stephen king: why master of horror doesn’t scare us

stephen kingStephen King.

If you ask what I know about him, I will only mention to you titles.

“Carrie,” “Firestarter,” “Stand by Me,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Secret Window,” these are movies I’ve seen growing up based on the novels by Stephen King.  I’ve also read two of his many books “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” and “The Dead Zone” which I really liked.  So I was delighted to come across this article about him in the newspaper which, instead of being thrown away after use, I decided to post it here because I really like Stephen King.


Stephen King:  Why master of horror novels doesn’t scare us

by Ruben V. Nepales
Only in Hollywood, Philippine Daily Inquirer

LOS ANGELES– “I don’t get [scared] all that much, really; I pass on the fears to the people who read my books,” Stephen King quipped with a smile in our recent interview via Skype. The author who has sold over 300 million copies of 70-plus books talked to us from the North Carolina set of “Under the Dome,” the hit TV series based on his novel. Silver-haired, bespectacled and looking benign and relaxed, Stephen is not at all what you might expect from the writer of those horror and suspense novels that have gripped us.

“When people ask about my childhood, I feel like it’s always a masked question—‘What screwed you up so badly?’” Stephen said, still grinning. “I had a fairly normal childhood [but] I had a big imagination. I still have nightmares. The nice thing about what I do is kind of psychoanalysis turned inside out. If you have fears and anxieties, you go to a psychiatrist and pay maybe $120 an hour to vent those fears.”

Laughing, he added, “I put my fears down on paper and people pay me to have a scare alone at night. So it’s good. I’m just there to enjoy scaring the s**t out of people.”

Stephen, who wrote the first episode of the second season of “Under the Dome” (he also serves as an executive producer alongside Steven Spielberg and Brian K. Vaughan, among others), explained, “When I’m writing something, I sleep very well. I get rid of the nightmares as part of the writing process… so that’s a terrific deal for me.

“When I’m not writing, I tend to dream a lot. Some of the dreams are very unpleasant. I have a theory that, once you train your mind to fantasize, you can’t turn it off. It runs on its own circuit so that if you’re not venting by writing stories or making things up, it tends to go under your subconscious and come out as dreaming.”

Giving an example of how story ideas come to him, he unintentionally cited how his imagination is wilder than most of us. “I remember being in France last November, going to some kind of public event. I was in an SUV, which was very high. We came to a stop light. A bus turned up right next to us. I looked out the window and there was this man with a little newspaper in the bus. I was thinking, this is interesting. I’m here and he’s less than two feet away but we’re in two different worlds, going in very different directions.

“I thought, what if it wasn’t just a man? What if it was a man and a woman and I look over and the man cuts the woman’s throat? I thought, that’s a story. I want to write that down. I had no idea what would happen in that story or where to go from there. It’s like being on roller skates and touching the bumper of a truck. You can just ride along behind it.”

And that’s why he’s Stephen King and we are not.

Deluge of ideas

The former high school teacher, who also worked once as a laborer at an industrial laundry, admitted that, when he was younger, he had more story ideas flooding his mind. “There was a time I had so many ideas in my head that, it felt like my skull would burst, literally. At that time, I almost hated working on a novel because it meant I couldn’t be working on another one.”

He cited a humorous parallel to penning novels. “It’s like being married; you have to be faithful,” he said, again breaking into a smile. “You see a beautiful woman and you say, ‘Oh, wow, look!’ You have that kind of experience working on a novel, too. You’re [writing] and everything’s going okay. Then one day, you say, ‘Oh my god, I have the most wonderful idea. I have to write this.’ Then you go, ‘No, you cannot go off with the new mistress.’ ”

Woody Allen told us once that he jots down story ideas on pieces of paper and puts them in a drawer. Not Stephen. “It seems to me that keeping a notebook of ideas is a way to keep really bad ideas. If it’s a bad idea, you’ll forget about it; if it’s a good idea, it will stick around. If you asked me at 40, did I have a drawer full of ideas, I’d have said, ‘Yes, I do.’ Now at 66, the ideas still come and I’m thankful… but not at the same speed and without the same kind of hit-by-lightning (impact).”

There’s one book series that he’d like to revise if he had the chance: “I should rewrite all ‘The Dark Tower’ books because they’re really one novel. They were produced almost without editing. I would really like to go back and pick up all those inconsistencies, speed up some of the action, add things and take things away. But there wouldn’t be huge changes.”

