Monday, June 20, 2016

Two Literary Greats Talk Writing, Terror, and Rats

This past Thursday, Stephen King made a stop in Albuquerque during his book tour for his latest release, End of Watch, which is the final book in his trilogy about retired detective Bill Hodges and the Mercedes Killer. I was unbelievably excited when I found out he'd be in town. And then I found out that George R. R. Martin would interview King. How often does one have the chance to hear two literary powerhouses riff off one another? My excitement doubled.

The crowd was filled with all types, and with people from all over. A guy down the row from me was wearing a white shirt covered with blood stains. Surprisingly, there weren't many people in costume or spooky attire. But everyone seemed filled with anticipation for the moment the two authors came out on stage.

I found it amusing that both men had East Coast accents. Jersey vs Maine was entertaining. Apparently they've known each other for decades, and it showed in their easy exchanges. They spoke for an hour, although it felt like they were up there for fifteen minutes. The crowd let out a groan of disappointment when King announced they'd have to wrap it up soon.

King started by admitting he had put off reading the Song of Ice and Fire books for a long time. But one day he ended up with excruciating pain from sciatica and was laid up for a while, so he told himself, "I'll try one of these fucking George Martin books," and as he put it, it blew him away.

Both authors write some pretty dark stuff. I've read the Song of Ice and Fire series, and I watched the show until the episode with the Red Wedding. It was hard enough to read it, so I certainly didn't want to see it. Instead, I sat in the other room while my husband watched, and I cringed at the sounds. King has also disturbed me and made me feel uncomfortable. He digs into the darkest recesses of human nature and holds those dark things to the light for the reader to examine. I didn't write this particular bit down, so I'm not sure who said it, but I think Martin was prompting King to say that if you can't do terror in a story, go for horror. If you can't do horror, go for the gross out. Both have certainly made their way up and down that scale many times.

And this brings about how both of them had stories about rats early on in their careers. Or, as Martin put it, "Rats have been good to us." And then Martin asked the big question: "How do you write so many books so fast?" This won a big laugh from the audience. King said that when he's working on a project, he writes six pages a day, and he writes for three to four hours. He tries to make those pages as polished as he can. It takes him roughly two months to finish a project at this pace.

Toward the beginning of their talk, they both plugged their own work, and King plugged his son's work. I found it amusing that even though they were big name authors, they still felt the need to do the shameless plug. And although Martin laughed about King's productivity, I don't think he was entirely joking. I think there's some... if not outright jealousy, then wistfulness there. They've won awards and they sell tons of books, but I get the feeling that not-so-deep-down, they're just as neurotic and uncertain as any other writer. It's comforting, actually.

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