An Amazing Authors Showcase Exclusive
In its entirety
AN INTERVIEW WITH
Janet C. Beaulieu
This interview was given November 17, 1988, at King's office in Bangor, Maine. Portions have previously been published in The Bangor Daily News and in Castle Rock: The Stephen King Newsletter. Most of the interview has remained unseen anywhere -- in print or the World Wide Web. Nowhere has it ever appeared in its entirety.
The interview focuses on The Dark Tower as can be assumed from the date the interview was given. Don't let that fool you. It is a very candid interview and much can be learned about Stephen King -- the man, the author, the person.
We would like to express our graditude and many thanks to Stephen King and Janet Beaulieu for bestowing the honor of allowing the Amazing Authors Showcase to publish this interview for your reading pleasure.
AN INTERVIEW WITH
Janet C. Beaulieu
[I sit down and turn on my tape recorder -- just to make sure I don't forget something important. King sits down and begins working his way through an enormous stack of tip sheets that have to be signed, one by one.]
JB: Why didn't The Dark Tower come out in a mass-market hardcover back in 1982? Why such a small release and such a long time before wide distribution?
SK: Well, there were really two reasons. One was I didn't think anybody would want to read it. It wasn't like the other books. At least the first volume didn't have any firm grounding in our world, in reality. It was more like a Tolkien fantasy of some other world. The other reason was that it wasn't done; it wasn't complete. I had a volume of work, and it was like "peg-legged," it was there, inside its covers, I guess you'd say, it made a certain amount of sense, but there was all this stuff that I wasn't talking about that went on before the book opens, and when the book ends, there's all this stuff to be resolved, including: what the hell is this all about? What is this tower? Why does this guy need to get there? And the rest of it. Have you read the second volume, The Drawing of the Three?
JB: No, I haven't.
SK: Hold on one second. [pause] Here, take this. [Hands me a hardcover copy of The Drawing of the Three.] You can have it. When you read that, everything starts to make more sense.
JB. Wonderful. I like this very much.
SK: I like it, too.
JB: I can't quite figure out why, but there's a quality that's in that book that I haven't seen in any of the others.
SK: It's big. It's overblown. There are all these gigantic archetypes. At least this is what appeals to me about it. The concerns that it has aren't small concerns, and there's a lot of mystery sort of surrounding it. Everything's blown up to the size of a spaghetti western, almost, one of those wide-screen epics that Clint Eastwood used to be in before he got to be a big star, where they're absurd and they're wonderful at that same time. Have you ever seen one of those Leonie westerns?
JB: A long, long time ago.
SK: The little western town - Main Street - looks twice as wide as Fifth Avenue, and looks as long as a freeway, and they have these gigantic close-ups on people's faces - I just really like that mythic quality to those things, and I tried to put some of that in there.
I sat down, and I was at what they called the Springer Cabins - they're gone now - they're down by the Stillwater - when I was a student at the University of Maine - and I was all by myself - it must have been the summer before I got married, about a year before my marriage, and I started to write this thing. And it took off for me to a certain point, and then I set it aside. That first long section, The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, was done, and I had this complicated outline about everything that was supposed to happen after that, and it sat for about 12 years. And then I picked it up, and I started to pluck at it, and I wrote part of the one that was supposed to come after that, The Drawing of the Three, and then I wrote that, and since then it's sort of sat quietly again, but I'll be back at it. It's the one project I've ever had that seems to wait for me.
JB: I got the feeling from reading just that short afterward that this is a project that's really close to your heart, for whatever reason.
SK: It is. I love the poem, the Robert Browning poem, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."
JB: I got that out last night. At first I wasn't quiet getting it, and then I got to stanza eight or nine and suddenly there he was.
SK: Yeah. Well, I love the end: "Winds his horn, and says, 'Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.'" Browning never says what that tower is, but it's based on an ever older tradition about Childe Roland that's lost in antiquity. Nobody knows who wrote it, and still nobody knows what the Dark Tower is. And so I started off wondering: What is this tower? What does it mean? And I decided that everybody has some sort of a Dark Tower in their lives. Most of us have Bright Towers, too, but I think everybody keeps a Dark Tower in their heart that they want to find and they know it's destructive and it will probably mean the end of them, but there's that urge to make it your own or to destroy it, one or the other. So I thought: Maybe it's different things to different people. And I can play with that a little bit. And as I write along I'll find out what it is to Roland. And I found that out, but I'm not going to tell you!
JB: Well, I wouldn't print it if you did. I'd hate to spoil that kind of suspense. How long do you envision the series be, now that you've got this under your belt?
