King is more than monsters

Horror writer Stephen King's new collection, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams, showcases his stylistic range

NEW YORK• • There is a story Stephen King cannot resist telling. He was shopping for cinnamon buns and potato chips one day when a woman approached him.

She told him that she did not care for horror stories like the ones he wrote and preferred uplifting stories, such as The Shawshank Redemption. When King told her he wrote that, too, she did not believe him.

If there are any lingering doubts about King's stylistic range, they should be put to rest by his new collection, The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams, which features 20 stories that seem to touch on every genre imaginable, except for romance. There are crime and horror stories, a narrative poem and a grim western, along with realistic stories about marriage, ageing and substance abuse.

The collection also functions as a companion of sorts to his 2000 book On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft.

In his new book, King introduces each story, describing how he got the idea and what inspired him.

  • Stephen King's new collection The Bazaar Of Bad Dreams features 20 stories and touches on every genre imaginable, except for romance. The book is available for order from Books Kinokuniya at $50.69.

The catalyst for one, The Dune, about a sand dune where the names of people who are about to die appear, came to him all at once when he was walking his dog on a beach in Florida.

Others came from equally unlikely sources: a glimpse of a woman sitting on a bus, losing a bet with his son, eating lunch with his wife at Applebee's and seeing a man cutting up his older dining companion's steak. Another, The Little Green God Of Agony, was drawn from his near-fatal road accident in 1999 and his long recovery.

"When readers come to a short story or a novel, the writer disappears completely, and that should be the case in the story, but it's sort of fun to be able to talk about where the story came from," King said. "It was a pleasure to talk about the craft again."

In a telephone interview, he spoke about what scares him and why he would like to be known for more than horror stories. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

This collection seems to showcase your stylistic range. Was that an intentional effort, to emphasise the diversity of your work?

It was. I wanted to try to spread across this whole spectrum of different things that I'm able to do.

And I guess part of that might have been a subconscious reaction to the idea of being dismissed as a horror writer and as the guy who does the monsters.

I am the guy who does the monsters, but that doesn't mean I can't do other things as well.

You're in an incredibly prolific phase. What do you think is driving your creativity at this late stage in your career?

I'm not as prolific as I used to be. There was a time when I published four books a year. As a college student, I had so much in my head that I had migraine headaches.

Right now, I'm always happy if I have two or three ideas bouncing around that seem tasty.

One of the stories was sparked by your near-fatal accident in 1999, when you were walking and were hit by a van. But in the introduction, you say that you're "not in the business of confessional fiction" and that this story turned into a horror story instead. Why are you opposed to confessional writing?

You use your experiences to make the fiction more real to the reader. You rely on things that you absolutely know because that gives you the bedrock to stand on when you write the fiction, and I knew about pain.

Pain is one of those things like sexual ecstasy that's very difficult to write about unless you've experienced it. I knew about the therapy and how much it hurts, and I did want to write about that from the standpoint of some guy who didn't want to go through the pain to get the positive benefit of it. And then it turned out that this guy really did have this sort of demonic creature inside of him. That was kind of cool.

I don't live that interesting a life. All I can do is take pieces of my own experience or even stuff from my reading or viewing and put them in a story that I think will entertain people. That's the main job - to entertain people - and confession can get boring after a while.

I guess that's why I can't see myself ever writing a full-blown memoir. I'm not sure anybody would want to read it.

What made you want to write scary stories in the first place?

Nothing. There are certain minerals, for lack of a better word, buried in our nature that come with the DNA and that are part of the original equipment.

For me, I was about eight or nine years old, and my brother and I were going through some stuff that my mother had in this crawl space in an apartment in Stratford (Connecticut), and there were boxes and boxes of my father's stuff.

There was a bunch of paperbacks and one of them had a cover that showed this green monster crawling out of an open grave.

My brother didn't want anything to do with that, and I looked at that and thought, "That's mine." I want to know what that's about.

As a kid, I went to see every horror movie I could possibly see. Sometimes my brother went with me. My brother's two years older and he would put his hat over his face. I never put my hat over my face.

What are you most afraid of?

Everything? Death, but not even death so much as Alzheimer's, premature senility. My idea of a horror movie is Still Alice.

The things that scare me or interest me over the years are less drive-in movie horror stuff, and more, what can you find in real life that scares the devil out of you?

You certainly have a talent for scaring people.

But I want all the people who don't like to be scared. I want to welcome them in a gentle way and then scare them. I want to get them in there, where they can't get out.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 02, 2015, with the headline 'King is more than monsters'. Print Edition | Subscribe