Check out the Fox interview with Dee Wallace. (HERE) She has quite a bit to say about her work on Cujo.
Fox News: It’s been said “Cujo” was the most difficult film for you to make, but one that you’re the proudest of. How so?
Wallace: My God, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally, physically, emotionally. You have to understand you’re working with a dog – an incredibly trained dog – actually there were 13 dogs that played Cujo. Then there was a young kid of 6 and me. So I had to absolutely be on the whole time. What an emotional ride. And every time you see a scene, we probably shot it 15 times from different angles. That’s a huge amount of emotional output. And what most people don’t understand is that your body does not differentiate between a perceived threat and an actual threat. So I blew all my adrenals out because for eight weeks, literally, I was in fight or flight.
They treated me for exhaustion for about three weeks afterward. I still take raw adrenal supplements because I just blew them out from all the emotional work. And physically. Physically alone was incredibly demanding. But I look at the film and think that I went as far as I could go, as truthful as I could go. If I can do that in every performance, I will die a happy actress.
Fox News: What did Stephen King think of the film?
Wallace: He was down there for the first couple days of shooting... He often touts "Cujo" as the best film rendition of any of his writing and that I should have received an award nomination. He’s really generous with his praise. My job is to really honor in the most authentic way what the writer and the director want to bring to life. I feel a real duty to my fans to do that in the most truthful way I can.
I finished reading the Dark Half the other night. What started out for me as a full speed Stephen King horror thrill ride turned into tiresome suspended reality. Frankly, I didn't like the second half; at all.
I think the Dark Half would serve better as a novella. The idea was not only fleshed out, it was obese. Soon, as one idea built on another, characters began to behave in a way far removed from reality. That's because the plot itself left any grounding in the real world to chase an idea.
At the core, I have to simply ask: Did the ending work? And my answer is a strong: No. It was neither natural to the movement of the story, logical or even innovative. The truth is, when the end finally came, I was just glad to leave these characters. The unanswered questions pile up when you start to fact check the central themes of the Dark Half.
In trying to tie it all together, by giving us plot line after plot line, King actually undid his own premise. The book becomes overthought. It's not a fun adventure at the end, because there is no doubt at all who is going to win. But may I suggest, if King would have let the bad guy win in this one, it would have been a delight!
The idea that a twin, killed in the womb, is actually a ghost with a voice of his own in his twin brothers head is great. But there's no way, no plot line, that could actually allow him to steal the show and win. So the story is empty of tension. The reader never once actually thinks George Stark is going to beat the odds; he doesn't have a chance. Not in Stephen King's Castle Rock, anyway.
May I suggest that if King's story were actually followed through, though; Stark has a great chance of beating both Alan Pangborn and Thad Baumont. (Baumont has to be a nod to writer Charles Beaumont who wrote some of the most memorable Twilight Zone scripts.) But simply put, King cannot allow Stark to win. That's because the story is so far from any reality, to not put it down would throw a lot of King's other work into suspended reality. The story is set in Ludlow and Castle Rock. What happens if George Stark beauts the writer and the sheriff and runs loose through the town? Well, honestly, it seems the odds are in his favor. Stark seems to come from no where, and is headed into no where as he decays quickly. King isn't exactly clear how Stark became flesh and blood; but whatever that flesh is -- it ain't here to stay. Stark needs Beaumont, and in the end, kocking him out isn't much harder for Thad than Superman giving Lex a gentle kick to the face.
The killer, that started out with seemingly unlimited strength and no conscience, ends up just crumbling and being carried away by birds. Why? Because he can't be allowed to exist. The "what if" is too big. What if we allow someone as powerful as George Stark first appears to remain on the scene? (What if we let the Death Star terrorize galaxy?) After creating a wonderful, terrible, mean monster in George Stark, King quickly begins to downgrade him. By the end of the book, he's practically on hospice. His flesh is falling on and he's not anything of the force he was at the beginning of the novel.
The Dark Half doesn't pay off because George Stark himself doesn't pay off as a villain. There are a few chapters King even dedicates to Stark's point of view; maybe hoping to give the reader perspective. But again, these scenes only serve to weaken Stark.
|Chad A. Clark|
I really liked Chad A. Clark's book, Tracing The Trails, A Constant Readers Reflections on the Work of Stephen King.
Your book moves us quickly through the Stephen King universe. What could have been thousands of pages, is actually a tight, easy to read work. Was it difficult to keep the word count down?