SK: The whole thing together would probably be 8-10,000 pages. There would be a number of volumes. I used to think there would be six, but now I think there would be more like eight, because, as you'll find in that one [Drawing of the Three], our world starts to intrude. The guy who did the pictures for this one - it's a different guy - he's a much more hard-edged illustrator. [Starts to open shrink-wrap on book] Whoops! I just ripped your book jacket. Too bad, Janet, too bad. [Opens book, points to illustration of black woman] - Isn't that great?
JB: That detail on the neck is really something. [Referring to the illustration of Detta/Odetta.] I thought the illustrations in The Gunslinger were a little soft for what was going on.
SK: I did, too. That's Michael Whelan in Gunslinger. In the hardcover there, that's Phil Hale.
JB: I keep getting this picture in my mind, which you may not like at all, but the Gunslinger kept looking like Edward James Olmos to me.
SK: Really? Yeah, he could. I don't have a clear picture of him in my own mind, but I never do with characters. I very rarely describe the people that a books about unless they look in a mirror, because I feel like I'm behind their eyes looking out.
JB: Let them do it. This would make a wonderful computer game.
SK: [Laughs] Yeah, it would, wouldn't it. It would, actually.
JB: You could go at it for years and years. I was struck by a great deal of religious connotation and biblical imagery in Dark Tower. I've seen it in a lot of your other stuff, but it's certainly very obvious here. Where are you going with that? What do you want to say that you're not saying?
SK: I don't know. I think that I am saying most of what I want to say. Above all else, I'm interested in good and evil. And I'm interested in the question about whether or not there are powers of good and powers of evil that exist outside ourselves. I think that the concept of evil is something that's in the human heart. The goodness in the human heart is probably more interesting, psychologically, but in terms of myth, the idea that there are forces of evil and forces of good outside, and because I was raised in a fairly strict religious home, not hard-shelled Baptist or anything like that, I tend to coalesce those concepts around God symbols and devil symbols, and I put them in my work.
JB: What kind of background did you come from if it wasn't "hard-shelled Baptist?"
SK: Hard-nosed Methodist.
JB: So you weren't into really evangelical, fundi kinds of things.
JB: But you clearly learned your Bible.
SK: Yeah, I clearly learned my Bible, and I took a lot of what it says to heart enough to be disgusted by the Jim and Tammy Baker's and the Rex Humbug's of the world, where it says 'when you pray go inside your closet and shut the door and do it by yourself, don't do it in front of everybody so that everybody will know how religious you are.' I'm really sort of impressed by something that C. S. Lewis said about The Rings trilogy, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy, where he said, "as good as Tolkien was at depicting good, he was much more effective at depicting evil." I think that that's true, and I think that it's easier for all of us to grasp evil, because it's a simpler concept, and good is so many-faceted and it's so layered. I've always tried to contrast that bright, white light of real goodness or Godliness against evil. I'm not a proselytizer, and I hate organized religion. I think it's one of the roots of real evil that's in our world. If you really unmask Satan, you'll probably find that he's wearing a turnaround collar.
JB: What do you mean by organized religion? How do you define that?
SK: Well, when they start telling you when you're supposed to be on your knees and when you're supposed to be standing up and when you look at the front of the building and you see there's a list of the hymns you're going to sing, that's organized religion. And when they start to band you together and say, "these are the magazines you're not supposed to buy in the 7-Eleven," that's organized religion. And sooner or later, it always overspills into political issues. Jesus said, "Render those things under to Caesar that are Caesar's and render unto God the things that are God's," and - I don't know, that scripture keeps getting overlooked by these guys who want to do Moral Majority and all the rest of it. You can't operate in those terms. You've got the man in black in this book that looks like a priest, who does messianic things. He raises the dead. But to no good purpose. At least when Jesus rose from the dead he had the good grace to hang around for a while and then get the hell out. He didn't do a TV show or hang around like the weed-eater, Norton, in the book. He got offstage. It's an interesting thing. I heard somebody say once at some kind of New Testament conference that I was at a few years ago, that when Jesus rose Lazarus from the dead, he took everybody to the graveyard and said, "Lazarus, come forth!" If he'd just said "Come forth!" everybody in the graveyard would have gotten up and walked. Can you imagine that? How's that for a horror story?
JB: Night of the Living Dead.
SK: Yeah, right! First thing I thought of.
JB: That one gave me nightmares for years.
SK: Well, you know, they move kinda slow, they're dead, they're all messed up. Beat 'em or burn 'em, they go up pretty easy. [Laughs]
JB: Do you think part of the disillusionment we went through in the Sixties, when everything that we took for granted suddenly was thrown out the window and God was dead and all sorts of other things were going on, had anything to do with what kind of soul-searching we're doing now?
