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Although 'Where do you get your ideas?' has always been the question I'm most frequently asked (it's number one with a bullet, you might say), the runner-up is undoubtedly this one: 'Is horror all you write?' When I say it isn't, it's hard to tell if the questioner seems relieved or disappointed.

Just before the publication of Carrie, my first novel, I got a letter from my editor, Bill Thompson, suggesting it was time to start thinking about what we were going to do for an encore (it may strike you as a bit strange, this thinking about the next book before the first was even out, but because the pre-publication schedule for a novel is almost as long as the post-production schedule on a film, we had been living with Carrie for a long time at that point - nearly a year). I promptly sent Bill the manuscripts of two novels, one called Blaze and one called Second Coming. The former had been written immediately after Carrie, during the six-month period when the first draft of Carrie was sitting in a desk drawer, mellowing; the latter was written during the year or so when Carrie inched, tortoiselike, closer and closer to publication.

Blaze was a melodrama about a huge, almost retarded criminal who kidnaps a baby, planning to ransom it back to the child's rich parents ... and then falls in love with the child instead. Second Coming was a melodrama about vampires taking over a small town in Maine. Both were literary imitations of a sort, Second Coming of Dracula, Blaze of Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

I think Bill must have been flabbergasted when these two manuscripts arrived in a single big package (some of the pages of Blaze had been typed on the reverse sides of milk-bills, and the Second Coming manuscript reeked of beer because someone had spilled a pitcher of Black Label on it during a New Year's Eve party three months before) - like a woman who wishes for a bouquet of flowers and discovers her husband has gone out and bought her a hothouse. The two manuscripts together totalled about five hundred and fifty single-spaced pages.

He read them both over the next couple of weeks - scratch an editor and find a saint - and I went down to New York from Maine to celebrate the publication of Carrie (April, 1974, friends and neighbours - Lennon was alive, Nixon was still hanging in there as President, and this kid had yet to see the first grey hair in his beard) and to talk about which of the two books should be next ... or if neither of them should be next.

I was in the city for a couple of days, and we talked around the question three or four times. The final decision was made on a street-corner - Park Avenue and 44th Street, in fact. Bill and I were standing there waiting for the light, watching the cabs roll into that funky tunnel or whatever it is - the one that seems to burrow straight through the Pan Am Building. And Bill said, 'I think it should be Second Coming.'

Well, that was the one I liked better myself- but there was something so oddly reluctant in his voice that I looked at him sharply and asked him what the matter was. 'It's just that if you do a book about vampires as the follow-up to a book about a girl who can move things by mind-power, you're going to get typed,' he said.

'Typed?' I asked, honestly bewildered. I could see no similarities to speak of between vampires and telekinesis. 'As what?

'As a horror-writer,' he said, more reluctantly still.

'Oh,' I said, vastly relieved. 'Is that all!'

'Give it a few years,' he said, 'and see if you still think it's "all".'

'Bill,' I said, amused, 'no one can make a living writing just horror stories in America. Lovecraft starved in Providence. Bloch gave it up for suspense novels and Unknown-type spoofs. The Exorcist was a one-shot. You'll see.'

The light changed. Bill clapped me on the shoulder. 'I think you're going to be very successful,' he said, 'but I don't think you know shit from Shinola.'

He was closer to the truth than I was. It turned out that it was possible to make a living writing horror stories in America. Second Coming, eventually retitled 'Salem's Lot, did very well. By the time it was published, I was living in Colorado with my family and writing a novel about a haunted hotel. On a trip into New York, I sat up with Bill half the night in a bar called Jasper's of the Rock-Ola; you had to kind of lift him up to see what the selections were, and told him the plot By the end, his elbows were planted on either side of his bourbon and his head was in his hands, like a man with a monster migraine.

'You don't like it,'I said.

'I like it a lot,' he said hollowly.

"Then what's wrong?'

'First the telekinetic girl, then the vampires, now the haunted hotel and the telepathic kid. You're gonna get typed.'

This time I thought about it a little more seriously - and then I thought about all the people who had been typed as horror writers, and who had given me such great pleasure over the years - Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, and Shirley Jackson (yes, even she was typed as a spook writer). And I decided there in Jasper's with the cat asleep on the juke and my editor sitting beside me with his head in his hands, that I could be in worse company. I could, for example, be an 'important writer like Joseph Heller and publish a novel every seven years or so, or a 'brilliant' writer like John Gardner and write obscure books for bright academics who eat macrobiotic foods and drive old Saabs with faded but still legible GENE MCCARTHY FOR PRESIDENT stickers on the rear bumpers.

'That's okay, Bill,' I said, 'Ill be a horror writer if that's what people want That's just fine.'

We never had the discussion again. Bill's still editing and I'm still writing horror stories, and neither of us is in analysis. It's a good deal.

