King of horror also knows about love
American novelist Stephen King is not just a horror specialist. If his new book, Lisey’s Story, is anything to go by, he also knows a thing or two about love.
The 59-year-old—famous for works including The Shining, Salem’s Lot, Misery, It and Carrie—is one of the world’s most successful authors, yet has not been to London for 10 years.
But he swung by the British capital this week to promote his new novel, which was largely inspired by his wife, Tabitha, and which he described as “very special to my heart”.
In the book, the heroine is the wife of a famous writer who after 25 years of marriage begins sorting through his office when he dies, becoming wrapped up in his dark and secret universe.
King, dressed simply in jeans and a pullover and with an intense look behind his round spectacles, denies the novel is autobiographical, highlighting the differences between Lisey and his own wife.
“I am not Scott and she is not Lisey,” he said. Lisey has no children while he and Tabitha have three; Lisey never went to university unlike Tabitha, who also has a “very rich cultural and mental life” and is not living in his shadow.
Yet he admits that Scott’s office resembles his, adding that if Tabitha, whom he also married 25 years ago, had asked him not to publish the book because it was too personal, he would have respected her wishes.
“For me, any kind of emotional fiction always proceeds from the same place—my own head and my own heart from my own experience,” he said.
As for the label “King of Horror”, Stephen King prefers the moniker “doctor of the emotions”.
“I am assaulting people, mugging them emotionally. My job is make you forget you had a date, my job is to make you burn dinner.
“If you read one of my books and turn off the light and you’re afraid there is something under the bed, it’s good. I win.”
But he’s just as happy to make the reader laugh. And with Lisey’s Story, a 500-page doorstop of a novel, one of the aims was to make people sad, he added.
That said, those who love horror and fantasy can rest easy: the new novel also has its dark and terrifying side. “It wouldn’t be a Stephen King novel if it was only about love and sweet things,” he said.
In 2002 King, who was still recuperating from a serious accident in 1999 and threatened by a degenerative eye condition that could have left him blind, announced he was giving up writing.
His career stretches back to 1974, when his wife fished out a manuscript of Carrie from the bin.
But all talk of retirement has gone. Even if he admits it is taking him longer to write, he has still published two novels this year: Cell in January, and now Lisey’s Story, which came out at the end of October.
“It feels like in many ways the best I have ever written,” he said. “Every day I sat down the story got stronger and stronger. The feelings got stronger and stronger. There is no way you can predict that. That’s the nature of the job.”
Of his wife, who has a lot in common with his novel’s heroine, he says: “She is my first critic. She reads everything that I do.
“I don’t necessarily believe in marriage. But I believe in monogamy. I believe in one man and one woman. When there is love, that should be it.
“That is so hard to communicate, with anybody. We’re so much alone, we’re so isolated in ourselves, that getting to know another person is a lifetime job.”
King refuses to say more. He’s a busy man yet refuses to have a cellphone. “You don’t own the cellphone. The cellphone owns you,” he said.
All the more time, then, to add to the nearly 60 novels and short stories he’s written in the past 32 years, 30 of which have been adapted for the cinema.
The books, translated into 33 languages in 35 countries, bring him on average $40-million a year.
“I’ve written big, thick books because I love to go to my imaginative world. I love to write stories. That’s why I have written so many.”—Sapa-AFP