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Stephen King: The 'Craft' Of Writing Horror Stories

Jul 2, 2010 (Fresh Air)

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In the summer of 1999, writer Stephen King was nearly killed while taking his daily walk. A driver had left the highway and struck King as he strode along the gravel shoulder of Route 5 in Maine.

While recovering from his injuries, King worked on a book called On Writing. The book was both a reflection on his craft and his thoughts about the accident that required months of rehabilitation to repair his broken bones.

In a 2000 interview on Fresh Air, King described his life-changing accident to Terry Gross but said it didn't change the way he approached his writing.

"Obviously, it has given me some new things to write about and some new experiences to put in stories, and I've already begun that procedure," he explained. "Given a choice, if somebody had walked up to me and said, 'Well, Steve, you can continue to live the same old, boring, healthy life and you won't have any real, new experiences and you can retire at 55, or you can go for the car accident: You can get hit by the van and put in the hospital, and you'll get some new experiences and you can write until you're 60. Which do you choose?' And immediately I would say, 'Give me the boring life. I'll stop at 55.' So I do have some new experiences, and I probably will write some other things and go on for a while."

More than 350 million copies of King's novels and short story collections are in print. He received the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. His most recent titles include Dreamcatcher, Under the Dome, Just After Sunset and Bag of Bones. The 10th-anniversary edition of his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft will be released on July 6.

This interview was originally broadcast on Oct. 10, 2000


Interview Highlights

On his accident seeming familiar

"It all seemed familiar to me in the sense that there was nothing involved with the whole deal that I didn't expect, but the odd thing is that when you've been seriously hurt, there's a kind of numbing shock that sets in, and as a result, everything is — there's no surprise involved with any of the things that seem to go on. You just sort of — the things come and you deal with them. It's like being cast adrift and riding the waves."

On the nurses who took care of him

"You know, they'd all read Misery, and they worked for an outfit called the Bangor Area Visiting Nurses. These are nurses who go into the home and give home care. And I think one of them told me toward the end of the period, where I needed full-time nursing, that they had all read it, and they had all been called into the office by their superior and told in no uncertain terms, 'You don't make any Misery jokes.' "

On addiction

"If I thought anything was unfair about what had happened to me, it was that after struggling and winning a battle to get off all sorts and drugs and alcohol [before the accident] — [not only did I] have a problem with beer and cocaine; I was an addictive personality, period. I was smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. I loved Listerine. I loved NyQuil. You name it. Boy, if it would change your consciousness, I was all for that. And I was able to jettison almost all of those substances out of my life.

"And suddenly, you wake up in a hospital bed and you've got a phenyltol patch on your arm and you're jacked up on morphine and you've got all these different medications. I was as grossed out by that, I think, as I was by the injuries, thinking, 'My God, I'm a junkie again.' And the way that I deal with it, rightly or wrongly, is to try and make sure that you never exceed the dosage that you're supposed to have for things like Percocet or Vicodin ... and as long as you stay below the prescribed levels and as long as you're making a reasonable effort to get clean, that's a good thing to do. ... On the other hand, as other people say in those programs that I attend, 'I didn't get sober to suffer.' And if I'm in a situation where I'm miserable and medication will help that suffering, I'm going to take it."

On his religious beliefs

"I've always believed in God. I also think that's the sort of thing that either comes as part of the equipment, the capacity to believe, or at some point in your life, when you're in a position where you actually need help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement. 'I will believe in God because it will make my life easier and richer to believe than not to believe.' So I choose to believe. ... I can also say, 'God, why did this have to happen to me when if I get another step back, you know, the guy misses me entirely?' Then God says to me, in the voice that I hear in my head ... basically tells me to 'Get lost, I'm polishing my bowling trophies.' "

On purchasing the car that struck him

"I was in the hospital, mostly unconscious; my wife got a lawyer who's just a friend of the family. My son and his son went to school together, so we know him really well. And she got in touch with him and said, 'Buy it so that somebody else doesn't buy it and decide to break it up and sell it on eBay, on the Internet.' And so he did. And for about six months, I did have these, sort of, fantasies ... of smashing the van up. But my wife — I don't always listen to her the first time. But sooner or later, she usually gets through. And what she says makes more sense than what I had planned. And her thought was that the best thing to do would be to very quietly remove it from this plane of existence, which is what we did."

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