Stephen King returns like a prodigal son to the short story

If you were in attendance at last year’s Best American Short Stories night at Symphony Space, you heard Stephen King tell the audience his work editing 2007’s collection made him return to the shorter form.  Excited and formally dressed (rare for the jeans and t-shirted Sox fan), he reiterated his loyalty to short stories and his concern with its current lackluster state in America.

Well, Stevie is as good as his word.  An article on Publisher Weekly’s website announced his return to the short story in a new collection titled Just After Sunset.  In 13 new pieces, Stevie traverses truncated ground to explore survivor’s guilt and psychological terror (natch).

Readers of Just After Sunset might want to gauge whether the stories meet up to the standards he professed to apply when editing BASS 2007: “What I want to start with is something that comes at me full-bore, like a big hot meteor screaming down from the Kansas sky…I certainly don’t want some fraidy-cat’s writing school imitation of Faulkner.”

In 2006, on another night at Symphony Space, Stephen King was interviewed by John Connelly.  There I heard him do something I’ve heard from no other writer.  He said he was working on a story and if no one minded, could he tell the crowd about it and they could tell him what they thought?  He briefly went into a story idea and stopped near the end because, he said, he didn’t know the end yet.  What do you think? he asked.  The audience answered in loud applause and an overwrought, possibly drunk woman in the balcony yelled: Write the hell out of that story, Stevie!

For those who still have their Brontes in a Boil over Stephen King’s literary merit, especially as it pertains to the short story, I will paraphrase an anecdote King told at Symphony Space that night: one day he was shopping at a market near his home in Florida and a woman approached him and said, with reproach, I know you.  You’re that writer.  He said yes, he was a writer and the woman informed him she did not like his writing, it was too morose and horrifying and sad.  Why couldn’t he write something more uplifting? she asked him.  Like the movie that’s out now, what’s it called, that Shawshank Redemption?

Stephen King did not say whether he told the woman Shawshank Redemption was based on a short story he wrote called “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.”  Or if he told her his story “The Body” was the origination text for Stand By Me.  Of course, he has plenty of good stories that haven’t spawned movies.  For those of you who still have their Hemingways in a Huff over it, think of it this way: writing stories that millions of people read wouldn’t, like, suck.

Which is essentially what I was trying to convey to Mr. King when I yelled from the balcony.

For more information about Stephen King’s introduction to Best American Short Stories 2007, check out our blog entry.

Here is information regarding our Superhero reading with Owen King, who has the same last name as Stephen.

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