SK: I think that a lot of so-called Yuppies decided they didn't have any souls to search, so the hell with it, and that a lot of what you see now is a kind of soulless reaction to the Sixties. After all, we didn't get much out of that whole routine. The only President that spoke for our sort of ideals and our feelings was shot down like a dog in the street. The prime speaker for human rights, Martin Luther King, was shot down like a dog in the street. Bobby Kennedy was shot down in a hotel kitchen or something like that. So one of the lessons that we learned through those things and through Vietnam was that if there's somebody you don't like or if there's a philosophy you don't agree with, shoot those people, and that will take care of that problem.
I think the other great lesson was that if there isn't any God, you have to make one. And for a lot of us, the God was the paycheck, the God was the Volvo, the God was the two-car garage to put the Volvo in, along with the Subaru, the God was aerobic exercises, the God was Jane Fonda's exercise program, the God was cable TV, the VCR.
And there's been a real falling away from any kind of spirituality, which did seem to exist. A lot of what went on in the Sixties seemed to me to be a real search for some kind of spiritual basis, whether it was nonviolence, wearing flowers in your hair, not killing -some kind of search for good - for strong values that didn't depend on the dollar - I see an awful lot of cynicism now among my peers. I think that I feel a little bit less of it because I've been more fortunate. I haven't had to scramble for a buck. Which is a wonderful antidote. A lot of people would say, "Well, it's easy for you to say those things, but you don't have to be out in the workplace every day scrambling for a buck."
But the other thing is, I was revolted by the Sixties while they were going on. I didn't think that going like this (makes peace sign) and smiling at people was really going to solve anything for the people who were picking the grapes or for the Vietnamese or anything else. So I wrote stories. I opted out my own way.
JB: And you had your own years of struggle doing that.
SK: Oh yeah.
JB: You weren't the 'overnight success' people think you were.
SK: But I didn't spend a lot of time thinking that if I could give everybody the peace sign everything would be ok, or if I grew my hair long or if I joined a commune or named my first kid Serenity Peace or something like that, that things would be ok, because I didn't really believe that. And I don't believe it now. I've remained as active as I can politically, and my ideals and my reasons for those things haven't changed very much.
JB: It seems like a lot of what you're saying in here [Dark Tower] is: This is what we are coming to, and how in hell do we stop it, or can we stop it?
SK: I think that it will, that we will come to a world, if things go on the way they are, where you will have degenerate people who worship gas pumps, that sort of thing. It has a certain logic, particularly if you remember back to the oil embargo and the gas lines.
Everybody in The Gunslinger kind of shrugs and says, "Well, the world's moved on," but the point is that if nobody tries to stop the world from moving on, inertia will take care of all of our problems. The whales all will be gone, the ozone layer will be depleted. There'll be this sort of degeneration where technology continues to progress and there's no sort of morality to keep it in balance, to keep it in check. As though machines would somehow solve all of our problems.
JB: I get the feeling that Roland in here - where on the one hand you're saying that he doesn't have time for morality -
SK: He doesn't have any imagination for it.
JB: But he is moral, but he's fighting it all the time.
SK: Let's put it this way: He doesn't have imagination enough to be immoral. But I think he's a more imaginative man and more of an activist than he will give himself credit for.
JB: Yes, because he's always saying that this doesn't bother him, or that he didn't have a bad dream, or whatever, but he loves the boy.
SK: Yeah, he loves the boy.
JB: When he leaves the boy, this hurts, even if he doesn't admit it. There's a lot of guilt there.
SK: Oh, he's still eaten up by the boy, and there are places - like I say, everything becomes a little clearer in the second book [Drawing of the Three] - where there are things that he knows he should strictly do if he intends to pursue this business of the Tower, that he can't bring himself to do. And his reaction to that is "I haven't learned enough yet to strip my emotions away." He'll learn.
JB: You sound like you already know exactly what he's learned. I kept hearing Jim Morrison popping out at me when I was reading this: "What have we done to the earth?"
SK: Well, I tell you, there are a lot of sort of hippie concerns in that book, and there's a real Sixties feeling in that in order to get a vision, this guy drops mescaline. And he sits by a pool and he gets some kind of a transcendental vision from this. And it's fun to play with a possible world where feelings of mysticism -one of the things, I guess, that I like about this book - where feelings of mysticism and wonder are sort of taken for granted, the way that we take, for instance, how can I put this? If there were any more - I guess there are a few tribes of people still on the earth that are primitive - in the Australian outback, and in Micronesia and in places like that - if you brought them in here and turned on the lights, they'd fall down and cover their heads, but this is a wonder that we take pretty much for granted.
