Bestselling horror writer Stephen King appeared on the NPR program "Fresh Air" on Tuesday night to talk about his new book, "Joyland." While he got to answer some questions about the book, a supernatural riff on classic noir set in a small amusement park, he also got some atypical questions from host Terri Gross.
The "Joyland" story, he said, has been in his head for about 20 years. The story began as an image, and then he built it out -- the story is about a college student, after getting dumped by his girlfriend, who moves from the Northeast to North Carolina to work at an amusement park. There's murder; there's a spooky, carny-filled amusement park, and there's an ill young boy with a little bit of second sight.
King talks about his admiration for the elaborate speech and showmanship of preachers like Oral Roberts, a little of which made it into his new novel. Gross asks if that's the kind of church he went to when he was growing up.
"Oh, no. I went to Methodist church for years as a kid, and Methodist youth fellowship on Thursday nights," King says. "Think of a bottle of soda with the cap off for 24 hours. There weren't very many bubbles left in that stuff by then. It was pretty -- it was Yankee religion, Terry, and there's really not much in the world that's any more boring than that."
Clarifying, Gross says, "You always believed in God. You were just bored in church."
"Well -- I guess that the jury's out on that," King says.
"About which? About God?" Gross asks.
"On God. And the afterlife and all that," King says. "It's certainly a subject that's interested me, and I think it interests me more the older that I get. And I think we'd all like to believe that after we shuffle off this mortal coil, that there's gonna be something on the other side. Because for most of us, I know for me, life is so rich -- so colorful, and sensual, and full of good things, things to read, things to eat, things to watch, places to go, new experiences -- that I don't want to think that you just go to darkness.... As a kid, death seemed boring to me. As an adult, I think that it seems more like a waste."
King continued, "As far as God and church and religion ... I kind of always felt that organized religion was just basically a theological insurance scam...."
"I remember you telling me the last time we spoke that you always believed in God," Gross insists. "And that it's a choice that you made and you choose to believe it."
"I choose to believe it, yep," King says. "There's no downside to that.... If you say, 'Well, OK, I don't believe in God. There's no evidence of God,' then you're missing the stars in the sky and you're missing the sunrises and sunsets and you're missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together. Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But, at the same time, there's a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, 'Well, if this is God's plan, it's very peculiar,' and you have to wonder about that guy's personality — the big guy's personality. And the thing is — I may have told you last time that I believe in God — what I'm saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts and I refuse to be pinned down to something that I said 10 or 12 years ago. I'm totally inconsistent."
As far as his writing is concerned, he adds that in the original version of "The Shining," titled "Dark Shine," the family was going to be taking care of an amusement park, not an old hotel.