Galley Girl: The Son Also Rises

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It's no mystery why the publishing community is eager to gauge author Owen King—he's the son of horrormeister Stephen. The verdict: Owen's new book, We're All in This Together (Bloomsbury), a collection of stories including a novella featuring an eccentric grandfather who is being driven slowly insane by the 2000 election results, has met with critical praise. Said Publishers Weekly, "This original collection heralds the arrival of the next generation." Said Kirkus Reviews, "Newcomer King is a talent to watch." Galley Girl ate Chinese food with Owen, who is decidedly his own man, writing with a distinctive voice and wry sense of humor.

Galley Girl: Where did you grow up?

Owen King: In Bangor, Maine. It's the last real metropolitan area in the states. It's Bangor, and then 10 hours to Quebec. Everything in between is trees.

GG: At what age did you get interested in writing?

OK: At some point when I was in high school. Maybe by then I had decided that I couldn't be a baseball player, so I needed to find something else to do.

GG: You had two parents who were writers [mom is novelist Tabitha King]. You must have had a lot of writing going on in your house. What was that like?

OK: My parents worked at home. But it's not as if I grew up in some sort of writing factory. My parents were just parents, and that happened to be their job. They worked while I was at school, so they were just my parents when I came home.

GG: Did your dad read to you when you were growing up, or tell you stories?

OK: I grew up in a house with a rich storytelling tradition. I think that's a big part of my life growing up, but I'm not overeager to elaborate on it. I think the question that comes to people's minds is, "What was it like to be Stephen King's kid? What was it like to grow up in that house?" The answer is sort of that I just don't think it's that relevant to what I'm doing. I understand people's curiosity and yet, I've made a really decided effort to write in a way that's individual to me, and do as much as I can possibly do on my own without being insane about it. I think refusing to answer any questions about it is an invitation for people to be more interested, not less. I feel comfortable saying that I think people would be surprised that my parents are part of the community in the place where I grew up. I went to public school, my dad worked in the Little League fields when I was a kid, my parents went to my elementary school concerts, where you stand on the risers, and you're all in your suits and you all sing, "God Bless America." My parents were a part of all of that, and in the community where I grew up, they're not celebrities, they're just Steve and Tabby.

GG: At what point did you understand that your father was a celebrity?

OK: Although I went to public school, and my friends tended to come from working-class families, and although I worked minimum-wage jobs when I was in high school, it would be complete fabrication to say that I didn't grow up with tremendous means and a huge house. So we were different in that sense—very different. I've had a lot of advantages along the way, that is certainly true, like anybody else in this country whose family is in that top one percent.

GG: How did you come to write We're All in This Together?

OK: I had a lot of pent-up feelings about the election in 2000, especially as time went on. Ultimately, what I want the book to say is that all of the people we live with—the different ethnicities, genders, in different parts of the country—we are all in it together. I really believe that people who think the things that I think, and the people who have deep-seated evangelical Christian beliefs, are the people who need to be talking to each other.

GG: Why did you start the book with the famous Donald Rumsfeld quote about known knowns and unknown unknowns?

OK: What Rumsfeld said on that occasion was so bizarre. There's almost a strange poetry to his prevarications. They're so amazing. You can listen to him all day, because he's so detached from any kind of reality as you or I might see it. I have no idea what he's talking about half the time; I don't think that he does, either. It's sort of this weird free association that he does. I thought it was a very telling quote about things in our world today.

GG: What's it like to be a writer with Stephen King as your father? OK: You really can't get caught up in it, because obviously I'm not going to be that successful. I don't even know if I would want to be that successful. I just want to write well, and tell stories well. When I think of a model for the kind of career I want to have, I think of a guy like Jakob Dylan. He's in this band, and he plays his own music, and it really doesn't sound all that much like his dad's. It speaks for itself. He worked really hard and did his own thing, and that's what I've tried to do. My publisher's different, my medium is the same, but the subject matter is different, the style is different. I try to be my own person, sink or swim, kind of on my own. Hopefully float.