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Stephen King: 'My Imagination Was Very Active — Even At A Young Age'


This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli, editor of the website TV Worth Watching, sitting in for Terry Gross. This week, the Hulu streaming service premiered the first episodes of a new drama series called "Castle Rock" based on the works of Stephen King. The fictional town of Castle Rock, which recurs in several of King's stories, is the home of, among other things, Cujo the rabid dog and one of the wardens of Shawshank Prison. In this new "Castle Rock" series, that warden is played by Terry O'Quinn from the ABC series "Lost," who once again finds himself in a very mysterious, isolated and creepy environment.


TERRY O'QUINN: (As Dale Lacy) People think we're just one of those dead towns they've heard about - a run of bad luck, worse judgment, broken promises. We know different, don't we? It's not luck. It's a plan and not God's, either. Remember the dog, the strangler. Sure you do. How about all the others that didn't make headlines?

BIANCULLI: New episodes of "Castle Rock" premiere Wednesdays on Hulu. Today, we'll hear three of Terry's interviews with Stephen King, whose best-selling stories of horror and suspense include "Carrie," "Misery," "The Shining" and "Cujo," all of which have been made into films.

Terry first spoke to King in 1992 about his novel "Gerald's Game." As that book opens, a married couple is in their forest cabin ready to play an S&M sex game. She's on the bed with her wrists cuffed to the bedposts. He's undressing. She realizes she's tired of this game. It seems stupid, ridiculous and corny. But she can't get her husband to stop, and that makes her furious. As he forces himself on her, she kicks him where it hurts most. He collapses, suffers a heart attack and dies, and she's alone, cuffed to the bed in the middle of the woods. Now the horror really begins.

Terry began by asking King about starting the novel with a corny sex game.


STEPHEN KING: Actually, "Gerald's Game" started with the concept of the woman being chained to the bed. I'd written a book before where a woman and a small child were stuck in a car that was sort of surrounded, if you will, by a rabid Saint Bernard. That book was called "Cujo." And essentially what a lot of that book was was two people in a very small room, although it did have a shifting perspective so that it went to other characters.

And I thought originally this was the takeoff point for the book. Wouldn't it be interesting to see what would happen if you had one character in a room? The question then became, what caused this woman to be in this room by herself? And the answer that I came up with was bondage. She's handcuffed to a bed. And that forced me to sort of consider what causes people to do this sort of thing.

Once I'd set up the situation, I knew it was going to be. I went in and read a little bit about it and thought a little bit about it. And the whole thing struck me as a little bit Victorian. There was something very Snidely Whiplash about the whole thing, and I tried to get that into the book.

TERRY GROSS, BYLINE: Let's get Stephen King to the kind of gore and terror and suspense that you create. There's a scene in "Gerald's Game," your new novel that I'd like you to read from. This is a scene in which the wife is still handcuffed to the bedpost. Her husband is laying dead on the floor, and a stray, vicious dog from the area has walked into the house and has started dining on the woman's dead husband. Would you read it for us?

KING: I sure will. (Reading) Gerald's widow's peak was in disarray, probably as a result of the dog's licking the blood out of it. But his glasses were still firmly in place. She could see his eyes, half-open and glazed, glaring up from their puffy sockets at the fading sun-ripples on the ceiling. His face was still a mask of ugly red and purple blotches as if even death had not been able to assuage his anger at her sudden capricious - had he seen it as capricious? - of course he had - change of mind.

(Reading) Let go of him, she told the dog. But her voice was now meek and sad and strengthless. The dog barely twitched its ears at the sound of it and didn't pause at all. It merely went on pulling the thing with the disarrayed widow's peak and the blotchy complexion. This thing no longer looked like disco Gerald, not a bit. Now it was only dead Gerald, sliding across the bedroom floor with a dog's teeth buried in its flabby biceps. A frayed flap of skin hung over the dog's snout. Jessie tried to tell herself it looked like wallpaper, but wallpaper did not, at least as far as she knew, come with moles and a vaccination scar.

