Author Topic: Q and A with Stephen King  (Read 1627 times)

Offline Reginald Hudlin

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Q and A with Stephen King
« on: September 02, 2015, 07:00:47 am »
Can a Novelist Be Too Productive?: Q. & A. With Stephen King
SEPT. 1, 2015

Stephen King took questions from readers about writing and creativity based on his Sunday Review essay, “Can a Novelist Be Too Productive?” Here are his responses.

Q. I’ve read all of your books (many of them more than once) and always look forward to my Stephen King fix each year as new books arrive. In addition to telling new stories over the course of a long writing career, you also must invent new characters to inhabit those stories and move them along. How do you develop new characters, give them life, and avoid repeating yourself? — Cindy Proctor Young

A. The most important thing is to let the story shape the characters, the way life shapes the characters of real people. If the stories change, the people do, as well. With the exceptions of Roland Deschain (the Dark Tower series) and Bill Hodges (the Hodges trilogy), I rarely come back to the same characters. Meeting new people and watching them develop is like meeting new friends.

Q. Where did you acquire your sense of story, Mr. King? Your mastery of forward movement in your stories puts you into a class above most other writers, many of whom take years to determine what their books are about, how their characters will operate within their given environment, and where the events ultimately lead? Do you meticulously plan your books, or are they ideas that you flesh out as you are creating? — Stephen Beard, Troy, OH

A. I start with an interesting situation, and watch it develop — that’s the fun of it. In most cases I have an idea of the outcome, but I’m often wrong about that. Which is good. If I don’t know where the story is going, the reader won’t, either. As for acquiring a sense of story … man, it just came with the package. I take no credit for it.

Richard Matheson, the prolific sci-fi and fantasy writer. Credit Beatrice De Gea/Los Angeles Times, via Associated Press
Q. To what extent would you say that there is a literary tradition in which you participate? If there is one, is it solely American, and how far back can you trace its roots (what would you say its origins are)? I’ve heard Poe suggested as a progenitor of the genre in which you often write. I believe you yourself have suggested that Ray Bradbury and H.P. Lovecraft are predecessors of yours. It would be interesting to know (and I mean genuinely interesting) whether there are any other than white male authors who might be considered participants in this tradition. — Brad Rappaport

A. There is a horror lineage that I can trace back as far as Bram Stoker, but I never cared all that much for Poe. Lovecraft was an influence, but I lost interest in his “nameless horrors” during my 20s. The biggest influence on my work was Richard Matheson, who put horror in the suburbs, with people I knew. That was a huge deal for me. And yes, I’d consider myself more an American writer than a horror or suspense writer. I’m in love with the American language, and have been ever since I heard my grandfather say that ne’er do well who lived up the road “wasn’t worth a hang in a hangnail.” I’m not one to think about legacy, but I would like it if people said of me, “His writing faithfully reflected the America he lived in.”

Q. This essay is a stealth attack on culture. The author seeks to obliterate the distinction between genre fiction and serious literature—obliquely. He pretends not to have noticed that successful genre-fiction writers are routinely prolific; it’s part of the job description.

Consumers of genre fiction are relatively undiscerning. They don’t savor books; they gobble them and demand more immediately. They chain-smoke, so to speak, novels, and they don’t much care about literary finesse or art. The job of a genre-fiction writer is to feed this appetite, not to create lasting, carefully constructed works of significance.

Of course, some genre-fiction writers are more prolific than others (some astoundingly prolific) just as some writers of serious literature are more prolific than others. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the distinction between the two disciplines. The average genre-fiction writer is much more prolific than the average writer of serious literature and necessarily so. — Jake, Wisconsin

A. There are any number of unsupported postulates in this expatiation, most notably that consumers of genre fiction are relatively undiscerning. I could argue, but would it change Jake’s mind? I think not.

Q. What ... are your thoughts on ‘lost’ books being released by family/friends/caregivers after the author’s decline into mental illness or death - or someone taking over the writing process of, for example ‘The Dark Tower’ series, when you are no longer able to do so yourself. — Kim Louise Walton

A. I would never let another writer “take over” a series like the Dark Tower. When it’s done, it’s done. The decision to publish finished works if I became mentally incompetent would be in the hands of my wife and children, and I trust them. As I would trust any one of them to complete a piece of work that was close to the finish line.

Q. King is not in the same category with the literary authors he compares himself to; his books rarely provide new insights into human character or society or revolutionize novelistic aesthetics. But he is the one the finest, perhaps the best, leisure reading author of his generation. Pet Sematary impacted me so intensely that I had to call a friend at 3am to talk me down. That night was over 30 years ago and we still laugh about it. —Barbara, Westchester, NY

A. This is basically what I want from readers, to begin with: that visceral reaction. Come back to “Pet Sematary” again and read it to enjoy the language and the theme. It really does have one.

Q. My question is: when you identify something ... you think is a particular weakness, how do you, Mr. King, go about strengthening it? Have you? Like with this “love” problem you think you have? (Thank you very much for your writing, by the way.) — Brett, Washington, DC

A. In writing, the only way to deal with weaknesses is to isolate them. One can do this by reading critical reviews that all focus on the same negatives; if most critics are saying something is wrong, it probably is. It’s important to take editorial criticism, as well. Most of all, one has to look at one’s own work with a cold eye.

Q. What kind of chair do you use when you are writing? — Carlos Beto Rosero

A. I have an office chair with a pillow tucked into the back for support.

Q. My question: How do you think written fiction has been evolving to keep the next generation’s attention? What do you think has been gained and what lost? — Cheryl, Houston

A. I think the evolution of fiction is, by and large, a myth. Styles change, and now there is a great vogue for telling stories in the present tense, but the fundamental things apply as time goes by: interesting characters, language that lets us see the world in a new way, and stories that engage.