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Stephen King gave his fans a fright in January when he told the Los Angeles Times he was going to retire. In 1999 he had a scare of another kind: he was struck by a minivan and nearly died. This month King, master of the horror novel, is publishing a collection of short stories, Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales (Scribner). Is this really the final chapter? TIME's Andrea Sachs finds out.

HOW ARE YOU FEELING? I can do all of the things I used to do, except that I do them slower.

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WHY DO SUCH AWFUL THINGS HAPPEN IN YOUR NEW BOOK? I think that any kind of story where something really terrible happens makes your own life look better by comparison. They give us a scale, if you will, to measure our own problems by.

ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO RETIRE? It will be interesting to see what you say about this, because there's almost a willful misunderstanding among the press or among people about what that means. I can't imagine retiring from writing. What I can imagine doing is retiring from publishing.

YOU MEAN WRITING BUT NOT PUBLISHING? If I wrote something that I thought was worth publishing, I would publish it. But in terms of publishing stuff on a yearly basis the way I have been, I think those days are pretty much over.

WELL, YOU SEEM AWFULLY PRODUCTIVE AT THE MOMENT. A year from now, people will say the idea that this guy was going to retire is a laugh. I've got three novels to finish up [in] this Dark Towers cycle that I've been publishing since 1982. There's a book coming out this fall, From a Buick 8, and so far as I know, that's the last Stephen King novel, per se, in terms of it just being a novel-novel.

DON'T SOME WRITERS HAVE GREAT LATE PERIODS? I'd like to think that I have gotten better, that the writer you're talking to now is a better craftsman than the one who wrote Carrie when he was 22 or 23 years old. But I don't detect in my own work any particular late blossoming [laughs].

HOW HAVE YOU STAYED SO PRODUCTIVE FOR SO LONG? The answer is, Stay healthy and stay married. And other than having a guy come over the top of a hill and hit me with a van, I've been able to do both.


ARE WE TALKING HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS? No. But we're probably talking maybe $100 million, $120 million. I couldn't tell you exactly. A lot.

WON'T YOUR FANS BE CRUSHED IF YOU REALLY RETIRE? They might be crushed, but think of all the other people in the publishing business, in the writing business, who will breathe a sigh of relief and say, "At last--he shut up!"