(Reading) Now she could see Gerald's pink, fleshy belly marked only by the small-caliber bullet hole that was his navel. His penis flopped and dangled in its nest of black pubic hair. His buttocks whispered along the hardwood boards with ghastly, frictionless ease. Abruptly, the suffocating atmosphere of her terror was pierced by a shaft of anger so bright it was like a stroke of heat lightening inside her head. She did more than accept this new emotion. She welcomed it. Rage might not help her get out of this nightmarish situation, but she sensed it would serve as an antidote to her growing sense of shocked unreality. You bastard, she said in a low, trembling voice - you cowardly, slinking bastard.

GROSS: That's Stephen King reading from his new novel "Gerald's Game." Do you think of yourself as having taken the horror novel to a kind of more physically explicit place than it had ever been before?

KING: Yeah. I think that to some degree, I did do that. I think probably I've been surpassed in that area by some of the people who've come after me. I'm thinking mostly of Clive Barker.

GROSS: Clive Barker, yeah (laughter).

KING: Yeah. But you realize that when I started reading and experiencing horror, some of it that I was reading and experiencing came from a very graphic wellspring. And I'm thinking about the horror comics of the 1950s, things like "Tales From The Crypt" and "The Vault Of Horror." And at the same time, I was discovering horror movies. I usually went by myself in the afternoon to the Hi-Way Theatre in Stratford, Conn., and saw things like "I Was A Teenage Werewolf" with Michael Landon or "I Was A Teenage Frankenstein" or whatever it happened to be. It was there that I started to see that it might be possible to combine some of the classic elements with some of the things that I was seeing in the schlock press and the schlock movies.

GROSS: When you would see movies like this, did they scare you or just amuse you?

KING: No, they scared me. You have to remember that we're talking 10 or 11 years old. And even with a picture like "Teenage Monster" where the flying saucer appeared to be a Kools cigarette filter tip with...

GROSS: (Laughter).

KING: ...Sparklers stuck in it, that it looked real to me because I was at a young and very credulous age.

BIANCULLI: Terry Gross speaking with Stephen King in 1992. She interviewed King again in 2000 about his book "On Writing," which is part memoir, part reflections on his craft. In its last chapter, King writes about the time he was nearly killed by a reckless driver while walking along the shoulder of a two-lane highway near his home in Maine. A month before the interview was recorded, King was still recovering from his injuries, which included nine breaks in his right leg, his right knee split almost directly down the middle, a fracture of his right hip, four broken ribs and a scalp laceration that required nearly 30 stitches. His spine was chipped in eight places.

Terry asked King to start with a reading about the accident.


KING: (Reading) Most of the sight lines along the mile of Route 5 which I walk are good. But there is one stretch - a short, steep hill - where a pedestrian walking north can see very little of what might be coming his way. I was three quarters of the way up this hill when Bryan Smith, the owner and operator of the Dodge van, came over the crest. He wasn't on the road. He was on the shoulder, my shoulder. I had perhaps three quarters of a second to register this. It was just time enough to think, my God, I'm going to be hit by a school bus. I started to turn to my left.

(Reading) There is a break in my memory here. On the other side of it, I'm on the ground, looking at the back of the van which is now pulled off the road and tilted to one side. This recollection is very clear and very sharp, more like a snapshot than a memory. There is dust around the van's taillights. The license plate and the back windows are dirty. I registered these things with no thought that I had been in an accident or of anything else. It's a snapshot. That's all. I'm not thinking. My head has been swabbed clean. There's another little break in my memory here, and then I am very carefully wiping palmfuls of blood out of my eyes with my left hand. When my eyes are reasonably clear, I look around and see a man sitting on a nearby rock. He has a cane drawn across his lap.

(Reading) This is Bryan Smith, 42 years of age, the man who hit me with his van. Smith has got quite the driving record. He has racked up nearly a dozen vehicle-related offenses. Smith wasn't looking at the road on the afternoon when our lives came together because his rottweiler had jumped from the very rear of his van into the back-seat area where there was an Igloo cooler with some meat stored inside. The rottweiler's name is Bullet. Smith has another rottweiler at home. That one is named Pistol. Bullet started to nose at the lid of the cooler. Smith turned around and tried to push Bullet away. He was still looking at Bullet and pushing his head away from the cooler when he came over the top of the knoll, still looking and pushing when he struck me. Smith told friends later that he thought he had hit a small deer until he noticed my body's spectacles lying on the front seat of his van. They were knocked from my face when I tried to get out of Smith's way. The frames were bent and twisted, but the lenses were unbroken. They are the lenses I'm wearing now as I write this.

