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Diamonds and Rust
April 21, 2011 9:07 AM   Subscribe

'Herman Wouk Is Still Alive' a new short story by Stephen King. Interview where, among other things, King discusses the origins of the story, his creative process in general, the status of the short story today, and his liking for Judas Priest.

I'm amusing this is the essay referred to in the interview
posted by fearfulsymmetry (59 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm amusing this is the essay referred to in the interview

i find stephen king to be quite assuming.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:14 AM on April 21, 2011


You had me at Judas Priest.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:15 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm amusing this is the essay referred to in the interview

A darkly amusing paragraph from that essay:

What’s not so good is that writers write for whatever audience is left. In too many cases, that audience happens to consist of other writers and would-be writers who are reading the various literary magazines (and The New Yorker, of course, the holy grail of the young fiction writer) not to be entertained but to get an idea of what sells there. And this kind of reading isn’t real reading, the kind where you just can’t wait to find out what happens next (think “Youth,” by Joseph Conrad, or “Big Blonde,” by Dorothy Parker). It’s more like copping-a-feel reading. There’s something yucky about it.
posted by philip-random at 9:24 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I still love his books (I just re-read It and Insomnia), but the more interviews and personal writing I read of his, the more I just like Stephen King as an person. He just seems like a good guy. He's smart, he's funny, he cares about his craft a lot (read On Writing), he likes Harry Potter for the story and hates Twilight for the characters, and seems to genuinely put a lot of things back into the community.

Maybe he's not everybody's style but he seems pretty okay with that too.
posted by Brainy at 9:33 AM on April 21, 2011 [22 favorites]


I'm dissapointed that this is not really about Herman Wouk.
posted by Jahaza at 9:39 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Stephen King is a national treasure.
posted by brand-gnu at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Since childhood, I've read just about everything he's written. He lost me, however, with The Colorado Kid. Sloppy.
posted by Shike at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2011


If anything, he's getting better with age. I really liked Duma Key and am now reading Under the Dome.
posted by orrnyereg at 9:53 AM on April 21, 2011


Just spotted him on the street in midtown Manhattan today. Weird! (King, not Wouk)
posted by adamms222 at 9:54 AM on April 21, 2011


I absolutely hate the gene he typically works in, but he's a good writer. It would not shock me to learn he was still being read a 100 years or more years from now when no one could tell you who Irving or Updike was.
posted by mojohand at 9:56 AM on April 21, 2011


genre, dammit.
posted by mojohand at 9:56 AM on April 21, 2011


I read this in the Atlantic when it came out and a few days later had a weird deja-vu when life imitated art and a mom drove her car into the Hudson river with the kids in the back.
posted by Lucubrator at 9:57 AM on April 21, 2011


As I've gotten older, more and more of the shelf space in the office is taken up with books on history, art, religion, science - you know, important stuff. Watchmen goes into a storage bin to be replaced with yet another Lincoln biography, that sort of thing.

I am amused, but not embarrassed to note that Mr. King still has a solid third of the available shelf space.
posted by Mooski at 10:02 AM on April 21, 2011


Stephen King is a national treasure.

So's Herman Wouk!
posted by COBRA! at 10:04 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think I have determined that life is not long enough to read any more of his doorstops, though the ones that i have read are fine enough, but I'll always have time for his short fiction.
posted by Artw at 10:18 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wrote him when I was small and he was not quite the juggernaut he became in the mid-eighties, asking how to get a copy of the then-rare (only five hundred copies) The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger. He sent something to me and I am fairly sure it was him because 1) I asked him some things only he would know, 2) professional secretaries hopefully will not type that badly.

I will probably always cut him a little more slack because of that.
posted by adipocere at 10:36 AM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think I have determined that life is not long enough to read any more of his doorstops

This is where I am with King, though I still think 'Salem's Lot is one of the best damn vampire novels ever. If he ever delivered that sequel he once promised, I'd break my King fast and read it. But, yeah, Night Shift? What a fine book of short stories. Work by work, I think King's a more effective writer of short fiction than long. Just thinking about "The Jaunt" makes me shiver to this day.