Chad A. Clark:
It helped a lot to have this start out as a blog project because, if for no other reason it forced a certain amount of brevity on my part. Being an unknown author I knew that there would be a limit to the amount of words from me that people would put up with. It seemed like 1000 to 1500 words ended up being a pretty solid sweet spot for the reviews to fall in to. IT was the only case where I had to employ multiple posts. I wanted the reviews to be enjoyed by dedicated constant readers but also accessible to the more casual fans. I also didn’t want to telegraph too dramatically the books I enjoyed less by having some reviews be thousands of words long while others only a few hundred. The length I settled on seemed to give enough room to stretch my legs but not so long that it scared away those who might be less dedicated.
How different is the book from the blog posts?
Chad A. Clark:
The reviews themselves aren’t dramatically different. The only one that I really went back in and rewrote was Pet Sematary, because of the experience of re-reading the book after having kids myself. I did go through all the reviews and give them several additional editorial passes. I also enlisted the assistance of Duncan Ralston from Shadow Work Publishing as the editor for the project.
The book is structured differently from the blog. When the reviews posted originally, I simply took each title in order of publication. For the book, however, I grouped the books into sections of novels, short story collections, novella collections and Richard Bachman titles. I also included a section of bonus material. The content in this section was never on the blog and included guest reviews as well as various King related essays.
And finally, I should acknowledge the beautiful introductory essay provided to me for use from Richard Chizmar, a friend of King and who has co-written a book with him as well. I was incredibly touched that Richard was willing to be a part of this project.
I was surprsed Gwendy’s Button Box got reviewed with the novels. What determined for you a Novella (Blockade Billy) verses a novel?
Chad A. Clark:
Yes you’re correct that Gwendy’s Button Box would be more correctly categorized as a novella. Elevation is also a novella and there are a lot of stories within his short story collections that are novellas, such as “The Mist”, “The Ballad Of The Flexible Bullet” and “Dolan’s Cadillac.”
I resolved the issue by categorizing the stories based on how they were released. The three stories I just listed were released as one of many in a collection of short stories so that was how I categorized them. King has also published several collections of specifically novella length stories. While Skeleton Crew and Night Shift have stories of all size and length, books like Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight all follow a format of containing four novella-length stories. So those titles were grouped into their own category.
Books like Gwendy and Elevation, while they were not novels, were released on their own as individual titles. For that reason I grouped them alongside the other novels. A lot of this is just kind of up to judgment and perspective. I also decided to place Hearts In Atlantis with the novels, even though that’s more of a short story collection. That was just how I saw the book.
I agreed wholeheartedly with your less than enthusiastic responses to both Firestarter and Cujo. I’ve been a concerned that his upcoming book, The Institute, has echoes of Firestarter. Think that’s possible?
Chad A. Clark:
It would certainly seem that The Institute could be a return to the Shop, the nefarious institution detailed in Firestarter. I would actually be interested in that aspect, although I suspect that in the post-X Files world we live in, the plot could come across largely as ground already explored. Whether or not Charlie McGee makes an appearance, who knows? I enjoyed his last two books quite a bit so I’m willing to be open to this one.
You gave two sections to Kings massive novel, IT. You described the way Derry takes on characteristics of the monster. I had not thought about that. What you did not discuss, at least thus far, is the most controversial scene in the novel – the boys sleeping with Beverly one after another. Did that scene give you any pause? Did you know it was coming, or did it catch you by surprise?
Chad A. Clark:
Well originally on the blog I dealt with IT in three parts, with the third part dealing with this scene particularly. My thoughts on the subject are actually in the book but you haven’t gotten there yet, it’s in the supplemental material. Suffice to say, my take on that scene is that it serves as an important metaphor to show the emotional trauma of what the Loser’s Club experiences. That while they physically survived their ordeal, they still suffered the emotional death of their childhood and innocence. So the scene you’re referring to, while difficult to read, shows both their forced transition into adulthood as well as how their love for each other ultimately defeats the darkness.
Okay, I found it. . . nice article on the controversial IT scene.
Chad A. Clark:
Like I said, I can totally sympathize with people hating that scene. I think I was just more able to separate myself and evaluate the significance of the scene in terms of what it represented about the lives of those kids. With all the horrible violence they had to endure, getting upset over a moment like this seems to be ducking under the actual horrors they had to endure.
Christine was a blast. A total blood bath. When I blogged my way through it, I kept a running death count. I appreciated your explanation of why King did not rewrite the novel from just one perspective, choosing instead to stay close to his original vision of the book. You noted that King is vague as to what exactly possess the car – the spirit of the original owner, or a demon. Just for fun, pick a side. Demon or ghost – is Christine Haunted or Possessed?
Chad A. Clark:
I’ve actually been thinking it might be time to do a re-read Of Christine. I’m with you, it’s a less appreciated title in his catalog but it’s one that I love. And the ambiguous origins of the car are a big part of what makes it more frightening for me. I suppose if I had to pick, my guess would be that the car is possessed by some kind of demonic presence. That seems to be more King’s bag than just a simple haunting. But here’s a possibility to bounce around your brain pan. Is it possible that the car could be both possessed and haunted? Considering the multi-perspective of the narrative, this would seem to be in line with the overall vibe of the book.