(Reading) Smith sees I'm awake and tells me help is on the way. He speaks calmly, even cheerily. His look, as he sits on his rock with his cane drawn across his lap, is one of pleasant commiseration. Ain't the two of us just had the [expletive] luck, it says. He and Bullet left the campground where they were staying, he later tells an investigator, because he wanted some of those Mars bars they have up to the store. When I hear this little detail some weeks later, it occurs to me that I have nearly been killed by a character out of one of my own novels. It's almost funny.

GROSS: That's Stephen King reading from his new memoir "On Writing." Stephen King, welcome back to FRESH AIR, and it's so great to still have you with us (laughter).

KING: It's nice to be here, but I tell people, nowadays it's nice to be anywhere.

GROSS: (Laughter) Right. Did Smith say anything to you - anything else to you as you were laying there, drifting in and out of consciousness after he hit you?

KING: He said, I've never had so much as a parking ticket in my life. And here it is, my bad luck, to hit the best-selling writer in the world. And I think he said, I loved all your movies.

GROSS: Did he really say that?

KING: Yeah.

GROSS: So he's lying to you as you're lying there, nearly dying?

KING: Well, he said he had never had so much as a parking ticket. And God knows he had a lot of traffic offenses. We don't want to speak ill of the dead if we can help it because he did die last month on my birthday as a matter of fact...


KING: ...Which is a little bit eerie.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KING: Yeah. He and I share the same middle name as well. We're both Edwins. We were. Now I'm - well, never mind (laughter).

GROSS: You know, in that reading, you say that it made you think that he was like a character in your fiction. Were there other things that made you think of him that way?

KING: Well, God knows that I've lived in rural Maine for a lot of years. It's where I grew up, and it's where my wife and I live now - in a town of about 900 people. And we don't want to say that Bryan Smith is or was a type because I don't necessarily believe that there are types. But he had a certain back-country quality with the rottweiler dogs and the old van. And it's really tough, Terry, to talk about Bryan Smith without making him sound like a sort of Faulknerian stereotype. And so I - maybe I just assumed steer clear of the whole issue. He was like a character in a Stephen King book but only because he seemed like a real Maine-type to me.

GROSS: You were understandably really angry with the sentence that he was given. He was basically given a suspended driver's license for a year. But when he was found dead in his home toward the end of September, what was your reaction to his death?

KING: Well, I was shocked, and I was sorry as well. When he hit me, Bryan Smith was 42. When he died, he was 43. And 43 isn't a natural span, I don't believe, for a man in 21st century America.

GROSS: For your writing, you've had to imagine people in extreme circumstances and imagine them in agony. Did your accident feel like anything you had imagined for fiction?

KING: 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, there's no surprise involved with any of the things that seemed to go on. You just sort - the things come, and you deal with them. It's like being cast adrift and riding the waves. They took me to a hospital in western Maine and did a few things to me. They took a look at the injuries and decided that they couldn't treat them there. And they got a life-flight helicopter to take me to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston. And while I was on the flight, my lung collapsed.

And I can remember one of the guys saying, oh, [expletive]. We've got to do something about this. And I can remember the crackle of them unwrapping something and somebody saying that they were going to stick me. And then I could breathe again because they'd intubated me and pumped up my lung again. And all of this with just a sort of sense of, well, this is what's happening now. You become a totally passive person in a way.

You recognize immediately that you've been seriously hurt and that you can't deal with your own life and that you're going to have to depend on other people to pull you through. So you just kind of let go. And that's pretty much the way that I always saw things happening in my books, which doesn't surprise me that much, because I think the imagination - when you really use it at top quality - when you're seeing really well, the imagination really knows what the reality is.

