BANGOR, Maine — Stephen King has slowed down a bit, he’ll admit, in the way those fireballing baseball pitchers he loves to watch often do when they age. But the renowned master of horror writing says his newest novel, “Revival,” which releases Monday, shows he still can bring it.
“So ‘Revival’ is a fastball,” he says. “Yeah, it was.”
When King started out in the business, he said he always had a headful of ideas that wrestled with each other for lead billing. The results, starting with best-sellers “Carrie,” then “Salem’s Lot,” then “The Shining,” paved the way for the string of books, movies, TV series and a musical.
Nowadays, King says he’s happy when one or two tales are percolating, waiting for him to spill words onto pages and unleash them on the legion of fans he has long called “constant readers.”
“I’ve lost a few miles an hour — that’s right,” King said recently, expanding on the baseball analogy during an interview at his Bangor office. That office, which King refers to as “Creepy Acres,” is in a non-descript industrial building nowhere near his famous West Broadway home, where he spends several months each year. The off-the-beaten-path location keeps out the riff-raff and the crazies, King says.
“That’s a good metaphor for it,” he says, continuing to talk baseball — kind of. “I’ve found in my later years, a lot more I’ve had to go to the slider and the changeup. But I can still bring it when I have to. I’m old, but I’m not dead. So I can still wind up and fire.”
That’s exactly what he has been doing lately. Besides his newest novel, the musical he created with musician John Mellencamp, “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” takes the stage at the Collins Center for the Arts this weekend. “Under the Dome” has become a popular TV series. And “A Good Marriage” hit big screens in October.
As for “Revival,” which will be available at booksellers Monday, King hopes it provides further evidence the 67-year-old horror master still has plenty to offer the genre.
“I think that one of the things behind ‘Revival’ was [for] people who really like books like ‘Pet Sematary’ and ‘The Shining,’ I really wanted to see if I could still bring a real scare to people and write the sort of book that people would say, ‘It’s a great story, but it scared the hell out of me and I had to keep the lights on,’” King says. “I was sort of aiming for that in particular.”
“Revival” centers on two characters: A classic warts-and-all King protagonist, Jamie Morton, and the Rev. Charles Jacobs. The two cross paths when Morton is a child, and the reverend continues to play a role in his life as they age.
Advance publicity for “Revival” focused on its dark side, which King concedes exists. He drew a comparison between the writing process he experienced with “‘Salem’s Lot” to “Revival.”
“When I started [‘Salem’s Lot’] I thought to myself, ‘Well, this will be the opposite of Dracula, where the good guys win. In this book, the good guys are gonna lose, and everybody’s gonna become a vampire at the end of the book.’ And that didn’t happen. Because you go where the book leads you,” King says. “And this one just led me into a very dark place. I don’t even want to go there. I want people to find it out for themselves.”
The Rev. Charles Jacobs is, at different times, a traditional pastor and a carnival sideshow healer. Carnivals have cropped up in other King works, and he said he has always appreciated the seedy side of life that fairs and carnivals unveil.
“I just like carnivals,” he says. “I like that whole atmosphere, people selling stuff that’s a little bit on the sketchy side. Then I wrote ‘Joyland,’ which was about carnivals. And I started to think about the relationship between carnies and the revival circuit, and I’d always wanted to write the story about the revival circuit and about somebody who was a healer on that circuit.”
In his office at “Creepy Acres,” shelves hold King’s other works, and often garner attention from visitors. Recently, a man glanced at those books, and King admitted he had little real affection for his life’s work in their current form.
For King, pleasure comes from the act of creating.
“The fun of writing novels isn’t in the finished product, which I don’t care about that much,” he said, explaining what he told the visitor. “To me, those [books on the shelves] are like dead skin. They’re things that are done. But I love the process.”
King still maintains, as he has for years, that when a writer is in his or her proper mindset, the stories take on a life of their own.
“In a way, when the work is the best work, it’s more like being a secretary instead of being a creative person,” King says. “You just sort of take the stuff down.”
After 40 years writing the books that scare us all, King said he has no plans on retiring, though he had mentioned the possibility in an interview with the Los Angeles Times after suffering severe injuries when he was hit by a distracted driver in 1999.
Over time, he has recovered physically. The act of sitting in a chair while writing stopped being as unpleasant as it was shortly after his release from the hospital.
Now, King figures he is in the writing game for the long haul.
“Don’t push it,” he says when asked about possibly retiring. “I’m only 67.”
He does add, however, that if the tales dry up or his skills diminish, he might reconsider.
“I’ll go on as long as I can write stuff that I feel is going to be entertaining and enjoyable for myself and for the people who read my books,” King says. “But if a time comes when I feel like I can’t do this job anymore, that I can’t please the people who read the books, God, please help me to stop. Help me to shut my mouth.”
If that day comes, his fans hope it’s years from now. In the meantime, they’ll continue to accept the invitation King always gives, even to visitors who stop by “Creepy Acres”: “Welcome to my parlor, said the spider to the fly.”
Stories await. And if you’re lucky and King’s feeling limber, he’s likely to toss another fastball your way.
“If I have any kind of a strategy as a writer of suspense or scary movies, it’s that we ought to start in the daylight, where everybody feels welcome. And you come on in, and it’s kind of like a warm place,” King says. “And then, little by little, I want to lead you into the dark, when you’re too deep in the story to get away.”
That, after all, is Stephen King’s way.
“It’s a little sadistic, but it’s kind of fun, too,” King says.
Bonus videos: King talks about his kids.