So I was interested in postulating a world where there is magic. And there's magic in this gunslinger's world, but it's not a real useful magic; it's not anything anybody can control. It's more the kind of thing that you coexist with, like the wind or the rain. There are speaking demons, and either you try to keep away from them or you try to use them and take your chances. But they don't work for you. It's not like having a genie in a bottle that will give you three wishes. You might be able to get away with it. It's like the wind isn't there for us to fly our kites on, but there are be days when we might be able to use it for that. But the wind wouldn't care if your kite didn't fly. You see what I mean?
JB: And that was coming through with the succubus.
JB: That was a tradeoff and a dialogue, but nobody was getting three wishes.
SK: That's right. Nobody gets three wishes. There's a tradeoff that takes place there, and he says something like, "Have your way with me, bitch." And he's able to save the boy.
JB: For a while.
SK: For a while. That boy's not dead. You don't think I'd really do that, do you?
JB: No. You like kids too much.
SK: Oh, I've killed a few in my stories.
JB: I know. I remember Cujo. I'm interested in how you create characters, because you're so good at it. And even if the whole story falls apart, the characters don't. How do you do that? Do you sit down and get the idea and then sketch them out, or...
SK: Usually you have an idea, and for me, a lot of times, character will be a part of that idea, like the father in Firestarter. And then, you have to make this deal with yourself that no matter what happens or how the story develops, the character, the thing you've created, will have to react to that in character. But they can grow, because anybody changes or grows. If you put your hand in a flame a few times, even a baby will change its behavior and learn how to do things a different way. So if you make this deal with yourself, that you're going to play fair, sometimes, not very often, you'll find that the character will actually change the course of the story, rather than the other thing. What usually happens is what happens in the story, like in life, which is the real story, which changes us. But if you just make yourself that promise that the character's not going to do anything out of character, that it's no fair for the wimp librarian to all of a sudden turn around and use tai kwan do on the bullies or something like that. The characters will usually stay the same, and then as the story goes along, you get a payback from keeping them in character, they start to gain in believability, and the people who are reading the story or me when I'm writing the story, relax a little bit. And then the character has some room to grow. And that's, for me, that's the most rewarding thing about what I do, because it's the closest thing there is to making life.
JB: It's magic.
SK: It is. It is magic. And they'll do things that will surprise you sometimes, the way that people surprise you. You mentioned the little boy in Cujo. I never thought he'd die. He died on his own. I didn't tell him to; I looked back at him and he was gone.
JB: I believe that. I've had that same experience with this damn manuscript that I just finished, and things happened that weren't supposed to, and I had no control.
SK: But that's good. And then, when Cujo was done, I thought, "This is really not very good; people are not going to like it when this little boy dies." And I like to please people. So I tried to rewrite the ending so the little boy would live, but it was really tinny and false. I said, "I'm sorry, the kid is dead. He's just dead, that's all." So that's the way that I left it. And then when they did the movie and the little boy lived in the movie, I didn't mind that at all. Movies aren't real.
JB: And of course in Pet Sematary you have another little boy die - but he comes back.
SK: That one comes back to life.
JB: But he's not the same.
SK: No. Sometimes dead is better, the old guy says.
JB: And he's not the same when he comes back.
SK: I wonder if Lazarus was the same, if there really was a Lazarus.
JB: Well, if you go by Kazantzakis, he wasn't. What do you think about that whole idea? What happens after the final curtain rings down?
SK: Well, nobody really knows, but I think that probably there is an afterlife, but it's probably a physiological phenomenon that occurs at the moment of death. You know how if you're doing something that you really like how fast the time goes by? And if you're doing something you really hate how it - did you ever read Catch-22? You remember the guy who tried to be bored because said he'd live longer - his name was Milo Minderbinder? Well, I think that when we die, a chemical may be released that creates a feeling of great euphoria and that so-called white light that people talk about in the death experience, and that what follows is some sort of hallucination that occurs in instants at the time of dying but may seem, indeed, like it goes on for eternity, and that you get what you believe you will get. That is to say, if you thought you were going to go to heaven that you were a good person, you'll go, but if you're guilt-ridden and thought you were going to go to hell, you will go to hell, but it will be a hell of your own making.
JB: What if you think you're going to come back?
SK: Well, then, you'll probably come back reincarnate and experience a whole second life.
JB: So you leave the door open for every possibility.
SK: You know, in The Dark Tower, somebody says to Roland, "Do you think there's life after death?" and he says, "Yeah, I think this is it."
