“Come on, big guy. Let’s go for a ride. Let’s cruise . . . . ”
I’d be preaching to the choir if I said one of the most enduring traits of Stephen King’s fiction is the realism of his characters, and how we can all relate to them. Sure, most of us have never been trapped inside a broken-down Pinto while a rabid St. Bernard tries to get in and swallow us whole. We’ve never tried to assassinate a politician because a precognitive vision showed us his true nature. It’s probably safe to say that very few of us have crossed paths with a lonely widow who carries not only a dangerous obsession with a fictional character but also an ax and a blowtorch that she’s been itching to use for some time.
It’s the real world problems of King’s characters that ring true. It’s their crumbling marriages and their struggles to pay the bills on time. Their desires, their dreams and aspirations. We’ve met people like them. We are them. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN… & THIS IS NOW…
Something a little different this time around.
Peter Crowther, head honcho of the magnificent PS Publishing – look em up on the internet, folks; you’ll thank me later – was kind enough a couple years ago to ask me to write the Afterword for his special anniversary edition of Stephen King’s Christine.
I was flattered and thrilled—and scared to death.
But, of course, I said yes.
I’ve decided to reprint my Afterword here in its entirely. Not because I’m being lazy, but because it covers my reading experiences regarding Christine in significant detail—and brutally-honest emotion.
(Okay, maybe I’m being just a tiny bit lazy—but I really like how the Afterword turned out, and I’m doubtful I could improve on it very much in a new essay).
I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. » Read more
The roaring engine that became Christine rolled off the assembly line as a short story idea inspired by the old, decrepit red Cadillac Stephen King owned in 1978. “One night as I was turning into my driveway, I saw the odometer numbers on my car turn from 9999.9 to 10,000. I found myself wondering if there might not be a story in an odometer that ran backward.”
The book was written in the late 70s (the same era during which the novel is set), before King spent time in the greater Pittsburgh area working on Creepshow, but its location is an homage to his friend, director George Romero, to whom the book is dedicated. King decided to use a 1958 Plymouth Fury because they were “the most mundane fifties car that I could remember,” he told Randy Lofficier. He didn’t want to use a vehicle that had a legend already attached to it.
He thought that the car (and perhaps the kid who owned it) would get younger. As he told Douglas E. Winter: “The kicker would be that, when the odometer returned to zero, the car, at the height of its beauty, would spontaneously fall into component parts. It would echo that Lewis Padgett story, ‘The Twonky’—really funny, but maybe a little sinister, too?” » Read more
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THAT WAS THEN…
It was Christmas 1982. I had just turned seventeen four days earlier and was looking forward to my final semester of high school…and then college. But, first, I had two weeks off and couldn’t wait to do absolutely nothing.
I can’t remember what Santa left under the tree for me that Christmas, but I do remember what my sister Mary surprised me with: an inscribed (by her; not King) hardcover copy of Different Seasons.
Of course, I was thrilled and grateful and dove right in.
“Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption”
I remember opening Different Seasons and scanning the promo copy for “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” on the inside dust jacket flap—the most satisfying tale of unjust imprisonment and offbeat escape since The Count of Monte Cristo—and feeling just a bit underwhelmed. A prison story by Stephen King? Hmmm. Well, maybe the prison will be haunted, I thought.
It was haunted, all right—and so was I by the time I finished reading “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption.” » Read more
Different Seasons is a collection that contains only four tales and, with the exception of “The Breathing Method,” there is nothing remotely supernatural in them. None of the stories had been previously published. That may not seem unusual now, but at the time it was something of a departure for King.
The publishing landscape was different in 1982. In his lengthy afterword to Different Seasons, King bemoans the sad state of the novella, that peculiar form of fiction that falls between longer short stories and shorter novels, tales in the 25-30,000 word range. This is a territory King called “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic.” Nowadays, there are more opportunities to publish novellas, especially in the small press. Even “The Mist,” a later novella, was published as a standalone book from one of the big houses as a movie tie-in.
