King Retires?


King's fans were stunned when, in the September 27th issue of Entertainment Weekly, King announced that he would be retiring. After the remaining Dark Tower novels were published, King said, he was done. He'd still write (King acknowledged that he'd never be able to stop writing), but he would stop publishing.

Some fans were shocked. Some were saddened. Some didn't believe it. I don't quite know where I stand yet. I mean, the guy's given us scores of books, stories, essays, and poems, stuff that's sure to stand the test of time and be read and reread by generations to come. He's written himself a legacy in (mostly) fiction, and if he were to quit now, I don't think anyone could begrudge him. He fears being redundant. In his short story "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French" (featured in 2002's Everything's Eventual), King stated "Hell is repetition." With rumblings that From a Buick 8 is just a retreat of King's iconic car novel Christine (by the way: the two books couldn't be more dissimilar), King seems to be taken his own adage to heart. If hell is repetition, then heaven must be going out on top, and calling it quits before the self-parody sets in.

Still, such a bold statement was bound to cause controversy. We here at Charnel House still don't know what to make of the declaration - to be happy for King, to be sad for ourselves, or to take the whole thing with a grain of salt. So we decided to ask prominent members of the King community (it's a weird phrase, but there actually is one) to share their insights and opinions. Below are some responses, with more coming in daily. I want to thank everyone who helped me pull this project together, with special thanks to my friend George Beahm. George, I couldn't have done this one without you.

  • from George Beahm, author of The Stephen King Companion, Stephen King: America's Best-Loved Boogeyman, Stephen King Country, Stephen King Collectibles and Stephen King: A to Z. [please visit]

    When the Beatles announced they were through, that they wanted to pursue other projects and lead semblances of a private life, fans couldn't believe it. In fact, for decades afterward, the fans' most fervent (and, to my mind, feverish) dream was that there would be a Beatles reunion. Even John Lennon's murder didn't keep fans from fantasizing about a Beatles reunion, with John Lennon's son standing in his place. But despite all the outrageous offers made to the Beatles for a reunion, the remaining group resisted the siren song from all quarters and remained steadfast: NO MORE CONCERTS. It wasn't until George Harrison died that fans understood, REALLY understood, that the dream died.

    I've never heard of a case of a writer like King actually retiring from writing, but I can see where he would want to retire from publishing. Big difference.

    Fans are the hammers and the writer is the nail on the anvil. Fans have hammered away at King, always asking "When's the next book coming out?" After a year, a decade, two decades, three decades . . . the question becomes a form of Chinese water torture. Drip drip drip. Hell is repetition. The Chinese water torture, I think, for King began with the publication of the first Dark Tower novel. The majority of King's mail has, ever since that initial publication, clearly fallen in the category of "When's the next Dark Tower novel coming out?" Harlan Ellison, who faces the same question on a regular basis, writes that fans simply can't understand how weary and wearing it is for him to life under the accumulative weight of fans' expectations. So for King, who has carried the weight most of his professional life, it's time to throw the boulder off his shoulder.

    As a writer, King has kept his promises with his readers but he still has miles to go before he sleeps. He will not likely stop writing, but he is very likely to stop publishing. He can, like J.D. Salinger, continue to write and squirrel novels away for the future. There are good reasons for doing so. (Current copyright laws guarantee that his grandchildren will see his books fall in the public domain; therefore, why not keep a few in the writer's trunk and bring them out at a later date to benefit his immediate family?)

    My opinion is that the man's entitled to turn off the word processor, sell his Bangor home (read: fishbowl), and move to Florida to enjoy the sunshine and the sand. He's entitled to get up in the morning and not have to spend a moment worrying about what writing obligation he's got fulfill. He's entitled to get off the writing treadmill and take it easy.

    Unlike Michael Jordan, who retired twice and never had the good sense to stay retired when he was on the top of his game, King really believes -- I think -- that hell is repetition. He doesn't want to write the same story twice. He doesn't want to listen to fans' comparisons between IT and DREAMCATCHER, or CHRISTINE and FROM A BUICK 8. He wants to leave at the top of his game, to go out on the high note.

