Stephen King on the Creative Process, the State of Fiction, and More

JP: Right.

SK: It isn't a general thing. You don't see people on airplanes with their magazines folded open to Part 7 of the new Norman Mailer. He's dead of course, but you know what I mean. And all of these e-books and this computer stuff, it kind of muddies the water and obscures the fact that people just don't read short fiction. And when you fall out of the habit of doing it, you lose the knack, you lose the ability to sit down for 45 minutes like you can with this story and get a little bit of entertainment.

JP: Get a little buzz.

SK: A little buzz! That's great.

JP: It is odd, though, if you think about it, that with all the speeding-up that we're being told about, and the dwindling of the attention span and all that, that people would rather chomp their way through a 400-pager than just get zapped by a little story ...

SK: And so many of the 400-pagers are disposable in themselves. When I see books by some of the suspense writers that are popular now, I think to myself: "These are basically books for people who don't want to read at all." It just kind of passes through the system. It's like some kind of fast-food treat that takes the express right from your mouth to your bowels, without ever stopping to nourish any part of you. I don't want to name names, but we know who we're talking about.

JP: Are you still listening to music when you write?

SK: I listen to music when I rewrite now. I don't listen to music when I compose anymore. I can't. I've lost the ability to multitask that way!

JP: You used to listen to Metallica, right?

SK: Metallica, Anthrax. I still listen to those guys ... There's a band called the Living Things that I like a lot. Very loud group. I never cared for Ozzy very much.

JP: I'm obsessed with Black Sabbath.

SK: No, no. They don't really work for me. "I AM IRON MAN!"

JP: That doesn't do it?

SK: No. Judas Priest, now ...

JP: I love Judas Priest.

SK: Did you ever hear their cover of "Diamonds and Rust"?

JP: Yes. I love it. Now: In your grand maturity ...

SK: (laughs) I don't feel very mature.

JP: ... what is your favorite part of the creative process?

SK: It's still when you sit down and you get a really good day, and something happens that you don't expect and you just take off, you just go off on the material -- I love that, when that happens.

JP: How often does it happen?

SK: I don't knock myself out as often as I used to. But often enough so that you know it when it happens. In the new book, which is called 11/22/63, I was writing about a high-school variety show and I just went off. Terrific. Lot of fun.

JP: And how does it feel to have an unwritten book inside your brain?

SK: I never started a book that I expected to finish. Because it always feels like a job that's much too big for a little guy like me. Thomas Williams -- do you know his work at all?

JP: No, I don't.

SK: He was a wonderful, wonderful novelist. He wrote a novel called The Hair of Harold Roux, which is one of my favorite books, about a writer named Aaron Benham. Benham says that when he sits down to write a book it's like being on a dark plain with one little tiny fire. And somebody comes and stands by that fire to warm themselves. And then more people come. And those are the characters in your book, and the fire is whatever inspiration you have. And they feed the fire, and it gets big, and eventually it burns out because the book is at an end. It's always felt that way to me. When you start, it's very cold, an impossible task. But then maybe the characters start to take on a little bit of life, or the story takes a turn that you don't expect ... With me that happens a lot because I don't outline, I just have a vague notion. So it's always felt like less of a made thing and more of a found thing. That's exciting. That's a thrill.

JP: And how do you keep your energy up?

SK: I don't know. Eat three meals a day and sleep eight hours a night. I read a lot. I'm still in love with what I do, with the idea of making things up, so hours when I write always feel like very blessed hours to me.

JP: Well with that, we come to the end of my questions.

SK: I'm delighted that The Atlantic is publishing the story. It's a dream, because I can remember sending stories to The Atlantic when I was a teenager, and then in my 20s and getting the rejection slips. So this feels like a real benchmark. It's a great thing.

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James Parker is an Atlantic contributing editor.

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