Not surprisingly, Stephen said he’s a voracious reader. “I read pretty much anything that I can get hold of. I like fiction. I read some nonfiction and sometimes, I’ll read it if I have to do research. But fiction is what I love. I like suspense fiction. I just discovered Harlan Coben. I like him a lot. I’m on an Emile Zola kick. I had never read Zola before and I was like, where has this guy been? Well, he’s been dead for 100 years but he’s terrific.”

Quirky, eclectic

We told him that we miss reading his Entertainment Weekly (EW) column, “The Pop of King,” which ran from 2003 to 2011, because of his quirky, eclectic taste in film and TV, as reflected in his year-ending Ten Best Lists. One of Stephen’s first jobs was writing an entertainment column for the newspaper of University of Maine at Orono, his alma mater. “I’ve always been interested in popular culture—every aspect of it—movies, books, TV shows, music but also what kids are wearing,” he said.

“I’m interested in TV ads,” he pointed out with a chuckle. “It’s the just the way I’m built. I love movies. I try not to call them films because ‘films’ seem silly to me. I like movies and I enjoy writing about them. I feel like I can write about them and about TV in a way that I can’t write, for instance, about music because to me, music seems almost indescribable.

“Doing the Ten Best Lists was tough because I never saw a movie that I absolutely hated. There’s only one movie I’ve walked out on in the last 20 years and that was ‘The Transformers’ movie. That was the most ridiculous thing that I had ever seen. It was wildly stupid and I lost track. But mostly, I find something that I like in everything.”

On his 2013 list of best films, which he still did for EW, Stephen said, “I can’t remember everything that was on that list—‘Blue Jasmine’ was, and ‘American Hustle’ which I thought was absolutely terrific.” He dished, “I usually put a movie on my list that has Jason Statham.”

Asked about his oft-stated dissatisfaction with Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining,” Stephen was firm: “My opinion of ‘The Shining’ really hasn’t changed. I don’t think it’s a very good movie. It’s beautiful to look at but you can say the same thing about a perfectly maintained Cadillac whether you have a motor in it or not. It’s cold. I felt that in the novel, Jack Torrance, the main character, had an arc if you saw the tragic hero in the sense that he’s trying to do the right thing for his family. Little by little, he’s drawn to a point where he snaps. I had a very clear image (of Torrance) taking a piece of metal and bending it back and forth, back and forth until it snaps.

“By the same token, I had a picture of his wife as a conventionally pretty woman who had a real heart, soul and courage inside. I wanted Wendy Torrance to sort of look like a pretty woman who had been a cheerleader, say, in high school and college, who had a really remarkable soul. I thought that Kubrick created the kind of characters that Jack Nicholson had been channeling in some of the motorcycle movies.

“Shelley Duvall (as Wendy) was sort of an antifeminist caricature, a scream machine. I had problems with that but, mostly, I felt that [the movie] was more style than substance.”

Other adaptations

Several of his books that have been adapted successfully to the big screen include “Carrie,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” “Stand By Me” and “The Dead Zone.”

He is deeply involved in CBS’ “Under the Dome,” which stars Mike Vogel, Rachelle Lefevre and Natalie Martinez, and expands on his book premise about how a mysterious and invisible force traps a small town.

Writing runs in the King family. “I have two sons who write novels,” he said proudly. “Joe Hill has published three novels and Owen has published one novel and two books of short stories. They have these wonderful ideas.” He also has a daughter, Naomi, with his wife of 43 years, Tabitha, a writer whom he met in college.

Stephen almost turned his back on writing about 15 years ago. “I had a bad accident in 1999. A van hit me and I nearly died. I’m really grateful that I got to come back. I turned into a human cabbage because I hit my head pretty hard. In 2002, I was still in a lot of pain. Creative flow and writing was difficult. I was not in a happy place. I thought, probably the best thing to do was retire. The one thing I don’t want to do is overstay my welcome, when it gets old and I feel as though I have said everything I have to say. I want to very quietly leave. I felt like that time had come in 2002. Then my body did a miracle. I became interested in my craft again. The ideas started flowing and here I am.”

King with "Under the Dome" actors, Mike Vogel (left) and Colin Ford (Photo courtesy CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

King with “Under the Dome” actors, Mike Vogel (left) and Colin Ford (Photo courtesy CBS Broadcasting Inc.)

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