So I got typed and I don't much mind - after all, I write true to type ... at least, most of the time. But is horror all I write? If you've read the foregoing stories, you know it's not ... but elements of horror can be found in all of the tales, not just in The Breathing Method - that business with the slugs in The Body is pretty gruesome, as is much of the dream imagery in Apt Pupil. Sooner or later, my mind always seems to turn back in that direction, God knows why.

Each one of these longish stories was written immediately after completing a novel - it's as if I've always finished the big job with just enough gas left in the tank to blow off one good-sized novella. The Body, the oldest story here, was written direct after Salem's Lot; Apt Pupil was written in a two-week period following the completion of The Shining (and following Apt Pupil I wrote nothing for three months -I was pooped); Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was written after finishing The Dead Zone; and The Breathing Method, the most recently written of these stories, immediately following Firestarter*

None of them have been published previous to this book; none has even been submitted for publication. Why? Because each of them comes out to 25,000 to 35,000 words - not exactly, maybe, but that's close enough to be in the ballpark. I've got to tell you: 25,000 to 35,000 words are numbers apt to make even the most stout-hearted writer of fiction shake and shiver in his boots. There is no hard-and-fast definition of what either a novel or a short story is - at least not in terms of word-count - nor should there be. But when a writer approaches the 20,000-word mark, he knows he is edging out of the country of the short story. Likewise, when he passes the 40,000-word mark, he is edging into the country of the novel. The borders of the country between these two more orderly regions are ill-defined, but at some point the writer wakes up with alarm and realizes that he's come or is coming to a really terrible place, an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic called the 'novella' (or, rather too cutesy for my taste, the 'novelette').

Now, artistically speaking, there's nothing at all wrong with the novella. Of course, there's nothing wrong with circus * Something else about them, which I just realized: each one was written in a different house - three of those in Maine and one in Boulder, Colorado. freaks, either, except that you rarely see them outside of the circus. The point is that there are great novellas, but they traditionally only sell to the 'genre markets' (that's the polite term; the impolite but more accurate one is 'ghetto markets'). You can sell a good mystery novella to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine or Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine, a good science fiction novella to Amazing or Analog, maybe even to Omni or The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Ironically, there are also markets for good horror novellas: the aforementioned FSF is one; The Twilight Zone is another and there are various anthologies of original creepy fiction, such as the Shadows series published by Doubleday and edited by Charles L. Grant.

But for novellas which can, on measure, only be described with the word 'mainstream' (a word almost as depressing as 'genre')... boy, as far as marketability goes, you in a heap o' trouble. You look at your 25,000-to-35,000-word manuscript dismally, twist the cap off a beer, and in your head you seem to hear a heavily accented and rather greasy voice saying: 'BueSos dias, senorl How was your flight on Revolution Airways? You like to eeet pretty-good fine I theenk, si? Welcome to Novella, senorl You going to like heet here preety-good-fine, I theenk! Have a cheap cigar! Have some feelthy peectures! Put your feet up, senior, I theenk your story is going to be here a long, long time ... quepasal Ah-ha-hah-hah-hah!' Depressing.

Once upon a time (he mourned) there really was a market for such tales - there were magical magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, and The American Mercury. Fiction - fiction both short and long - was a staple of these and others. And, if the story was too long for a single issue, it was serialized in three parts, or five, or nine. The poisonous idea of 'condensing' or 'excerpting' novels was as yet unknown (both Playboy and Cosmopolitan have honed this particular obscenity to a noxious science: you can now read an entire novel in twenty minutes!), the tale was given the space it demanded, and I doubt if I'm the only one who can remember waiting for the mailman all day long because the new Post was due and a new short story by Ray Bradbury had been promised, or perhaps because the final episode of the latest Clarence Buddington Kelland serial was due.

(My anxiety made me a particularly easy mark. When the postman finally did show up, walking briskly with his leather bag over his shoulder, dressed in his summer-issue shorts and wearing his summer-issue sun helmet, I'd meet him at the end of the walk, dancing from one foot to the other as if I badly needed to go to the bathroom; my heart in my throat. Grinning rather cruelly, he'd hand me an electric bill. Nothing but that. Heart plummets into my shoes. Finally he relents and gives me the Post after all: grinning Eisenhower on the cover, painted by Norman Rockwell; an article on Sophia Loren by Pete Martin; 'I Say He's a Wonderful Guy', by Pat Nixon, concerning - yeah, you guessed it - her husband Richard; and, of course, stories. Long ones, short ones, and the last chapter of the Kelland serial. Praise God!)

And this didn't happen just once in a while; this happened every fucking week! The day that the Post came, I guess I was the happiest kid on the whole eastern seaboard.

There are still magazines that publish long fiction -Atlantic Monthly and The New Yorker are two which have been particularly sympathetic to the publication problems of a writer who has delivered (we won't say 'gotten'; that's too close to 'misbegotten') a 30,000-word novella. But neither of these magazines has been particularly receptive to my stuff, which is fairly plain, not very literary, and sometimes (although it hurts like hell to admit it) downright clumsy.

