Interview with Stephen KingNovember, 2014
In a recent Twitter post about the book, King told readers, "If you're going to buy it, better tone up your nerves." His publisher, Nan Graham, said that upon reading it, "I asked Steve whether it really had to be this dark, knowing before he answered that, yes, it does.
Indeed King dedicates Revival, out this month, to "some of the people who built my house," including Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and H.P. Lovecraft. A story of fate, rock and roll, religion, obsession, and addiction, it follows Jamie Morton, a boy from Maine whose life becomes inextricably bound to his onetime childhood pastor, an increasingly sinister figure who performs mysterious electrical "healing" sessions.
Despite a near-fatal accident 15 years ago, after which he considered retiring, King remains prolific. Revival marks the author's fourth novel in two years: In June he released Mr. Mercedes, billed (on his website) as his "first hard-boiled detective tale"), and last year the 67-year-old published Joyland and Doctor Sleep, his gripping sequel to The Shining.
King tells Goodreads what inspired Revival, how tea by the gallon rather than drugs and alcohol now fuel his craft, and why he loves collaborating with his novelist sons, Joe Hill and Owen King.
Revival; my children almost went hungry. What was your inspiration for this book? And is it really "the most terrifying conclusion" you've ever written?
Stephen King: The inspiration was Arthur Machen's The Great God Pan, which is a terrifying story about the world that might exist beyond this one. Other influences were Lovecraft, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and my own religious upbringing. And I've been wanting to write about tent show healings for a long time!
I wanted to write a balls-to-the-wall supernatural horror story, something I haven't done in a long time. I also wanted to use Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos, but in a new fashion, if I could, stripping away Lovecraft's high-flown language.
GR: The book is concerned with what you call the "fifth business," "change agent," or "nemesis"—the person who pops up at regular intervals throughout life with a purpose yet to be revealed. Who is this person in your life, if there is one?
SK: I think we rarely recognize the fifth business in our lives at the time those people are changing us. As a writer, I'd have to say it was Philip Roth, who first spoke to me in college when I read [Roth's 1967 novel] When She Was Good. Since then, he's shown up again and again, at 10- or 20-year intervals, always saying—through his work—"Come a little farther. Do a little better."
GR: How did your experience of addiction and playing in a rock band (the Rock Bottom Remainders) inform your portrayal of the hero Jamie Morton?
SK: There's a saying—"Write what you know." It's bad advice if you take it as an unbreakable rule, but good advice if you use it as a foundation. I did spend years as an addict, so I know that world, although I wish I didn't. When it comes to rock music, I'm not much of a player, but I do have entry-level chops. I'm more knowledgeable as a listener, and Revival gave me a way to write about rock and roll without being preachy or boring. Through Jamie I had a chance to talk about how important rock is to me and how it lifted my life.
GR: Revival seems as much a meditation on family and aging, love and loss, as it is a mystery/horror story. Was this your intention from the outset?
SK: I never have a thematic intention at the outset. The story informs the theme for me rather than the other way around. But as it happens, you're right—this is, at least to a degree, about getting old and the rapid passage of our lives. "It's a damn short movie," James McMurtry says, "how'd we ever end up here?"
GR: There's a line on page 25 that says, "Writing is a wonderful and terrible thing. It opens deep wells of memory that were previously capped." How true is this for you in your fiction?
SK: Writing is like being in a dream state or under self-directed hypnosis. It induces a state of recall that—while not perfect—is pretty spooky.
GR: Which of your books/stories are you most attached to and why?
SK: Lisey's Story, because it's about the secret world that exists inside every long marriage. Also—and I'm not the first person to have said this—no writer ever feels that the execution of a book lives up to the idea for that book. The execution always falls short. But I got pretty close in Lisey's Story.
GR: Goodreads member Ed Logiudice writes, "In NOS4A2 Joe Hill mentions places from the world of Stephen King. In Doctor Sleep Stephen King mentions Charlie Manx [the villain in Hill's book]. Do you see the further writings of Joe Hill (and maybe even those of Owen King) as an extension of the Dark Tower world? Will your sons continue the Dark Tower legacy?
SK: I love my sons and I love that they are writers—I also love my daughter, who's a minister and an orchard keeper!—but I wouldn't wish the burden of Mid-World and the Dark Tower on them. I enjoy working with them, though, because we fit together. I've got something going with Owen now, and I've collaborated with Joe on two novellas, Throttle and In the Tall Grass. But when Joe and I were working on a couple of books that turned out to have similar elements (even though neither of us had read the other's work), Joe said it would be cool to throw in some connecting back story. So...we did. Think of them as Easter eggs.
GR: Goodreads member Mandi Bolling asks, "Of all the 'monsters' you have written about, which one do you find the scariest and why?"
SK: It's a tie. Pennywise the Clown (It), because clowns have scared me since childhood, and Randall Flagg (The Stand), because there's a little of him in all of us.
GR: Goodreads member Mark asks, "After your phenomenal success as an author and musician, what, if anything, remains "undone" for you? What is the one thing you haven't done, that you are still "itching" to accomplish?"
SK: I'd like to learn French well enough to write in that language. And I'd like to take a motorcycle trip across Europe, maybe even across China. Of course I'd also like to broker a peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but it's important to put ceilings on one's ambitions, don't you think?
GR: Goodreads member Luke Dufrene writes, "It has been years since I read The Stand, but with the recent Ebola outbreak, my dreams have been consumed by 'Captain Trips' nightmares again. You recently revisited The Shining characters; any thought on returning to the horrific world left in ruins by the Captain Trips virus?"
SK: There's one Stand story that still needs to be told, although it's not a long one. I happen to know that when [Stand characters] Stu Redman and Frannie Goldsmith headed back to New England (with their baby), Frannie fell into a dry well. That's all I know. I'd have to write the story to find out what happens.
GR: What's your average working day like? Do you have any unusual habits/rituals?
SK: I start work around 8 a.m. and usually finish around noon. If there's more to do, I do it in the late afternoon, although that isn't prime time for me. The only ritual is making tea. I use the loose leaves and drink it by the gallon.
GR: Which books have proved most inspirational/influential to you as a writer?
SK: There are so many! Lord of the Flies (Golding), The Collector (Fowles), The Postman Always Rings Twice (Cain), Blood Meridian (McCarthy), John D. MacDonald (everything), Watchers (Koontz), One on One (King), The Poet (Connelly), H.P. Lovecraft (everything), The Great God Pan (Machen)...and that doesn't even scratch the surface!
GR: What are you reading now?
SK: A wonderful new novel by Howard Frank Mosher called God's Kingdom [coming 2015]. Not heaven but Vermont!
Interview by Catherine Elsworth for Goodreads. Catherine is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She previously worked as a reporter and editor for the UK's Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for 13 years and was the Daily Telegraph's Los Angeles correspondent from 2004 to 2009. She has also contributed to Tatler, Stella, and Condé Nast Traveller. In 2012, she was a semifinalist for the 21st annual James Kirkwood Literary Prize for fiction.
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