(You know who doesn't get enough love these days? Irwin Shaw, that's who. I mean, at his worst he was no worse than Wouk (or King) and at his best he really sparkled.)
posted by octobersurprise at 10:39 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I stopped reading his horror stuff some years back, but I still like his non-genre short pieces.

The Atlantic has officially started publishing fiction year 'round again starting with... Hey you guys, it's Stephen King!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:40 AM on April 21, 2011


Do not ever watch Creepshow 2, which contains the crappiest possible version of The Raft.
posted by Artw at 10:50 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is where I am with King, though I still think 'Salem's Lot is one of the best damn vampire novels ever. If he ever delivered that sequel he once promised, I'd break my King fast and read it.

Father Callahan and his story (including vampires) is in one of the later Dark Tower books. It's a lot to get through if you just want the vampires and the story is very different from 'Salem's Lot
posted by Brainy at 10:54 AM on April 21, 2011


I read this story when I was catching up on my Atlantic issues and it is currently haunting me. I find it very hard not to think about it whenever I'm driving on the highway.

I don't know how he manages to continue to both engage me as a reader with his often unappealing characters and unpredictable plots, and also frighten me at a visceral level.

King sometimes swings for the fences and misses, but his talent is pretty huge.
posted by bearwife at 11:01 AM on April 21, 2011


Just thinking about "The Jaunt" makes me shiver to this day.

LONGER THAN YOU THINK, DAD!!!

Sorry. Back to the article.
posted by tapesonthefloor at 11:03 AM on April 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Thanks, fearfulsymmetry. I don't love everything King writes, but, damn, sometimes he jacks directly into whatever primitive part of my brain wants to know "Oh my GOD, what happens next?" He can be a fine storyteller, whatever else his faults are as a writer.
posted by MonkeyToes at 11:04 AM on April 21, 2011


King does story better than just about anyone. I haven't loved everything he wrote (Duma Key fizzled out for me), but I can pick up one of his books with a sense of assurance that the next few days will be affected by his book. They influence the world around you like few other books do.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:15 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, and I really, really hope he's still writing the Shining sequel. The premise is fantastic.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:16 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


...and what is that premise PhoB?
posted by Brainy at 11:22 AM on April 21, 2011


One of the best things about getting an iPad is that it inspired me to (ahem) find ePubs of all the books of his I read when I was younger and go through them again. No way I could justify storing them, but having them to dive back into when a more recent book just becomes a chore is an amazing thing.
posted by Brainy at 11:24 AM on April 21, 2011


@Brainy: Doctor Sleep (novel)
posted by tapesonthefloor at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2011


That does sound pretty good, although so did Black House and then it wasn't that great, even if it did continue the Dark Tower
posted by Brainy at 11:44 AM on April 21, 2011


Black House may have tie-ins to the Dark Tower, but it's a sequel of the Talisman, my all time favorite King novel.

Nice post. I'm enjoying reading the interview more than the short story, though. I like Stephen King - have been reading his stuff since I was banned from reading it at the tender age of 12. I still remember that first one - Pet Sematary - and sneaking it into the house so my mom wouldn't catch me. Then staying up all night reading, too afraid to put it down and face the silence in my room. He really has mellowed a bit in his later books (Duma Key, The Dome, etc), and I find they don't pack the same punch as, say, The Shining, Christine or Cujo. But I keep reading them because coming back to his writing is like visiting an old friend (even if that old friend has scared the crap out of me over the years).
posted by routergirl at 12:01 PM on April 21, 2011


I love Stephen King, and I love a good interview. And I agree while his novels can be wonderful, when he gets a short story right (and he does quite often) he's among the best writers around, full stop.
posted by maxwelton at 12:04 PM on April 21, 2011


From the King story...

God’s grace looks intact every time it’s not you.

