THAT WAS THEN…
I first read FIRESTARTER the summer after I graduated from high school. I still have my old paperback edition sitting on the bookshelf. Here is what I remember:
* I read the novel over a two day period, sitting alone on the 4th Street beach in Ocean City, Maryland. I took occasional breaks to swim and eat and probably nodded off a couple times — the warmth of the sun and the sound of the surf have that effect on me — but other than that, the book never left my hands.
* At some point on the second day, I remember looking off to the side and noticing an older woman reading a shiny hardcover edition of THE DEAD ZONE. She was glistening with sunscreen and a trio of hyper little kids were running circles around her, hooting and throwing sand at each other. I remember thinking she was crazy to read a hardcover on the beach. During the many beach summers to come, I saw dozens of other readers with Stephen King books in their hands, and it always made me smile. Still does.
* As I got deeper into FIRESTARTER, I grew to love Charlie McGee like a little sister. I was maybe ten years older than her, and it was her character I most closely identified with. I wanted to hide and protect her. I wanted to save her. I wanted to make her smile. Of course, I was powerless to do anything of the sort; all I could do was keep flipping the pages. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
When I was a teenager, I spent several summer vacations working a government job at nearby Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Edgewood Arsenal. My duties ranged from laying asphalt to landscaping to pulling up old railroad tracks to shredding government documents.
The summer of paper shredding (as it would come to be known) was a memorable one for a variety of reasons. Firstly, I was assigned to work under a great guy. His name was Lonnie. If I ever knew his last name, it’s long forgotten now.
Lonnie was a hard worker and a good boss. At first, he was quiet and kept mostly to himself. But the more we got to know each other, the more we discovered we had a lot in common, despite our age difference.
Lonnie was a Vietnam veteran and I was (at the time) obsessed with military history, especially the Vietnam conflict. I had read dozens of books on the subject and watched every documentary I could lay my hands on. As Lonnie learned to trust me and respect my curiosity, he shared dozens of stories about his time in Vietnam that I still remember today.
Lonnie also loved fishing, as did I, and in the years following that summer, I would often share my catches with Lonnie and his family.
Finally, Lonnie was a reader. We would often read paperbacks during our lunch breaks. He tended to like science fiction and non-fiction, while my tastes ran more to the dark stuff. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
THE STAND was originally published in 1978, but I didn’t get around to reading it until a decade later — the very end of 1988/beginning of ’89. Christmas vacation of my final year of college to be exact. I was living in an apartment near the University of Maryland at the time, but had traveled home to Edgewood to stay with my parents for the nearly month long holiday break.
I had just finished with exams and the premiere issue of CEMETERY DANCE had just been published weeks before, so I spent my time at home recharging my brain and devouring a pile of magazine submissions…and reading THE STAND every night before I fell asleep.
Why, all these years later, do I so clearly remember reading it during that time period?
One simple image, which I will get to in a moment.
First, my thoughts on THE STAND upon that initial reading:
I loved it, but it was more than that: it almost felt like I was being hypnotized by the story — this was becoming a familiar experience when reading a SK book — as it took over my late nights and, on more nights than I care to remember, my dreams. » Read more
The two Stephen King books I have NEVER read are:
How about you? Which ones have you never read? Post the titles below and let us know why you haven’t read them yet if you want! » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
I can’t even begin to guess at how many times I have read this collection, nor can I remember the first time I picked it up. I know I was in college at the time, and I know it was summer break and I devoured many of the stories sitting in the shade of the weeping willow tree in my side yard, but that’s all that comes back to me.
Except for the stories, of course.
Always the stories.
It feels like they have always been a part of me. In fact, along with “The Monkey” (which was collected in SKELETON CREW), the 20 short stories that comprise NIGHT SHIFT are as responsible for my becoming a writer as anything else from my past.
I read em, I loved em, and I immediately wanted to write stories just like em; stories that would make other readers feel the same way I did.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that that was easier hoped for than done. And that’s part of the beauty of these 20 stories. They are deceptively simple tales. Nothing fancy. Nothing pretentious.
They don’t pretend to be anything other than what they are: just good (or, in some cases, great) character-driven stories that are crisp and well written and, mostly, very scary.
I’ll do my best here to recount my initial feelings about each of the 20 tales (beware of spoilers): » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
My road to reading RAGE has been a long and twisting one.
