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
In an endnote in the chapter about The Stand in The Art of Darkness, Douglas E. Winter mentions a dystopian novel called The Long Walk “which owes much to Stephen King.” Was this an inside joke between King and Winter, who had interviewed King extensively for the book, or an astute observation on Winter’s part? Winter does talk about The Long Walk briefly in The Art of Darkness as one of King’s early novels, but without identifying the book by name.
King wrote The Long Walk in the fall of 1966 and the spring of 1967 when he was a freshman at the University of Maine. The story was inspired by a series of 50-mile hikes throughout the country that were sponsored by radio and TV stations. King didn’t have a car at the time and the idea for the story occurred to him while he was hitchhiking back home one night. “I was hitchhiking everywhere,” he says on his website. “I didn’t finish my 50-mile hike, though. I fell out after 20 miles.” » Read more
Stephen King was a god to me when I was a kid. I was raised by Bible-thumping Baptists in Virginia Beach, VA. Stephen King was a big no no. When procured, hardcovers were hidden under my bed on top of the wooden slats that supported my box springs, and paperbacks were stripped of their covers and glued inside the stripped covers of Christian books so I could get away with reading them without discovery. My life bore some disturbing similarities to “Fahrenheit 451,” and there was indeed a bonfire in our fireplace when a stash of King books was discovered at one point. Tears were shed and it wasn’t the smoke in my eyes from the blackened pile of ashes that used to be “The Stand” and “It.” » Read more
THAT WAS THEN…
THE 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
Just a heads-up, Richard is now writing his essay about the original version of The Stand and it’ll be posted this week.
Remember, you can follow Richard on Twitter for his personal updates and other posts of interest to readers and collectors and Stephen King fans!
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Richard Chizmar was caught reading on the job again today, this time by Otis the black lab:
Remember, you can follow Richard on Facebook and Twitter for his personal updates and other posts of interest to readers and collectors and Stephen King fans. » Read more
After Stephen King finished The Shining, he wrote the novella “Apt Pupil” before going back to work on his Patty Hearst novel, The House on Value Street. After six weeks, he once again felt the book wasn’t coming together for him.
A few incidents in the news caught his attention. The first was an accident in Utah where canisters of a deadly chemical fell from a truck, split open, and killed some sheep. If the wind had been blowing in a different direction, many people might have died. He still had the Symbionese Liberation Army on his mind, so he wondered what would happen if a disease got loose and destroyed most of the world’s population—as in the George R. Stewart novel Earth Abides, which he had read in high school, and M. P. Shiel’s The Purple Cloud—but members of the SLA were immune for some reason. Then he read about the first-ever outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at the American Legion Convention in Philadelphia in 1976. When he heard a radio preacher utter the phrase “once in every generation the plague will fall among them,” he liked it enough to write it down and post it on his desk.
He had written about the survivors of a viral epidemic before, in the short story “Night Surf,” which was first published in Ubris in 1969 and reworked for subsequent publication in Cavalier in 1974. Though that virus was called A6, the survivors referred to it as Captain Trips. At that earlier time, he wanted to write more about the world after the apocalypse, but he didn’t feel ready to tackle such an enormous project.
He was also inspired to try to write an epic fantasy on the scale of The Lord of the Rings, but with a familiar setting. The problem with so much of high fantasy, he felt, was that readers had to learn a new language and geography to enjoy those books, whereas his would be set in contemporary America. » Read more
While recent experience told King that Doubleday didn’t want to publish more than one book by him a year, they most definitely wanted no less than a book a year from him, either.
After he finished The Shining, he spent a couple of weeks writing “Apt Pupil” and then returned his attention to the abandoned Hearst-inspired novel, The House on Value Street. He spent another six weeks on it, but the story still wasn’t taking off. Then he started work on one of his longest novels, The Stand, and realized early on that it wouldn’t be finished on Doubleday’s schedule. So, to bridge the gap between novels, King offered them a short story collection.
Night Shift assembles twenty stories. The earliest, “Strawberry Spring,” was first published in 1968 and the most recent, “The Man Who Loved Flowers,” came out in late 1977, shortly before the collection was published in early 1978. Four stories—“Jerusalem’s Lot,” “The Last Rung on the Ladder,” “Quitter’s Inc.” and “The Woman in the Room”—were previously unpublished. Nine were reprinted from Cavalier, and two each appeared in Ubris and Penthouse. The remaining three stories first appeared in issues of Maine magazine, Cosmopolitan and Gallery.
Bill Thompson took an active hand in helping King pick the best of the available stories for this collection. Among others under consideration were “The Blue Air Compressor,” “It Grows on You,” “The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands,” “Survivor Type,” and “The Wedding Reception” (later published as “The Wedding Gig”) as well as some unnamed poems. In an editorial letter to King, Thompson referred to these rejected stories as being “too much ‘Steve-the-student writer’” stories—adding that “Survivor Type” was too grisly. He felt they could do him more harm than good. “This is as important a book for you as a novel,” he said, believing Night Shift would generate more reviews than previous books and no “writing gaucheries” would be overlooked. King obviously listened, though he did allow a few of the stories to be collected subsequently.
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