JB: There was something else in there, too: "There are quests and roads that lead ever onward, and all of them end in the same place, upon the killing ground." Are you talking about war? About Nam? Broader than that?
SK: Well, it goes back to the same thing that we were talking about with organized religion. At the end of the way of the cross there's always somebody telling you to pick up the gun. The quest, the whole idea of some sort of an organized quest, to me presupposes that sooner or later you'll find somebody who'll get in your way, at which point you'll pick up the gun. The only exception to that is the sort of personal quests we go on to enlighten our minds or enlighten our spirits, but any kind of actual movement, deep commitment in the physical world, sooner or later is going to result in some kind of trouble.
On the other hand, there must be a huge store of good will in the human race, and that's one of the things that I want to try to talk about in the other books of that series, because if there weren't this huge store of good will we would have blown ourselves to hell ten years after World War II was over. We've been playing around with mass destruction for 40 or 50 years now, and it hasn't happened. There are a lot of people out there working very hard to keep us all alive. So there is that fund of good will and common humanity that always balances off these evil impulses.
There are sort of evil, aberrant impulses in the human race that almost always - a kind of individual thing. There are exceptions. I sometimes think something really gruesome must have happened in Germany between 1925 or so and 1945. I can't imagine that all those people around Dachau and Auschwitz and those places thought those factories were really making soap. I don't believe it. And yet they went on. There was a time, I guess in the 30's, in this country, when people thought that the fabric of society was literally going to break down and that that sense of good will and brotherhood would not hold. But it's such a common thing, those feelings of love toward your fellow man, that we hardly ever talk about it; we concentrate on the other things. Because it's just there; it's all around us, so I guess we kind of take it for granted.
And those times really stand out. That really troubles me. I wrote a thing one time called "Apt Pupil" to try to deal a little bit with the death camps. And I wrote it out of a real puzzlement. I don't understand what happened over there. I don't have the slightest idea what got into those people. And again, it makes that whole concept of some sort of outside evil, like the spore that floats through the air that you inhale, seem really - I won't say persuasive, but it seems very attractive. I can't understand what happened. It's like somebody drew a curtain over all their minds for that period of time.
JB: Well, we spend a lot of time talking about a God or a force of good or whatever it is out there, a benevolent spirit, but we're all afraid when we talk about devils or demons or evil. And why is that so unlikely? If you have one half...
SK: You've got to have the other. You do.
JB: And you get into this whole influx of Satanism that's going on right now. Have you read Maury Terry's book, The Ultimate Evil?
JB: Did you reach the point toward the end of it that you were saying, "I don't want to believe any of this shit but I think maybe I do"?
SK: Yes, I did. Again, I haven't formed any kind of final opinions on it. I can remember at the time of The Shining, Stanley Kubrick telling me, "belief in any kind of afterlife, whether it's malevolent or good, is ultimately optimistic, because it means we go on." That we don't die when we die. I can understand that philosophy, because a lot of the appeal of supernatural fiction is that there's more than what we can see and feel around us, that we do really live in a sort of mystical world.
JB: One interesting thing that happened to me when I was reading Dark Tower was that you had all these strange little creatures appearing and it didn't seem the least bit unusual to me that these creatures were popping up. They seemed just as real --
SK: The people in the book take them as a matter of course.
JB: And I was doing the same thing. And I didn't feel like any of them were malevolent, either.
SK: One of the nice things about fantasy, one of the really liberating things about fantasy, is that you can create that kind of a world. If we talk about ghosts or demons or even flying saucers in our world that we know, the skepticism comes built in. But if you create an entirely new world, a fictional world, readers or people who participate in the creation of that world just say, "Well, fine. Let it exist according to its own laws." And that's wonderful.
In our world, the gunslinger takes this speaking demon as a matter of course. It's something that's there to be used. He's really matter-of-fact about how some houses are bad houses and you have to steer clear of them and the rest of it, so we take it for granted, too. Whereas in the present world, if Shirley came in from the storeroom now and said, "That damn ghost of General Webber is back there again," I would not just simply say, "Well, ok, I'll go toss the clefferdust at him and he'll go away." We'd all look at Shirley and our first reaction would be that Shirley was crazy. Not just because she said she saw a ghost, but also because she took it as a matter of course.
JB: But then again, there are those people who do this, and you know they're not crazy, and you wonder.
SK: Well, I saw what I believe was some sort of a being or something that wasn't natural in a house in Bangor about seven years ago at a political party for George Mitchell. And for years I wouldn't talk about it, because I am who I am, and I figured that people would look upon me like the little boy who cried, "Wolf!" or something, and it was an extremely prosaic encounter with the supernatural.