You seem to have a special love for the Talisman. I’ve got to level here: I never made it through that book. I lose interest each time. And I’m not alone. George Beahm in his original Stephen King companion confessed exactly the same thing. So what’s the magic we’re missing?
Chad A. Clark:
I don’t know if there is a magic to Talisman that you’re missing. Or better put, I think I would echo what King has said in that books are a uniquely portable magic. The relevance for me here is that my magic could be completely different from your magic.
All that aside, I’ll try and explain why I love the book. It’s one of the more unique stories from this time period and I think it serves nicely as one that is somewhat adjacent to the Dark Tower saga. Not that you need one to enjoy the other but I think it definitely helps if your brain has been brined somewhat in Roland’s world and his quest. I love that the book has the majesty of an epic fantasy but also with some more gritty and realistic aspects. I don’t know where Stephen King ends and Peter Straub begins but this combination worked pretty well for me. I can see how people could find it a bit of a slow starter but there’s some beautifully vivid and terrifying imagery in there, as well as some cool representations of the duality of our own natures. The book definitely isn’t for everyone but I’m a fan of it.
You expressed twice in the book your personal discomfort as both a writer and a reader about the use of real tragedies in fiction. With King, this issue came up in your review of 11/22/63 and later with the short story, The Things They Left Behind. First, I understand your discomfort. I stopped writing a book because it moved to scenes that involved a real (famous) murder. And I thought, “Wait, a lady died here. I can’t trivialize this.” How far do you press this view? Because I got a sense, and here’s your chance to correct me, that even historical fiction makes you uncomfortable. Are you okay with a book like the Grapes of Wrath, that is driven by the national tragedy of the Dust Bowl?
Chad A. Clark:
I wouldn’t say that I have a problem with historical fiction because in that case, you are dealing more with general issues and the experiences of people as opposed to a specific event. Usually when I see an actual event featured, that ends up becoming the center around which the entire book orbits. Writing a story set against the backdrop of the American Dustbowl is one thing. An example of what I’m talking about took place following the infamous disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines flight in 2014. Within a week or two I came across an ad for a book that had clearly been thrown together that week, in the interests of selling books off the notoriety of an actual tragedy. That’s the kind of thing that makes me feel wrong for having spent money on it.
You argue that King’s earlier, popular novels built a foundation of readers that would basically put up with some later, weaker, novels. For instance, you suggest that if King had started with Dolores Cliaborne (one of my favorite novels) that King’s career would not have sky rocketed. I would agree wholeheartedly. His great success gave him the power to go back and revise the Stand, restoring the novel. I’m curious if there are any other books you wish King would go back and. . . well, fix. (I suggest that if King can give us the unedited version of The Stand, an edited tighter version of Tommyknockers would be welcome from many of us.)
Chad A. Clark:
You and I are in agreement on this one in that the title I would like to see get a revision is Tommyknockers. I think the concept is good, it’s just that the execution doesn’t really work for me. It goes off into so many different directions and the lack of a clear protagonist leaves the plot without anything to ground the book. King himself stated in an interview that he thinks there’s a good 350-page novel in there.
Along similar lines, I would like it if Cujo was much shorter. Again, there just seems to be too much narrative insulation, plot threads that don’t go anywhere. I would cut anything that isn’t in the car or from the dog’s perspective.
There were a handful of other titles which I was more disappointed with, such as the regulators, the Colorado Kid, Lisey’s Story and Sleeping Beauties. But Cujo and Tommyknockers are the two big examples where I feel like my lack of enjoyment was simply deriving from the excess narrative that could be easily trimmed away.
You mentioned more than once dissatisfaction with Kings later villains. What are some of your favorites? (Of the later villains)
Chad A. Clark:
Well sure, a great villain is essential for a great story and King for the most part has really excelled at this aspect of writing. You need to have conflict in order for the book to be interesting so for me, the villain is almost more important than the protagonist. And as King has stated in his own work on the subject of writing, the key is to remember that the villains rarely think of themselves along those lines. To them They are the stars of their own personal stories.
Big Jim Rennie is probably my favorite from his batch of more recent villains. I find him terrifying because he feels so normal, so at home in the small town setting. He doesn’t see himself as a monster. He sees himself as being just as righteous as the protagonists.
You seem to think less King’s work from the 1990's and his current output. Is that a fair assessment?
