Second Coming by Bev Vincent
After Doubleday accepted Carrie for publication, Stephen King’s editor, Bill Thompson, asked what they should consider for his follow-up. King had two books in mind, Roadwork ¹ and ‘Salem’s Lot (originally titled Second Coming ²). Thompson warned King that if they went with the vampire novel, King ran the risk of being branded a horror writer. King said that as long as the checks didn’t bounce, he didn’t care what people called him.
He’d started ‘Salem’s Lot in 1972, when life was still difficult for the family. He was writing in the furnace room of their trailer with a fourth-grade desk propped on his knees to support his wife’s Olivetti typewriter, while Tabitha tried to figure out which bills had to be paid now and which could be put off. Fighting vampires was a form of escape for King. They seemed more benign than the creditors harassing them.
The idea for the book stemmed from a discussion he had over dinner with Tabitha and a friend, Chris Chesley. King was teaching Dracula to a Hampden Academy high school class called Fantasy and Science Fiction. He had first read it when he was around 10—his first adult book. They debated what would happen if Dracula came back today. Tabitha said he’d get run over by a cab at the New York Port Authority and that would be the end of him. King joked that he would survive a few weeks before Efram Zimbalist, Jr. and the FBI dragged him off, a victim of modern surveillance.
Chesley, however, thought things would be different if he went to an isolated little town in inland Maine rather than to a large metropolitan area. Everyone could be dead in one of those little towns and no one would know it, he said.
King was also teaching Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. He was intrigued by the play’s notion that the town doesn’t change, though the people come and go. What scared King most about his vision of ‘Salem’s Lot wasn’t the vampires: it was the empty town in the daytime, “knowing that there were people tucked under beds, under the concrete pilings of all those trailers.” His book is, after all, named after the town and not Kurt Barlow (Count Sarlinov in the first draft).
Stoker’s optimistic perspective inspired him to let science and rationalism triumph over superstition: almost everybody lives; however, King thought superstition would win out. Modern technology would render belief in vampires all but impossible, allowing them to thrive. He thought everyone in town but the writer would die (and at first, perhaps even him)—though he changed his mind and couldn’t let Mark Petrie go.
The book has scenes that are deliberate reflections of Dracula, but from a contemporary viewpoint. King described the relationship between the two books as a game of literary racquet-ball: “’Salem’s Lot itself was the ball and Dracula was the wall I kept hitting it against, watching to see how and where it would bounce, so I could hit it again. As a matter of fact, it took some pretty interesting bounces, and I ascribe this mostly to the fact that, while my ball existed in the twentieth century, my wall was very much a product of the nineteenth.”
King also drew upon one of his childhood nightmares. When he was about eight, he dreamt he saw a body of a hanged man dangling from the arm of a scaffold on a hill. In Danse Macabre, he writes, “Rooks perched on the shoulders of the corpse, and behind it was a noxious green sky, boiling with clouds³. This corpse bore a sign: Robert Burns. But when the wind caused the corpse to turn in the air, I saw that it was my face rotted and picked by the birds, but obviously mine. And then the corpse opened its eyes and looked at me.” He uses that dream in ‘Salem’s Lot, changing the name of the corpse to Hubie Marsten.
He finished the first draft the day before he received the call from Bill Thompson about the paperback bonanza from Carrie.
In the original draft, King made no secret of the fact that the book was about vampires. He wanted to include Moby Dick-inspired “extracta” featuring background information about vampires from the Bible, other books and movies. Thompson asked him for a rewrite that would keep readers in the dark for a while. He reminded King that he wasn’t writing for a Weird Tales audience that would automatically assume a supernatural explanation for what was happening.
Thompson made one other editorial request—more of a demand, really. In King’s draft, instead of being impaled on knives, Dr. Cody was devoured by a horde of rats in the boardinghouse basement, a scene he described in gleeful detail. Rats cover Cody, crawling, biting, scratching. When he tries to warn off Mark, one squirms into his mouth and gets stuck there. It was the perfect chance to bring in influences from the E.C. comics King read as a kid, where the vampires were cruder and more monstrous than Count Dracula. Because it was only his second book and he was nervous that Doubleday might withdraw their offer to publish it, he gave in, though he was never entirely sure it was the right thing to do. The original version is included in the “deleted scenes” section at the back of Doubleday’s Illustrated Edition from 2005. Thirty years later, it seems fairly tame.
King collaborated with his wife, his editor and his editor’s secretary on the dust jacket description of the novel in an effort to say something about the book without giving away too much. He’s fond of the cover illustration: a black background with the town inset in the “O” of “Lot,” with Marsten House visible in the background. One thing that slipped by everyone, though, was the fact that Father Callahan is called Father Cody on the flap, a mistake that increased the book’s collectible value. There are three states of the dust jacket. The first is the rarest, bearing a $8.95 price. The second state has the corner clipped and a new price of $7.95 added, and the third state has the $7.95 price and Callahan’s name corrected.
‘Salem’s Lot sold about 26,000 copies in hardcover and was an alternate selection from the Literary Guild book club. Bookland in Maine ordered 5000 copies of the first edition and sold nearly every one. They even produced a TV commercial to promote the novel⁴. The movie rights sold to Warner’s for a lot of money, and the paperback rights sale ($500,000—half going to King) proved that Carrie wasn’t a fluke. King could now afford to retire from teaching and write full time.