In fact, it was in the wintertime, and it was on Grove Street, one of these white frame houses, and it was one of these political things when you go in, and you have two drinks, and you leave some money in one of those plastic straw campaign hats when you leave. And [Senator George] Mitchell was there, and [former Secretary of State] Ed Muskie was there, and my wife and I were going to go, and we were going to stay for 20-25 minutes, and then have dinner at Sing's [Chinese Restaurant]. And so I took her coat and my coat and put them upstairs - there was this bedroom with the bed piled high with coats - and I put them down and we circulated for a little while, and then she said, "We ought to go," and I said, "Ok, I'll get the coats." And a lot more people had come in in the meantime, and I went upstairs and the pile on the bed had grown apace. And I leaned down and I started to thumb through these coats looking for hers, and right over here where your glasses - you know, where that "frame on the world" stops - I saw a guy sitting across from me on the other side of the room. And he was fuzzy above the glasses, but below them, in that part of my vision, I could see him pretty well. He was wearing a blue pinstripe suit, he was bald, but he was tan - you know the way these bald guys look when their heads tan -and there were little freckles, and he was wearing glasses, sitting there with his hands crossed. And I didn't know what to say, and I felt extremely sort of nervous and guilty, and the thought came into my mind: "This man thinks I'm going through coats looking for things to steal." So I raised my head to say something pleasant to him, and even started to say something to him like, "Isn't it hard to find your coat at one of these things?" or something like that, and there was nobody there. The chair was empty.
And the thing is, it wasn't like a case of when you look away and when you look back the person was gone. I never lost sight of him at all. It was just that he was there, and then he wasn't there. There was no point where I saw him disappear or anything. He was just there, and then he wasn't there. And I got my wife's coat and I got my coat, because that's what you do; you don't blow your cookies or anything, your mind just says: "Oh, this is like a kidney stone; I can't do anything with this, so I'll just have to pass it." And we were halfway to Sing's and I thought, "Well, I'm not going to say anything about this because you thought you saw a guy, and the guy wasn't there, you were obviously mistaken or something," and I just stopped and kind of mentally took hold of myself and said, "Now stop it! Stop pandering to yourself! You saw someone!" And I did! I saw him just as clearly as I see you now. You're here. You're real. And I'm convinced that he was that real, but then he was just gone. And I had to take hold of myself and shake myself and said, "This doesn't happen to you, but it happened this time, and it wasn't your imagination, and any of that silly bullshit, so don't just toss it out. It's in explainable, but don't toss it out because of that." So I told my wife what had happened, and she said what people say - she didn't faint; she didn't turn white; she said "That's interesting," and went on from there.
JB: But there's too much detail of what he looked like.
SK: Oh, I saw him very well.
JB: You had to have seen something. I used to "pooh-pooh" this stuff, until my mother started telling me some of these stories about experiences of hers, and they always came true. And I stopped "pooh-poohing" those things.
SK: Well, what was persuasive about it was the very prosaic quality that it had. It wasn't anything that was going "yaooouuuu."
JB: Did it leave you with any sense of whether it was a good experience or a bad one?
SK: No. No more than it would be a good or bad experience to have someone to sit down next to you on the bus for five minutes, then get up and go on their way.
JB: Sometimes there are those people that you're not real happy about talking with.
SK: That's true. But this a more neutral experience than that. I know what you're talking about. The crazy people.
Can I tell you anything else today? I'm about talked out. It's a hard book to talk about, because so much of it isn't written or done yet inside my own head.
JB: Some of this is quite different from what you've done before. Do you see this as not a new direction, but a different direction you're going to explore in more depth than you've done before?
SK: When the urge takes me, I'll go back to that world, but I really think it's an aberration. I can't see myself becoming a full-time fantasy - I've done it before, God knows; I did The Eyes of the Dragon, which is in a fantasy world that roughly abuts the gunslinger's world. But on the whole I don't have a lot of patience with fantasy. That sounds strange.
JB: It's dark fantasy.
SK: I guess that's a good way to put it.
JB: Is there anything you'd like to tell me that I forgot to ask?
SK: I can't think of anything. It's been a fairly fallow time for me, and I'm pleased with the way these books look, and I'm glad to finally get them out in a mass-market edition. The Drawing of the Three comes out, I think, in March. Because for years people have hounded poor Shirley and me about, "Where can I get this book?" and now they can get it, so I'm happy about that. That goes back to the question you asked about limited editions. I didn't think people would care for it that much, and I don't know if they do or not, but I do know that they wanted to read it and find out for themselves.
JB: I'm finding that I like this right up there with some of my favorites of yours.
SK: God love ya, that's great.
