Category Archives: Richard’s Essays

Revisiting Firestarter by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

FirestarterI 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

Revisiting The Dead Zone by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

the-dead-zone-smallUnlike THE LONG WALK, I don’t have any specific memories of where I was in my life when I first read THE DEAD ZONE.

No idea how old I was, where I was living, whether I was in high school or college or freshly graduated, whether I was single, engaged, married.

When it comes to the exact timeline, my mind is a blank…which is unusual for me. Especially when it relates to a book I enjoyed so much and one for which I have so many specific memories.

So, without further rambling, here are some of those crystal clear remembrances from that mysterious “Dead Zone” of my life:

* Johnny — and his love for Sarah — form the backbone of THE DEAD ZONE, and what happens to that love absolutely shattered my heart. I might not remember where I was in my life when I first met these two, but I do remember how difficult it was for me to accept their fate, much less read certain sections of the book because they hurt too much.

I’m talking about when Johnny finds out how much time has passed while he was in a coma and that Sarah is now married and has children; when Sarah comes to visit Johnny at his father’s house and they make love (this one hurt the most); and Johnny’s poignant letter to Sarah at the end of the book.

I held out hope for a happy ending for these two long after it became painfully obvious that it wasn’t meant to be. I just couldn’t let go of that hope. A lot like real life, huh?

* I adored Johnny’s dad, Herb Smith. Much like Stu Redman from THE STAND, he reminded me quite a bit of my own father. Stoic. Dignified. Responsible. A man with a wonderful, loving heart facing great obstacles. » Read more

Revisiting The Long Walk by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

The Long WalkWhen 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

Revisiting The Stand (1978) by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

The StandTHE 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

Revisiting Night Shift by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

Night Shift by Stephen KingI 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

Revisiting Rage by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

Rage by Richard BachmanMy 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

Revisiting The Shining by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

The ShiningTHE 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

Revisiting ‘Salem’s Lot by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

'Salem's Lot Paperback‘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

Carrie: The Curious Case of George Chizmar by Richard Chizmar

On page 82 of the first edition hardcover edition of CARRIE, we are introduced to a character by the name of George Chizmar:

“George Chizmar, Ewen’s most artistic student, had done a small chalk sketch of gondolas on a canal at sunset and a gondolier in a huge straw fedora leaning against the tiller as a gorgeous panoply of pinks and reds and oranges stained both sky and water.”

I remember being stunned, and more than a little pleased, the first time I read that sentence. I had never before seen my last name (trust me, it’s not a common one) in any work of fiction, so for it to appear in my favorite author’s debut novel was quite a thrill.

Of course, it also led to many years of inevitable questions: did Stephen King name Ewen’s most artistic student after you, Rich? Did he know your father? Your uncle? » Read more

Revisiting Carrie by Richard Chizmar

THAT WAS THEN…

So, I sit down a couple weeks ago and write my introduction to Stephen King Revisited and I go on and on about how King’s books carry so many personal memories for me — where I was when I first read them, who I was, what I was thinking — and now it comes time to discuss the very first King book, CARRIE, and I realize…ummmm, my memory of this one isn’t quite so clear, folks.

Great way to start this journey, huh?

But it actually makes sense when I think about it.

CARRIE was originally published in April 1974. I was eight years old at the time and busy fishing and collecting baseball cards and playing whiffle ball in the side yard with my friends. My only exposure to horror at that early age were comic books and the Saturday afternoon Creature Double Features on television. » Read more

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