    Many years ago I felt strongly that his masterwork would be The Dark Tower and that when he finished that, he finished saying everything he wanted to say. Once a writer has achieve that, it's time to break new ground. Everything King has wanted to say . . . he's SAID. Why, he thinks, should he repeat himself?

    Will King write screenplays? Maybe. Poetry? Maybe.

    Whatever he wants to do . . . he's ENTITLED. He's given his Constant Readers everything that they could wish for, and now he wishes to take a break, maybe retire, but certainly enjoy his well-earned fruits of success. And if he moves to Florida to get away from the busloads of tourists that show up in Bangor at his front door, well, hell, he's entitled.

    As with the Beatles' music, so it is with King's books: The music remains, the books remain, and that is what it's all about and it's time for everyone to give King the breathing room he so richly deserves.

  • from Stephen Spignesi, author of The Shape Under the Sheet: The Complete Stephen King Encyclopedia, The Essential Stephen King, The Stephen King Quiz Book and The Lost Work of Stephen King [please visit]

    So it seems that Stephen King is quite serious about retiring from publishing. In the soon-to-be-a-milestone "Entertainment Weekly" interview, King says he plans to stop publishing books after the completion of the "Dark Tower" series. He admits he'll keep writing, because he wouldn't know what else to do between 9 and 1 each day (which is a clever, albeit disingenuous way of admitting that he HAS to write - a common trope of writers for whom the craft is a calling, not just a gig).

    King's thoughts reminded me of something Jerry Seinfeld recently said along the same lines. He said he essentially has no need for show business anymore and that he has, for all intents and purposes, retired from the business. "Seinfeld" was successful beyond anybody's expectations, and he probably couldn't spend the money he made off the show in this lifetime. King makes a similar comment about not needing the money.

    My feelings about all this? GOOD FOR THEM! King knows he has metamorphosed into an entire industry: books, movies, audiobooks, magazine appearances, foreign editions, reprint editions, press junkets, signings, etc., etc. He could keep this machine running with new material for the rest of his life if he chose to, but his decision to pull the plug on publishing is all about him as a writer. Regardless of how successful he has become from his work, the bottom line for him is that he loves and lives to write, and - this is the most important factor to keep in mind - King, or any other artist for that matter, does not need fans to fulfill his artistic visions and complete his artistic goals. King does not need readers to know that he has written something exquisite. A musician does not need a listener to play beautiful music. A painter does not need someone starting at his creation in a gallery to feel quite fulfilled simply from having created the work of art.

    Artists publish, record, act, and exhibit to make money off their work. If they don't need the money, this does not minimize the value of the work. J.D. Salinger, who King mentions in the article, may be the quintessential example of this paradigm. From many reports, he has continued to write for the past several decades. He writes for himself, and then he puts his work away somewhere when he is done. "The Catcher in the Rye" was his "Seinfeld," and once he no longer needed the money, he chose to be an artist unto himself. Again, GOOD FOR HIM.

    Speaking as a fan, I will lament the absence of new King books. But King does not owe me a new book every year, nor does he have an obligation to any of his fans to let them read everything and anything he writes. Personally, I suspect that King will, indeed, continue to write, and that someday down the road, he may decide to publish again. And I will bet you that if this happens, what he publishes will be unlike anything he has done before, it will take his fans and critics by total surprise, and it will be a masterwork of some sorts that will be considered a seminal moment in his career.

    Of course, he may never again publish another word, and if that's the case, so be it. Writing for publication is not easy. I do three books a year on average and those deadlines creep up with amazing swiftness. I did not win Powerball this week. If I did, would I still be a full-time writer? Yep. Would I worry about selling what I wrote and how my books were selling? Nope. Ars gratis artis. Art for art's sake. When you're Stephen King or Jerry Seinfeld, you can actually live that mandate. Good for them.