Chad A. Clark:
I think it would be fair to say that if you looked at Stephen King’s books over a specific time period and calculated a percentage of which titles I loved, that number for the seventies and eighties would be much higher. Many of the books of his I have been most let down by have been post-1990 but there have been a ton of titles in the more modern years I have loved: 11/22/63, Under The Dome, Duma Key, The Outsider, The Green Mile, Wizard and Glass and Desperation, to name a few. I will always have a special place for the earlier books because that was the era I cut my teeth on. But I have appreciated all stages of Stephen King’s career.
I liked your explanation of what makes a sequel (the James Bond movies example was helpful.) You just read a big heap of Stephen King; are there any novels you wish King would write a sequel to? Any universes you’d like to see him return to?
Chad A. Clark:
I don’t know if there are really any universes or books specifically that I would like to see him return to. I guess there has been talks of a third Talisman book that has been in the works but held off due to Peter Straub’s poor health. I would like to see the conclusion to the Jack Sawyer tale. I’d also like to see a return to the Dark Tower universe, maybe in which he explores some of the history of Mid World. The battle of Jericho Hill, for example. I know the comics have taken a stab at these but I think I’d prefer a proper novel from the man, himself.
I appreciated your comment that Needful Things can be seen as a parable of modern forces driving us apart as a people and culture. (My words, summarizing what I got from your review of Needful Things.) Do you think King continues to clearly show that divide, or has he moved too far into the realm of politics to clearly accomplish that again?
Chad A. Clark:
I know that a lot of people have been turned off by King’s politics and with his active Twitter platform. I’ve never really cared that much, one way or the other, and for me I’ve never been one for celebrity culture. I’m a fan of Stephen King’s writing, not Stephen King, specifically. I also think that celebrities have just as much right to expressing their personal opinions as the rest of us. I’ve always been put off by the attitude of, “Go sit in the corner and be quiet until I want you to do that thing I like.”
As for the rest of your question, King’s most recent book, Elevation, deals quite a bit with what you’re describing. Not necessarily in the sense of people being led away from their reason and morality but in the increasing divide between people over social issues.
I think Stephen King always has the ability to drop a great book on us. He’s demonstrated that consistently and frankly, I suspect he was just as politically motivated in the Reagan and Bush eras as he is now. It’s just that social media has amplified everything and opened our eyes to a side of him that has likely always been there. Read the epically long rant against nuclear power in Tommyknockers and you can get a sense of what I mean.
You obviously liked the end of the Dark Tower series. I think it was courageous of you to take clear stands on things, even when controversial. It made the book more interesting. But let me ask a question off topic from the books – the movie. I think King fans universally agree it was terrible. A friend of mine offered the opinion that the movie only picks up where the books ended, on Roland’s second quest. First, what did you think of the movie? Second, do you think King’s unusual ending of the series was the justification for the movie?
Chad A. Clark:
I don’t think I would agree that the movie was universally disliked. It’s just that those that did dislike it were extremely vocal about it. And I get it. The studio didn’t do a great job publicizing the film and as a result many people were confused about what the movie was. I think most fans would rightfully expect multiple films in adapting the Dark Tower. Even trimming things back, you’d need at least four or five movies. I actually think the plan from ages ago would have worked great - three movies with a short television series between each. That, sadly, never came to be.
I think that what drove much of the decisions in terms of the kind of movie we got was simply practical economics. The Dark Tower series has been very popular and has a devout fan base but when you’re talking about a film you’re going after new fans as well. And I think most would agree that the Dark Tower can’t really be adapted into movies along the lines of Harry Potter or Twilight of the Hunger Games, which can be better marketed to a younger audience. I can sympathize with studio fears that might have existed that the Dark Tower would bring in more of a niche audience. We learned a lesson from the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo that having a successful book doesn’t automatically mean big box office numbers. Hard-rated R franchises aren’t really a hot item for studio execs.
The internet went nuts when it found out that only one movie was being made. Lost in all the noise was the tidbit that there was a possibility of more films if the first was successful enough. It was all in our hands.
And we know how that worked out.
I’m not going to bemoan anyone for not liking the movie. I really do get it and I understand how invested people can feel. I started on this trail with Roland, Jake, Eddie, Susannah and Oy nearly thirty years ago. And if you go into this movie expecting the books you are setting yourself up for disappointment. I liked the film as I see it more like the new series, Castle Rock. It’s inspired by King’s work but it isn’t exactly a perfect carbon transfer. If you go into this film looking for an entertaining story, spun in the warm blanket of Stephen King’s universe I think you’re much more likely to enjoy it.
I appreciated your defense of the IT miniseries. I thought so long as the camera stayed on the kids, the story was great; but as soon as we went to adults, everything fell apart. What’s funny is, they marketed it with the adult stars; those kids should have gotten way more credit for that. Do you think the miniseries still has a fan base, or are we the last hold outs on that?
