On Friday, author Stephen King spoke with the Bangor Daily News in advance of the launch of “Hearts in Suspension,” his latest book. Parts of that interview were included in the subsequent story, but as often happens, there were many more interesting parts of the conversation.
Here’s the entire interview, in Q-and-A format:
Hello, Stephen. Thanks for your time.
Stephen King: I appreciate you doing this. The book is a University of Maine Press book, and I want them to sell as many copies as they can because then they can fund other projects. You know, it turned out to be a very good book. I had my doubts, but it was good. It’s also a hell of a look at the way college used to be 50 years ago. It’s changed a lot.
Fifty years since you arrived on campus. Does it feel like it?
SK: Some days it seems like a hundred and fifty, but mostly it feels like you just looked back over your shoulder and you say, “How did it get so far away so fast?” You know, the time goes by. So on the whole, I’d say, no, it doesn’t seem like 50 years. Things have gone by so quickly.
You’ve spoken about the challenge of recapturing those times, first with “Hearts in Atlantis,” and now in the essay in this book. How hard was it to write that essay and feel like you were doing the era and the experience justice?
SK: I think that my initial reaction when Jim Bishop came to me with the idea was similar to a lot of other people that were in the book. It was, “I’m not sure if I want to go back to that time.” Living it was traumatic in some ways. It was great — I mean, when you’re 18, 19, 20 years old, you’re healthy and all your hormones are working, and your senses are acute. But at the same time, there are a lot of emotional upheavals. My high school girlfriend broke up with me, and that was traumatic. And we were all worried about the draft, the guys were, anyway, and a lot of the gals were worried for us. And furthermore, they were such a blur of classes, homework, events, card games, drinking at Pat’s, that I thought to myself, “I can’t really recapture it.”
But as a writer, I know that there’s a kind of hypnosis that kicks in. And if you can find a place to start, a lot of times the act of writing itself will open things up. And that’s what happened with me. The more I wrote, the more I remembered.
That really comes through. I was mentioning to my editor after reading it, that though you’re so well-known for your fiction, I sometimes enjoy reading your nonfiction; “On Writing” comes to mind. [Your essay in “Hearts in Suspension”] took me there. It made me feel like I was watching a film of what that time was like, and what your experience was like.
SK: Hopefully that’s the way that it works. A lot of the stuff that’s there, it’s interesting that apparently I remembered a lot of it correctly, because some of the other essays kind of backstop the things that I remember. I did check a couple of things, but some of the events are mixed up, chronologically, in my mind. I thought to myself, ‘Well, this is the way I’m gonna write it, because it’s the way that I remember it.’ So it’s more subjective than objective. If it feels like a film, that’s great.
I never knew you entered college as a Goldwater Republican. It seems like that’s kind of an apt metaphor for the times, or maybe for all time. You enter college, then over time, you find out that you didn’t know everything you thought you knew when you showed up, and transformed yourself into a very different person.
SK: Absolutely. I grew up in a really small community, Durham, Maine, and all my relatives were Republicans, going back three generations. They were rock-ribbed Methodists. We weren’t real, what you’d call “hard” Methodists, because we didn’t believe in drinking, but we could dance. It was a small community, dirt roads, farming. There was no reason to question anything.
As far as school went, when I went to grammar school, my class was three kids. Then, when I went to Lisbon High School, I think maybe the class I graduated in, it might have had 90, 95, because the whole school population was like 400. It’s changed a lot since then.
Coming to the University of Maine after [growing up in a small town] was like all at once you discover a brand new world. I know that I was shocked the first time that I heard people challenge my beliefs, because I wasn’t used to that. Little by little, my eyes were opened. Everybody’s were after a while. If you were in school, and if you were paying attention and using your intellect and listening to teachers and everything.
I think a lot of people in Maine — there was a prevailing theory at the time that all of the University of Maine professors were commies, and they were turning the kids into pinkos. All they were doing was teaching, “This is what’s happening, this is what’s going on. And draw your own conclusions.” Which we did.
Do you see any parallels between the turbulence of those times as compared to what we’ve got for political times now — the extreme polarity of views?
SK: No, I don’t. The current times disturb me a lot, because there seems to be, between left and right, a real hatred. And at that time, in the ‘60s, they talked about the generation gap, but the ties were strong. Yeah, there were marches that we had, marches against the war where eggs were thrown and in some cases, stones were thrown. But not a lot. There were no rallies of the sort — even when [George] Wallace ran in ‘68 — there were rallies like some of the ones, the [Donald] Trump rallies, where you could see guys wearing shirts that showed America with the [message], “We’re full. Get the f—k out.” That’s a different thing entirely. It’s a different feeling.
