Steve: Second natural question: what do you think of the re-vamped website?
SK: Love it. If I didn’t, it would be strange, because it was a fairly costly upgrade.
SK [laughs]: Ask me stuff I can answer, Steve. Tax law isn’t on that list. But yeah, probably.
Steve: Do you go there often?
SK: All the time. I ghost around the message-board. It’s like being a fly on the wall. Every now and then I get flamed, but sometimes I deserve it.
Steve: Like when you made that dumb remark about how if kids didn’t learn to read and write, they’d end up in the military?
SK: Ow! But I’d have to agree that was badly phrased. Most of the troops I’ve met—and I meet a lot, because Bangor’s a National Guard town—read and write well. But of course, kids who don’t read and write well score down on their SATs and have trouble getting into colleges with scholarship money to give out, and that makes the military look good. There’s nothing wrong with the military option—as long as you clearly realize you’re eligible get shot at, that is—but kids deserve more options. Reading and writing provide them. That’s what I wanted to say.
Steve: So if you could get a do-over on that remark—?
SK: I’d take it. But writers expressing themselves poorly in speaking situations isn’t new; that’s why we’re writers! And the basic point is a valid one. Nor do I think our troops need our constant, unqualified worship. They’re tough guys and gals. They can take care of themselves, and most have got more important things to worry about than whether or not Steve King dissed them at a PEN event in Washington D.C.
Steve: And no diss was intended?
Steve: New book in November?
SK: Yeah, short stories. Just After Sunset, it’s called. I wanted to call it Unnatural Acts of Human Intercourse, and the publisher had a hissy-fit.
Steve: I like that title.
SK [laughs maniacally]: Of course you do, you’re me!
Steve: Do you have a favorite in the collection?
SK: There’s one called “A Very Tight Place” that I like because it’s flat-out gross. Also, since it was published in McSweeney’s, it will be new to most readers. There are other stories that were published in smaller mags, as well. One of them is called “Ayana.” I loved the way that one turned out.
Steve: And “N?” That seems to be the one people are talking about.
SK: Yeah, ’cause my publisher teamed with Marvel Comics to create a graphic version of the story. You can still get it on the web. Free in some places, I believe, but I like the iTunes pay-for-play downloads because they’re so crisp and clear. It’s also new to people, because it’s the one story in Just After Sunset that hasn’t been published somewhere.
Steve: Is it long?
SK: Pretty. About 21,100 words.
Steve: That was your attempt to write a Lovecraft-style story, wasn’t it?
SK: Not Lovecraft; it’s a riff on Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan,” which is one of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language. Mine isn’t anywhere near that good, but I loved the chance to put neurotic behavior—obsessive/compulsive disorder—together with the idea of a monster-filled macroverse. That was a good combination. As for Machen vs. Lovecraft: sure, Lovecraft was ultimately better, because he did more with those concepts, but “The Great God Pan” is more reader-friendly. And Machen was there first. He wrote “Pan” in 1895, when HPL was five years old.
Steve: Working on a novel?
SK: Yeah. The first draft’s almost done.
Steve: What’s it called?
SK: Under the Dome. I first tried to write it when I was twenty-five or so, but the concept was just too big, and I put it aside.
Steve: That’s long, too, isn’t it?
SK: Oh God. [Laughs] It’s twice the length of Duma Key. Over 1500 pages in manuscript. The first draft weighs 19 pounds. I have nightmares of the study burning down with the hard copy and the thumb-drive both inside.
Steve: When will it be published?
SK: No idea. I want to get the draft done, then go back to work on Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, which is the musical I’m collaborating on with John Mellencamp.
Steve: How close is the musical to done?
SK: A lot of it’s there. The first act (there are two) needs more work, but John’s music is absolutely terrific.
Steve: How many songs?
SK: He’s done maybe fourteen. I don’t know if they’ll all be in the show or not, but I hope so. I’ve come to believe John’s a pop music genius, but the main thing is he works really hard. And he expects others around him to do the same thing. He’s got a nice family and a great sense of humor.