BIANCULLI: Stephen King speaking with Terry Gross in the year 2000. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's interview with Stephen King from the year 2000, not long after King had published his book "On Writing." In the book, King writes about the time he was struck by a van and nearly killed. After the accident, he had to take heavy painkillers which caused hallucinations.


GROSS: You have all these visions for these great stories that you write all the time. And they're kind of, you know, crazy and scary enough. So do you think that you got any ideas from these hallucinations that you would use in a book?

KING: From the entire experience and having the broken leg and recovering from the broken leg, those things I've used already in a book called "Dreamcatcher" where there's a character, who is a history professor, who's struck in Cambridge and has a broken leg and a broken hip. And the things that he goes through in the hospital - I would say that there's a surrealistic touch to some of that that approaches those hallucinations. But certainly I have not used any of that stuff at this point, and I might someday. I really might, but those memories have faded a little bit for me. There's this saying that if women really remembered labor pains, every child would be an only child. And I think that whatever sort of serious pain that you have, your mind casts a veil over that. So it's difficult to remember it in any detail. But I also think, as a writer, that a lot of that stuff - in "On Writing," I talk about muses that I call the boys in the basement - because usually when we think about muses, we think about these airy, fairy, little female sprites that kind of float around your head flinging this inspired happy dust, whereas I think of them as these guys, these blue-collar guys...

GROSS: (Laughter).

KING: ...Who live in the basement. And they sit around drinking beer and, you know, telling dirty jokes. And every now and then, you go down and...

GROSS: (Laughter).

KING: ...Say, do you have any ideas for me? And the guy looks at you and says, yeah, I got an idea. Yeah, here it is. Now go get to work and don't bother me anymore. I've got to polish my bowling trophies. So that's the kind of muse that I see, but I do think of them as people who live in the basement. And in my mind, I equate that with the subconscious mind. And I think that down there, on whatever that level is, I probably still have a pretty good grasp of a lot of the things that I went through when I was - you know, in terms of consciousness - only partly there. So that - maybe I could draw on that if I really needed to.

GROSS: I had read that you were going to buy the van that struck you and smash it. Did that actually happen?

KING: It never did happen. The van has been cubed. When 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. And so he did. And for about six months, I did have the 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.

GROSS: Oh, and you can't say how.

KING: Sure I can. It went through a car crusher. It's a little...


KING: ...Cube somewhere.

GROSS: Oh, so rather than you attacking it yourself - I got it. Oh, that's...

KING: Yeah.

GROSS: And did you keep the cube?

KING: No, I didn't. I don't really know what happened to the cube. But my idea about the van had always been to sort of smash it up the way that - in the carnies of my youth, sometimes somebody would put a car up onto the back of a flatbed truck and charge a quarter for three smacks with a sledgehammer. And I thought we could do that for charity. And it still at times seems to me like a good idea, but I have sort of a carnival mind. And my wife is a little bit more sober.


BIANCULLI: Stephen King speaking to Terry Gross in the year 2000. After a break, we'll listen to their conversation about his 2013 book "Joyland," a crime and horror novel set in the world of amusement park rides and carnival barkers. And film critic Justin Chang will review the new Tom Cruise movie "Mission: Impossible – Fallout." I'm David Bianculli, and this is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli in for Terry Gross back with more of Terry's interviews with author Stephen King. A new TV series called "Castle Rock," based on several of his works, premiered this week on the Hulu streaming service. King's novel "Joyland," published in 2013, features a horror house and a torture chamber. But it's not exactly a horror novel. It also combines elements of crime and the supernatural. It takes place in 1973 in an amusement park called Joyland. The park's fun house may be haunted by a ghost, which may explain the dead bodies within. The main character is a college student who aspires to write for The New Yorker. After his heart is broken by his girlfriend, he wants to get away from his life in New England and takes a job in North Carolina at the amusement park where he enters a different world.


GROSS: Stephen King, Welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's really a pleasure to have you back on our show. I would like you to start with a reading from "Joyland," and there's probably an official word for this page. The detective books I used to buy when I was, like, in my early teens used to have this kind of page (laughter). It's like a page with a lot of, like, drama in it. I want you to read that page.

