Everything's eventual. After a decades-long reign as master of spine-tingling thrillers, the writer puts the breaks on his illustrious career

By Chris Nashawaty
September 27, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Stephen king limps toward his car like an innocent man being led to the electric chair and slides behind the wheel of his black Mercedes convertible — grimacing in pain as he pulls his right leg into the driver’s side like a piece of deadwood. It still hurts like hell three years after his accident. The van that slammed into him on a rural Maine road on June 19, 1999, not only shattered his right leg to powder but broke his hip and four ribs, chipped his spine in eight places, and collapsed one of his lungs. He should be dead. In fact, he and his wife have a nickname for his postaccident life: ”The Bonus Round.” All things considered, though, he says he feels fine. And frankly, he’s bored hearing himself talk about it. Just like he’s bored hearing himself talk about a lot of things, including his shocking decision to call it quits and stop publishing. ”I’ve killed enough of the world’s trees” is all he’ll say at first. hearing himself talk about a lot of things, including his shocking decision to call it quits and stop publishing. ”I’ve killed enough of the world’s trees” is all he’ll say at first.

King comes right out and says that he doesn’t want to do this interview at all, hence his death-row demeanor. Nothing personal. You seem like a nice enough fella. But even so, he’d just rather not. It makes him uncomfortable. He says that everyone already knows what little there is to know about him. And that the folks who come up to Maine to talk to him pretty much know what they’re going to print before they get there anyway — that beneath his folksy Yankee demeanor he’s some sort of twisted, ghoulish freak. Why else would he write what he does?

Still, there’s no turning back now. He knows that his new supernatural-car novel From a Buick 8 is coming out and, well, he wouldn’t mind seeing it rack up Tom Clancy numbers. And since his publisher, Scribner, asked real nicely, he just sort of caved. But if he absolutely has to go through with this, he might as well do it with a bacon cheeseburger in his belly. So King revs the engine, ignores the blinking seat-belt indicator, and peels off onto the mean streets of Bangor, following the scent of deep-fried food.

At Nicky’s, a ’50s-style diner that looks like the inspiration for Pulp Fiction’s Jack Rabbit Slim’s minus all the Hollywood razzle-dazzle, King is greeted like a regular. It’s the kind of place where even if ”Wipe Out” weren’t playing on the jukebox, it should be. On the way to his table, King tries to settle a longstanding bet about his beloved Boston Red Sox with one of the joint’s employees. And as he takes his seat, he immediately orders a plate of batter-dipped mushrooms and sour cream to hold him over till the bacon-topped burger comes — pretty much thumbing his nose, and his ticker, at the whole notion of ”The Bonus Round.”

After we order, I pull out a copy of King’s high school yearbook photo and slide it across the table. The student staring out from the picture is all horn-rimmed nerdiness. His NASA buzz cut gives his sizable ears nowhere to hide. His square suit and tie make him look like he might knock at your door to tell you about The Good News. But he seems to sport the sly grin of a guy who knows deep down he’s going to make it out of this damn place.

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