 In some accounts, for example in the afterword to Different Seasons, King says it was Blaze; however, at that time, he couldn’t mention Roadwork without revealing that he was Richard Bachman.
 Tabitha King thought it sounded like a sex manual, and Jerusalem’s Lot was rejected by the publisher because it sounded like the book had religious overtones
 A scene that will probably sound familiar to Dark Tower readers
 According to Calvin Tower in Song of Susannah
We’ll be posting a special guest essay about ‘Salem’s Lot later this month, along with Richard’s essay about rereading the book. The complete list of the books to be read can be found on the Stephen King Books In Chronological Order For Stephen King Revisited Reading Lists page. To be notified of new posts and updates via email, please sign-up using the box on the right side or the bottom of this site.
How interesting…good stuff! Salems Lot was the second book I read by Stephen….. I came home on leave from the U.S. Army in July of 1980, and after several days of partying with old friends, I thought I would take a break, and read a book for a couple day’s( my favorite past time) and, I saw a the book “The Shining” on my mothers book case, and thought…hmmm…. this looks interesting. I’ve never looked back, and been a diehard King fan, every since. Thx for the info!….. Gary
Second Coming – sex manual. LOL!
Believe this was the second King book I read with The Shining being the first one.
This was my first — I picked it up among a stack of used paperbacks at Back Pages bookstore in Halifax. I didn’t know anything about it when I added it to the pile, but I thought I remembered hearing good things about it.
My first was “The Shining”, the foil covered paperback edition found in a bag of used books put out for garbage… That was in the summer of 1982 in Toronto, and I was hooked.
I think ‘Salem’s Lot was my second- I read Carrie in high school, the librarian had just put it out on a cart with new books that were to be shelved. I don’t know what made me pick it up and read it, as I never had read any horror before that. The best part of high school- discovering Science Fiction and Stephen King!
Just finished reading Salem’s Lot again and I actually think it was better the second time around. Vampiry but not overly so. A super fun read as all of SK’s books are.
This was my first King read, also. After watching the TV mini-series, I had to read it.
The two books King submitted were Second Coming and Blaze, not Roadwork. King talks about this in the afterword of Different Seasons.
King’s recollection of this changes with time. I used the earliest possible reference I could find where this was discussed.
He was also inconsistent in when he actually wrote the four novellas that are in Different Seasons, which I’ll address when we get to that point!
Okay, if you say so. I don’t doubt these historical essays have been thoroughly researched. I would gather then that Roadwork was revised in the late 70s to incorporate the energy crisis. This is consist with King going back and revising old works to have more current references, e.g The Stand.
I now see a source of my confusion. There were two energy crises in the 70s. I thought there was only one during the Carter administration. There was another during Nixon’s years. It even says on Roadwork’s original cover that it’s a novel of the first energy crisis. I look forward to your future essays.
Yeah, I don’t think King revised the first four Bachman books very much before they were published. They’d already been submitted for publication once, and he’d done some revision on Rage for Bill Thompson, so they were pretty much ready to go.
An interesting book to read is John Steinbeck’s ‘Travels with Charley’. In the beginning of the book, while traveling through the North East, he describes going down a lonely road, and deciding to stop on the side of the road for the night. He describes how black the night is, and how the trees seemed to move closer and press in around him. It’s so oppressive he gets up in the middle of the night and drives away. Later in the book he pulls into a town that seems deserted, and goes into a diner where the coffee is still perking, water is running in the sink, but one one is there. Those two episodes gave me goosebumps, and made me wonder if SK had ever read that book! The empty diner made me think of Salem’s Lot for sure.
Thanks for the heads up on that Steinbeck tome….sounds interesting.
Well….. the first 1/2 to 3/4 is…..
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‘Salem’s Lot was my brother’s favorite book when we were in junior high school. For an entire summer, every time I saw him, he was re-reading it! I look forward to reading it again this week; Mark Petrie is a great character.
I will always remember reading Salem’s Lot, I was single at the time and the apartment I had had a loft, where I did all my reading as I had no TV. I was sitting in a bean bag chair under the skylight at night during an ice storm, well just as I got to the part when the little kids were scratching on the screen the ice melted off the skylight and slid down the roof crashing onto the deck. Well I came straight up out of that chair and the hairs were curling. After that I have been a constant reader. Keep them coming !!!!!
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I think I saw the Lance Kerwin, David Soul, James Mason miniseries first back in 1980 and then got the omnibus edition with Salem’s Lot, Carrie and Night Shift in it….I much prefer the novel version.
Very interesting informations. Thanks Bev!
Oh boy! I love Salems Lot. I
listen to it again and again.
Great article Bev.
Great essay! I’m re-reading ‘SALEM’S LOT right now. The first time I read it, I’d never read THE DARK TOWER books. Having come back to ‘SALEM’S LOT after reading the DT books, it takes on an entirely new perspective, especially Father Callahan.
It wasn’t clear to me from the post, but I was curious if the “Father Cody” error on the jacket was because King used Father Cody as the name in the original draft, or just a typo.
Presumably it was just a typo. Cody was the doctor’s name.