KING: Hi, Terry. It's a pleasure. And this is the tease for "Joyland."

(Reading) I stashed my basket of dirty rags and Turtle Wax by the exit door in the arcade. It was 10 past noon, but right then, food wasn't what I was hungry for. I walked slowly along the track and into Horror House. I had to duck my head when I passed beneath the Screaming Skull, even though it was now pulled up and locked in its home position. My footfalls echoed on a wooden floor painted to look like stone. I could hear my breathing. It sounded harsh and dry. I was scared, OK? Tom had told me to stay away from this place, but Tom didn't run my life any more than Eddie Parks did.

Between the Dungeon and the Torture Chamber, the track descended and described a double-S curve, where the cars picked up speed and whipped the riders back and forth. Horror House was a dark ride. But when it was in operation, this stretch was the only completely dark part. It had to be where the girl's killer had cut her throat and dumped her body. How quick he must have been - and how certain of exactly what he was going to do.

I walked slowly down the double-S, thinking it would not be beyond Eddie to hear me and shut off the overhead work lights as a joke, to leave me here to feel my way past the murder site with only the sound of the wind and that one slapping board to keep me company. And suppose - just suppose a young girl's hand reached out in that darkness and took mine.

GROSS: That's Stephen King reading from his new novel "Joyland." So this is a crime novel that's set in an amusement park in North Carolina. But there's also an element of the supernatural in it. Why did an amusement park that's kind of very carney seem like a good opportunity to combine crime and the supernatural?

KING: Well, I always wanted to write a novel set in an amusement park. Ever since I was a little boy and I went to the Topsham Fair, I've loved the rides and the barkers. I think those people in particular - the shy bosses, they're called. They're the people who turn the tips. They're the ones who stand out in front and tell you, you know, everybody wins, folks. Everybody wins...

GROSS: (Laughter).

KING: ...Come on over. It's just a quarter of a dollar, and everybody wins. Hey, mister - you want to win this big, stuffy toy for your girlfriend? She's a beauty, and she deserves - you know, that kind of thing. In a way, it's a little bit like revival preachers but in a secular version. So I've always been kind of fascinated by those things and in love with it. And I just kind of wanted to visit that world for a while.

I had an idea for the story, which, by the way, has been in my head for about 20 years now. And all it was to begin with was an image of a boy in a wheelchair flying a kite on a beach. And that picture was just as clear in my mind as it could be. And it wanted to be a story, but it wasn't a story. It was just a picture, as clear as clear as clear. And little by little, the story built itself around it. And I thought, well, there's an amusement park down the beach from where this kid in the wheelchair is trying to fly his kite. And the name of the amusement park is Joyland.

Then, I went to the Internet, which is every writer's newest crutch. And I looked at amusement parks. I wanted one that was nice and clean and sunlit but wasn't too big. So I didn't want a Disney World. I didn't want a Six Flags park. And I settled on a place called Canobie Lake, just about the right size. And then, as I wrote the book, this thing happened where it became less and less like a standard amusement park and more and more like the carnies I remembered from my youth. And the more carney it got, the better I liked it, actually.

And I started to go to websites that had various carney language, some of which I remembered a little bit, pitchmen called shy bosses and their concessions called shies and the little places where they sold tickets and sometimes sat down and rested were called their dog houses. And then other stuff I just made up, like calling pretty girls points. I can't remember some of the other ones. It's all mingled together now in my head.

BIANCULLI: We're listening to an interview Terry Gross recorded with Stephen King in 2013 about his novel "Joyland." One of the characters in the novel is a megachurch evangelical preacher who hosts "The Buddy Ross Hour Of Power" show on TV. Terry asked Stephen King about his own church-going and if he believes in God.


KING: Well, I guess that the jury's out on that...

GROSS: About which? About God?

KING: On God and the afterlife and all that. It's certainly a subject that's interested me. And I think it interests me more the older that I get. And I think we'd all like to believe that after we shuffle off this mortal coil, that there's going to be something on the other side because, for most of us - I know for me - life is so rich, so colorful and sensual and full of good things - things to read, things to eat, things to watch, places to go, new experiences - that I don't want to think that you just go to darkness. I can remember, as a kid, thinking to myself - oh, God, I hope I don't die because I'll just have to lie down there in that box, and I won't be able to play with my friends or go to baseball games or any of those things.

