President Barack Obama makes a historic visit to Hiroshima. The Taliban choose a new leader after a U.S. drone strike kills Mullah Mansour. And a far right candidate in Austria narrowly loses the presidential election. A panel of journalists joins guest host Sabri Ben-Achour for analysis of the week's top international news stories.
When it comes to writing, Stephen King is never afraid to explore the dark side of human nature — and anything else that might be lurking in our closets or under our bed. Over four decades ago, his first novel “Carrie” had readers squirming in their seats. His new collection of short stories holds the same bite. In “The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams,” King has gathered both old and new stories and included some surprises like poetry. He’s also provided brief introductions to give readers insight into his own writing process. Diane speaks with the master of the horror novel Stephen King on his long career writing about the human condition.
- Stephen King author of more than 50 books
Read An Excerpt
Excerpted from THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS by Stephen King. Copyright © 2015 by Stephen King. Reprinted with permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. For Stephen King, short stories are invigorating, sometimes shocking and always entertaining. His newest book is a collection of short stories, accompanied by introductions that give a glimpse into King's writing process. Within the collection, he explores your human struggle with addiction, morality and the occasional haunted rest stop. Stephen King joins me from the studios of NPR in New York City.
MS. DIANE REHMI'm sure many of you will have your own questions, comments for Stephen King. Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Stephen King, it's a pleasure to have you with us.
MR. STEPHEN KINGIt's a pleasure to be here.
REHMWell, thank you so much. I have to tell you up front I am a person who has lots of bad dreams so I never, ever read your work before I am going to sleep. Are you also one who has bad dreams?
KINGWell, you know, when I'm working, I don't have bad dreams at all. I don't have any dreams in particular that I could remember. But when I'm between projects and I'm not working, then I have dreams every night, good ones, bad ones and ones that are just a little bit off the wall. And I think that there's an imaginative machine at work inside and you harness it for the stories that you write. And I've been doing this for 40, 50 years, I guess, going back to childhood so that that machine pretty much runs on its own.
KINGAnd when I'm not using it to create fiction, it continues to run and I just have stories that unspool themselves in my dreams.
REHMSo like me, you remember your dreams. Do you write them down?
KINGYes. Actually, I do, some of them. I have a little thing that's called an -- and I may mispronounce the word. I think it's an oneiric diary or whatever the word is that it means that it's a diary where you record your dreams and it's very strange. You wake up and you write something down and when you look at it a year later, you think, that's really bizarre. What does that mean? Because the thing about dreams and the one way they're not like stories, things that you write down on paper, is that dreams have a very short shelf life.
KINGThat is, they can be extremely vivid and you wake up and you think, I will never forget this. By noon, it's gone.
REHMWell, I must say I was reading "Highway 81" or is it -- it's not "Highway 81."
KING"Mile 81," yeah.
REHMIt's "Mile 81." And it was in the middle of the afternoon because I was very cautious about picking up your book. So I'm reading "Mile 81" and I am getting scared to death. Where did that story come from? And I'm going to flag a little, because you flag a little and I'll get to that in a minute. Where did that idea of a car that envelops human beings come from?
KINGWell, the story was originally written when I was a college student and I was driving a very old car that was a hand-me-down from my brother. And the main turnpike back in those days was pretty well deserted and the most deserted part of the main turnpike was Mile 81 and I always thought if I break down, this is where it'll be and this old station wagon that belonged to my brother will be in the break-down lane and hopefully, somebody will stop because if they don't, I'm sort of in a mess here.
KINGAnd I wrote the story and I thought to myself, if some alien being were to come down to earth that wanted to snack on people, probably it would take some innocuous form. And I thought, well, really what would work better than a broken down at a deserted rest stop because people would stop to see if everything was all right and one by one, they would be gobbled up. And you'd see this line of abandoned cars from good Samaritans who'd stopped to help.
KINGAnd I thought to myself, I want to write that story and I did write it. I lost it and a number of years later, when this very thriving rest area near one of the turnpike exits in Maine, they closed it up and it became deserted. And to me, it looked like a haunted house and I remembered my old story. And I thought to myself, I want to write that again. So I did. And it's the first story in the book because it's a real old school horror story, you know. It doesn't really have anything else on its mind other than to scare you silly.