He calls the stories in this collection his bedtime stories. The ideas came to him while he writing other novels. He couldn’t stop those books to tackle these ideas, so he got into the habit of telling the stories to himself while he was going to sleep at night instead of counting sheep. He says that he often has six or seven of these ideas going on at the same time and many of them never pan out. Either that or he ended up telling the entire story to himself, so there was no point in writing it down. In a later interview, King says he originally submitted only three novellas to his then-editor John Williams but, since he called them “seasons,” Williams felt there should be a fourth, so he wrote “The Breathing Method.” » Read more
For a lot of people, The Gunslinger has been a barrier to entering the Dark Tower series. Not so for me. When asked to name my favorite book in the series (and I’m very bad at picking favorites of anything), I usually fall back to this one. It was the first, and for a number of years it was the only.
I was like a lot of people in that I didn’t know anything about this book until I saw it listed at the front of Pet Sematary among King’s other works. I’d only been reading King for four years at this point, but I was hopelessly addicted. I had already written him a fan letter and received a bibliography from his office, which I kept folded in my wallet for any time I went to a used bookstore so I could track down uncollected stories, essays and interviews.
Once I began my quest for The Gunslinger, I must have driven those poor bookstore owners crazy. The guy who owned my favorite, Back Pages on Queen Street in Halifax, said he thought he might have heard of the book, but didn’t know how to get a copy. I pored over the Books in Print catalogs (remember those?) in other bookstores, hoping the book would magically appear from one week to the next. I tried to get the Halifax Public Library to track a copy down. No joy in H-ville.
Finally, I wrote King. Thanks to his response to my previous fan letter, I had his office address, so I wrote to him there, instead of via his publisher, which is probably where I sent my earlier missive. I don’t have any memory of the content of this letter, but knowing me it was probably brief and to the point. How could I get my hands on a copy? » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
An admission: despite being a lifelong Stephen King fan, I didn’t read The Dark Tower series until just about ten years ago.
I know, I know—I should be ashamed of myself.
To make matters worse, the long delay made absolutely no sense.
I loved Stephen King books. I devoured each new title as soon as they were published.
I loved westerns. Especially movies like The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The Wild Bunch. The Unforgiven.
And, of course, I had read and heard all the rave reviews (especially from trusted readers, Brian Freeman and Bev Vincent). Heck, I had even published a bunch of those reviews in Cemetery Dance.
But for some reason, I still wasn’t sold on The Dark Tower.
Something kept making me hesitate. Maybe it was all that chatter about talking trains and crystal balls… » Read more
When he was a student working in the University of Maine library, Stephen King inherited a ream (500 sheets) of oddly sized bright green paper, almost as thick as cardboard. (His future wife, Tabitha Spruce got one, too, except hers was robin’s egg blue.) This eccentric material seemed to invite him to write something special.
Two years earlier, in a sophomore course on the romantic poets, he’d studied the Robert Browning poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” He wanted to write something long that embodied the feel of that poem, if not its exact sense. Seeing The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (while flying high on mescaline, he told an audience at Yale in April 2003) made him wonder if he could blend two different genres. He wanted to capture Tolkien’s sense of quest and magical fantasy set against Sergio Leone’s “almost absurdly majestic Western backdrop.”
He started the book during his final year at university. In March 1970, he wrote the iconic first line and the rest of the sections ”The Gunslinger” and “The Way Station” while living alone in a cabin on the banks of the Stillwater River (his three roommates had flunked out one by one, a progression reminiscent of the novella “Hearts in Atlantis”). In that cabin, he experienced ghostly, unbroken silence that undoubtedly affected the mood of what he was writing—unbroken, that is, except for the music of Johnny Winter. He believed at the time he was embarking on the longest popular novel in history, something he estimated would approach 3000 pages. » Read more