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
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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