Nice line.
posted by marxchivist at 12:13 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stephen King - Awake the State Sarasota, Florida
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:16 PM on April 21, 2011


"[Rock Bottom Remainders] play music as well as Mettalica writes novels"- Dave Barry
posted by MtDewd at 12:18 PM on April 21, 2011


I like the story. King, despite his great wealth now, has always had empathy for "common people" and it is evident here.
posted by maxwelton at 12:27 PM on April 21, 2011


After seeing Creep Show, I can forgive Stephen King for pretty much anything.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:28 PM on April 21, 2011


Under the Dome was a good read, it reminded me of his earlier work. Full Dark, No Stars, though, is great, and even King says it's pretty dark compared to his usual. I think my favorite form for him is the novella.

Also check out his On Writing if you have any interest in the process at all. I haven't read all that many books on how to write, but of the few that's the best of them.
posted by Huck500 at 12:39 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Seconding tapesonthefloor.
I really like the guy, his talent is huge, but a short story from him should come with a warning: "Ending may run you over like a freight train".

Which is not a bad thing.
posted by djrock3k at 12:55 PM on April 21, 2011


Stephen King is so fucking prolific that I'd respect him even if I don't like every thing of his. Under the Dome is a good read, but for whatever reason he doesn't have an editor with enough cojones to talk to him about the parts that aren't working so great. Like the cute little kid dialogue. *gag*
posted by angrycat at 1:00 PM on April 21, 2011


But I keep reading them because coming back to his writing is like visiting an old friend (even if that old friend has scared the crap out of me over the years).routergirl

That's it, that's what I was thinking about trying to say. He has such a tone in his writing: folksy, easy to parse. I know it may read as un-literature to many, but he really can make you feel comfortable with it. And after reading so many books, it's feels not just comfortable, but well-worn.
posted by Brainy at 1:05 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


People keep saying to check out On Writing, and I wanted to mention that even if you don't read it, in the back is a list of books Stephen King recommends. I've read several of them and they've all been good. Some, like Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis, totally blew me away.
posted by routergirl at 1:21 PM on April 21, 2011


I just RTFA. I don't get the spine-tingly feeling very often anymore, so it was a little bit startling at first.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:59 PM on April 21, 2011


I really like the guy, his talent is huge, but a short story from him should come with a warning: "Ending may run you over like a freight train".


He's good enough with twists and shockers that I always felt like Dolan's Cadillac should have been put together differently.
posted by Hoopo at 2:20 PM on April 21, 2011


Under the Dome was the first long book of his that didn't work for me. It was okay, but was no It or Talisman.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:57 PM on April 21, 2011


And as far as his short work goes, I reread The Monkey every couple of years and still get creeped out every time.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 2:59 PM on April 21, 2011


Under the Dome was written in the 1970's and put away. He did edit and rewrite much of it, but that could be the reason it doesn't seem like his modern writing.
posted by UseyurBrain at 3:40 PM on April 21, 2011


King is too hit or miss for me, so I haven't really read anything past ... Insomnia? Somewhere around there. His good-to-botched-endings ratio isn't solid enough for me to safely feel like my reading time will be rewarded at the end. (Really, The Stand? That's how it all works out?)

I always feel like King fans should just cut out the middle man and go read Richard Matheson, whom King was tremendously influenced by.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:21 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't have a Stephen King story, but a friend of mine who grew up in Maine has a great one. Halloween, early 80s: my friend is a kid at the time and his family takes him up to King's house in Bangor (?) for trick-or-treating. King was at the peak of his popularity, or at least the beginning of that peak, so going to his house for Halloween was a Big Event.

They get to his house and there's a horrific scene: A big van is crashed into the front porch of the house, and rescue workers are surrounding it, trying to free the boy screaming at the top of his lungs for HELP! Blood is everywhere, as are body parts and gore. And around the corner, at the other end of the porch...

...is Stephen King, smiling, greeting the trick-or-treaters, giving out candy, totally oblivious to the carnage 20 feet away. The boy in question was one of King's sons (Joe Hill?). My friend said every year King would do something different, stage some Horror House-type scene at his house. I wonder how long King kept that up. Maybe he still does.