REHMAnd it's got two young children, actually three young children, who are in it and I think that made me even more frightened. I felt I was one of those children. Do you think that it gets scarier when children are involved?
KINGI do because we see children as defenseless and as adults, if we're well adjusted adults and most of are, our first impulse is to protect children who are vulnerable. And for me, the scariest part of "Mile 81" is there are two little kids. I think the girl is 8 and the boy is 6 or maybe the girl is 6 and the boy is 4. They're very small kids.
KINGAnd you have to -- yeah, and you have to visualize a turnpike where all the traffic is going 60, 70 miles an hour and the kids' parents are eaten by this monster car. This monster that looks like a car. And the kids are left alone. And I love to write about kids because they see things that -- straight ahead. I mean, kids believe in everything. They believe in Santa Claus. They believe in the Tooth Fairy. They believe in the Easter Bunny.
KINGAnd I thought to myself, well, of course, where an adult would probably say, oh, it can't be a monster that looks like a car, the kids would because they live their lives without metaphor. So I saw them trying to get away and, for me, the scariest part of the story isn't the monster car, but it's when these two little children are trying to walk up the breakdown lane of a busy interstate highway.
REHMAnd then, a third child, an imaginative child with a magnifying glass is the one who saves the day, the lives, the everything.
KINGYeah. I like to write about kids for adults and I think, for a long time, I had that field pretty much to myself. There's a wonderful story that William Golding talks about, the genesis of his novel, classic novel "The Lord Of The Flies." He says that one night he was sitting beside the fire with his wife and he said, what would you think if I were to write a story about boys not idealized boys like in juvenile novels, but the way that boys really are.
KINGAnd his wife said, I think that would be a wonderful idea, Bill. And he wrote "The Lord Of The Flies." And I've always tried to write about kids the way that kids really are so that when the boy who's the real hero, Pete of "Mile 81," when he gets into this abandoned rest stop that the big kids have been using as a make-out spot and a place to drink and that sort of thing, he finds half a bottle of vodka and he has some vodka and he looks at pinups in magazines.
KINGAnd, you know, so it's not an idealized picture of childhood, but at the same time, Pete's a good kid and when it becomes necessary for him to rescue these two smaller children, he does what he's supposed to do. So I love that story and I like the kids.
REHMAnd you know, you look like such a normal human being and the fact that these ideas come out of your head, does that element of your personality go way back to your own childhood?
KINGIt is good to look normal, isn't it? I mean, that's a good way to slide on through life. And I think sometimes when people see me, they expect some sort of a boogeyman, you know. But I'm not really that guy. The boogeyman, the scary guy, never shows up at public appearances. He's sort of in the back of my mind and the only time that he gets free rein is when I'm sitting in front of a typewriter.
KINGSo, you know, I used to quote Robert Bloch. I get -- several people have tried to give me authorship of this quote, but it wasn't me. It was Robert Bloch who wrote "Psycho," and he used to tell people, "I have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk."
KINGAnd, you know, that's the imaginative guy who writes the stories and the guy that you're looking at, because we're looking at each other via Skype right now, I'm not that guy. They're two separate characters. So call me Jekyll and Hyde.
REHMI'm going to tell people you've got on a red T-shirt and an off-white brimmed cap. You wear glasses and you look perfectly normal. Stay with us.
REHMWelcome back. Stephen King is my guest. We're talking about his brand-new book of stories, titled "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams." And bizarre it is. There are ten different stories in here and they are each equally different, equally frightening, as only Stephen King can do. But, you know, I am fascinated, Stephen King -- and by the way, he is on Skype with me, so I can see him, he's got very beautiful blue eyes, which I can see from here -- what I'm fascinated by is how you flag the danger to come.
REHMAnd "Batman and Robin Have an Altercation" is one instance where -- I'm just reading a sentence here -- it's about a father and son, and the father clearly has Alzheimer's. And the son dutifully takes him out to lunch or dinner quite regularly. And they're in the car. And you write, "They stopped for the light at the intersection of Commerce Way and Airline Road, where trouble will soon occur." Now it's not the only time you do that in your stories. And I wondered whether you do it to warn people like me, that scary times are ahead?
