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Transcript: Nightline's Interview With Stephen King

The prolific writer talks talks about career, family and his latest project.

ByABC News
November 15, 2007, 6:52 PM

November 15, 2007— -- "The Mist" is a novella written by Stephen King in 1980. In the book, an abnormal, supernatural mist takes over a small town in Maine, revealing vicious unworldly creatures. Next week a film version, written and directed by Frank Darabont, hits theaters.

The following is a transcript of Jake Tapper's interview with Stephen King for "Nightline." The transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and narrative flow.

JAKE TAPPER:
The latest "Stephen King" movie, which opens later this month, is "The Mist," about a small town in Maine enveloped by a dangerous fog. It focuses on the townspeople stuck in a supermarket, facing a new threat, their world having changed forever in an instant, turning on one another, disagreeing on how to deal with the threat. In one very pointed line in the film and the novella, a character says, "If you scare people badly enough, you'll get 'em to do anything. They'll turn to whatever promises a solution." It is all so evocative of 9/11, and yet amazingly, the novella on which the film is based was first published in 1980.

STEPHEN KING:
Keep in mind that I also wrote a book called "The Running Man" that was made into a movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger. The movie is nothing like the book. But the book ends with a passenger jet into hitting a skyscraper. And blowing the top off it. And after Sept. 11, I thought of that, and I thought, "Geez, I published that book around 1978." There's another one called "Rage," that I've withdrawn from publication, because it was about a school shooter. It had been part of the scenery in a couple of shootings, and so I thought it seemed better to pull it than to leave it around.

If you tell the truth, within the scope of a fantasy, people will hear those reverberations. Because a story like "The Mist" is a nightmare. But anybody who's ever had a nightmare knows that every nightmare has a basis in actual anxiety. It's a place where you can take your real anxieties, and park them for a while, and not worry about them anymore.

But the story of "The Mist," in the background, there's this idea that the military has been fooling around with something that's too big for them, and has torn an actual hole in the fabric of reality, and these awful creatures from another dimension have come through.

In another part of the story, there's a religious zealot, Mrs. Carmody, who's in the market, and to begin with she's sort of a figure of fun. Because everybody's pretty well solemnly grounded, and nobody's worried about anything. But once the disaster strikes, Mrs. Carmody gets a weird power. And certainly we've seen this time and time again in our own lives, that as the situation worsens, in various parts of the world, the religious fanatics have a tendency to become more and more powerful.

So all of this stuff has resonance. That's one of the things that I've always liked about horror fiction, and about fiction in the fantastic, is that it does have a resonance. But as far as 9/11 or the things that happened, I think that with a movie like "The Mist" people will mention that sort of resonance and they're going to conjure up 9/11. But the fact is, that was simply uh, a great big old dent in the fender of the American psyche. That changed the way we think about things and in a way, it's what my brother used to call "the blue car theory." You buy a blue car, you see blue cars everywhere.

After the 9/11 apocalypse happened in New York City, people, particularly New Yorkers, who breathed in the ash, or saw the results of that, have a tendency to keep seeing echoes and having flashbacks to it. But that's one of the things this kind of story's supposed to do is to help you deal with that a little bit.

TAPPER:
Religious characters don't fare very well in your books, I've noticed. Whether it's Mrs. Carmody or others. You are not a religious man?

KING:
I am a religious man. Well, I'm a spiritual man. I certainly believe in God, and I meditate on a regular basis, and try to stay in touch with the God of my understanding. But I haven't been through the doors of the church, I don't think since my mother-in-law died. And I certainly don't have anything against churches per se. I'm not a vampire type, when somebody shows me the cross or something like that. But organized religion gives me the creeps.

TAPPER:
How did the idea of "The Mist" come to you?

KING:
"The Mist"? (Laughs) I answer these questions and I always sound totally mad, barking mad. There was a market, it is an actual market in Bridgeton, Maine, where my wife and I lived at that time. And I'd been blocked for some time. I'd written a very long novel called "The Stand," and I'd finished it. And I couldn't seem to get anything else going. And about four months went by and I would try things, and they would die, and uh, I'd crumple up pages, and the wastebasket was full of paper, and the desk was bare. It was that kind of a situation. It was a writer's block.

