In 1978, Stephen King was invited to be writer in residence at the English department of his alma mater, the University of Maine at Orono. He moved his family into a rented house on a major highway in Orrington. The heavy traffic included transports heading to and from a nearby chemical plant. A new neighbor warned the Kings to keep their pets and children away from this road, which had “used up a lot of animals.” In support of this claim, the Kings discovered a burial ground not far from the house, with “Pets Sematary” written on a sign in a childish hand. Among its residents: dogs, cats, birds, and a goat.
Shortly after they moved in, daughter Naomi’s cat, Smucky, was found dead on the side of the road when they returned from a trip to town. King’s first impulse was to tell her that the cat had wandered away. Tabitha, however, believed this was an opportunity to teach a life lesson. They broke the news to their daughter and conducted a feline funeral, committing Smucky’s mortal remains to the pet cemetery. A few nights later, King discovered Naomi in the garage, jumping up and down on sheets of bubble wrap, indignant over the loss of her pet. “Let God have His own cat. I want my cat. I want my cat,” she was repeating.
The road almost “used up” the Kings’ youngest son, too. Owen was about eighteen months old when he wandered dangerously close to the highway. To this day, King isn’t sure whether he knocked Owen down before he reached the highway as a tanker approached or if the boy tripped over his own feet. Owen had been born with an unusually large head, and the Kings had already agonized over the possibility of losing him to hydrocephalus. This near miss was an unwelcome reminder of the fragility of their children. » Read more
“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
Like many longtime readers, I can chart the course of my life by when and where I read most of Stephen King’s books. Bag of Bones was sitting by a friend’s hospital bed every day for a week. Insomnia while laying in a hospital bed myself. Black House in a three day frenzy at the beach after a surprise phone call from Akiva Goldsman asking me to help adapt the novel into a screenplay. And IT, as a college junior, the week after I walked away from a collegiate lacrosse career that I believed at the time defined me as a human being. In that regard, IT may have just saved the life of a very lost and very confused young man. At the very least, it carved the path for my writing and editing career and gave me something to dream about again.
Pretty much all of Steve’s books are like that for me. Personal. Meaningful. Special. Most of the early ones seemed to magically come along at just the right time for me. I’ve listened to many other readers, writers, and editors tell me the same thing about Steve’s books and their own lives.
— Richard Chizmar, from the afterword to PS Publishing’s anniversary edition of Christine
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Rereading Christine and writing the afterword was like traveling back to my youth in a time machine. I turned the pages, and I was a teenager again, carrying around a tattered, old paperback. Experiencing the novel for the first time. Walking the hallways of my high school. Hurrying to practice after the final bell. And hanging out with friends and classmates, kids very much like Dennis and Arnie and Leigh from Christine. » Read more