Chad A. Clark:
It’s hard to market child actors to the general public because most people won’t know who they are or reflexively roll their eyes at the sight of kids in movies. Remember that we were decades away from the Stranger Things phenomenon. It’s a lot easier to push people’s interests with the likes of Tim Curry, John Ritter, Annette O’Toole, Harry Anderson and Richard Thomas. And by the way, I do agree that the kids portion of the miniseries felt more fleshed out and was of a much greater quality. The adults portion just felt rushed and didn’t come out as well. Why that ended up being the case? Who really knows.
I have a special place in my heart for the mini series, as I suspect I was at right about the perfect age and context to watch it when it first aired. Context is everything. It dictates so much of how we react to the movies we watch and the books we read. Your perspective and expectations and point of view as you’re sitting there in the theater or in your living room makes a massive difference in your ability to enjoy it.
I am willing to concede that there were faults to the movie and that it hasn’t necessarily aged well. I think that if you are of the right generation and you are coming back to the movie armed with your earlier memories of loving it, you’re a lot more likely to still be able to appreciate it. However, if you’re of a younger generation and you would be coming to this for the first time, I really wouldn’t recommend it. So I suppose in a sense, we are sort of the last gasping guard of people who really appreciate the movie, and not just for Tim Curry‘s performance. But, to each their own. It’s difficult to make a movie that requires so much in terms of special effects and to make that movie have a timeless feel to it.
Is it fair to say you don’t like first person stories? Or is it just that you don’t like it when it’s first person, but the person is talking to someone else, making the reader a third party. (?) I thinking that more than once you expressed frustration with scenes that are told as if they’ve already happened, and thus the reader doesn’t quite get to experience them. Am I summing it up right?
Chad A. Clark:
Not exactly. I’m not as much of a fan of first person but not really for the reasons you’re describing. The inherent disadvantage of stories told in the first person is that by design, you’re stuck inside the mind of the protagonist. So take a book like The Body and you find that if Gordie wasn’t there to witness something, it wasn’t in the book. It means that a lot of the great characters from the movie were reduced significantly because of the limited scope of the narrative voice. Stand By Me worked better as a movie because we got to see more.
What I think you’re talking about and what I have referenced at times is stories written heavily in exposition. What that means is that, instead of witnessing an event in the story as a reader, you have to simply read a description given to you by either the narrator or one of the characters. Dolores Claiborne is a great example. It’s told in the first person but it’s also heavily expository. We don’t get to witness any of the key events of Dolores’ life, we simply get her description of them. I found this a lot in King’s later short stories as well. I’d prefer to be there as events are happening, not just getting fed the recollections of a secondary character. You feel like the writer is keeping you at arms length and you feel detached from the story. As a result, major twists and turns often come off as a bit on the dry side. If you don’t feel like you’ve been immersed in the universe of the story, it’s hard to feel invested in it.
Let me put it this way. Would you rather read Pet Sematary or have me describe the story to you?
What are some books you’ve written?
Chad A. Clark:
Here’s the rundown on me. In 2014 I published my first book, Borrowed Time : and other tales. It consisted of four short stories and two novellas. It was a good first, hard lesson on publishing and how difficult this industry can be. This was followed in 2015 by A Shade For Every Season, a collection of flash fiction. 2016 would be a busier year for me as it would see my first novel, an apocalyptic tale titled Behind Our Walls (audible). In September of that year I released a supernatural novella, Down The Beaten Path.
My most productive year by far came in 2017. After lackluster sales, I decided to take Borrowed Time off the market and sell the stories individually. I released the four shorts as kindle singles and one of the novellas would be released that year as a standalone titled, Yesterday, When We Died. I would also put out a second collection of flash fiction, Two Bells At Dawn and a sci-fi /horror novella, The Child At The End Of Time.
In 2018, Dark Minds Press out of the UK released my monster tale novella, Winter Holiday, which was followed shortly after by a gritty novella thriller from Shadow Work Publishing, titled Winward. That summer would see the follow up to my post-apocalyptic novel, titled From Across Their Walls (audible). And at the end of the year, I would officially enter into the non-fiction realm with my book, Tracing The Trails : A Constant Reader’s Reflections On The Work Of Stephen King. That book was the culmination of a blog project that had been a part of my life for several years.
That brings us pretty much up to date. Just last month I released the conclusion to my Behind Our Walls trilogy - For Walls Do Crumble and I have my final collection of flash fiction due out by the end of the year.
What’s the favorite book you’ve written? (I know, it’s like asking about your favorite child.)
Chad A. Clark:
Pick my favorite book of mine? Sure, no problem. How much time do we have?