  • from Bev Vincent, whose column "Notes from the Dead Zone" appears in every publication of Cemetery Dance magazine. [please visit]

    "In the early 1982, the night before my Astronomy semester exam during my fourth year at University, The Who simulcast their farewell concert from Toronto on television. They were never going to tour or record again. A lot of people watched that concert, including me, who managed to get an A on my exam, lack of sleep notwithstanding."

  • from Justin Brooks, prominent critic and reviewer

    I believe that King will continue to write, and simply not publish. He has said before that he could never actually stop writing. This is scary, scary though, and I am hoping for an occasional New Yorker piece (one of those wonderful, literary stories.) I'm also hoping that this will not be permanent, but rather a break of perhaps five years (gulp!) or shorter. Also, I understand King's various comments about not wanting to repeat himself. I want to say that I don't think a muse such as King's can ever run dry. I would read absolute drivel if he put it out, sure, but his recent work has been above par (well-written, wonderful story, literary allusions, etc.) The Green Mile, Bag Of Bones, From A Buick 8, Black House and especially the short fiction in Everything's Eventual have been among King's best work. Also, I have to say shame on everyone's comparison of From a Buick 8 to Christine, it really is in no way similar ... this kind of talk will make King think he IS repeating himself! Here's hoping for the occasional book from King every few years ... I don't know how I'm going to live without my King fix ... I'm scared to death that this break from publishing will be longer than anticipated ... My only other obsession I have as a fan is Bob Dylan, and if he ever leaves us, I'm in trouble...

    I'm in mourning, please Mr. King, don't keep us waiting too long!

  • from Anthony Schwethelm, foremost authority on all things Dark Tower. His Dark Tower Compendium is the DT site to end all DT sites. His take:

    "It will still take a while for King to completely bow-out of the publishing business, given that on his website he still proclaims that there are still several books to be published (probably including the three remaining DT books) over the next few years. But even still, after he is officially 'done', we will not have heard the last of our favorite literary gunslinger... I fore-see a comeback maybe 10 years afterwards. Stephen King has just been in the writing business too long, and loves it too much, to give it up cold-turkey. A "Writing-Junkie" needs his fix, and while writing his stories down for just himself might suffice for a few years, he'll find the craving and the need to share his stories, next to insatiable. Who knows? Maybe we'll see a few 'limited editions' only from Grant Books, or Cemetary Dance, or his own Philtrum Press, become available. And maybe, just maybe... a new alias? (a la 'Richard Bachman')"

  • from Rosandra Montequin, webmistress of and extremely fast newsbreaker. Her take:

    Yet once again--as has happened so many times over the last 20+ years King has been writing--magazines and newspapers are reporting that Stephen King is retiring. The first time I ever heard the rumor, I thought it was true. Then King was interviewed and he said "maybe". Always that maybe. That word is the main reason why I'm not concerned.

    King is one who doesn't often say "never" or "forever". Although he may feel as though he's ready to call it quits today, he knows that in the near future he may get another lighting strike of an idea and run with it (and with King's prolific publishing and writing history, that isn't a far stretch).

    But if he wants to "hang up his pen", why should we complain? He has written enough books to last us a lifetime of reading (and you know that you don't read a King novel just once). I think the guy deserves a rest if he wants one.

    Of course, there's a difference between publishing and writing. King loves to write. It is in his blood. I can't see him not writing another story and, according to an interview this morning with Matt Lauer, King can't see a day he wouldn't want to write.

    That doesn't mean that he wants to continue to have his books published, though. He feels there may come a time when he has written everything he wants people to read. At that point, if he continues to write, he'll just store them away. "That's what they made desk drawers for," King says in the Today Show interview.

    But he still steers clear of the words "never published again" stating "Maybe I'll decide to publish some of it myself."

