So this happened: Stephen King came to li’l ol’ Albuquerque as part of his End of Watch tour, and got interviewed by George R.R. Martin. All thanks to our local indie bookstore, Bookworks. Here are some notes from that June 16, 2016 conversation.
“They saved my life.” –Stephen King on George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books
For the longest time, Stephen King hadn’t read any of Martin’s books, even though his wife Tabitha had. Then one day King got a pain in his leg that turned out to be sciatica. He was laid up in bed, and couldn’t sleep because of the pain, so he said, “I guess I’ll try one of these fucking George R.R. Martin books. And it carried me away.”
“Instead of paying a shrink to deal with our craziness, we just write it, and then you pay us.” –Stephen King
When he was working on the short story Survivor Type, about a heroin- smuggling doctor who gets stranded on a tiny island, King actually lived next door to a doctor. He decided to pick the doctor’s brain for some real-life medical information: “How long could a man survive by cutting off pieces of himself and eating them?” After looking at King like he was crazy, the doctor recovered and said that it depended on whether the person could withstand the repeated shock, if they were a survivor type. Hence, the story’s title.
This story reminded me of when I was in junior high, and had to write a short story for an English class. I decided to write a murder mystery–back in the day when I thought I wanted to write mysteries. In this case, the mystery was just an excuse to get the protagonist together with her hot next door neighbor. Anyway, I approached my health teacher to ask questions about dead bodies, and he looked like he couldn’t decide whether to be amused or alarmed. “Why? Are you planning to murder someone?”
“The rats have been good to us.” – Stephen King
Stephen King got the idea for the short story Graveyard Shift because a co-worker described the experience of cleaning out the old floors of a mill and seeing rats that were as big as cats. So King was like, what if the rats were as big as dogs, and had mutated?
GRRM said one of his writing breakthroughs centered on rats. In high school he was one of the “nerdy, uncool, non-sports playing kids.” But one day his English teacher assigned her students to write their own ending to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Pit and the Pendulum. In Martin’s version, rats come out and eat the guy’s toes and face and then the pendulum cuts him in half. His teacher liked the story so much she had it read out loud to the class, and after that all the kids thought Martin was pretty cool.
“What is the nature of evil?” –George R.R. Martin
Things got serious when GRRM drew a comparison between the act of random violence of the nightclub shooting in Orlando and the opening in King’s Mr. Mercedes. King said he got the inspiration for Mr. Mercedes when he was driving from Florida and stopped at a hotel in South Carolina. On the news was a story about a woman who had driven her car into a line of job seekers outside a McDonald’s, apparently because she had heard her boyfriend’s “other woman” was going to be in that line.
King said often these mass killers are “nobodies” who see their way to stardom through acts of terror. Unfortunately, this is reinforced by the fact we often remember the killers long after the victims have passed. King said the Orlando shooter might have put a “political icing on the cake” for his motivations, but really he was a spouse abuser and “just fucking crazy.”
GRRM noted that King’s big bads are often not external forces, but just people—take Annie Wilkes, the scariest villain on earth for himself and King. (Martin revealed that one of the creepiest things that’s ever happened to him is receiving a package in the mail containing nothing but a copy of Stephen King’s Misery.)
King said evil as an external force is a more comforting concept, one we often turn to when horrors come from the outside that we don’t understand.
“George, is there something you want to ask me? Because I will.” —Stephen King
Wow, that hour flew by. King wrapped it up by asking if GRRM has that one question he’s been dying to ask.
“Yes,” said Martin. “There is one thing I’ve been wanting to ask you: How do you write so many fucking books so fast?”
Seriously. For the past few years, seemed like every time I turned around King had a new book out: Dr. Sleep, 2013; Joyland, 2013; Mr. Mercedes, 2014; Revival, 2014; Finders Keepers, 2015; and now End of Watch. Have I been able to keep up reading them? Not yet.
King’s process: His goal is to write 6 clean pages a day. He works on these pages for 3-4 hours every day. So a 360 page book takes two months to write.
“Creativity is a mystery.” –Stephen King
King said that the pressure he and George feel to write the next book is nothing compared to what “Jo” Rowling went through to finish the last Harry Potter book. He was at an event with her during the time she was working on the final few chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Somebody from the publishing house said something to Rowling and when she came up to King, her frustration was written all over her face. She said, “They just don’t understand what we do.”
Stephen King replied, “How can they understand what we do, when we don’t understand what we do?”
Even though I hauled my fancy Canon Rebel T3I camera that I got for my birthday, I didn’t get one decent picture of the event. (We weren’t allowed to use a flash or take photos when King and Martin were speaking, so the window of opportunity was pretty short, but still.) I obviously need to take a photography class because I can’t take pictures worth shit. And that’s the Shannon Yvonne Moreau version of “shit don’t mean shit.”*
Here’s a picture I took from the parking garage, after the event, before I went home. By the time I finished snapping photos of the Albuquerque downtown skyline and drove out of the garage, all the other cars were gone.
*Reference to King’s Finders Keepers
Update 6/23/16: Here is the link to the full video on George R.R. Martin’s website.