To some degree or other, I would guess that those very qualities - unadmirable though they may be - have been responsible for the success of my novels. Most of them have been plain fiction for plain folks, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and a large fries from McDonald's. I am able to recognize elegant prose and to respond to it, but have found it difficult or impossible to write it myself (most of my idols as a maturing writer were muscular novelists with prose styles which ranged from the horrible to the nonexistent: cats like Theodore Dreiser and Frank Norris). Subtract elegance from the novelist's craft and one finds himself left with only one strong leg to stand on, and that leg is good weight. As a result, I've tried as hard as I can, always, to give good weight. Put another way, if you find out you can't run like a thoroughbred, you can still pull your brains out (A voice rises from the balcony: 'What brains, King?' Ha-ha, very funny, fella, you can leave now).

The result of all this is that, when it came to the novellas you've just read, I found myself in a puzzling position. I had gotten to a place with my novels where people were saying King could publish his laundry list if he wanted to (and there are critics who claim that's exactly what I've been doing for the last eight years or so), but I couldn't publish these tales because they were too long to be short and too short to be really long. If you see what I mean.

'Si, senor, I see! Take off your shoes! Have some cheap rum! Soon thee Medicore Revolucion Steel Band iss gonna come along and play some bad calypso! You like eet preety-good-fine, I theenk! And you got time, senor! You got time because I theenk your story ees gonna -'

- be here a long time, yeah, yeah, great, why don't you go somewhere and overthrow a puppet imperialist democracy?

So I finally decided to see if Viking, my hardcover publisher, and New American Library, my paperback publisher, would want to do-a book with stories in it about an off-beat prison-break, an old man and a young boy locked up in a gruesome relationship based on mutual parasitism, a quartet of country boys on a journey of discovery, and an off-the-wall horror story about a young woman determined to give birth to her child no matter what (or maybe the story is actually about that odd Club that isn't a Club). The publishers said okay. And that is how I managed to break these four long stories out of the banana republic of the novella.

I hope you liked them preety-good-fine, muchachos and muchachas.

Oh, one thing about type-casting before I call it a day.

Was talking to my editor - not Bill Thompson, this is my new editor, real nice guy named Alan Williams, smart, witty, able, but usually on jury duty somewhere deep in the bowels of New Jersey - about a year ago.

'Loved Ciyo,' Alan says (the editorial work on that novel, a real shaggy-dog story, had just been completed). 'Have you thought about what you're going to do next?'

Deja vu sets in. I have had this conversation before.

'Well, yeah,' I say. 'I have given it some thought -'

'Lay it on me.'

'What would you think about a book of four novellas? Most or all of them just sort of ordinary stories? What would you think about that?'

'Novellas,' Alan says. He is being a good sport, but his voice says some of the joy may have just gone out of his day; his voice says he feels he has just won two tickets to some dubious little banana republic on Revolucion Airways. 'Long stories, you mean.'

'Yeah, that's right,' I say. 'And we'll call the book something like "Different Seasons", just so people will get the idea that it's not about vampires or haunted hotels or anything like that.'

'Is the next one going to be about vampires?' Alan asks hopefully.

'No, I don't think so. What do you think, Alan?'

'A haunted hotel, maybe?'

'No, I did that one, already. Different Seasons, Alan. It's got a nice ring to it, don't you think?'

'It's got a great ring, Steve,' Alan says, and sighs. It is the sigh of a good sport who has just taken his seat in third class on Revolucion Airways' newest plane - a Lockheed Tri-Star - and has seen the first cockroach trundling busily over the top of the seat ahead of him.

'I hoped you'd like it,' I say.

'I don't suppose,' Alan says, 'we could have a horror story in it? Just one? A sort of... similar season?'

I smile a little - just a little - thinking of Sandra Stansfield and Dr McCarron's Breathing Method. 'I can probably whomp something up.'

'Great! And about the new novel -'

'How about a haunted car?' I say.

'My man? Alan cries. I have the feeling that I'm sending him back to his editorial meeting - or possibly to jury duty in East Rahway - a happy man. I'm happy, too - I love my haunted car, and I think it's going to make a lot of people nervous about crossing busy streets after dark.

But I've been in love with each of these stories, too, and part of me always will be in love with them, I guess. I hope that you liked them, Reader; that they did for you what any good story should do - make you forget the real stuff weighing on your mind for a little while and take you away to a place you've never been. It's the most amiable sort of magic I know.

Okay. Gotta split. Until we see each other again, keep your head together, read some good books, be useful, and don't take any shit from anybody.

Love and good wishes, Stephen King January 4th, 1982

Bangor, Maine

THE BREATHING METHOD | Different Seasons |