Steve: Want to talk about politics?
SK: Nah, people don’t want to hear that from me. I will say that, as the scary guy, the thought of the two-year governor of Alaska becoming President if McCain got the job and then died doesn’t thrill me. Part of it’s that right-wing bunker mentality, but mostly…well, let’s face it: McCain’s pretty old. At the outer limits of the insurance actuarial tables.
Steve: So you do want to talk about politics?
SK: Really, I don’t. I’ve got an Obama sticker on my car, and I guess that says what needs saying. Call me a tiresome liberal if you want, but I just think it would be nice to have a smart guy running things for a change. We tried dumb and it hasn’t worked out too well.
Steve: Any more movies in the future?
SK: Dolan’s Cadillac, with Christian Slater. It’s wrapped production, and what I’ve seen looks great. My old Kingdom Hospital compadre Rick Dooling wrote it, and—in the words of Bryan Adams—the dialogue cuts like a knife but feels so right.
SK: Faithful, the Red Sox book I did with Stewart O’Nan, is supposed to be an HBO mini-series. The script is just goddam hilarious, so I hope they make it. And for the people who liked that book [Faithful], try Stewart’s novel, Last Night at the Lobster. It’s short, and it’s wonderful. Unforgettable, really. It’s a book to read while you listen to Workingman’s Dead.
Steve: Red Sox gonna make postseason this year?
Steve: World Series?
SK: I think they’ll be there, yeah.
Steve: Tampa Bay?
SK: Postseason by the skin of their teeth. The Rays are going to have a tough September…and I say that as a fan, because Tabby and I live in the Tampa area during the winter and early spring. [Laughs] We didn’t want to go to Florida, but when you get old, it’s the law. By the way, did you notice that the Rays went from worst to first when they got that Devil out of their name? Coincidence? I THINK NOT!!
Steve: Are you going to write another novel after Dome? Those retirement rumors are going around again.
SK: Novelists retire after every book. Until they get the next idea.
Steve: Have you got the next idea yet?
SK: No, but I’m not worrying about it.
Steve: What is worrying you?
SK: Well…you know, that question always reminds me of a Nat Hentoff novel. Best title of the 20th century, really: I’m Really Dragged, But Nothing Gets Me Down. It’s kind of a drag turning 61, but you know what they say: 61 is the new 59. And not too much gets me down. When it does, I put on the rock and roll.
Steve: What are you reading?
SK: A British mystery/suspense novelist named Robert Goddard. The entire oeuvre, which is—happily—quite large. 17 or 18 books, I think. The guy is insanely good, and the books are the kind you stay up too late to finish. I know that “I stayed up late” idea gets bandied around a lot, but with Goddard it’s really true. Clean writing, sympathetic characters, big surprises—what else do you want for your fifteen bucks? I’m also reading George Pelecanos—The Turnaround. Probably his best, most focused book. It’s that shock-of-recognition thing: you really feel you’re there.
SK: Saw a great one called Tell No One. It’s French, with subtitles, but based on an American suspense novel by Harlan Coben. Had the best foot-chase I’ve seen in maybe twenty years. The ending strained my credulity a little, but after a lifetime spent writing make-believe, my credulity is very elastic.
Steve: Double-jointed credulity?
SK [laughs]: I’d say triple jointed!
SK: I loved James McMurtry’s new album, Just Us Kids, and there’s a new Al Green soul album that’s insanely good: Lay It Down. I liked the single “I Kissed a Girl,” by Katy Perry—silly, but that image The taste of her cherry Chapstik is exactly right, the perfect detail. I also liked the Madonna single, and—is it Metro Station? A boyband, I think, but very rhythmic. “Shake It” especially. Best record of the summer was Viva la Vida, by Coldplay.
Steve: Anything else you want to say?
SK: Yeah. Let’s go get a hamburger.