By the Light of the Silvery Moon by Bev Vincent

Stephen King freely admits that one of the reasons he agreed to the project that became Cycle of the Werewolf was because he was drunk when a young Michigan publisher named Christopher Zavisa approached him at the World Fantasy Convention in Providence, Rhode Island in 1979.

King also believes Silver Bullet is the only motion picture developed from something that started out as a calendar concept.

Cycle of the WerewolfZavisa’s pitch intrigued King. The publisher, who had established Land of Enchantment Press initially to promote Wrightson’s works, wanted King to come up with a set of twelve vignettes that would each be accompanied by a Berni Wrightson painting and a calendar grid. There would be some kind of continuity among the segments, as if it were all a larger story.

The concept of a story calendar appealed to King, as did the idea of working with a small press. At that point in his career, King was feeling a little guilty about his immense success compared to many other writers, especially those he had idolized as a kid. He mentions[1] as an example the fact that Frank Belknap Long had come to the World Fantasy Convention on a bus because he couldn’t afford to travel by train, let alone by airplane. He fully expected to be snubbed as a young whippersnapper at the con, although he was in fact treated generously and kindly by people he was astonished to think of as his colleagues.

The monthly episodic structure of the project led him quickly to the phases of the moon, which drew him immediately to thoughts of werewolves. He decided to stage a full moon during whatever holiday took place in the respective month, even though his wife told him that a year where that happened would be a “mad year indeed.” He apologizes in the book’s afterword for taking “a good many liberties with the lunar cycle,” saying it was creative license. His wife wasn’t impressed, telling him that his license should be revoked for speeding.

“I thought, here we can have twenty-three new and interesting murders, sort of like Friday the 13th—except that in itself seemed to be very shaky, like snuff stuff, set ’em up and knock ’em down like dominoes.”[2] The prescribed 500 words per installment worried King more than anything else about the project. He didn’t want to turn the story segments into a “See Dick Run” format. Intending to finish the project in less than two weeks, he wrote the first three installments and then set it aside for four months while dealing with other, more demanding, work.

Zavisa pinged him in January 1981 to see how things were going. King dissembled, saying it was proceeding well. Zavisa was happy, because Wrightson was already starting the preliminary sketches.

The Kings went to Puerto Rico for two weeks that February. He took the completed pages with him, intending to finish the project during this vacation. He wrote the April section on a flight that had to return to New York because a man on board suffered a heart attack, and wrote the May section on their second attempt to get to San Juan. The June installment was written during a delay at the rental car agency.

And yet the story was almost dead to King. He compared the first six segments to six pulls attempting to start a lawnmower that had an empty gas tank. The vignette format was stifling his creative impulses. He was determined to finish, but he wasn’t happy about it.

Then the story of Marty Coslaw and the murder that canceled the Fourth of July fireworks came to him. It went well beyond 500 words, but he didn’t care. He was on fire. In his words, he had been feeling around in the dark and finally found the light switch just as he was about to give up. By the end of the vacation, he had finished the installments up to September.

Then it was time to break the news to Zavisa—that there was no way this could be a calendar, but it could be a slim book. As it turns out, Zavisa wasn’t disappointed. In fact, King suspects that a book might have been what the publisher was after all along, but he just didn’t have the courage to ask for one.

King finished the manuscript two weeks later, and Cycle of the Werewolf was published by Land of Enchantment Press in 1983 in an oversized format: 9” by 12”. The unsigned hardcover, limited to 7500 copies, sold for $38.50 and was only available via specialty bookstores or ads in genre periodicals. There was also a deluxe edition signed by both King and Wrightson, limited to 350 copies, 100 of which included an original pencil drawing of the werewolf laid in, and a separate Wrightson portfolio.

King never intended for the book to be reprinted because he was looking for ways to keep his career in perspective, and one way he did this was by finding publishing avenues that got him out from under the sheer weight of numbers associated with most of his projects. Unlike The Gunslinger, the book wasn’t listed with his other publications at the front of Pet Sematary, for example. King later said, “I wish that it could have been either more or less, in terms of the book project, because it sorta got out of hand there. It seems thin to me, for the price.”[3]

However, Cycle of the Werewolf was subsequently issued as a standalone trade paperback in April 1985 and in October 1985 as an omnibus edition named for and containing the screenplay of the movie adaptation, Silver Bullet, also written by King, along with a foreword and still photos from the movie.


[1] Introduction to Silver Bullet, 1985

[2] “Would You Buy a Haunted Car from This Man?” Edwin Pouncey. Sound magazine, May 21. 1983.

[3] “The Stephen King Interview,” David Sherman. Fangoria 35 & 36, April & July 1984.

11 comments

  • Glen

    always fun to read! saw Mr. King this weekend and my friend is making fun of me for getting Silver Bullett signed. But it is a fun story! Re read it on the plane to Florida.

    thanks for the story BEV!

  • Jim Bocchinfuso

    Bev: I love hearing/reading your backstories on King’s works. They are such an intriguing insight into the nature (and fickleness?) of the creative process!

  • This is one of the least known story origin stories to me. Fun stuff in this one Bev!

  • ~Dawn

    Another great essay on a terrific story. Thanks Bev, I love hearing how these come about.

  • I always enjoy your writings, Bev. This is no exception. Thank you!

  • Wanda Maynard

    Great essay Bev. As always, I enjoy reading and learning how these stories come out.

  • Steve Schaeffer

    1!Like Roland after following the man in black across the desert, I’ve been parched…for new Stephen King Revisited posts! So I was especially happy to find this background essay on what has to be considered one of the stranger books (in format) from his catalogue. Thank you, Bev, for enlightening us Constant Readers with your always informative and entertaining work!

  • Wayne C. Rogers

    Great article, Bev. I remember buying a copy of Cycle of the Werewolf in hardcover when it came out so long ago. I don’t remember paying $38.00 for the unsigned edition. For some reason I think it was less, but I could be wrong. My memory isn’t as good as it used to be. Christ, I was only making about $4.00 an hour working in a bookstore at that time. All my spare money went to buy horror novels. You know that Steve and Dean Koontz are a phenomenon. I think they are the only two horror writers who were able to make a really good living with their fiction up to the present.

  • That was a fun read! I picked up the unsigned version of the LoE hardcover, which is a very nicely put together book, though not on the level of the ’80s Grant books (I’m looking at you, slipcased “Talisman”!). But one of my truly prized King-related possessions is the original Wrightson of the sugar shaker that closed out June. I bought it from a comics shop back in, oh, probably ’86, and it’s been hanging in every home I’ve lived in for nearly 30 years now.

  • First King I bought, I was 12 in 1983 and paying almost $40 for a book was crazy! I don’t think I realized–in fact I’m sure I didn’t–that it was a limited edition. Still have it but it’s pretty beat-up. Oh well! The fond memories of taking the book to school and showing other kids the gory Wrightson illos are more treasured…

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