    King even realizes that his own death wouldn't stop publishers. "Maybe some day a literary executive will look at all those things written and say 'maybe this deserves to be published'." Then again, maybe King might publish something from the "other side"...

  • from Hans-Ake Lilja, webmaster of the incredible Lilja's Library, one of the very best King sites on the net. His take:

    Will King stop publishing books? Itís a hard question to answer, if even possible. King has said that he will many times before and the last time he did was when Bag of Bones was released. The years after that he published more book/year then he had in many years before. What is the difference this time? Is there a difference?

    Well, I think there is a difference this time. There are some things that make me think that King really means it this time.

    This time King is more consistent in his claims that he will stop publishing then he has been before.

    This time he seams to have a plan. He will finish the last three Dark Tower books and then heís done.

    There hasnít been any news or rumors about new and upcoming books. Earlier there has always been information popping up here and there about upcoming books some year before they are released.

    Fortunately, though, these things doesnít have to mean anything. King has said that if he writes a book that he likes heíll probably want to publish it.

    But for now let's assume that King will stop publishing. How do I feel about this? Of course I would like to have more books by King. Heck, if I were in charge I would have a new King book every year. I think that most of his fans feel this way.

    As a fellow human I can understand that he wants to throw in the hat, though. As the saying goes, you should go out when you're on top and King is definitely on top at the moment and will be even more so when the remaining three Dark Tower books are out. Also, we canít forget that King has been publishing books since 1974 and thatís almost 30 years!

    You have to remember that King is a writer and not a celebrity, if you ask him. King wants to write stories, he doesnít want to tour the country and sit in bookstores and signing autographs for hour after hour, or having people standing outside his Bangor home, or answering letters about when the next Dark Tower book will be out.

    I think that King is a victim of his own fame. Because he is famous (which he is because he is a good writer) he has many fans. Because he has many fans he has to satisfy them by appearing in bookstores and other places when a new book is released. Partly because he has to do that he doesnít want to publish. Do you see what Iím going for here? If he just had to write the story and then be done with it I think he might continue to publish as well.

    OK, this isnít the entire truth. King has said that he fears that he will be repeat himself. He said in the Entertainment Today interview that "From a Buick 8 is as close as I want to come to repeating myself". I can understand his fear. Not that I think he has come to close to repeating himself (not even with From a Buick 8) but a man can have only so many ideas, right?

    So what can we look forward to from King in the future then? Will there really not be any more King books in the future (after The Dark Tower is done)? Well, I read that his publisher at Simon & Schuster was told a summary from a book that he hasnít published and she indicated that he might publish it in the future and as I said earlier King himself has indicated that he might want to publish againÖlater on.

    I guess only King knows the answer, though, but I think that sooner or later he will write (he has said he is going to continue to write) a book that he think is good enough that itís worth to go through the publishing circus again. It might take a while but I think it will happen.

    If Iím right in my assumption that he is partly quitting because he is tired of the publishing circus, I suspect that he might release book/books under a pen name (not Bachman this time though) in the future. That way he wouldnít have to promote the book but still be able to release it.

    So back to the question again. Will King stop publishing books? The answer? I donít know! One thing I do know is that this Constant Reader is grateful for what has been. Thank you Stephen!

  • from Stu Tinker, proprieter of Bangor's Betts Bookstore, the Stephen King bookstore. For years, Stu (and his lovely wife Penny) has run Betts on love and admiration (and the obsessive natures of fans such as myself). Stu is, quite simply, one of the best people you'd ever ask to meet, and I urge you to make all your future King purchases at his store. You can visit them on the web at Betts Books online. His take:

    I guess my reaction is, "I'll believe it when I see it." I think that Steve is going to probably slow way down on publishing, but stop? Nope. Maybe a book every 3 or 4 years, but we will see more King titles. There is no way he will stop writing, he would drive himself insane if he could not get the thoughts and ideas out of his head and onto paper. The majority of what he writes we may never see, or not see until after his death, but there will still be some stuff that he feels the necessity to publish.