JB: No, I really do. I'm quite honest. I liked Misery a whole lot; I liked The Shining a whole lot. And this one's right up there, and I cannot tell you why. I'll figure it out eventually.
SK: It's different, and it's strange, and I like it for that reason, and I've gotten to like Roland although he's a hard guy to know. He's kind of inward. And one of the real motivations to get back is the next one looks back at what happened to his world, and I'd like to talk a little bit about the way things fall apart. Everybody says, in both of these books, that the world has moved on, and I'd like to explore a little bit about how it moves on and what happens when it does.
JB: Did Roland kill his mother?
SK: [Pause] No. The dark sorcerer, whose name is Marten, who you haven't met much, is the guy who did that.
JB: Well, like I said, Jim Morrison kept popping up.
SK: Kill! Kill!
JB: Usually I have a nice typed list of questions, but this time I was kind of scribbling frantically here. I must be spending too much time working at the seminary. I'm still not sure what I'm doing at a seminary.
SK: That's ok, though.
JB: It's civilized.
SK: That's it.
JB: It's not Jim and Tammy Baker or Daniel Dunphy.
SK: Well, I've very interested in God and religion and the afterlife, ethics, morals, the part they all play, how much of God and the devil come from inside us and how much of them are their own creatures and so on.
JB: Of course, I get into that, too.
SK: It's a good thing to get into.
JB: Well, if I ever get that book of mine published, I'm going to be on the same shit lists that you're probably on for the same reasons.
SK: It's a good shit list to be on.
JB: I don't think I'd mind.
SK: When I go into the schools, I tell the kids to check and see which of the books are there and which of the books aren't there and to be sure to read, not necessarily just mine, but everyone's. Read the books that aren't there first, whether it's Huckleberry Finn or Salem's Lot or whatever, because the most important things that you need to find out are the things your elders don't want you to know.
JB: And we're into a very frightening time in our society that we've been in for the last eight years, and we have four more coming up, where you wonder how much our liberty, if you will, is going to be restricted.
SK: Well, I think it already has been restricted a pretty good degree, and the gunfire goes on. You know, there are a lot of stores - and I'm not even talking about hardcore sex magazines, I'm not even talking about Playboy and Penthouse, but magazines like Rolling Stone. There's a new magazine for teenage girls that suggests in the articles and in the makeovers and everything that sexual experience may be a part of their lives. It doesn't say that it is, doesn't say it should be, but that sexual experience may be a part of a life of an average 18 or 19-year-old girl. And the Moral Majority has decided that those magazines shouldn't appear on newsstands, and most of them have backed off them, and they've gotten a lot of help from the Reagan administration in terms of not bringing any kind of restraint of trade suit against these people for what they're up to. So I don't know what's going to happen under four years of George Bush. There'll probably be two more Supreme Court Justices that will have to be replaced; this is going to go on about abortion. That was horrid, that thing with Dan Quayle who was at a press conference for grammar school reporters - it was in Massachusetts somewhere - they were kids who had expressed an interest in being reporters, and he had a little news conference, and one of these kids asked him, "If a girl was raped and impregnated by her father, would you approve of an abortion under those conditions?" and Quayle's answer was very simple: "No." So we've got four years of that. As I told Tabby on election day, "Once before I die I'd like to vote for a winner."
SK: Just once.
JB: I wasn't old enough to vote for a winner when I could have, and that was a long time ago. It's frightening.
SK: Kennedy was the last guy that I truly supported, and I was too young to vote. I voted for Dukakis, I voted for Mondale, I voted for Carter when he ran against Reagan. I voted for Carter the year he won; I guess that's the closest I've ever come, except Carter turned out not really to be a winner.
SK: He was pretty ineffectual.
JB: It makes one apolitical after a while.
SK: Or cynical, which is probably just as bad. You know, when you just say, "Go with the winner."
JB: It seems like we have no control over what's going to happen anyway. And certainly when they call the election before the 6:30 news comes on....
SK: It gets a little depressing. Tabby and I watched on ABC, and they kept saying they weren't going to project a winner, and they weren't going to project a winner, and I went out for a pizza and I heard on the radio that ABC and CBS had projected Bush as the winner at 7:30 that night. Depressing.
But there's been a shift in that, too. I don't think that people are anywhere near as unsophisticated and naive about polltakers as they used to be. And I think there's been an increasing and very healthy movement towards lying to pollsters.
JB: Now if we could just get television out of the whole thing.
SK: And the newspapers. That will never happen. What I hate to see, though, is them making their own issues. That thing about Dan Quayle and the National Guard was a manufactured issue. The business about the Pledge of Allegiance just made me sick. The world is hip deep in bombs and getting deeper, and these guys are arguing about who's patriotic!