KINGNo, I really don't do it to warn anybody. This kind of harks back to Alfred Hitchcock talking about the difference between a moment of terror and several minutes of real horror and suspense. He said that, if you have a scene with men sitting around a table and a bomb goes off, you have that one moment of terror where you're startled and surprised and then things move on.
KINGBut if, instead of doing that, you start by showing the bomb taped under the table with a clock that's counting down toward the time when the bomb is going to go off, and then you show the men just talking, it really isn't -- it doesn't even matter what they're talking about. You know -- you're saying to yourself, you have to get those guys out of the room. That bomb is going go off any time. So it's, you know, the technical term is foreshadowing. But I always like to alert the reader and say, you know, this -- there's trouble coming up ahead.
KINGThere's a landslide.
KINGThere's going to be a bridge out. There's -- something's going to happen.
REHMTell me when you wrote your very first scary story, at what age?
KINGWell, I was probably, let's see, I started writing stories when I was six or seven, because my mother would pay me a quarter apiece for them.
KINGAnd those were kind of fanciful stories about a rabbit and a bear, and I think there was maybe a squirrel, and they had adventures in an old car and they saved people. They were kind of sweet stories. And even then, I was sort of writing to market, because I knew what my mother liked.
KINGAnd I wanted those quarters. So I was careful to stick to that. But I think around 11 or 12 I started to write stories under the influence of the things that I was reading, like H. P. Lovecraft and Robert Bloch, Weird Tales, and the horror comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Haunt of Fear. And those were stories about -- they usually had some kind of a moral, you know? Or the old witch would say, this story is full of irony, it's good for your blood, kiddies.
KINGSo that if a man murdered his wife, she would come out of the grave and she would be sort of rotted and clotted with dirt. And she would hunt down her husband and kill him in some gruesome way, so that everything evened out in the end. They were horrible stories but they were moral too, so. I'd say around 10 or 12, I started to write horror fiction.
REHMWhat I also love about this book, "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams," is that...
KINGAnd I love the way you say that.
REHM...prior to each story…
KINGI think you should run ads for that, "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams." That's, well, I'm -- yeah, go ahead.
REHMWell, what I like about this particular book is that, before each bad dream, if you will, you write a little about how and why you got there, and a little about your writing process. And I wonder if you would read for us? Do you have your book there?
REHMIf you would read for us page 81, because I think it says so much about how you approach your work.
KINGOh, okay. This is the head note to a story called "The Dune," which is one of my favorite in the book because -- well, let me read the head note and it will explain a little as I...
REHMIt's fabulous. Yeah.
KING"As I said in the note to Batman and Robin, sometimes, once in a great while, you get the cup with the handle already attached. God, how I love that. You're just going about your business, thinking of nothing in particular, and then kaboom, a story arrives special delivery, perfect and complete. The only thing you have to do is transcribe it. I was in Florida, walking our dog on the beach. Because it was January and cold, I was the only one out there. Up ahead, I saw what looked like writing in the sand. When I got closer, I saw it was just a trick of the sunlight and shadow.
KING"But writer's minds are junk heaps of odd information and it made me think of an old quote from somewhere -- it turned out to be Omar Khayyam -- the moving finger writes and, having writ, moves on. That, in turn, made me think of some magical place where an invisible moving finger would write terrible things in the sand and I had this story. It has one of my very favorite endings. Maybe not up there with 'August Heat,' by W. F. Harvey, that one's a classic, but in the same neighborhood."
REHMIt took my breath away, that last sentence, you rascal. You fooled us, truly.
REHMYou fooled us with that story. But in this little piece that you just read, you mention your dog. You have Corgis, is that correct?
KINGYes, we've always had Corgis.
KINGOh, over the years, I think we've had about five. And we have two now. We have one who's quite an old girl and one who's quite a young girl. The old one is Vixen and the young one is Molly, also known as the thing of evil.
REHMWhy is she the thing of evil?
