The May 2011 issue of The Atlantic features the short story "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," by Stephen King. The story's origins are unusual. As part of The Atlantic's package on "First Drafts," James Parker, The Atlantic's entertainment columnist, talked to King about how the story came into being, about King's creative process, about the state of short fiction today, and about the relative merits of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest as background music to write to. They spoke on April 1.
James Parker: Would you mind filling our readers in just a little bit on the back story to "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive"?
Stephen King: Every year my son Owen and I have a bet on the NCAA March Madness Tournament, and last year the stakes were that the loser would have to write a story [with a title] the winner gave to him. And I lost. Except I really won, because I got this story that I really like. The title that he gave me for the story was "Herman Wouk Is Still Alive," because he'd just a read a piece saying that the guy was still alive and he's still writing even though he's 95 or 96 years old.
So I thought about it a lot--believe me, I thought about it a lot. The tournament was over by the first of April that year, and I mulled that over in my mind until about July. So there was a period of about four months when I thought, "What am I gonna write, what am I gonna write?" Usually you get an idea yourself and then you write a story -- you don't think of a title and then write a story to go with it. So it was kind of an ass-backwards kind of thing. And my first thought was to write a story about a guy in a mental asylum who believed that he was keeping certain writers alive by brainpower. And it was going to be kind of a funny story, and there was going to be a list of writers that he'd gotten tired of and that he had allowed to die.