Sunday, July 28, 2019

Thoughts on FEAST OF FEAR: CONVERSATIONS WITH STEPHEN KING by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, Editors (1989, 1992).

I find how authors come to the tale almost as interesting as the horror tale itself. What were the inspirations for the author that lead up to the tale? This fascination of mine holds for more than just Stephen King.

But, I am on a bit of a Stephen King jag right now. And, while not one of King’s “Constant Readers” myself, I do enjoy his work and respect his talent as a writer. He is such an enormous figure in the genre that much ink has been spilled discussing his motivations and inspirations as well as his thoughts on horror fiction. 

Q: Why do you think there’s such large-scale interest these days in horror and fantasy?

King: Well, I think people are scared. They’re scared of a lot of things: war, poverty, inflation, deflation, deficit, arms race, whatever. And what you do when you’ve got a lot of things that you’re really afraid of is you sublimate them into something that’s not real or you find a place to escape—escape pure and simple. So you’re talking about translating the real fears into symbolic fears so that you can deal with them in another way. That’s one reason. The other reason is because we’ve become an increasingly secular society and that means that we don’t have the traditional outlets for contemplating our own mortality, and saying “Well, we’re surrounded by forces, by an invisible world,” or else “we’re surrounded by nothing.” And either one of those ideas is kind of . . . well, it’s bigger than all of us, I guess.

[page 231]
Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King edited by Tim Underwood and Chuck Miller, was first printed in 1989 as a limited edition with a sale run of 550 and was published by Underwood–Miller Inc, a science fiction and fantasy small press publishing house. It was a follow-up to their 1988 Bare Bones: Conversations on Terror With Stephen King which began their collecting and reprinting of interviews from throughout King’s career.
A few years later, in 1992, a more traditional hardcover edition was published by Carroll & Graf. And, it is from this edition that this post is based.
I have not been able to find much biographical information on either Underwood or Miller. Tim Underwood was born in Michigan on 12 January 1948. Chuck Miller was born in Pennsylvania in 1952 and passed away on 24 May 2015 in Pennsylvania. In 1976, Underwood, then working in California, and Miller (still in Pennsylvania) founded Underwood–Miller Inc, a small specialty press.

In 1994, after publishing dozens upon dozens of books spanning multiple genres, Underwood and Miller decided to end their partnership. That same year (interestingly enough), Underwood–Miller Inc won a World Fantasy Award for publishing.

Underwood would open a new publishing house—Underwood Books—where in late 2007 he actually published a further collection of interviews with Stephen King—the extremely hard to find Stephen King Spills the Beans.
This would be the third such collection that he has published.
I would like to mention a few general comments about the challenges inherent in a collection of interviews such as Feast of Fear. First off, the reader, by necessity, must wade through a great deal of text in order to find or uncover any little gems, whether factual or anecdotal. Second and closely connected to the above, an occupational hazard of doing press interviews (and certainly a danger in reading a collection of them) is that the interviews are frequently repetitive; covering the same ground over and over.

Lastly (and this is more a complaint regarding the format of this collection), the Table of Contents organizes each chapter around a theme or topic; the interviews in each chapter focusing along those lines.
The only place that bibliographic detail on each interview is to be found is the Acknowledgements in the front matter. Not in the Table of Contents. Not even in the text of the chapter introducing each interview. This is important when one notices the chapter’s thematic titles along with the number of interviews which make up that chapter, as seen in the table above.
A close examination of the interviews is very rewarding. It indicates their value to King enthusiasts by subtly revealing the subtext behind his tales. Or the concepts that lay behind his stories. I find this extremely interesting.

These quotes exemplify the value of a collection like this. The quote that opens this post is a perfect example of this. In answering the posed question, King explains that fiction (horror in particular) offers a means of coping with this world of fear, of anxiety. Horror is a window into the psyche of the time written. By reflecting the anxiety of the times and expressing it in fiction, Horror provides a means by which real fears are transformed into symbolic fears. And as such, they can be more easily dealt with. King goes on to state that modern society, by means of secularization, has lost its traditional method of contemplating mortality, further exacerbating existential anxiety.

It is true that much of the many interviews in this collection are highly repetitive, almost rote. But every once in a while a little treasure manages to squeak through. For example beginning on page 244, King expresses what he understands to be magic and that it is equivalent to power. Yet whether magic or power is wielded by good or evil, what King intends to highlight is the transformative power of that magic.

Lastly, with the quote found on page 267, it could be interpreted that King held a positive outlook on human nature. And more significantly, that it influenced his writing. He revealed that his fiction relied upon the inherent goodness of people to play off against the evilness of the antagonist.

The above comments reflect only a select few of the quotes that prove the value of collections such as Feast of Fear.
Why are collections of interviews like this important? Through them, the thoughts and mindset of the author, in this case Stephen King, are made known. These interviews give the reader a peak behind the curtain of authorship, as it were. And, despite not really looking forward to reading interview-transcripts, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the interviews and how much insight I was able to garner.

A valuable resource for this massive cultural icon’s “Constant Readers.”

Good night.


Print Resources

King, Stephen, Tim Underwood, and Chuck Miller. Feast of Fear: Conversations with Stephen King. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 1992. Print.

Digital Resources

Online Resources

~. “Miller, Chuck.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 12 August 2018. Web. 16 July 2019. <>

~. “Underwood, Tim.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 12 August 2018. Web. 14 July 2019. <>

~. “Underwood-Miller Inc.” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. 06 May 2012. Web. 16 July 2019. <>

Von Ruff, Al. “Publication: Feast of Fear: Conversations With Stephen King.” The Internet Speculative Fiction Database. ISFDB. Web. 14 July 2019. <>

Wikipedia contributors. "Underwood–Miller." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 01 June 2019. Web. 14 July 2019. <>

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