In an attempt to bridge the gap between pride and humility, I will restrict my answer somewhat. First of all, I just published the third book of my post-apocalyptic trilogy. This consists of Behind Our Walls, From Across Their Walls and For Walls Do Crumble. What I like about the stories is how the camera of the narrative zooms in and makes the books about the human experience. These aren’t techno-thrillers designed to hyper-analyze the mechanics of an apocalypse. This was about the characters and their drive to survive. I felt like the angle and perspective of the stories were pretty special. And I was especially happy about how I was able to design the books in such a way that (I think) you can read them in pretty much any order and still follow along.
In addition to this, I’m also proud of my recent novella, Winward (audible). And this goes with the theme here because it’s my one book that was really heavily and directly influenced by Stephen King. For as much as I love his book, Desperation, I have also found myself wishing the story had stayed grounded in the terrifying character of the small town sheriff gone crazy. Winward is the story of a couple traveling to meet old friends. What they find ends up plunging them into a pretty fun and wild story. I was very proud on the day that the highly regarded Ginger Nuts of Horror website rated Winward as one of the best books of 2018.
TSK: If you were asking the questions, what would you ask you?
Chad A. Clark: Well, I’m not really sure. That question seems to lead me off in a number of different potential directions with all of them being at least a bit narcissistic. People love to talk up their achievements as well as how awesome they are. And it isn’t like I don’t have those thoughts. There’s plenty that I’m proud of. But I thought I’d go a different route and talk about what I have been the most disappointed with in my decision to be an author.
In my experience, very little opens your eyes to how insignificant you are than publishing a book. Imagine a vast field covered in six feet of newly fallen snow. Now imagine taking your one, special snowflake and placing it atop the rest. Are you expecting a parade? Accolades? Someone saying something nice about you?
Because that’s probably not going to happen.
It’s not like I expected to set the world on fire. I wasn’t expecting to be the next Stephen King or to suddenly find my name topping the New York Times best sellers list. I wasn’t expecting to be able to quit my job and support my family, just from being an author.
But as each day passes and more new books join the pile, it feels more and more like writing into the void. That all you’re doing is releasing artistic work that barely anyone cares about. It’s a torpedo to the broad side of your confidence and self-esteem to log into your Amazon account and see how few books you have sold. Or when you post about a new book in social media and get almost as much interest as you might for farting into the wind. It’s hard to ignore the flash-fires of heartbreak, frustration and jealousy.
It disappoints me that so little of what I try seems to work. That so few people out there seem to want to read my work. I’ve said at times that publishing makes me feel like tap water. Nobody hates tap water, necessarily. But people also aren’t exactly crawling over each other to get tap water, either.
I’ve tried to take inspiration from the image of Stephen King, precariously balancing a borrowed typewriter on his lap in a trailer, banging out what would become some of the most successful books of the twentieth century, one letter at a time. I have to think that even he was scared at times. Was sure that he wasn’t worth the ink his machine was filled with.
I can’t be driven by the phantom of the “best seller”. I can’t set destinations for myself to which no roads can ever lead. I love storytelling. And at the end of the day, that has to be my North Star. The possibility that out there in the unseen distance, someone is picking up one of my books and has wrapped themselves up in it, maybe taking some of what I have taken from the likes of King and Tolkien and so many others. I am so grateful when I read a positive review of my work, not just for the self-delusional feeling I get but from the basic notion that someone looked at my book and said, “I want to read that.” The fact that that is happening at all makes me feel that I’m coming ahead at least a little.
I often think about what I would say to aspiring writers looking to launch themselves into this journey, if they even wanted to hear it from me. I think it would be that nobody owes you success. You can’t wait for success like it’s some kind of external event. Success has to be defined from within. If you do this, it has to be about making your art, whatever that art might be. And don’t hesitate to call it art. Calling your writing “art” isn’t about doing so with the permission of others. If you are reaching into yourself to craft something that could only come into being through your soul and your sweat and labor, you’re an artist. And your career as an author has to be exclusively about your art. Not how many people have seen it.
Do I wish more people gave a shit about my writing? Of course I do. But I have to accept that that either will happen or it won’t. I can’t bring the sky down just by climbing up to the top of the highest building and screaming at it. I have to constantly remind myself what drew me into all of this.
I need to remember that, even when it seems like no one else is listening. I have to remember how cool it feels to be able to create those things that I loved so much as a kid. I have to remember the heat in my stomach from the thrill and excitement I felt along with the recitation of a few simple words.
It was a dark and stormy night.
(Chad A. Clark's author page HERE)
Here's what's striking about The Dark Half:
1. It's very violent. This isn't like in the Dead Zone, where we come upon the bodies left behind by a serial killer. In The Dark Half, we are taken right to the murder scenes as Stark (or Machine) do the dirty work.
