King, Grisham tout importance of independent bookstores

Stephen King called independent booksellers “the intellectual lifeblood of America” on Wednesday during a live video discussion with John Grisham.

The free event, hosted on King’s YouTube channel with suggested donations going to the Bookseller Industry Charitable Foundation, was a wide-ranging conversation that touched on their careers, their writing processes, COVID-19, and their shared love of baseball.

But the pair, who are two of the most famous authors of the last 50 years, started the hourlong conversation by encouraging readers to patronize local, independent bookstores.

As they traded stories about crisscrossing America on book tours, Grisham said he tries to avoid the biggest cities.

“I think you have bigger crowds and more enthusiastic readers in the smaller towns,” said Grisham, whose latest novel, Camino Winds, released Tuesday.

King recalled touring across the country on a motorcycle for the release of his 2016 novel Insomnia, a journey that started in his native Maine and ended in Santa Monica, Calif.

King — whose new collection of novellas, If it Bleeds, released April 21 — did an event in Oklahoma City and enjoyed visiting the state so much he decided to set a book there.

That book was 2019’s The Outsider, which was adapted into an HBO miniseries.

Though he said he didn’t model the fictional setting after any specific town in Oklahoma, King said he “had a feel for the place.”

As for their writing process, both prolific writers said they now try to hit 1,000 words per day.

But when it comes to the constant debate over plotting vs. pantsing, the two heavyweights are on opposite sides.

Grisham is the outliner and said his rule of thumb is “don’t write the first scene until you know the last scene,” to which King asked, ““Did you unwrap your presents on Christmas Eve?”

King says he begins with an idea and “characters come on stage one by one.”

“It rarely turns out the way I thought it would,” he said.

King said he received letters about one of his most famous works, Cujo, where readers asked (SPOILER ALERT) “how could you let that sweet little boy die in that car.”

“I didn’t know he was going to die,” King said.

When discussing publishing during the coronavirus pandemic, the titans of commercial fiction said their recent releases will be a benchmark of sorts for how book sales will fare as May approaches.

King said he’s already seen some early numbers from his sales and reports that, while numbers are down in many places, sales are strong in some retailers like Walmart and Sam’s Club, which have remained open amid a nearly nationwide lockdown.

NOTES

  • King said he sometimes writes short stories because of “the discipline of the form,” which requires short word counts. King is known for writing lengthy books.
  • King now loves computers and not having to print out the pages he’s written each night. “Everything stays liquid,” he siad.
  • Grisham still prints out the pages he’s completed each night and said he’s “terrified” of writing while his computer is connected to the Internet because he’s heard of writers being hacked and their material getting stolen.

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