So I was in the market one day, and uh, I was shopping, and I looked toward the front, and I saw the whole front of the market was plate glass. And what I thought of when I saw those big plate glass windows was, "What if giant bugs started to fly into the glass." (Laughs)

TAPPER:
That's what you saw?

KING:
That's what I thought. That's what I thought. And I had no idea why. Probably because I saw too many movies when I was a kid.

TAPPER:
You see a plate glass front of a supermarket and you think, "What if giant bugs were trying to get in."

KING:
Yeah, right. I did in that particular case. Not every time.

TAPPER:
Well, it's pretty terrifying. What was Stephen King's childhood like? Was it dark and depressing and full of horrific events?

KING:
No. It was normal. We were raised by my mother, who was a single mom, so we were latch key kids in the '50s before latch key kids actually existed. Um, so in that sense there was no dad around.

TAPPER:
You and your brother.

KING:
Yeah, my brother Dave and I. And we knocked around a lot of places, because my mom would get a job, and then either she'd lose it, because she got laid off, or something would happen, or the babysitter wouldn't show up, and my brother, who was two years older, is the babysitter, and somebody would see him crawling around on the roof of the apartment building after his ball, and we'd get evicted from that place, and we'd go somewhere else. And we finally settled in Maine, came back to Maine in 1957, and my mother took care of her grandparents, her parents, rather, my grandparents, until they died, and she worked at a place called Pinewood Hospital, which was a home for special needs children. Uh, kids with hydrocephalic big heads, and kids who were you know, mentally retarded, that sort of thing. And that's where she was when she died.

TAPPER:
There are a lot of high school kids, and especially in some of your early literature, who are loner types. But that wasn't really your experience completely, it sounds.

KING:
No. It really wasn't my experience. But I certainly observed kids who were loners, and kids who were at the bottom of the social pecking order, which in high school is fairly cannibalistic. Let's face it. No kid in high school feels as though they fit in. The smartest thing that I ever heard anybody ever say about high school was that, "If you look back upon that as the happiest time of your life, I don't want to know you!" High school was not the happiest time of my life, but I fit in.

TAPPER:
What was it like without a dad?

KING:
I had nothing to compare it to, so it was fine.

TAPPER:
But now you are a dad, and you can see what you didn't have.

KING:
Well, I can and I can't. I kind of play the dad business by ear. I found out that it wasn't like "Father Knows Best" and "Leave it to Beaver." Those were my ideas of fatherhood, and the way it was supposed to work. It was like "Honey, I'm home!" And the kids would all sit around the table and eat their peas, and they would have interesting little adventures. And I wasn't prepared for the realities of fatherhood. I think that Naomi came along when I was 23, so I was young.

And Joe came along a couple of years later. So I ended up writing a lot of books about fatherhood to try and understand it better. Because in some ways that's what fiction writers do. We write to try and figure out how we feel about certain things. "The Shining," for instance, with the homicidal father, I had feelings of anger about my kids that I never expected. I had never been led to believe by sitcom TV, or movies like "A Wonderful Life" that it was ever possible to think, "Won't this darned kid ever go to bed and let me write?" And Jack Torrence came out of that experience. An attempt to understand that experience.

TAPPER:
You were writing about your alcoholism with the Jack Torrence character as well.

KING:
Yeah. I wrote about the alcoholism a lot in those early days. But I never had a clue. I was pretty numb. But then I've never been the most self-analytical person in the world. Which is why interviews are tough for me. Because people ask you to parse out meaning from the stories, particularly in my field, when I write horror stories a lot of the time. They want to relate that back to my life, and I've never denied that they don't have some relationship to my life, but at the same time I'm always puzzled to realize years later, that in some ways I was delineating my own problems, self psychoanalysis.

TAPPER:
I guess I just wonder, being Stephen King, having seen and read so much of your work, it just seems like it would be, with a few exceptions, such a ... such a dark place. There's always something out to get you, in a horrible way. And it could be anything. It could be a monster in the mist, it could be a car, it could be a little girl. How does that manifest itself in your everyday life?