2. It reminds me of The Outsider. A man is obviously guilty of a crime he could not commit. He has an alibi, witnesses and more to prove he didn't do it. In the Dark Half, there are finger prints left behind; in The Outsider it's DNA. The early portions of both books run down very familiar paths.
3. Kings narration is crisp and to the point. He doesn't spend a lot of time with scenes to just build the characters; he gets right to it. He seems like a man driven here. He wants to nail this down, almost rushing toward the meat of the story. In fact, the book moves with such intensity, the reader can sense King himself exited to find out what happens next.
King gave us the Dark Half in the late 80's. It' interesting again to note signs of the times. As in Dead Zone, there is no 911 emergency system in place; people have to hunt for Law Enforcements phone number. And phones themselves sure have changed since the days when King could describe a phone in the cradle as looking like a broken barbell.
One thing I don't like about the Dark Half is the original cover. There's just nothing fun about it. Like the Tommy-knockers, which preceded it, the cover does nothing to make you want to read the book.
The Dark Half serves as a prequel to Needful Things, introducing the reader to the Sheriff and several of the towns people. While Dark Half focuses on a much smaller cast in a horrible situation, Needful Things would bring the entire town to life and then rip it apart.
I got this book today. Hold on, doesn't it look like it belong to the Outsider?
On June 19th, 1999 I got hit by a van while taking a walk. As I lay unconscious in the hospital, the docs debated amputating my right leg and decided it could stay, on a trial basis. I got better. Every day of the 20 years since has been a gift.
--Stephen King, June 20, 2019
--Stephen King, June 20, 2019
I’m neck deep in Salem’s Lot. It bites. Really.
Here’s the deal at Talk Stephen King: If you haven’t read the book, don’t read my comments on the book. Because, believe it or not, I’m going to talk about what I liked and didn’t like about it. And after all, you’ve had a good 44 years to pick this up and read it.
My wife and I seem to be on a Summer Stephen King kick. She reads and I listen, and we see each day who is ahead. We are blasting through the early King works, and I think both of us are just transfixed by King as a young writer.
I’ve known forever what Salem’s Lot is about, and tried to read it more than once. I first got Salem’s Lot when I was a teen, and it was in the pile of Stephen King books my sister brought home to me from the bookstore. After reading the Stand in one breathless Summer (1989 maybe) I had to have every book. Salem’s Lot was mixed in with IT and Tommyknockers. But I struggled with Salem’s Lot. The magic just didn’t settle over me until recently. King builds a big cast of characters and was always hard for me to keep up with who’s who among the minor towns people. These days, I just ask my girl, “Who was that?”
I also first struggled with this book because I didn’t understand the name. Was it Salem’s Lot or Jerusalem’s Lot? I know King explains it well, but I still got confused as a young person.
I read the book a few years ago, and loved it. And now, I've returned, and once again the spell has fallen, and I’m so in love with this vampire book. It’s creepy, action packed, and no one is safe. No one.
What I liked:
Ben. Now, on earlier attempts to read the book, Ben is what I didn’t like. I remember reading about his first encounter with Susan in the park, and what should she be reading? Why, his book, of course! I thought: This is just too much. No way. But, this time I caught something that made the scene work for me. King himself suggests that there is something predestined about their meeting. As if other forces are at work to bring them together. It is, as the Ben things, just too easy.
By the way, Ben is a Baptist. I only point that out because usually any Baptist in a Stephen King book is going to be a raging loon. (eg: Needful Things) Now, he’s not a practicing Baptist, but, take what you can get here.
Symbolism: How do you get rid of a Vampire? What lore do you trust? Salem’s Lot relies on two steadfast rules: The first is the power of the crucifix to drive back Satan. The second is the myth that a vampire has to be invited in. They don’t just burst into your house and ravage the place like thugs. We will discover later that the crucifix itself holds little power, but only true faith has the strength to destroy Satan. Trust me, there’s so much to be said for that! I love it.
How does young Mark now that a Vampire has to be invited in? They don’t teach that in school. Here’s what’s great – he knows it from his monster magazines. That’s wonderful! In his introduction to Salem’s Lot, King talked about what his mother would call garbage. Those monster magazines certainly would count as garbage. But King uses those great old magazines to dispense bits of truth that would actually help a kid in a fight with a vampire.
Signs of the times: A few things lock Salem’s Lot the novel into the time it was written. Technology in particular. People listening in to one another’s conversations; and when they need to call for an ambulance, they need an actual number, because this book was written well before the 911 system was in place. Imagine that.
Two random connections: Constable Parkins Gillespie reminds me of Pet Sematary’s Jud Crandall. Also, the scene in the graveyard brought back flashes of Plan 9 From Outer Space. I’m not comparing Mr. King to Ed wood, just remembering how one grave digger looks up and says, “Kinda spooky.” Let’s just say that Stephen King brought it home, while Ed Wood. . .