As a kid, death seemed boring to me. As an adult, I think that it seems more like a waste of everything. I - somebody once said every time a professor dies, a library burns. And there's some of that feeling. But as far as God and church and religion and the Buddy Rosses and that sort of thing, I kind of always felt that organized religion was just basically a theological insurance scam, where they're saying, if you spend time with us - guess what - you're going to live forever. You're going to go to some other plane where you're going to be so happy, you'll just be happy all the time, which is also kind of a scary idea to me.

GROSS: I remember you telling me the last time we spoke that you always believed in God. And it's a choice that you made, and you just - you choose to believe it.

KING: I choose to believe it, yeah. I think that that's - I mean, there's no downside to that. And the downside - if you say, well, OK, I don't believe in God; there's no evidence of God, then you're missing the stars in the sky, and you're missing the sunrises and sunsets. And you're missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together at the same time. Everything is sort of built in a way that, to me, suggests intelligent design. But at the same time, there's a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, well, if this is God's plan, it's very peculiar. And you have to wonder about that guy's personality - the big guy's personality. The thing is, like, I may have told you last time that I believe in God. What I'm saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts. And, you know, I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I'm totally inconsistent.

GROSS: And I'm all for that.


BIANCULLI: Stephen King speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.


BIANCULLI: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to Terry's 2013 interview with author Stephen King. The new TV series inspired by many of his works called "Castle Rock" premiered this week on the Hulu streaming service.


GROSS: When you were in your formative years, what were your supernatural fears? And did you always wish you had some of the supernatural powers that you've given some of your characters?

KING: I think it's built-in. I think it's just part of human nature. I've been queried a lot about where I get my ideas or how I got interested in this stuff. And at some point, a lot of interviewers just turn into Dr. Freud and put me on the couch and say, what was your childhood like? And I say various things, and I confabulate a little bit and kind of dance around the question as best as I can, but bottom line - my childhood was pretty ordinary, except from a very early age, I wanted to be scared. I just did. I was scared. Afterwards, I wanted a light on because I was scared that there was something in the closet. My imagination was very active even at a young age.

For instance, there was a radio program at the time called "Dimension X," and my mother didn't really want me to listen to that because she felt it was too scary for me. So I would creep out of bed and go to the bedroom door and crack it open. And she loved it, so apparently I got it from her. But I would listen at the door, and then when the program was over, I'd (laughter) go back to bed and quake.

GROSS: So you wanted to be scared. Or, I mean, did you have...

KING: Yeah.

GROSS: ...An avoidance thing with being scared? Or did you just want to be scared?

KING: Terry, I loved it. It was a classic attraction-repulsion thing. I wanted to be scared. I wanted that reaction. And, I mean, I can self-analyze to a degree. And it might be right, and it might be wrong. But here's what I really think. I wanted an emotional engagement with something that was safe, something that I could pull back from. And I basically - I had a big imagination. I wanted to put it to work even at an early age.

So I would ask my mother to take me to movies like "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers" or "Them," where the giant ants came out of the subway drains in Los Angeles. And she was OK with that. She was down with that because she liked it. I can remember her reading us - my brother and I - "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde." We would get the classics comic books with things like "Oliver Twist." And "Oliver Twist" was a wonderful story, but what I really liked was the death of Fagan, where, you know, he was just sort of, ah, with his eyes bugging out because the classics comic books in a lot of cases were just dressed-up, easy horror comics. So I think it's built-in. I think it's like a piece of magnetic steel that draws a needle.

GROSS: Are there things that scare you as an adult that you were not aware enough of or smart enough for when you were a kid to understand that these were frightening things?

KING: Well, you grow up, and you become frightened of different things, and they have a tendency to be real-world things.

GROSS: Yeah.

KING: It's been quite a while since I was really afraid that there was a boogeyman in my closet, although I am still very careful to keep my feet under the covers when I go to sleep because the covers are magic. And if your feet are covered, it's like boogeyman Kryptonite.