The closest you could get to the feeling of the ‘60s was there was this upwelling in 2010, 2011 about the 99 percent vs. the 1 percent, and Occupy Wall Street, and there was an Occupy movement here in Bangor. People would go past and yell things sometimes, but there was a tolerance that seems to be missing now. That’s the word I’m looking for.
Can you describe your relationships with those people that were the essayists. How much did you keep in touch in between, and how do you describe the relationship, and just the communal feel, [which] is the way [“Hearts in Suspension” editor] Jim Bishop described it to me yesterday, of the people that were there all together and working.
SK: I didn’t [keep in touch]. We said “Goodbye” on the day that we graduated in June of 1970, and I don’t believe I’ve seen any of those people again. I’ve probably seen Frank Kadi a couple of times. I think some of that has to do with the fact that people scattered to the four winds. But also, I scattered, in the sense that I never left the state, but I moved down to the western part of the state. I was down there a lot of the time. I mean, I was here for years and years and years, but we were occupied — I had my writing career, at the same time the kids were in school. So we had a lot going on there.
But I haven’t seen Phil Thompson since the day that we — no, that isn’t right — I saw Phil into the ‘70s, and then he kind of just dropped out. So I haven’t seen him for 40 years, not 50 years. But some of these people — Sherry Dresser, who is now Sherry Dec, nope. Diane McPherson, nope. Dave Bright, of course, I see Dave Bright from time to time, but I bet I haven’t even seen Dave for five or seven years.
What do you think it will be like on stage, seeing those faces again?
SK: I’m scared. I’m scared. And it isn’t like I think something’s going to go wrong. I don’t think anything’s going to go wrong. I think we’ll have a great discussion about what times were like, and hopefully some kind of contrast to the differences between the university, then and the university now. For one thing, the university’s a lot bigger now.
But I’ve got to tell you, I’m a little bit scared to see how my old college running buddies look now, and I’m a little bit scared for how they’re gonna look at me, and see the way that I look now. I’ve got to ask you. Have you been to any of your high school reunions? I went to one, I think it was like 10 years after we graduated from Lisbon High School, and that was enough for me.
Tell me about [your UMaine instructors] Jim Bishop and Burt Hatlen, and the role they played in your life. The things they taught, or the way that those messages have influenced you over the past 50 years?
SK: The very first class that I walked into on the very first day I came to the University of Maine was EH-1 [English composition], and Jim Bishop was teaching that class. So I met him at the very beginning, and he was a huge influence in my freshman year. Just the whole atmosphere, the give and take in that class, where we talked about writing and books and that sort of thing. When I was a sophomore, I met Burt, and the first time that I heard him lecture about poetry, and [William Butler] Yeats, I was transported by the new attitude, by the way that we were challenged intellectually. Then we started to have this poetry seminar where Jim Bishop was involved and Burt Hatlen — they were the main ones — but Graham Adams used to come to that one as well. That’s the passage of time.
I think Graham these days is living in Nova Scotia, and he might be suffering from some of the ills that we suffer from in our later years. That’s kind of sad. And Burt has gone on. But thank God Jim got in touch with me and persuaded me to do this.
I’m running out of my allotted time and I wanted to ask you this: I saw the photo of you and the “Vote Pennywise” poster. Any idea who put those up? Did you put those up?
SK: I didn’t put ‘em up. I have no idea who did. I think that it’s almost like a preordained thing that was going to happen at some level, because you get to this point of a campaign and people just sort of reach their gag reflex and the natural reaction is satire.
Any idea what [Pennywise] would be running for?
SK: I think probably Pennywise, given the temper of the times, could be a good candidate for president, or even possibly a candidate for governor. Now some people would claim that we have Pennywise for governor. But I’m not going to say that.
How scared are you right now — we always talk about what scares you — but how scared are you of the national and state political climate that we’re in right now?
SK: I’m very stressed out about the election. My kids are stressed out about the election. Everybody that I talk to is stressed out about the election. The Wall Street Journal did a piece that said Americans are more stressed by this election than any in the history of the republic. And it isn’t just us. People abroad, people in Europe … are very, very worried about what Americans are going to do [on Election Day]. Frankly, the worry is that Donald Trump might be elected, because the perception of him is of a man who is possibly dangerous. Short-tempered and unpredictable.