He scares everyone — including himself
by Phil Thomas
Even in the heat of summer, Stephen King never sleeps without a cover.
“I know there is nothing under the bed,” he says. “But I also know that if I keep my legs covered, a cool hand won’t reach up and grab my ankle.”
“It doesn’t hurt to take precautions.” King, a 32-year-old best-selling author, doesn’t think much of groping in the dark for a light switch, either. “Suppose a hand took your hand and put it on the switch,” he muses.
Supernatural and horror his trade
Horror, suspense, the supernatural play large roles in his novels and short stories.
“Carrie,” he says, “dealt with a girl who had telekinetic powers. By using her mind-over-matter powers she could, for example, make this ash tray jump across the table without touching it physically.
“Salem’s Lot was a vampire story, while The Shining deals with a hotel that has evil powers, and The Stand is about the end of the world as we know it — civilization destroyed by a flu virus.” The 20 stories in Night Shift cover most aspects of the macabre.
“The major thing I try for in my work,” the husky, bearded King says, “is to achieve a unified vision of what happens to ordinary people in extraordinary situations — what happens to people under stress.
“Actually, we all are extraordinary people, but we lead ordinary lives. Now, what I try to do is show what happens to that ordinary guy when he is first forced to the uneasy, then to the unpleasant, and finally to some kind of lunacy.
“For example, I’m working on a story now about a guy who goes to his small town’s restaurant every afternoon for coffee. One day he goes in and a different waitress takes his order. When he asks about the other waitress, the new one denies there ever was such a person. That’s a frightening situation. How does a person cope with it?
“In my work, I start with a completely ordinary situation and I push it little by little over the line. There’s a hem there, of course, but it’s up to the writer to sew that hem between the real and the unreal so that the reader isn’t aware that he’s moving from what could happen into what couldn’t possibly happen.”
King, whose first major success was “Carrie,” says he thinks people buy his books “because they like to be scared.”
“It’s no fun if you are really scared, but it is fun when you can be scared by someone else’s fear. Pain is interesting if it isn’t our pain. I think reading these things gives the readers feeling of catharsis. In fact, that’s exactly what it does.”
Teaching on the side
King lives in Maine with his wife and three young children. He says he began writing seriously and submitting stories when he was about 12. “But it wasn’t until I was 18 that I sold my first story — a horror story, of course. I was teaching when Carrie came out and made me enough money to quit.
“I like teaching, but it’s a pressure occupation, and for me it’s hard to write while I’m teaching because teaching sucks the energy out of me.”
Despite this, King agreed to be writer in residence at the University of Maine at Orono for a year ending in June. He teaches writing and literature nine hours a week. He returned to teaching because “being alone just writing, I felt I was getting stale. I had to meet people with new ideas, I needed something to shake up my thoughts.”
King says he has a book coming out late this year called Dead Zone.
“I’d rather not say what it’s about,” he says, “except that it’s creepy. I’m also working on a book that has a psychic feel to it, bad psychic manifestations, really dangerous. And I’ve got a lot of ideas on my mental shelf. It’s sort of like putting up preserves, each has a label on it, and each will someday be a story or a novel.”