GROSS: (Laughter).

KING: So I'm not as afraid of that as I used to be. The supernatural stuff doesn't get to me anymore. But here's the movie that scared me the most in the last 12 or 13 years. The movie opens with a woman in late middle-age sitting at a table and writing a story. And the story goes something like, then the branches creaked in the - and she stops, and she says to her husband, what are those things? I can't think of them. They're in the backyard, and they're very tall, and birds land on the branches. And he says, why, Iris, those are trees. And she says, yes, how silly of me. And she writes the word, and the movie starts. That's Iris Murdoch, and she's suffering the onset of Alzheimer's disease.

GROSS: Yeah.

KING: That's the boogeyman in the closet now.

GROSS: Why is that the thing you're most afraid of?

KING: I'm afraid of losing my mind.

GROSS: Losing your memory?

KING: Well, you don't just lose your memory. You lose your mind, basically.

GROSS: Yeah.

KING: You lose your identity, your sense of who you are, where you are. If you're a block away from the house, you may forget how to get home. I think I could put up with a lot of things and a lot of pain. I have put up with a lot of pain. I got hit by a car in 1999 and got most of the bones on the right side of my body broken. And I bore up under that, and I got better. But you can't get better if your mind is stolen away from you.

So here's what I'm saying. As we get older, our fears in some ways sharpen and become more personal because we can no longer, let's say, take a book like "It" or maybe "Christine" and say these are make-believe fears. Instead, we have more of a tendency to focus on things that we know are out there. We fear for our families. We fear for our mental abilities. We fear for diseases. You may see a dark spot on your arm or an irregular mole and say, gee, I better get that checked out. If you're a woman doing a self breast exam, and you feel a lump that wasn't there before, these are very real fears.

So when you ask me what I'm afraid of, I'd say - I still go to see ghost movies when I get a chance or some sort of supernatural being, that kind of thing. But it doesn't scare me as it scared me when I was a child. But on the other hand, if I see a wonderful writer like Iris Murdoch losing her mind, I have more of a tendency to focus on that than how loving her husband was, which is supposed to be the uplifting part of that film.

GROSS: Since, you know, we've talked a little bit about your interest in the supernatural and whether or not there is an afterlife, did you have any of those, you know, like, near-death experiences that are, you know, sometimes described by people who came very close to dying but were then revived?

KING: I never saw the white light. I'm sorry. I can't tell a lie. I never saw the white light. So no, I can't say that I've ever had a near-death experience where, you know, angels rose fluttering from the end of my hospital bed or anything. I just felt really sick. And I had a couple of - my wife would say - bad drug interactions where I started to rave. And I don't remember any of those things. And that's it, man. I'm just glad to be alive now. And I'm very curious about what, if anything, comes next. But I'll wait. I'll wait.

GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I hope - (laughter) I hope you'll be waiting a really, really long time.

KING: Yeah. From your lips to God's ear.

GROSS: (Laughter) If there is a god, right (laughter)?

KING: If there is a god.

GROSS: Stephen King, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. It's really been great to talk with you again. And I'm so glad to hear that, in spite of the car accident, like, you're playing tennis and stuff like that. That's great.

KING: Yeah. Yeah. It's good to be alive, Terry. And sometime when you're up here, we'll play doubles.

GROSS: Oh (laughter), yeah (laughter).

KING: It's been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

GROSS: Thank you so much. Be well.

BIANCULLI: Stephen King, speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. The new TV series inspired by many of his stories, a series called "Castle Rock," presents fresh episodes each Wednesday on the Hulu streaming service. Here's Stephen King singing with Warren Zevon on piano.


KING: This is where it all begins. (Singing) When the night has come, and the land is dark, and the moon is the only light we'll see, I won't cry. I won't cry. No, I won't shed a tear just as long as you stand by me. And darling, darling, stand by me. Stand by me, just as long as you stand by me. Now listen, if the sky...

BIANCULLI: Coming up, film critic Justin Chang reviews the new Tom Cruise action movie "Mission: Impossible - Fallout." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOMEZ'S "BUENA VISTA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.
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