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
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
After losing his job at Doubleday, Bill Thompson moved to Everest House, but he and King remained good friends, going to lunch and attending baseball games together. In November 1978, Thompson approached King about the possibility of doing a book about horror in movies, television and radio over the previous thirty years. Since it would be a work of non-fiction, King wouldn’t have to offer it to his fiction publisher, NAL.
At the time, King was living in Orrington, Maine and teaching creative writing and literature courses as a writer-in-residence at the University of Maine, his first experience teaching at the university level. In the evenings, he was finishing work on Firestarter.
The concept intrigued King, but he wasn’t enthusiastic about the project at first. It intimidated him. It was easier to tell lies in fiction than write the truth in non-fiction, he thought. It wouldn’t be his first time writing about the nature of fear and why people want to be scared by something entertaining, though. He’d prepared a long forward on the subject in Night Shift, for example.
Thompson was persistent and persuasive. He asked King how often he had been asked why he wrote horror and why people read horror. If he wrote this book, King would never have to answer those kinds of questions again, Thompson argued. All he’d have to do is say, “I wrote this book.” It would be his “Final Statement” on the matter. » Read more
I remember when I read Firestarter for the first time. I was in high school, in the early ‘90s, and had started thinking that I’d maybe like to be a writer myself one day.
There are two reasons why Firestarter stuck in my head long after I finished reading it. For one, it’s an excellent story about the burden of psychic powers on ordinary people and the government machine that wants to use them for their own nefarious purposes. The other reason it stuck with me is because it was my first real lesson in the marketing side of the publishing business.
By the time Firestarter was published in 1980, Stephen King was already well on his way to becoming established as the King of Horror. Part of this was because he was indeed a powerhouse of a writer, but part of it was also due to the fact he was becoming a brand. My understanding of this came quite naturally, mainly by the simple fact that several of his books, published up to that time, didn’t really strike me as horror novels.
Of course it could be said that horror, like any other genre label, is in the eye of the beholder, but I think it’s fair to say it would take more than a bit of a stretch to describe books like The Dead Zone and Carrie as horror novels. Scary things happen, sure, but I feel, at least in those two cases, that the books belong more in the thriller genre, or even science fiction. Same goes for Firestarter. » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
I 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
The end of the 1970s saw a change in direction for Stephen King. He switched publishers and, for the first time, had a literary agent. He met Kirby McCauley at a publishing party in 1976, but didn’t sign up with him right away. When he and Doubleday reached an impasse on a contract for his next few books, despite internal support from Bill Thompson, he consulted McCauley, who suggested offering the books to NAL, his paperback publisher. NAL met his demands and sold the hardcover rights to Viking. The deal was big news, reported in Publishers Weekly.
His first book at Viking was a change of pace, too. King considers The Dead Zone to be science fiction, unlike the fantasy/horror of his previous books. The Stand was meant to be a “summing up” of what he’d done to date, and it was time to move on to something different. » Read more