James H. Burnett III
It did not surprise author Stephen King in the least when, during a recent conference call with reporters, the first question asked was how he would do things differently if starting his writing career today. (It’s a popular theme to ask him to compare his past life to a hypothetical current or future one, he explained later.)
King, 65, and the author of more than 50 books of horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy, began his answer by saying, “First of all I’d have to imagine myself starting young instead of in my mid-60s. That would shorten my career considerably!”
The occasion for the conversation with the Maine native and unapologetic Red Sox fan was King’s selection as the inaugural guest for the new Chancellor’s Speaker Series at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. At Friday’s event, “A Conversation with Stephen King,” he will read from his books, take audience questions, and chat with best-selling author and moderator Andre Dubus III, who teaches in the university’s English Department, about the craft of writing.
King said he and his wife, Tabitha, also an author, will endow a new scholarship fund at the university, financed partly by donating his Speaker Series fee.
But back to the question at hand, King said that, were he to begin his career today, it would start in much the same way it did several decades ago, because regardless of age, “people have a hunger for things that are scary, for the fantastic wedded to everyday life and everyday things.”
One of the best examples, King said, of that notion in today’s entertainment world is the television show “The Walking Dead,” which pits average Joes and Janes against flesh-eating zombies. “It’s interesting putting yourself in the place of someone who’s having experiences that are totally out of the ordinary, but in an ordinary setting.”
That hunger is also why his classic first novel, “Carrie,” about a bullied teenage girl with telekenetic powers who takes murderous revenge on her classmates, still resonates.
A remake of the 1976 movie based on the book is slated to come out next year, King noted. The new film stars Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role, with Julianne Moore as her mother. It will be the second remake; there was also a 2002 TV movie.
“In the case of ‘Carrie,’ it was a good book to start with. It was the case of a misfit. And everybody [has] felt that way at one time or another. In that sense it was really universal,” King said.
Asked how fear serves as a motivator for him, King was quick to point out that he’s never called or necessarily considered himself a horror writer. “You can call me whatever you want as long as the checks clear,” he joked.
But for decades fear has motivated him beyond his manuscripts and into his everyday life, particularly through his family’s habit of watching cable news channels and discussing and debating what they see.
That angst, over things from bizarre crimes in the States to discord between Israel and Palestine, is a form of fear that motivates King and his family to talk about the wackiness of the world.
King says all emotions, fear included, should spark creativity in people.
Fear of the unknown, he says, is one of the things that drove him to accept an offer from longtime friend singer-songwriter John Mellencamp to coauthor a musical.
“Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” a tale of tragedy set in the South, debuted in Atlanta in May.
“I like a challenge,” King said with a chuckle.