Funny guy.
posted by zardoz at 4:26 PM on April 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


I still love his books (I just re-read It and Insomnia), but the more interviews and personal writing I read of his, the more I just like Stephen King as an person. He just seems like a good guy. He's smart, he's funny, he cares about his craft a lot (read On Writing), he likes Harry Potter for the story and hates Twilight for the characters, and seems to genuinely put a lot of things back into the community.

I wish he liked Harry Potter a bit less but yeah King is one of the Good Guys. My shrink asked me to imagine my ideal life and it was basically his.
I found out that part of Castle Rock is Stratford,CT, which is where I spent some time as a kid. A nice connection.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:38 PM on April 21, 2011


I read my first Stephen King as a teenager—Salem's Lot in paperback (black cover with one red drop of blood). That, The Shining, and maybe Pet Sematary actually scared me. I no longer read his stuff as soon as it comes out. But if you read nothing else by him, read his collection of novellas Different Seasons. It contains "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption", "Apt Pupil", "The Body", and "The Breathing Method". The first three of those were made into movies: The Shawshank Redemption, Apt Pupil, Stand By Me, respectively. Of those, only the Apt Pupil movie wasn't excellent. The story, though, will get under your skin; moreso, I imagine, if you're a parent. Also, On Writing is very good—a lot of biographical stuff, in addition to the writing tips.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 5:14 PM on April 21, 2011


I've never not loved the man's novellas. It may be his ideal form -- long enough to let his story breathe, but short enough so it doesn't run out of steam.
posted by Pants McCracky at 5:21 PM on April 21, 2011


Zardoz that story is so creepy, given what ended up happening to King and the sort of stories he writes.

That short story was...yeah. Sad is putting it mildly. He has the knack for making you care about a character in a few pages.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:22 PM on April 21, 2011


King tells this story about a long-ago babysitter in his "On Writing," and I love the self-deprecating humor of it:

"Eula-Beulah was prone to farts--the kind that are both loud and smelly. Sometimes when she was so afflicted, she would throw me on the couch, drop her wool-skirted butt on my face, and let loose. "Pow!" she'd cry in high glee. It was like being buried in marsh gas fireworks. I remember the dark, the sense that I was suffocating, and I remember laughing. Because, while what was happening was sort of horrible, it was also sort of funny. In many ways, Eula-Beulah prepared me for literary criticism. After having a two-hundred-pound babysitter fart on your face and yell Pow! _The Village Voice_ holds few terrors."
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:25 PM on April 21, 2011


His good-to-botched-endings ratio isn't solid enough for me to safely feel like my reading time will be rewarded at the end.

A fucking SPIDER?!?!?!
posted by Artw at 5:28 PM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


At least in this one the van accident made sense in the story and wasn't just him reliving a traumatic experiance.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 6:10 PM on April 21, 2011


On Writing was a great little book and some of his shorts are brilliant. Never really got through any of his massive novels though, for no good reason other than they just didn't work for me. But King is a good guy.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:12 PM on April 21, 2011


Father Callahan and his story (including vampires) is in one of the later Dark Tower books.

I think you forgot to add "desecrated" or "ruined".

I feel silly about this, but anytime I fall in love with a book or series, and the author ruins the ending, I get upset.

Like many of the other posters, I loved a lot of King's earlier work like Salem's Lot and She stand, but I loved the dark tower series. At least up to the Song of Susanna.

What happened in the next several books was the destruction of a great epic fantasy series. I still can't figure out how the same person wrote all those books. All I know is the ending is wrong, and unfaithful to the series. I am completely, disproportionately upset about how King decided to finish those books.



Does anyone know where I can buy a reasonably priced sledgehammer?
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 9:37 PM on April 21, 2011


His endings are often kinda disappointing. As a kid, I used to think I didn't like them simply because the book was over. Now, I know that he just doesn't always know where he's going. But the rides are fun.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:45 PM on April 21, 2011


Man, the comments at the end of the story really made me appreciate MetaFilter and prove that even with correct spelling and full sentences, annoying comments can be the norm.

Some people's idea of a scary hell is something King would create - mine is a writing workshop populated by Atlantic commenters.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:23 AM on April 22, 2011


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