Gregory Kirschling
November 07, 2003 AT 05:00 AM EST

Last year in Grand Rapids, Mich., a college kid approached Stephen King at a signing and said, ”When we heard that you’d been hit by a car” — a reference to a 1999 accident that nearly took King’s life — ”my friend and I looked at each other and said, ‘He’s never gonna finish ‘The Dark Tower’ now.”’ Underwhelmed by their sympathy (”They were worried about the damn book!”), King still found the exchange invigorating: ”I took the point and decided I’d prove them wrong.”

After just five months of writing, EW’s back-page columnist produced ”Wolves of the Calla” (Donald M. Grant, $35), the 709-page fifth book in his ”Dark Tower” fantasy series, which follows a gunslinger named Roland. Books 6 and 7, the saga’s last, will be out next year, though King strongly encourages the uninitiated to forgo late titles like ”Wolves” and begin with 1982’s ”The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger.”

But is King really finished with publishing once the ”Dark Tower” finale hits stores, as he told EW last year? ”I wouldn’t say I’m rethinking it,” he says, adding that he has written a few short stories post-”Tower” but hasn’t started a new novel. ”I’m just sort of open to what comes next, if and when.”

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