KINGOh, I started calling her the thing of evil because she always wanted to go out and she would snap and snarl at my shoes. And I would say, back thing of evil, back. And it just kind of stuck. So I started to tweet pictures of my Corgi as she grew through her first year. And I would always say, Molly, also known as the thing of evil, doing this or that or the other thing. And I think that was -- sort of caught people's imaginations for a while. But it will only run about as long as Molly is a puppy. After their puppyhood is gone, they cease to be quite so cute. Although I think Corgis are always cute because they have these -- this sort of maniacal grin.
REHMI happen to have an old black, long-haired Chihuahua, who weighs eight-and-a-half pounds, who growls at everybody, barks at everybody, who is totally protective of me. Is Molly protective of you?
KINGNo. Molly loves everybody. If the Boston Strangler came to our house, Molly would jump up and want to be petted. And she just loves everybody in the world. But she does -- she's a very barky dog and a very playful dog. But everybody's got their own, you know, love for their -- there are dog people, there are cat people, and there are no-pet people. I have a tendency not to trust no-pet people. But...
REHMHow come? How come?
KINGI -- you wonder sometimes if they wouldn't do better if they had a little animal friend that they could greet when they come home after a hard day at the office, that's all.
REHMI want to ask you more about the story you call "The Dune." Because it really was a shocker. Tell us a little about this judge, who kayaks to this little dune and sees writing in the sand.
KINGWell, the judge has lived in a part of Florida that I know pretty well for a long time. And he has an estate on the mainland. And there is a little island out there. And one day, when the judge -- when the story opens, he's in his nineties, a very old man -- but he harks back, he's talking to his lawyer because he's making a new will. And he says, I found that island when I was a little boy, because my grandfather wanted me out from underfoot so he could play games with the housemaid. And so he made up this big story about how Blackbeard might have buried treasure on that island, because he knew any red-blooded boy would immediately want to jump in a canoe and go out to that island and spend the day digging and looking for treasure.
KINGAnd the little boy doesn't find a treasure, but what he does find on the far side of the island is a sand dune and a name is written there. And it happens to be the name of his best friend. And shortly after that, the best friend dies in a riding accident. And the judge tells this lawyer that he's discovered, over the years, that every now and then, in the sand on the dune, a name is written. And that person always dies shortly thereafter.
KINGAnd I don't think that I want to go any further, because I don't want to give away the end of the story. I'm not what you'd call great at the twist ending. But that one really had a nice ending that reminded me very much of the last line of the W. F. Harvey story, "August Heat," where the two men meet and they discover that they've both drawn pictures of the other one dead. And at the end of the story, there's one line where the narrator says, "This heat, this August heat, it's enough to drive a man mad."
KINGAnd you know what's going to happen. And so it's that kind of a story.
REHMIt's that kind of a story. And it's a great story. We've got lots of callers. Let's open the phones, 800-433-8850. Let's go first to Noah in Indianapolis. You're on the air.
NOAHHi, I'm a big fan of both of you. Thanks so much for this show.
NOAHMy question is -- yes. So I'm a psychologist and I had a question regarding your emotional experience of writing versus narrating. I've listened to Rose Madder narrated by you and some of the kind of deplorable things you had to say. I wonder if you could just talk a little bit about the differences between the two. Thanks.
KINGYou mean the differences between writing and experiencing, or the differences between reading a book and hearing a book? Go ahead.
NOAHYes, between writing your words and reading them out loud.
KINGMm-hmm. Well, let me just say this, I'm a person who grew up on radio, on things like "Johnny Dollar" and "Suspense" and, oh, "Gunsmoke."
KINGAnd for me, the spoken word has a kind of magic and a kind of mystery. I love books, don't get me wrong, and I love prose. But there's nothing that can quite equal a scary story the way that reading aloud can. For one thing, you can't skip ahead. And if something horrible is happening, unless you want to push the fast-forward button, you're stuck with that. But the best thing is that you can't jump ahead to find out how things are going to end, how things are going to come out. My mother used to do that. She used to read the end of her Agatha Christie mysteries because she wanted to know who did it. And I used to think that's so unfair.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I grew up listening to "The Shadow" and "The Green Hornet," and all those wonderful mysteries. And there is nothing like it. We had, for so many years, our beloved Ed Walker, who, in the Sunday night "Big Broadcast," gave us all those programs. He died just last week. And I know you would have enjoyed listening to those programs. Let's take another call, this in Kitty Hawk, N.C. Hi, Dan, you're on the air.
