NEWS 2000

NEW YORK -- Minutes before Stephen King's first public appearance since a nearly fatal auto accident in June, the nation's most successful living writer of horror described how his work helped him heal but has been hindered by his lingering pain.

''I don't think I had any of the fun knocked out of me,'' King said Friday. But, he added, ''I didn't know if I could write. And I can.''

King was strolling along a highway in Maine on June 19 when the driver of a Dodge Caravan, distracted by a pet Rottweiler in the minivan, swerved and struck the author. King was thrown 14 feet, suffered fractures of his right hip and leg and a collapsed lung, and had a series of operations.

Friday night, before a reading at the Bowery Ballroom as part of a New Yorker book festival, King said doctors are vague about the prospects of full recovery.

''You say, 'Well, when am I going to be able to play tennis again?' And they say, 'You're doing really well.' Yeah, yeah, yeah.''

While he was recuperating last year, the 52-year-old King wrote a novella called Riding the Bullet, which was published exclusively on the Internet in March. ''It was a factor in my recovery, being able to work. Forces me out.''

King says he is trying to finish a novel tentatively called Dream Catcher, which promises to be in his tradition of grand proportions. ''All I know is that it's very long.''

Pain in his lower body and back continues to hamper his sitting before a keyboard. ''That's a problem when you can't sit for a long period of time,'' he said. ''I've been on crutches. I'm down to one now. And it screws up your back.''

An audience of about 300 cheered Friday as King set aside his single aluminum crutch and stepped center stage.

In introducing King, New Yorker literary editor Bill Buford offered a King-style aside that was eerie. Buford told how the spectacles the author wore this night were the same that, smeared with King's blood, flew onto the front seat of the van that struck him. It was the first evidence to the dog-addled driver that he had hit something other than an animal.

For nearly the next hour, King read aloud ''L.T.'s Theory of Pets,'' a short story that ends with the butchering of a small dog.