France Gives Stephen King a Royal Welcome
by Joan Z. Shore
Paris is the destination for all young, aspiring writers. So why did it take Stephen King so long to come here? — waiting until he was 66 years old and the acclaimed author of 50 books that have sold 350 million copies and spawned numerous films.
He can’t explain this, as he holds a press conference with nearly 200 fawning journalists on a rainy Paris afternoon. “I guess I felt dumb not speaking French,” he says with a shrug.
Nor can he explain where he gets his ideas for his extraordinary tales of horror. He grew up without television, so movies were his inspiration, and he says the emotional and visual impact of a story is still his focus. He says he never writes with a film in mind, yet several of his books were made into successful movies and have become embedded in American culture: “Carrie” and “The Shining” for example.
King works every day at his writing, but admits that “stories don’t come as frequently as they used to – in my 20’s and 30’s.” Also, as a younger man, he battled with alcoholism and wrote with a background of Heavy Metal music; today, he says, it’s more likely to be country music “and Heavy Metal for the re-writing!” He rarely works on more than one thing at a time: “It makes me crazy.” And he admits, “When you look back at the books you wrote, there’s some embarrassment, so it’s better not to look back at all.”
Asked about the surge of violence in films and television today, King says simply, “There are some people like time bombs. They would find other ways. Art imitates life and vice-versa.”
He thinks there is still an appetite for “a safe scare,” especially in the age group of 15 to 32, “because at that age, you feel bullet-proof! It’s harder at 50 or 60 when, like me, you’re scared of things like Alzheimer’s or dementia. I’m more interested in the experience of dying than I used to be because I’m closer to it.”
Just days away from the tragic Kennedy anniversary, King discussed his recent book, “11/22/63 A Novel” — a historical fiction about the assassination for which he had to hire a research assistant. “It wasn’t easy,” he admits, “but it was an interesting process. I love that book!”
He continues: “The assassination was one of those rare moments when someone, a little schmuck, got on the world stage. Sometimes someone gets lucky and the rest of us get catastrophically unlucky. It’s comforting to believe that things happen for a reason. But we don’t know what would have happened if Kennedy hadn’t been killed. I think in life there are more happy endings than unhappy endings. But it’s a very surrealistic moment in America right now. It’s a slow motion tantrum, where the two sides (Republicans and Democrats) won’t talk to each other.”
Asked about the self-publishing revolution and what it means for the future of literature, King is critical but resigned. “It’s Mommy Porn,” he says. “There’s really nothing you can do about it. There are no gate-keepers. “Fifty Shades of Gray” is very badly written, like so many of them, but has been a huge success. I can only say ‘caveat emptor’ — read a sample and decide for yourself.”
Although King admits he doesn’t know where his ideas come from, his ghoulish humor must be a constant inspiration. (He admitted he hoped to visit the Père Lachaise cemetery and “kiss the graves of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison”.) When a journalist asks him what is the most horrifying way to die, he reflects a moment, and then replies, “Having a heart attack right here!”
Then he adds, “But if one of you guys had a heart attack, that would be a novel!”