DANHi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
DANLove your show.
DANMr. King, I'm a very big fan. I've read pretty much all of your work, with the exception of "The Dark Tower" series. And I'm crazy for your stuff. I noticed in some of your work there was a section you put near the end -- I call it, dear constant reader. And it's a nice paragraph or two where you just express maybe what you're feeling as you're finishing writing that work. But I noticed that it's not in all of your work and I wonder if there's a reason that determines why you do it and why you don't?
KINGWell, I think that a lot of times writers, and I'm one of them, give credit where credit is due to the people who helped with the book. There are researchers that help out. I wrote a book called "11/22/63" about the Kennedy assassination. A guy goes back to stop Lee Harvey Oswald. And I had a lot of books that I had to read and I had some people that really helped out with that. So I try to keep that fairly short because I hate the idea of writers finishing a book and then doing a sort of Academy Award speech, where you're saying, I'd like to thank this person and that person and the other person. It's good to say, these are the people who helped and give them a little tip of the hat.
KINGBut the one thing that I try never to forget is, I've gotten where I've gotten because people read my stories, because they reach into their wallet, get their hard-earned bucks and buy a book that I wrote. And it's allowed me to put my kids through college and to buy cars that are not on the installment plan, which is an amazingly -- I mean, I would do this for free, but because there are constant readers out there, I don't have to. And it's like a dream come true. So I try not to forget that number one on the thank you list are the people who read my books. I'm delighted that they're there.
REHMStephen King, his new collection of short stories is titled, "The Bazaar of Bad Dreams." More of your calls, comments, when we come back. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back. Our lines are filled. We've got tons of emails. We'll try to get to as many as we can. First this from Steven in Boon, North Carolina. He says, I'm wondering if Stephen King has reflected about the irony that he was almost killed by a car after he had written multiple stories about cars that try to kill. There's a second part to that email, which I'll get to after you answer that question.
KINGYes, the irony had occurred to me several times, and the only way that I know how to deal with something like that, I was hurt pretty badly, and...
REHMHow? How did it happen?
KINGWell, I was walking up a hill, and actually I walked for my health, which is funny when you think about it. And I owned a motorcycle, and my wife hated that, and she said, well, someday you'll probably be killed on that motorcycle. But I was walking when it happened. And a man came up over the hill, a guy with a lot of driving violations. And he had two Rottweilers in the backseat, and the Rottweilers were trying to get into a cooler because they smelled meat in the cooler.
KINGAnd instead of pulling over to separate the dogs, this man turned around, and he was trying to separate them. The car went off the road, onto the shoulder and came up over the hill, and I just never had a chance. I just -- I had time enough to move a little bit to my left, which probably saved my life, but most of the stuff on the right side of my body got smashed up. So sure, I've thought about it, and the only way I know how to deal with something like that, which was very painful and almost life-ending, is to write about it.
KINGSo I continued to do that, as well. And one of the stories that I wrote after the accident was called "From a Buick 8," which was about another killer car.
REHMTell me, has that accident left you with painful injuries even now?
KINGYeah, but I deal with them. I take aspirin twice a day, and I do a lot of walking and a lot of physical exercise because there was a lot of muscle atrophy, and there are a lot of clips and things that are holding various parts of me together. So I try to keep a sense of humor about it and a sense of perspective and think about how much worse it could've been. I could've been left in a wheelchair or turned into a sort of a vegetable in a brain trauma ward, but those things didn't happen.
KINGSo I fold it into my fiction and use it because experience is the grist of good stories.
REHMThe second part of his email says, also, I totally dig his book about writing. Thanks for that book.
KINGYeah, I wrote a book that's called "On Writing," and I tried to make it as simple as possible. I'd read a book when I was in high school by I think William Strunk that's called "The Elements of Style," and it remains the best book ever written for sort of a...
