Monday, November 13, 2006

Stephen King

Here's a chunk of an interview with Stephen King
An audience with the King
By Gary Kemble. Posted: Sunday, November 12 2006 .

My first Stephen King books, bought second-hand 15 or so years ago, feature black covers stamped with the tag-line "The Master of Horror". No-one could argue that King's initial offerings (Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining) weren't horror.

But even after more than 30 years of best-selling novels in genres as diverse as science fiction, fantasy, crime, romance and literary fiction, he remains defined by horror.

On the train into London I saw a poster for Lisey's Story which read: "First he chilled your bones. Now he'll break your heart". (Who writes this crap?!)

But when asked about whether it is more difficult writing about grief than fear, King says he has never quibbled about being labelled a horror writer.

"And you won't hear me quibble with it tonight because people who buy a book, read a book, have a right to say anything they want or to categorise it in any way they want, and bookstores need a place to shelve their damn books so people can find them conveniently, so fine, let them put them where they want to put them," he said.

"I can do whatever I want to within that broad range of title - horror - it doesn't have to be giant bugs hopping out of manholes, but it could be. It could be cell phones that go crazy, but it doesn't have to be.

"You see, what I'm really interested in is sawing on your emotions and I'm very, very, very serious about that. I think at bottom this is what's really disturbed critics all along about my books, it has distracted them from the language.

"I'm a doctor of the emotions, that's all, except doctor puts too fine a point on it. I want to reach you, assault you ... make you know that I was there, make you aware when I came and when I left ... I'd like to leave a sonic boom when I go with a book, I'd like you to feel either very, very glad that book is over or very sorry that it's over.

"And when it's there whatever emotion you're feeling, I want you to feel that as fully as I do, I want you to experience it, whatever you feel in your life.

"I feel like a work of art is supposed to concentrate that and make it richer. This critical idea that it had to make it finer, I don't entirely buy it, but I think it has to enrich the experience.

"And if it's horror, fine. If that means Saw and Saw II and blood to the elbows, if that means Leatherface, bring it on, I just absolutely like that, that's wonderful.

"If it's something more subtle, something that works in a different kind of a way, that's terrific too. But if it's some other emotion, it might be that in Lisey's Story, if you cry, I'm not sorry, I'm glad because it means I reached your heart and that's a good thing. And that's what grief is, it's sadness, and if you feel that, I got that over."

While recounting one of the key ideas that led to the crystallisation of Lisey's Story - the legend that J D Salinger has one or more unpublished manuscripts squirreled away - another jet thunders overhead.

"If I were to die tonight... (King's eyes roll up) ...God forbid but if I did, who'd get the headline?"

The crowd laughs.

"You'd all die too but, in the Sun, it would say 'STEPHEN KING (and 4,000 others) DIE IN FIERY CRASH'."

King also addressed something that's been a constant annoyance to his fans - crappy film adaptations of his books.

"There's this story that James Cain used to tell about the young fella who came and started his interview by saying how the movies had ruined his books and he said, 'No they didn't young fella, they're all on the shelf up there and they're all just fine'. And that's the view that I take," he said.

"I understand what Hemingway said when he said the best deal for a writer is when Hollywood gives you a lot of money and never makes the movie. That's a point of view.

"Myself, I don't care. If they want to make the movie, the only thing I care about is that my rights in the thing should be protected and if I'm in I'm all the way in and if I'm out I'm all the way out and I promise I'll stay out of everybody's way.

"I'm always interested to see what happens. I'm like a kid that way. And when they're great I always applaud and when they're bad I remember what my mother used to say, which is if you can't say something nice, keep your mouth shut.

"And mostly I do that, unless somebody said, well Stephen King likes this movie, if I think it's a piece of shit I'm going to say it's a piece of shit. And if somebody says, you know, like with The Shining, 'Well it's really a great-looking picture', my view is yeah, you can frost a dog turd but that doesn't make it a Twinkie."

For the record, King loved The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me, Dolores Claiborne and Misery.

"I've always had a soft spot for Cujo, and I think Dee Wallace should have won an Academy Award for performing as that mother that saved the little boy in the Pinto. Loved it," he said.

Ed here

"I'm a doctor of the emotions, that's all, except doctor puts too fine a point on it. I want to reach you, assault you ... make you know that I was there, make you aware when I came and when I left ... I'd like to leave a sonic boom when I go with a book, I'd like you to feel either very, very glad that book is over or very sorry that it's over."

A doctor of emotions. That's the phrase that grabbed me when I read this. And that's why I still read King because when he's on reading him is a form of psychotherapy. He can hurt you. And not with the horrors but with your own reactions to his horrors.

Take Desperation. A couple good enough folks in a car get stopped by a strange sheriff and next thing you know they're under arrest and in a jail that could double as hell.

My reaction was idiosyncratic to be sure. When I was seventeen I was arrested for grand larceny. The amount was $150 cash. I had a modest police record mostly for raising hell but not for stealing (though I was a world class shoplifter). The thing was I didn't know anything about this $150. It was a set-up. Two girls I didn't know were pissed at a friend of mine for dumping their cousin. He and I would be sitting in a booth at Rexall and then one of the girls (in the booth behind) would say that while they were in the john Bob took their money.

Things got crazy. Bob had to work late at the gas station and didn't show up. And one of the girls who'd only seen Bob once insisted that I was Bob. I cut out before the girls decided to get the manager and tell him that $150 had been stolen from them. They did that later. Only the kid they described was me and the manager said that's Ed Gorman.

I always swept this steak house out every night at eleven, after it closed. Came a knock that night. A neighborhood girl real nervous saying that the cops were everywhere looking for me. I still didn't know what was going on. The cops got me on my way home. This began a long eight-night series of interrogations. I kept saying I was innocent. They kept saying I wasn't. I went on the lineup two or three times.

We got a lawyer and he advised that I plead guilty and not take the chance of going to reform school. But I just couldn't do it. I was innocent. On the ninth night one of the girls walked into the police station and confessed. I still have nightmares of being falsely accused. It was my version of Desperation and even if it was less dramatic than King's book, it was terrifying nonetheless. And by the way, in 1958 $150 was a lot of money.

King's also right about Cujo. Not only was the movie good, the novel is one of his best, a painfully true portrait of a marriage coming undone and the wife who loathes herself for being unfaithful. A bit of Madame Bovary in small-town Maine. Yeah I know it's supposed to be about a rabid dog and that part works fine...but it's really about the toll the years can take on a marriage.


Gary Kemble said...

Thanks very much for the link!

All the best, Gary

Gary Kemble said...

There's extra content here...

Brendan DuBois said...

Ed --

So glad to see your new home on the 'net. I think Stephen King's book "On Writing" has a lot of jewels for up-and-comers and relatively-old-farts (like myself!)....

Funny thing... me and the missus have a vacation cottage not so far from the road where King was struck down and almost killed... *very* spooky to drive on that road and know what happened there.

All best,

Brendan DuBois