Author Chats: Stephen King

Motivation

So I read this lengthy interview of Stephen King, and I can’t decide if it made me like him more, or like him less. I suppose it just made him more real to me, since all I’ve read of his is his nonfiction about writing (which is stupendous).

I think it’s a worthwhile read, but it is hard to sum up, since the interview spanned a few years. Here are some topics to think about and reflect upon after reading the interview.

Getting Ideas

King often takes experiences and observations, then asks  “What if ____” over and over again, until a story sprouts. He refuses to focus on the next idea while his current work is in progress:

“I mean, I’ve always got a couple of ideas for future stories whenever I’m working on something. But you can’t think about what you’re going to do next. You’re like a married guy who’s trying not to look at women in the street.”

Movie Adaptations

King positively hates Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining.

Where to Write

“It’s nice to have a desk, a comfortable chair so you’re not shifting around all the time, and enough light. Wherever you write is supposed to be a little bit of a refuge, a place where you can get away from the world. The more closed in you are, the more you’re forced back on your own imagination. I mean, if I were near a window, I’d be OK for a while, but then I’d be checking out the girls on the street and who’s getting in and out of the cars and, you know, just the little street-side stories that are going on all the time: what’s this one up to, what’s that one selling?”

Writing Every Possible Day

PARIS REVIEW—Did you write this morning?

KING—I did. I wrote four pages. That’s what it’s come to. I used to write two thousand words a day and sometimes even more. But now it’s just a paltry thousand words a day.

Using a Computer versus Longhand

PARIS REVIEW—You use a computer?

KING—Yes, but I’ve occasionally gone back to longhand—with Dreamcatcher and with Bag of Bones—because I wanted to see what would happen. It changed some things. Most of all, it made me slow down because it takes a long time. Every time I started to write something, some guy up here, some lazybones is saying, Aw, do we have to do that? I’ve still got a little bit of that scholar’s bump on my finger from doing all that longhand. But it made the rewriting process a lot more felicitous. It seemed to me that my first draft was more polished, just because it wasn’t possible to go so fast. You can only drive your hand along at a certain speed. It felt like the difference between, say, rolling along in a powered scooter and actually hiking the countryside.

Finishing the First Draft

PARIS REVIEW—What do you do once you finish a first draft?

KING—It’s good to give the thing at least six weeks to sit and breathe. […] When you return to a novel after that amount of time, it seems almost as if a different person wrote it. You’re not quite as wedded to it. You find all sorts of horrible errors, but you also find passages that make you say, [that’s] good!

Your Editor’s Suggestions

“I don’t think it’s me, I don’t think it’s a best-seller thing, I think it’s a writer thing, and it goes across the board—it never changes—but my first thought was, She can’t tell me that. She doesn’t know. She’s not a writer. She doesn’t understand my genius! And then I say, Well, try it. And I say that especially loud.”

Popular Fiction and Literary Fiction

“The keepers of the idea of serious literature have a short list of authors who are going to be allowed inside, and too often that list is drawn from people who know people, who go to certain schools, who come up through certain channels of literature. And that’s a very bad idea—it’s constraining for the growth of literature.”

Naming

King has been criticized for his use of brand names in literature. Excedrin, for example. Pepsi. I haven’t read King’s fiction, but I have read fiction that does this poorly. I think it’s good to be specific.

“Do you see generic shampoo, generic aspirin? When you go to the store and you get a six-pack, does it just say beer? When you go down and you open your garage door, what’s parked in there? A car? Just a car?”

At the same time, overuse of brand names can feel like a commercial. Be specific, but don’t let it come across as product placement. Your peer editors and beta readers can point this out to you if you think it’s going to be an issue.

If you’re curious to read commercial fiction that reads like the author’s been flipping through the home shopping network, try Heat Wave, the novel commissioned by ABC and written by a ghost writer posing as the fictional crime writer Richard Castle.

So that’s all for Stephen King for now. I hope you caught the little bit about e-readers thrown in there (the interview came from 2001-2006). It amused me, anyway.

If you have a Facebook account, be sure to become a fan of my page, where I post more frequently. It’s much easier to repost something interesting than to actually blog about it. That said, I do have some queued up blogs for the next few weeks, so hopefully we’ll start getting back on track with content over here on WordPress. And then I’ll have my baby and probably disappear again for a few weeks.

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