Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall by Bev Vincent

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.

Different SeasonsThe 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.”

In the book’s afterword, King states that “The Body,” the oldest story in the collection, was written directly after ‘Salem’s Lot. “Apt Pupil” was written in a two-week period after he finished The Shining (after which he wrote nothing for three months), “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” was written after The Dead Zone and “The Breathing Method” was written after Firestarter. However, in The Art of Darkness, Doug Winter argues that “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” was actually written after the first draft of The Stand and “The Breathing Method” following the first draft of Cujo.

King says the four stories were “written for love, not money…They have a pleasant, open-air feel, I think-even at the grimmest moments…there’s something about them, I hope, that says the writer was having a good time, hanging loose, worrying not about the storyteller but only the tale. I had some fun with ’em, and that’s usually a pretty good sign that the reader will have some fun too.” Each of them was written in a different house—three in Maine and one in Colorado.

“The Body” is perhaps one of King’s most autobiographical works, even though King has no direct memory of what might be termed the inciting incident. When he was four, he went to play at a neighbor’s house and returned home an hour later, earlier than scheduled, as white as a ghost and mute for the rest of the day. His mother later learned that the kid he had been visiting had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks. King doesn’t know if he was near the other boy when it happened, or if perhaps the accident occurred before he arrived—he has no memory of the incident beyond what his mother told him in subsequent years.

However, King doesn’t think that is what motivated him to write “The Body.” Instead, the story was inspired by an anecdote told to him by his college roommate, George McCloud, to whom the novella is dedicated. McCloud and a gang of boys had gone to see the body of a dog someone found next to the train tracks. King didn’t think people would be interested in a dead dog, so he turned it into a boy. The incident with the leeches did actually happen to King—he and his friends went into a pond near the house where he grew up and came out covered with them.

“I took a lot of the things that I had felt when I was a kid and put them into that character, Gordie LaChance.” Citing comments made by John Irving, he warns, though, that nobody lies as much in their autobiographies as a writer. He calls it “history that’s been tarted up a little.” Perhaps the real story didn’t have a good enough climax, he says, or he subsequently came up with the perfect thing to say in a particular situation. “I’ve had a chance to say some things about myself and most of ’em are lies.”

He also drew upon his experience as a teacher for the sections of “Apt Pupil” that deal with grade fixing. However, his main motivation for writing the story was an attempt to make sense of his puzzlement over how the Nazi death camps came about. “I don’t understand what happened over there. I don’t have the slightest idea what got into those people…it makes that whole concept of some sort of outside evil, like the spore that floats through the air that you inhale, seem really…attractive.”[1] King said his editor complimented him on his decision to name the kid Todd Bowden, because “Tod” means death in German. King didn’t admit at the time that he didn’t know that.

New American Library initially asked that “Apt Pupil” not be used. At first, King thought they were concerned because the story might seem anti-Semitic. But that wasn’t the problem—they thought the plot was too real. As he tells Doug Winter: “They were very disturbed by the piece. Extremely disturbed…If the same story had been set in outer space, it would have been okay, because then you would have had that comforting layer of ‘Well, this is just make-believe, so we can dismiss it.’”

In a sense, Different Seasons contains more than four stories, for in “The Body” we find the second appearance of “The Revenge of Lard Ass Hogan,” originally published in The Maine Review in 1975 (and later recorded as an audio tale after King’s hilarious rendering of it at the “Harrie, Carrie and Garp” fundraiser at Radio City Music Hall in 2006), and a heavily revised version of “Stud City,” which originally appeared in the Fall 1969 issue of Ubris.

The Different Seasons afterword is also responsible for perpetuating a piece of inaccurate historical information. In the afterword, King claims the book he offered to Bill Thompson along with ‘Salem’s Lot was Blaze. He briefly describes the plot, which he had in fact written at around that timeframe. Of course, the Richard Bachman pseudonym was still a closely kept secret at the time, so he couldn’t tell the truth, that it was, in fact, Roadwork.

One of his favorite anecdotes, retold at many public appearances, pertains to the fact that most of the stories in the collection aren’t outright horror. The incident takes place in a supermarket after he started wintering in Florida. An older woman approached King and said that she recognized him. “You are the horror writer. I don’t read anything that you do, but I respect your right to do it. I just like things more genuine, like that Shawshank Redemption.” [2] King tried to tell her that he had written that story and she walked off without believing him.

The closing novella contains a line that King has said would make a good epitaph for his tombstone: “It is the tale, not he who tells it.” The club featured in the story is, to King, a metaphor for the entire storytelling process. “There are as many stories in me as there are rooms in that house, and I can easily lose myself in them.” The afterword is also the source of a quote that would haunt King for decades, in which he described his novels as “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and a large fries from McDonald’s.”

With the book’s publication, there were some who wondered if King had reached the end of his fascination with “ghouls, ghosts, vampires, and unspeakable things lurking in the closets of little kids.” In an interview with Waldenbooks, King points out that the final story (in a book he says his son insists upon calling Different Sneezes) is quite gruesome. “No, I’ve always been one of the Halloween people, and I guess I always will be,” he says. His editor at the time was equally worried that King might be drifting away from the supernatural, so King told him his idea for the next novel: a haunted car.

The first edition of Different Seasons was 140,000 copies, King says in an interview discussing limited editions.

[1] Interview with Janet C. Beaulieu for the Bangor Daily News, November 1988

[2] Interview with Neil Gaiman for the UK Sunday Times Magazine, April 2012


  • James Taylor

    Great summary as always Bev. I’m currently rereading this myself- just finished Shawshank. The last time I read the anthology I absolutely hated Apt Pupil- I think New American were right on the button there. It’s a really dark, disturbing story and I can’t get past the premise that this bright kid would just start killing people at the behest of an older man. It also has overtones, in my view, of paedophilia. It also feels really out of place amongst the other stories, which are all wonderful. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of the best King adaptations come from stories in this book.

  • Glen

    Great Piece! absolutely loved it! Thank You!

  • Jeff

    I just bought a copy of that very book from my local library used. It looked as if it had just come out of its packing crate, and it was not a library book, but a donated copy. After reading your article, I’m very excited to dive into this book.

  • Wanda Maynard

    Great essay, Bev.There was some wonderful info in there. I loved Different Seasons.

  • Tim Heintzman

    As usual Bev, another fantastic article. I really love the background details and facts in your articles and have been reading them all. I am really looking forward to your Dark Tower Companion (already paid for) to add to the other great Bev Vincent books in my collection. PS, also proud to be a fellow Canadian…

  • Echoing others here, another fantastic contextual article, Bev.

    Digging these so much. It’ll be great to have them all in a collection down the roadl.

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