Stephen King interviewed by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has published the unabridged text of an interview he did with Stephen King for the Sunday Times (an abridged copy is also available somewhere behind the Times's paywall). Gaiman really gets at the core of what King does, and offers a glimpse into what makes him tick:

I never thought of myself as a horror writer. That’s what other people think. And I never said jack shit about it. Tabby came from nothing, I came from nothing, we were terrified that they would take this thing away from us. So if the people wanted to say “You're this”, as long as the books sold, that was fine. I thought, I am going to zip my lip and write what I wanted to write. The first time that anything like what you’re talking about happened, I did this book Different Seasons, they were stories that I had written like I write all of them, I get this idea, and I want to write this there was prison story, “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, and one based on my childhood called “The Body,” and there is a story of this kid who finds a Nazi, “Apt Pupil”. I sent them to Viking, who was my published my editor was John Williams – dead many long years - terrific editor – he always took the work dead level. He never wanted to pump it. I sent them Different Seasons, and he said well, first of all you call it seasons, and you have just written three. I wrote another one, “The Breathing Method” and that was the book. I got the best reviews in my life. And that was the first time that people thought, woah, this isn’t really a horror thing.

I was down here in the supermarket, and this old woman comes around the corner this old woman – obviously one of the kind of women who says whatever is on her brain. She said, 'I know who you are, you are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.'

“And I said, 'I wrote that'. And she said, 'No you didn’t'. And she walked off and went on her way.”

Neil Gaiman's Journal: Popular Writers: A Stephen King interview. (via MeFi)

(Image: 326, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from superba_'s photostream)


  1. Yes, it’s true that King has written more than just horror, but there’s a reason he got pegged as such — for a while in the mid 1980s (not a great time in his life, I understand) he was writing the same “small town gets infested with monsters” novel over and over again.

    1.  I’m not sure that’s what he was saying.  I take it as, he’s a writer – he writes the stories that he wants to tell (and is lucky/skilled enough to get paid well for it).  He didn’t stop and say “I’m a horror writer, so I’m only going to tell these stories.”  Classification and genre are things non-creatives place upon creatives.  i.e: you’re a horror writer, you’re a comic book guy, etc.  Creatives are better served starting from a more pure place.  What story do I want to tell?  How do I want to tell it?  What do I want to make?  Genre definitions and the boxes one gets marketed under is best left for the people that sell your stuff and those who write internet comments.

      I don’t think anyone with a well adjusted sense of self even minds the labels put on them until the people that sell or buy their stuff tell them they can’t do something.  I.e: “No you can’t put out this folk album because you’re a heavy metal musician.” Or, “you can’t write a dramatic contemporary novel cause you’re a comic book guy.”

      1. I think what Jonathan Badger is trying to say is that the label, although not explicitly endorsed or requested by King, was a direct result of the sort of stories he chose to write and publish at a certain period of time. Whether he liked it, wanted it or even knew it at all, at times he was a bit of a formulaic horror writer, which is a fair critique. It’s easy to speculate this was because of fear and pressure about maintaining a certain level of income, as he’s said several times and here again, bowing to commercial pressure and ruining his health in the process.

        Nobody said or implied he couldn’t or shouldn’t write anything else — in fact, my literature teacher in high school wished he’d put his incredible talent “to better use” (i.e. in different genres) more often, which he eventually did. 

    2. “for a while in the mid 1980s (not a great time in his life, I understand) he was writing the same “small town gets infested with monsters” novel over and over again.”

      Okay, here’s the thing. That’s what YOU heard about.

      What I read is that that does not == what he was doing / what he does / all he did

  2. It’s great to hear that he seems, to Gaiman at least, to be healthy, recovered from the year of hell after getting run down by the van.

  3. That old woman story is laff-out-loud funny :) I’m pretty sure that King writes mostly because he is compelled to. You’d probably have to kill him to make him stop. And that might not necessarily do  the trick……

  4. Interesting to read that he’s considering doing a full-story pass over the entirety of the Dark Tower series, possibly taking out the parts where he’d written himself into the story. On the one hand, I always hated King himself being in those books. On the other, later-life revisions sometimes don’t go so well.

  5. Can anyone suggest the best King stories from the last 20 years? I kinda “left him” after “Dolores Clairborne” for various (unrelated) reasons.

    1.  I’d recommend Nightmares & Dreamscapes, Desperation/The Regulators (they are companions to each other), Black House (especially if you’ve already read the Talisman – if not, do yourself a favor), Everything’s Eventual and maybe Cell if you aren’t burned out on fairly stock-standard zombie fiction.

      1.  Except in The Cell, he just gives up and doesn’t even attempt a resolution.  That was cheating, Uncle Stevie.

  6. I’m thinking King probably has the Asimov view on this now.
    When Asimov was asked by Barbara Walters what he would do if he only had six months to live,his answer was ” type faster “.
    But unlike Isaac,King will never have books in 9 out of the 10 classifications in the Dewey decimal system.
    Then again,nobody ever will.

  7. If you’re a King fan & not quite a Sons of Anarchy watcher, check out the episode in season 3 in which he appeared briefly as a cleaner named Bachman. Nailed it.

  8. Could never get into King’s writing style. I invariably lose interest within a capter or two. Never could quite wrap my head around his popularity, but he’s obviously doing something right for many people who aren’t me.

    1. I didn’t think I liked King’s style, but Misery totally hooked me. It’s still arguably horror, but psychologically much more complex than I was expecting. The characterization felt so real that it drew me in, in spite of my misgivings.

  9. The guy can tell a story, ya gotta give him that. Rarely pick him up anymore, but when I do (gift, e.g.), I can’t put him down until the last page.

    I had to stop buying his books after “Pet Sematary”. As a new parent, that was a tough read. Still, read straight to the (gruesome – doubt that’s a spoiler!) end.

  10. My favourite King novel is the Eyes of the Dragon.  I’ve read plenty of his stuff, especially a lot of his earlier stuff, but Eyes of the Dragon – for me – was great.

  11. The Stand – unabridged version.  I’ve read it four times.  I am a real fan of Stephan King’s ability to “set the scene.”  

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