JB: And that's what's going to end us up in this kind of world.
SK: Yeah, I think so. I see the gunslinger's world as sort of a post-radiation world where everybody's history has gotten clobbered and about the only thing anybody remembers anymore is the chorus to "Hey, Jude."
JB: Yes, that keeps coming back. And there was another one - it's not coming to me.
SK: Well, it's a different world; it's not our world, but it's obviously a world that's been influenced by our world. There are some little funny islands of the past like Atlantis that are still there hanging around.
JB: The idea of a honky-tonk "Hey, Jude" is kind of neat.
SK: On a barroom piano, with all the drunks singing "Hey, Jude."
JB: Are you a Romantic?
SK: Yes, I am. I am a Romantic. I believe all those sappy, romantic things. Children are good, good wins out over evil, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all - I believe all that shit. I can't help it. I see a lot of it at work, as I say. I see an awful lot of the so-called "romantic ideal" at work in the world around us.
JB: Well, I may be a little weird, but I don't think there's anything wrong with that.
SK: Well, good for you. We're kindred spirits, then.
JB: And it also gives one a different perception of the person behind the illusion.
SK: Yep. And I'll tell you something else it does: it brightens the world that you see with your own eyes. It's just - I don't really want to go through my life seeing everything the way that it looks outside the window today, not if I can find a light to turn on to make it seem brighter to me. Love is stronger than hate. And probably more creative, too.
JB: I'd have to think about that.
SK: I know love is a much more complex emotion than hate, where you just sort of make fists and squint your eyes shut and say, "I hate you!"
JB: Hate's easier to deal with. You don't hurt when you hate.
SK: That's right.
JB: But if you fall in love or love something, you can hurt a whole lot.
SK: Oh, yeah. But I think hate's a very damaging emotion, and I think that it has its own deleterious effect. It's like - well, let's say you're going to get your nose operated on or something like that, and the doctor stuffs it full of that procaine stuff or whatever, that numbs it. He can do any kind of a number up there and you're not going to feel a thing - or Novocain on your teeth - but when it wears off, you feel it plenty. Like having your wisdom teeth removed. That's what hate does. It anesthetizes.
JB: "Is also great, and will suffice."
SK: Now, if I can get these damn tip sheets done.
JB: There are a lot of them there. You must get very tired of signing your name.
SK: In the last couple of days I didn't dare read my horoscope. It probably would have said, "You will sign your name at least 2,000 times."
It was an autograph day at Friendly's for some reason. I stopped in for a hamburger for lunch, and a lot of days I just sit there and read my book and I don't bother nobody and nobody bothers me, but today everybody's Uncle Frank wanted an autograph on something. Some days are like that.
JB: Do you have a lot of days when you don't want to go outside?
SK: No. Other places, but not here. Nobody bothers me very much here. Unless, like I say, you hit one of those funny days when for some reason everybody wants an autograph or they've got a tale to tell.
Do you write many reviews for the paper? I know they have a book section - not on a regular basis - but it's a pretty good one. And they don't seem to rely on the wire services so much as the Portland paper does.
JB: It usually appears the second Tuesday of every month. I've done quite a lot; it's fun.
SK: It's a pullout section, too, and that's nice, too.
JB: If they'd put it in the weekend paper there'd be a lot more exposure, but part of their problem with not doing a bigger section or more frequent ones is they just aren't getting support as far as the money's concerned. There's one little ad for Mr. Paperback and that's about it. But for people like me - I'm not a reporter, I'm a writer, and I talk to other writers about things we both do.
SK: It makes it easier for me, I'll tell you. You didn't ask me once where I got my ideas.
JB: I wanted to try and talk about something maybe you hadn't talked about a whole lot before.
SK: You did. I've never talked about this book to anybody.
SK: It's all new. There are no little tapes to play. I discovered that as soon as you asked your first question. There's no little cassette to pull out of the shelf and play. No, no one has ever interviewed me about this.
JB: I just get the feeling if it continues in there [Drawing of the Three] the way it started in the other [The Gunslinger] that whatever you end up with you're going to like a whole lot.
SK: I like the second one better than the first one. The second one picks up exactly where the first one leaves off. There's no time lag or anything. Same beach, same guy. It's about four hours later the same day.
JB: How far away do you think the next volume is - how many years in the future?
SK: Oh, probably three. Maybe two.
JB: That's not horrendous.
SK: Of everything I've written, The Drawing of the Three is my kids' favorite book, and they're pestering me. And that's the best incentive I know. Tell somebody a story that really wants to hear it.
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