KINGYeah, as a style manual. And I wanted to write something about writing fiction that would be that simple and offer writers a toolbox. But, you know, the other thing I wanted to say in that book, Diane, is you can do this. You really can do this. If you set your mind to it, if you have a little bit of talent, and you're willing to work hard, you can do it. You might be able to make money, but even if you don't make money, you can have a whale of a good time.
REHMBut what is it that it really takes to become a writer?
KINGWell, you have to love reading. That's the first thing. You have to have learned the rhythms of story. It's not a question of copying another writer's ideas or plots or style. But to see what the rhythm is, what the build is like. You have to find your -- I call them bliss points. You have to find the stories, and everybody has them. You have them. I have them. The people who are listening can think of stories or novels that they read that lit up their mind, that were just brilliant things.
KINGAnd that's the kind of thing you love. That's the kind of thing you want to write. But you've got to read to find it.
REHMWell, there are many people who read and try to write, but it also take a fair amount of discipline to keep writing.
KINGYes, and you do have to sit down...
REHMBecause you may not like -- you may not like what you put on that page the first or second or 100th time. But you've got to keep at it. Did you at any point find yourself thinking this is no good, I'm going to give it up?
KINGWell, on individual stories, sure. I've still got a desk drawer that's full of stories that are incomplete, that are unfinished either because I lost interest or because I wasn't able to get that finishing kick the way that a racer gets it. I started two novels when I was teaching school, way back in the 1970s, and both of them went into desk drawers. One was called "Under the Dome," and the other one was called "11/22/63." And they had to sit around unfinished for 30 years before I felt I had enough ability and enough technical expertise to finish those books. I think anybody who wants to do this has to realize it's like that joke.
KINGYou know, the guy in New York City said to the beatnik, how do I get to Carnegie Hall? And the beatnik says, practice, man, practice. And that's the whole thing in a nutshell. You have to continue to write. You get better a little bit at a time. It's like anything else. But the thing is, if it's something that you love and something that's fulfilling you inside, you love to do it, you love that practice. If not, then my idea is you've got to find something else. You've got to get yourself an easel and some paints, or you've got to learn guitar or saxophone, writing isn't for you.
KINGBut if it is for you, you continue to work it, and even the failures can be a pleasure.
REHMNow what about instruction? Did you have instruction along the way, or were you simply moving within yourself to where you wanted to be?
KINGI understand your question. Writing can't be taught. It can only be learned. And that's not to say that teachers aren't important because the most important thing about writing in an academic environment, whether it's a writer's workshop, or whether it's creative writing classes in college, is being taken seriously because so many people say, oh, you want to write stories, that's really sort of a silly ambition.
KINGAnd I think that there are all kinds of people in the arts who could tell you stories about that kind of dismissive reaction. There are young actors who have heard, oh, you want to be an actor, well, that will never work, and nobody can do that. It's -- a class, a writing environment is a place where you can go and be sheltered from the naysayers, from the pessimists. People take what you're doing seriously, and I think that's a very important thing.
KINGBut as far as actually being able to teach writing, I've tried to do it, and it really can't be done. You can give editorial advice to somebody who's good, but somebody who just doesn't have that native talent, you can't inject it. There's no way to do that.
REHMSo did you sit in a class? Did you sit in a group where you were encouraged, or did you find within yourself that kind of courage to go on?
KINGBoth. I think I would've done it anyway, but it was immeasurably helpful to me and immeasurably comforting to me to have teachers, starting with the senior English teacher in high school and several teachers in college, who said that I was doing good work. On a practical level, when I was under the influence of William Faulkner's novels, which I discovered when I was a sophomore in college, and under the influence is exactly the right way to put it because the writing, the quality of his prose was so intoxicating that I felt drunk on it.
KINGAnd for a while, I wrote like him, and I wrote a story called "Queen of Spades" for a creative writing course, and my creative writing teacher gave me an A-plus on the story, which was good, but what was really good was he gave me the name and address of an agent in New York City and said, this is my agent, who sold some of my stories. I've written him a letter and said that you will send him stuff, and he will agent your fiction. So that was -- that's another -- there's a practical side to this, too.