Stephen King started writing RAGE (originally titled GETTING IT ON) in 1966, when he was a senior in high school. At some point, he stuffed the unfinished novel in a box, and it wasn’t until 1971 that he took the manuscript out and finished it. It was eventually published six years later, in 1977, under the now-famous pseudonym of Richard Bachman.
But by 1985, the entire world — including a college sophomore by the name of Rich Chizmar — knew that Richard Bachman was actually Stephen King (writing in a bad mood).
But, even armed with this new knowledge, I didn’t read RAGE until four or five years ago for the first time. If anyone is counting, that’s a full 25 years after I first discovered that RAGE was a King book.
So, why the long delay? I had read everything else King had written (with the exception of two novels, which hundreds of you have now guessed at; all incorrectly! Yes, this tickles me), but I had never bothered with RAGE.
To be honest, I had picked it up a couple times and started reading it; but it just didn’t click for me, and both times, I ended up putting the book down with intentions to revisit it later.
And then later somehow turned into 25 years. » Read more
Yessss, I’m finished reading RAGE. As a matter of fact, I’m almost finished with NIGHT SHIFT, too. I’m just a bit behind in posting my thoughts because: a) the holidays; b) I’ve been busy writing the title novella for my next collection, A LONG DECEMBER; and c) I love the holidays and everything that comes with them, so I have been lazy.
It won’t happen again, I promise.
Okay, I lied. It will probably happen again.
Maybe even sooner than later.
Apologies in advance.
And because Brian Freeman suggested it, and because Brian Freeman is the technical brains behind this project and I have to listen to him, I am offering up my Top Ten Stephen King novels listed below (novels only, no collections, and in no particular order):
2) ‘SALEM’S LOT
3) THE STAND
4) THE DEAD ZONE
5) THE SHINING
7) PET SEMATARY
8) BAG OF BONES
9) HEARTS IN ATLANTIS
10) FROM A BUICK 8
11) LISEY’S STORY
13) THE GREEN MILE
(See? I lied already. That’s 13 picks, not 10. And you can’t stop me!)
I’d love to hear your own Top Ten SK novels, so please post them when you get a free minute or two. I will be posting my thoughts on RAGE and NIGHT SHIFT in the next week or so. In the meantime, remember to follow me on Twitter if you do the Twitter thing.
» Read more
Almost finished reading RAGE (for only the second time). Look for my essay sometime this weekend or early next week.
A couple weeks ago, I admitted to a reader via Twitter that there are TWO Stephen King books I have never read…and ever since, folks have been busy trying to guess those two titles. No one has gotten the correct answers as of yet. If you all would like to make your own guesses in the COMMENTS section below, please feel free.
I will even hand out some prizes if anyone correctly guesses both titles (but not until I post my essay for the first of the two books; I want it to remain a surprise until that time).
Thanks and please follow me on Twitter if you’re inclined: @RichardChizmar
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THAT WAS THEN…
THE SHINING was the second Stephen King novel I ever read, and when I look back at that experience there is one crystal clear memory that surfaces above all the others: this book is almost too scary.
Let me explain. I was sixteen at the time. The son of a strict, but loving father and a doting mother. Baby brother to four older siblings. A mostly normal teenager who just happened to see and hear and feel things a little deeper (okay, a lot deeper) than most of my friends. I already knew I wanted to be a writer one day, and somewhere deep in my subconscious, I think I also knew that writing would one day be my salvation. The same way that books were my escape from the real world, I somehow knew that writing would be my way to understand and cope with that real world. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
‘SALEM’S LOT was the first Stephen King novel I ever read.
I carried the paperback (with the bright red drop of blood dripping from the embossed black fang) everywhere I went. I’d picked it up used at — where else? — Carol’s Used Bookstore in good old downtown Edgewood, and by the time I was finished reading it, the cover was torn off and missing and most of the pages were dog-earred. I still have that copy today.
I was fifteen years old when I discovered ‘SALEM’S LOT. It was shortly after I’d read “The Monkey,” along with the rest of my tenth grade English class, and I was itching to try a full-length Stephen King book. I remember starting the novel on a school day. In the middle of class. My History teacher was not amused. Neither were my parents, a few days later, when I tried to sneak in a couple chapters during Sunday church service. » Read more