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Stephen King talks about crime, creativity and new novel

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Stephen King doesn't think of himself as a horror writer.

“My view has always been you can call me whatever you want as long as the checks don't bounce,” King told The Associated Press during a recent telephone interview. “My idea is to tell a good story, and if it crosses some lines and it doesn't fit one particular genre, that's good.”

Readers may know him best for “Carrie,” “The Shining” and other bestsellers commonly identified as “horror,” but King has long had an affinity for other kinds of narratives, from science fiction and prison drama to the Boston Red Sox.

Over the past decade, he has written three novels for the imprint Hard Case Crime: “Joyland,” “The Colorado Kid” and “Later,” which came out this week. He loves sharing a publisher with such giants of the past as James M. Cain and Mickey Spillane, and loves the old-fashioned pulp illustrations used on the covers.

At the same time, he enjoys writing a crime story that is more than a crime story — or hardly a crime story at all.

“Joyland" is a thriller set around an amusement park and could just as easily be called a coming-of-age story. “The Colorado Kid” has a dead body on an island off the coast of King's native Maine, but otherwise serves as a story about why some cases are best left unsolved.

“It's the beauty of the mystery that allows us to live sane as we pilot our fragile bodies through this demolition derby world,” he writes in the book's afterword.

His new novel has a lot of crime in it but, as King's narrator suggests, it might actually be a horror story. Jamie Conklin is looking back on his childhood, when he was raised by a single mother, a New York literary agent. Like other young King protagonists, Jamie has special powers: He not only can see dead people, but when he asks them questions, they are compelled to tell the truth.

“Later” also features a best-selling novelist and his posthumous book, and a police detective who for a time is the girlfriend of Jamie's mother.

The 73-year-old King has written dozens of novels and stories, and usually has three to four ideas that “are half-baked, kind of like an engine and no transmission." He doesn't write ideas down because, he says, if something is good enough, he's unlikely to forget it.

For “Later,” he started with the idea of a literary agent who needed to get her late client's manuscript finished, and thought of having a son who communicates with the dead. He then decided the mother needed a companion.

“And I thought, ‘You know what, I’m going to make the love relationship female.' Then I thought to myself, ‘Cop,’ and the cop is dirty and everything fell into place," he says.

King, who publishes most of his work with Simon & Schuster, is part of the founding story of Hard Case Crime. Back in 2004, Charles Ardai and Max Phillips were launching a line of books to “revive pulp fiction in all its lurid mid-century glory." Hoping for some publicity, they wrote to King and asked for a blurb. A representative for the author called and said King did not want to write a blurb for Hard Case Crime; he wanted to contribute a book. That became “The Colorado Kid.”

“I sat on the other end of the phone while this sank in and tried to sound cool, like this was the sort of phone call I got every day and twice on Fridays,” Ardai wrote in an introduction to “The Colorado Kid,” which came out in 2005. “But inside I was turning cartwheels.”

King's passions also include politics and current events, and over the past few years, he regularly tweeted his contempt for President Donald Trump. But he doubts that Trump's loss to Democrat Joe Biden will have an effect on his work. Fiction has been an “escape” from politics, he says, not a forum.

And though he has written a famous novel about a pandemic, “The Stand,” he passed on a chance to write about COVID-19 in a work of fiction coming later this year, “Billy Summers." He originally set it in 2020, but decided instead on 2019.

 

Stephen King quotes

SEARCHING FOR ‘STEPHEN KING’

“I have Googled my own name, and I love to see all the sorts of stuff that comes in. It’s a popular name in Australia, and there a lot of people with that name there who have been doing crimes: Stephen Kings who have set houses on fire and Stephen Kings who are bank robbers. That sort of thing. What I (also) see more and more are obituaries where so and so died at age 89 and he was a ‘big fan of Stephen King novels.’”

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SPECIAL GUESTS

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“Jill Biden showed up at a public event that I did. She was in the crowd, and she came backstage and had a couple of books she wanted signed for her and Joe. One time, I’m doing a reading in Seattle, and I’m looking at the crowd, 70-80 people. And I’m looking at this guy in the front row and he’s wearing workout pants, with a stripe down the side, and sneakers. And I’m thinking, ‘That guy looks really familiar.’ He was the lead singer of Pearl Jam (Eddie Vedder)."

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MAGIC CHILDREN

“When I was writing ‘It,’ there was a 5-year-old kid, he was on my street in Bangor. He was sitting on the edge of the street and he had a stick and he was drawing in the dirt and talking to himself. And it looked like a kid who might be unconsciously summoning demons. And I thought to myself, ‘If I did that, if I sat down in the dirt with sticks and drew, the men in the white coats would come and take me away.’ We allow kids to be crazy. We allow kids to see whatever it is they see.”

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PANDEMIC FICTION — STORY IDEA

“(What about) an alien invasion where the aliens seem to look like us, but have these tentacles and other metal things — and the masks would cover them up?”

 

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