KINGTeaching classes can lead to associations, and associations can lead to introductions, and sometimes that's a great thing.
REHMAnd was that the first story you had published?
KINGNo, it wasn't because the creative writing teacher who gave me the introduction to the agent, whose name was Morris Crane (PH), was fairly elderly, and before I could -- this is not funny, but in a way it is. Before I could send the guy my first stories, he died. He was in his 80s. Interestingly enough, Morris Crane was one of Harper Lee's confidantes so that he went back -- he was one of the old-school guys, and the first few stories and the first novels that I sold, I sold unagented.
REHMI see. To whom or what?
KINGMostly to men's magazines. There were magazines like "Cavalier" and "Adam" and "Dude" and "Gent." They were the sort of magazines where if you turned them sideways, a centerfold would fall out. And I wanted my mother to be proud of me, and so my wife Xeroxed copies of my stories, but she put little file cards over the ads for X-rated movies and various sex toys. It was -- so my mother got Xeroxes with these blank spaces, and she would say, how come part of these pages are blocked out? And I'd say, oh, mom, that was just because they were just ads, and they were distracting. I think she knew.
REHMYou mentioned Harper Lee. I want to ask you about the book that has just been published that many say she had written first and had never been published before. Have you read it?
KINGNo, I haven't read it yet. I've got it on the shelf. I'm not afraid to read it, and I don't mind the idea that Atticus Finch shows up in this new book as a Southern racist, what we would call a racist now, but certainly at that time he would've been -- he would've been seen as a fairly moderate to progressive Southerner. You have to put these things in the context of the times. And it did anger me quite a bit when I read all these reviews saying, oh, this book sort of shovels dirt on a great American classic, which is -- you know, "To Kill A Mockingbird" is a wonderful book, but it's also sort of an uplifting story that doesn't necessarily reflect the temper of the times the way that "Go Set A Watchman" does.
KINGHaving said that, I read a piece recently where correspondence between Harper Lee and Morris Crane, this was the agent that I didn't get because he died, where correspondence between the two has come to light. And he wrote her a long letter about the book, the manuscript that became "Go Set A Watchman" and said this shows a great deal of talent, but I believe you can do better, and I would shelve this one and start the story from another angle, which she eventually did, and that was the book that became "To Kill A Mockingbird."
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And let's see, finally to Kathy in Howell, Michigan. You're on the air.
KATHYHi, I'm 19. I'm a huge fan. My best friend and I have been reading your work since we were 10 or 11. And I wanted to ask you how you think your writing has changed from "Carrie" up through now, to what you're publishing currently.
KINGThat's a good question, and I think that when I look back on my early books, what I see is how fortunate I was to be paid to learn my craft. There are things in those early books that strike me as clumsy, and there are characterizations that seem a little bit shallow to me, but they have a great deal of forward motion, a great deal of energy that's a young man's energy so that I have a tendency to see, you know, it's like something's lost, and something's gained, not to sound like a Joni Mitchell song.
KINGBut really as you get older, you might lose some of your narrative drive, but you gain in terms of characterization and texture. So I think it's been a learning process over the years, and I just hope that I've entertained people while I learn my craft. And you never finish learning. You just go as far as you and continue to learn every day. I think that one of the things that I said in the introduction to this new book, "The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams," is that when it comes to writing stories, we're all amateurs. We're all learning our craft new with each new story.
REHMAnd each new story versus each new novel? Is there a difference?
KINGI think so. There's a refinement of style, and there's the constant battle to say new things, to explore. You get -- every writer, every artist gets a room in their head that's full of various items, and you only get so long to explore it, and the idea is to try to explore it fully and to watch out that you don't start to repeat yourself, or you don't start to phone it in. I think that the one great sin for a novelist is to just sort of write the same thing over and over and over again, and that's one thing I really don't want to do.
REHMStephen King, his latest book of stories is titled "The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams." What a pleasure to talk with you.
KINGIt's been a pleasure for me, too. I've really enjoyed this.
REHMThank you, Stephen, and thank you all for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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