Stephen King loves scaring people, but one student at University of Massachusetts Lowell tried to find out Friday what scares him.
"Spiders, snakes ... my mother-in-law," the writer said with a grin.
The author of international bestselling books including "Carrie" and "The Shining" came to the college to talk with writing students.
English Department professor Andre Dubus III, another bestselling author and an old friend of King's, shared the stage for about an hour as students asked questions about their craft.
King told the crowd of about 125 students that his goal is to write stories that sizzle with emotion.
"I'm a confrontational writer. I want to be in your face. I want to get into your space. I want to get within kissing distance, hugging distance, choking distance, punching distance. Call it whatever you want. But I want your attention."
He got that Friday, plus some laughs.
Wearing jeans and a black T-shirt, the 65-year-old writer from Maine peppered his talk with profanity and promised students he was just a regular guy.
He said they shouldn't be in awe like he was when he was a University of Maine freshman and heard a talk from "Catch-22" author Joseph Heller.
"It's not like being U2, you know what I'm saying?" King said.
The author told students he knows where he gets his writing ideas about half the time, and his fascination for horror stories didn't come from childhood trauma.
During his lecture and in an interview later, King also talked about two books he's finished that will be published in 2013.
The author's crime novel "Joyland" will be out in paperback in July, followed in September by the book "Doctor Sleep," a sequel to his thriller "The Shining."
The story is set in a New Hampshire hospice, where now all-grown-up character Danny Torrance works.
King said he had reservations about writing a sequel, but people always wanted to know more about the little boy from "The Shining."
"People used to ask me, years later after 'The Shining,' what ever happened to that kid? ... I'd say 'I don't know.' But it started to kind of kick around in my brain, you know?"
Because Torrance can read minds, King said he was intrigued by the idea of having the character work in a hospice as someone who helps people cross over from life to death.
The author encouraged students to be people-watchers and pick up on traits that would let them create their own characters.
King also warned them against becoming discouraged about publishers' rejection slips and said not to use notebooks for story ideas. He said the stuff that's worth writing stays in your head.
"My method for starting anything is I tell myself the story when I'm laying in bed at night, waiting to go to sleep," King said.
The no-notebook idea made an impression on sophomore Joshua Beverage, who said later he'd give the method a try. The 19-year-old creative writing major said he's been reading King's stories and seeing movies based on them since he was 8.
"I never thought I'd actually be in his presence. That was really big for me," he said.
Sophomore literature major Chelsea Graham said she was impressed King said it should be up to readers to decide what books are important to them.
"I liked how he said it's a good book when it sort of takes over your life," the 19-year-old said.
Dubus, who joined King on another UMass Lowell stage later Friday for a talk before an audience of 3,000, said the earlier lecture meant a lot.
"He gives these students the sense that the university is important, where they are is important, what they're doing is significant, and that they count," he said.
But for as much writing advice as King shared with students, the horror master also left them with some mystery.
"I've always wondered who I am when I write," King said, "because once I'm doing it, I'm not in the room with myself."