call it god. There are so many things: if I’d left the house five minutes later, or if Tabby had come along as she often did, and maybe I’m then walking a little further out on the shoulder; you go on with the variables. So what you’re left with is this guy who hits me on an empty road when say NASA can’t get a missile to land on Mars with all the brains and technology in the world, then maybe you think there’s something going on. Or maybe NASA should just hire Brian Smith.

TA: Has the accident given you a new subject?

SK: It’s given me new things to write about, sure. Gruesome though it is to say. you have to put it to work for you. Otherwise it doesn’t mean anything. And jeez I could probably walk a mile wihtout the crutch. So that’s OK. I’m fine.

TA: You must feel differently about death too?

SK: In a way you sort of feel like you have a free pass. the number next to yours came up. You missed the draft.

[Break. King goes to next door office to answer phone]

TA: What made you want to publish yourself on the internet?

SK: I did it once before with ‘Riding the Bullet’. That had 500,000 hits but in some cases they gave the thing away, trying to pump e-book readers. It was encrypted, but it broke down under the weight of the encryption. It was like a fucking dinosaur. And that drove me crazy. But the publisher loved that part. They say, like a rallying cry, “Don’t get napstered”. Don’t let the fruits of your artistic endeavour, ie our money, get stolen. You know as well as I do that publishers, music publishers, studio heads, they could not give a shit for the writer, the creator. They care about their bankbooks and that’s about all they care about.

TA: Have you been frustrated over the years with the way you have been published?

SK: Ohhh. The short answer is no. I’ve tried in a polite way to work against that. If I see the red gels and the underlighting come out when someone comes to photograph me, I walk out these days. All that shit to make me look spooky. I ask them if when they are photographing a black writer they bring a watermelon and a barrel for him to sit on, you know. It’s degrading to be treated as someone who’s one dimensional. But you’ve got to be careful if you go down that route. Once they decide you’re a whore, they want to put you in a skirt don’t they?’

TA: So The Plant was a response to that?

SK: I thought I’d just put it out on the website. Marsha [his assistant] is coming along in a moment to help me put the first chapter on just now. Can you steal it? Yes. Do you have to lie to steal it? Yes. So if you feel good about cheating me out of a buck go ahead. I’m as nervous as I was before we did the serial novel The Green Mile… Its been a headache and a hassle for me because there’s a lot of people on the publishing side who hope I will fail.

Salem's Lot 11
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TA: Do you see the era of the book coming to an end?

SK: I like books, and I think publishing is vital and that books will continue to be the most important cultural touchstone of our society for years. There’s all these guys, these Kingsley Amis kind of guys, who for years have been saying, you know: ‘books are dead, society going down hill, blah blah, cultural wasteland, idiots, idiots, TV, pop music, degradation’ and then something comes along like Harry Potter, — thing is 734 pages long, and it sells five million copies in twelve hours. That’s up there with Britney Spears and Eminem. So the only recourse these people have is to say [Kingsley again…] ‘well, JK Rowling or Stephen King is not Literature.’ Well, I’m sorry! It may not be Literature in their terms but it’s sure as — a few rungs up from ‘The Real Slim Shady’, and that’s from someone who loves that Eminem album… The age of the book is not over. No way… But maybe the age of some books is over. People say to me sometimes ‘Steve, are you ever going to write a straight novel, a serious novel and by that they mean a novel about college professors who are having impotence problems or something like that. And I have to say those things just don’t interest me. Why? I don’t know. But it took me about twenty years to get over that question, and not be kind of ashamed about what I do, of the books I write… There’ll always be a market for — of course. Just look at Jeffrey Archer! He writes like old people — doesn’t he?

Well there you have it. Stephen King’s a bit of a hard character, but he’s real, honest–and possibly the most popular author of our time. If he writes a book, it’s going on the List, no question.

Stephen King on the Early Show in 2001 after his accident.

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