You may have heard something a few years back about the impending retirement of famed horror writer Stephen King. If you did, it was probably because back in 2002, he was telling anyone who would listen that he was done publishing. Not writing, but publishing. (Even he knew that no one would believe he'd ever stop writing something). What follows is a quote from an interview he gave to the New York Times in 2002 about why he decided to retire.
"You get to a point where you get to the edges of a room, and you can go back where you've been, and basically recycle stuff. I've seen it in my own work. People when they read A Buick Eight (his last non-Dark Tower-related novel, published in 2002) they're going to think Christine. It's about a car that's not normal, okay? You say, 'I've said the things that I have to say, that are new and fresh and interesting to people. Then you have a choice. You can either continue to go on or say I left when I was still on top of my game. I left when I was still holding the ball, instead of it holding me. I don't want to end up like Harold Robbins (a novelist who continued writing and publishing after a mind-impairing stroke that affected his ability to comprehend speech and the ability to read and write). That's my nightmare."Well, I don't know who he's going to end up like, but he's definitely not retiring.
I checked out StephenKing.com this morning and saw that Scribner recently announced their publication schedule for King's latest raft of books. I laughed out loud because he's gone from never publishing another novel to publishing three inside of 13 months. Next month sees the release of The Colorado Kid (a hard-boiled crime novel, an experiment for King), then in February of next year, King's putting out an out-and-out horror novel called The Cell, (a novel of zombies activated by brain-destroying cell phone signals), and in November of next year, Lisey's Story will be in bookstores.
In light of this recent flurry of writing/publishing activity, King was recently asked, essentially, "Didn't you tell everyone you were retiring?" To which he said, and I'm paraphrasing, "Writers lie for a living. We lie to everyone, but maybe to no one so effectively as ourselves."
Does that let him off the hook? I guess. Everyone has a right to change their minds, right? As one of King's many readers, I'm glad to have him back (and back into that book-a-year cycle he's always chafed at), but I'm also a little... let down? I always thought phony retirements were something only prima donna athletes did; guys who wanted to go out on a high note but never had the willpower to keep themselves away. King always struck me as the kind of guy who, once he'd decided something, he was damn well going to stick to it. Maybe something about that working man's honesty and forthrightness that informs so many of his characters. So when Stephen King retired, I was deflated. King was no prima donna athlete. He wasn't trying to get more money for some contract, or trying to generate a little more press for the conclusion of his Dark Tower series. He was really going to go out and, what's more, he'd be the guy to stick to it.
I have to admit, when he announced his retirement, I was slightly relieved because I knew that his books wouldn't continue their decline because there wouldn't be any more books. The well, apparently, was now dry. So, now that he's back I worry that the waning of King is going to continue. I've read everything the man's ever written, so I feel like I know where he's been headed. Not exactly Harold Robbins Dementiaville, but maybe a more modest Tom Clancy Hackatopia. I sure hope not though. Maybe now that he's exorcised all of his Dark Tower demons by finishing the series (with mixed results), he can get back to the nitty-gritty, namely sprawling, multi-character epics with elements of horror in them. (His last good one was Desperation back in 1996, almost ten years ago). The question now, I think, is this: Is King's post-retirement resurgence going to be like Michael Jordan's first comeback (dominance and a Championship) or like his second (obvious reduction in skill resulting in a sad fade in to oblivion)? Though I fear the latter may be true, I'm really hoping for the former.