The newest interview with Stephen King


There’s a story Stephen King can’t resist telling. He was shopping for cinnamon buns and potato chips one day when a woman approached him. She told him that she didn’t care for horror stories like the ones he wrote, and preferred uplifting stories, like “The Shawshank Redemption.” When Mr. King told her he wrote that, too, she didn’t believe him.

If there are any lingering doubts about Mr. King’s stylistic range, they should be put to rest by his new collection, “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams,” which features 20 stories that seem to touch on every genre imaginable, except for romance. There are crime and horror stories, a narrative poem and a grim western, along with realistic stories about marriage, aging and substance abuse.

The collection also functions as a companion of sorts to his 2000 book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” In his new book, Mr. King introduces each story, describing how he got the idea and what inspired him. The catalyst for one, “The Dune,” about a sand dune where the names of people who are about to die appear, came to him all at once when he was walking his dog on a beach in Florida. Others came from equally unlikely sources: a glimpse of a woman sitting on a bus, losing a bet with his son, eating lunch with his wife at Applebee’s and seeing a man cutting up his older dining companion’s steak. Another, “The Little Green God of Agony,” was drawn from his near-fatal road accident in 1999 and his long recovery.

“When readers come to a short story or a novel, the writer disappears completely, and that should be the case in the story, but it’s sort of fun to be able to talk about where the story came from,” Mr. King said. “It was a pleasure to talk about the craft again.”


In a telephone interview, Mr. King spoke about what scares him, why he’d like to be known for more than horror stories and why he has vivid dreams when he’s not writing. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

Q. This collection seems to showcase your stylistic range. Was that an intentional effort, to emphasize the diversity of your work?

A. It was. I wanted to try to spread across this whole spectrum of different things that I’m able to do. And I guess part of that might have been a subconscious reaction to the idea of being dismissed as a horror writer and as the guy who does the monsters. I am the guy who does the monsters, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do other things as well.

Q. You’ve questioned the arbitrary divide between genre fiction and literary fiction in the past. Was that another goal of yours with this collection, to show people that those labels don’t matter or apply to you?

A. That has to happen somewhere else. It can’t happen with me. I never sat down to write a story where I said, ‘This is going to be a piece of literary fiction,’ or ‘This is going to be a piece of genre fiction.’ I picked the story “Mile 81” because it’s a perfect example of the sort of thing that people expect from me, and it does hark back to the days when I was writing short fiction to pay the electric bill, and I knew what those men’s magazines wanted. They wanted a scary story that was kind of gruesome. I loved all that pulp stuff, and that’s what “Mile 81” is, it’s a pulp story, and I like to think it has a little more texture. So you start with that, and then you move on to “Premium Harmony” — that has a little more of a Raymond Carver feel to it. It isn’t an effort to try to convince people that I’m a literary writer, that I’m a Jonathan Franzen wearing a popular fiction hat. I don’t want to do that. I can only write what I can write, but I was able to look at the range of stories and arrange them in a certain way.

Q. In your introductions to the stories, you often describe how an idea will stay with you half-formed for years, until some catalyst makes you go back to it. Do you write your ideas down somewhere?

A. I don’t write anything down, any ideas ever, because that’s a good way to immortalize really bad ideas. The bad ideas fall out. It’s a natural Darwinian process. They go away somehow. It’s like throwing a bunch of crackers in a sieve. Some of those ideas shake out because the crumbs get too small, but the big ones stay.

I have an idea right now about a guy who kills his wife, and then his wife shows up and she’s his wife, but she’s strange. She’s pale. I can see her right now. He knows that he’s killed her, and he goes and digs up the place that he buried her, see what I’m saying? And I don’t really know what he finds, whether it’s a body there, but it’s a story idea that stayed with me for a long time.

Q. You’re in an incredibly prolific phase. What do you think is driving your creativity at this late stage in your career?

A. I’m not as a prolific as I used to be. There was a time when I published four books a year. As a college student, I had so much in my head that I had migraine headaches. Right now, I’m always happy if I have two or three ideas bouncing around that seem tasty.

Q. You’ve said that when you’re not writing, if you have a break between books, you have especially vivid dreams. Why do you think that is?

A. You get habituated to the process, which is very mysterious, but it’s very much like dreaming. A lot of times I can’t remember where these stories came from or what it was like to write them because it’s like being in a trance state when I sit down to write.

Once the book is done, the stories are done, you don’t have anything in particular that you want to do. The process goes on, but it goes on at night, your brain does that, and you have the dreams. When I write again, it stops.

Q. So you don’t remember your dreams?

A. No. I don’t have them. I don’t dream when I’m writing.

Q. One of the stories was sparked by your near-fatal accident in 1999, when you were walking and were hit by a van. But in the introduction, you say that you’re “not in the business of confessional fiction” and that this story turned into a horror story instead. Why are you opposed to confessional writing?

A. You use your experiences to make the fiction more real to the reader. You rely on things that you absolutely know, because that gives you bedrock to stand on when you write the fiction, and I knew about pain. Pain is one of those things like sexual ecstasy that’s very difficult to write about unless you’ve experienced it. I knew about the therapy and how much it hurts, and I did want to write about that from the standpoint of some guy who didn’t want to go through the pain to get the positive benefit of it. And then it turned out that this guy really did have this sort of demonic creature inside of him. That was kind of cool.

I don’t live that interesting of a life. All I can do is take pieces of my own experience or even stuff from my reading or viewing and put them in a story that I think will entertain people. That’s the main job, to entertain people, and confession can get boring after a while. I guess that’s why I can’t see myself ever writing a full-blown memoir. I’m not sure anybody would want to read it.

Q. What made you want to write scary stories in the first place?

A. Nothing. There are certain minerals, for lack of a better word, buried in our nature, that come with the DNA, that are part of the original equipment. For me, I was about 8 or 9 years old, and my brother and I were going through some stuff that my mother had in this crawl space in an apartment in Stratford, [Conn.], and there were boxes and boxes of my father’s stuff. There were a bunch of paperbacks, and one of them had a cover that showed this green monster crawling out of an open grave. My brother didn’t want anything to do with that, and I looked at that and thought, ‘That’s mine.’ I want to know what that’s about. As a kid, I went to see every horror movie I could possibly see. Sometimes my brother went with me. My brother’s two years older, and he would put his hat over his face. I never put my hat over my face.

Q. What are you most afraid of?

A. Everything? Death, but not even death so much as Alzheimer’s, premature senility. My idea of a horror movie is “Still Alice.” The things that scare me or interest me over the years are less drive-in movie horror stuff, and more, what can you find in real life that scares the devil out of you?

Q. You certainly have a talent for scaring people.

A. But I want all the people who don’t like to be scared. I want to welcome them in a gentle way, and then scare them. I want to get them in there, where they can’t get out.



7 thoughts on “The newest interview with Stephen King”

  1. lol” I want to get them in there and scare them” now that in itself is scary.
    You know, never knew stephen king wrote shawshank redemption. I have always thought he was extremely talented with the few books I have read. Always struggled between him and dean koontz but know he wrote shawshank is just amazing. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person

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