Real people: Salem’s Lot is inhabited by people caught up in what seems like real problems. Affairs are taking place; a young mother slaps her child; a young deputy is sure he could do better than his boss, the constable; the caretaker at the dump loves shooting rats. King doesn’t just give us a vampire yarn, but the book is rightly named Salem’s Lot.
The original title for Salem’s Lot was Second Coming. I heard speculation that it referred to Bens return to Salem’s Lot. I think it had more to do with vampires reappearing after a long silence – this time in America.
I like this Barlow action figure. Let me make a kid complaint. . . as a kid who loved action figures, ONE action figure is not much fun. What made Star Wars action figures so cool was you could crate any story because there were so many action figures. But, just the same -- I'd love to pit this Barlow action figure against Jar Jar Binks.
I can't finish a Stephen King book and not watch the movie. I just have to. Maybe, I think, the book will come to life on screen and I'll re-live those wonderful scenes.
This is, of course, a set up for failure. In fact, movies I liked before reading the book, feel flat after reading the wonderfully textured novels by King. People I feel like I know well, because I've spent time in their head via Mr. King, now seem pasty and cardboard.
So, that brings me to The Dead Zone. I read the novel in marathon race with my wife. She read on Kindle, I listened on audible. I beat her. (Double speed, my friends.) Now, let me tell you up front, I've seen the movie before. I'd forgotten everything except key scenes, and the vague memory that I'd liked it a lot.
The Dead Zone Is Real:
Can I ask right up front: Was there a shortage on extras when they were filming the Dead Zone? We start at the Carnival. A scene described as something out of Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Skip the lucky streak at the game booth, and instead we watch Johnny and Sarah dip up and down on the roller-coaster. But -- they're all alone. Who gets to go to the County Fair and ride the roller-coaster all alone? It wasn't closing time. But watch, it's just them, bopping up and down and all around the track.
Pretty soon, we are ushered in to the local hospital where Sarah comes looking for Johnny. She bursts in to what could be a mansion, but it's the hospital. "Where's the emergency room?" she asks, and is directed up large wooden stairs. Stairs? Hospital? It doesn't look like a hospital. Did they run out of white paint? But it gets better. Like the fair grounds, all is dead in the hospital. As in. . . no one is there! Apparently it's a slow night in the E.R. If there were budget cuts, I'm pretty sure they came out of the extras. Because there are almost no background characters throughout the movie.
Instead of having a medical team seeing to him, Johnny has one sole doctor. Because, you know, that would require more. . . extras.
Finally at the Stillson rally, where. . . . BOOM, there are people. And the biggest political sign I've ever seen. Ever.
Do movies like this make you wonder some things?
1. Who cut Johnny's hair all those years he was in the coma?
2. Does the truck driver and the accident remind you of Pet Sematary? As in, all that's missing is a kid running into the road as the accident happens.
3. How did his parents know when he would wake up? They were right outside, waiting for him.
4. So Frank Dodd killed himself by jamming sissors up his mouth -- that was his best plan? he's a cop with a service revolver.
5. Does everyone have a bowl haircut?
6. Did Johnny notice his jacket makes him look like a vampire?
7. Ah, paper bags -- anyone else miss those?
8. That's how we launch nukes?
9. Why is Johnny driving Ted Bundy's VW ?
Okay, enough silly moaning. I still like the film. And the movie is a fair representation of the novel. The scenes are put together at almost the same pace as the book, without the early connections to Greg Stillson. So there's not the same feeling of the two stories moving toward one another as there was in the book.
I think the visions are far more intense in the movie than they were the book. I also liked mama Dodd going after them. Christopher Walken does a nice job showing the conflict inside of Johnny.
I was drawn to the Dead Zone by Chad Clark's book, Tracing The Trails. Clark's book about King and his work was so good, it actually made me rethink some of the older books I hadn't touched yet. In particular, Dead Zone and The Dark Half. His reviews made me hungry for vintage King.
Now, let me tell you what a Stephen King collection really is --
It's a Time Machine.
There you have it. That's it. It's like taking a trip back to specific periods of time. You don't get to take these trips alone, though. Your traveling companions, in this case, will be a man cursed with an ability to see into people; and a deranged politician. I like the books from the seventies because they have a unique feel to them. Sometimes King takes us back to an era. Books like 11/22/63 and Joyland both returned us to other eras. So did IT. And King was masterful. But it's those old books themselves, written in the time they were set, that really makes me feel the era. Because King innocently tells us what's going on all around him. He doesn't have to try and remember what was happening; he's just describing the world he lives in.
King mentions things that I think he wouldn't because a modern audience wouldn't know what he was talking about. John Denver is playing on the radio. Remember him? (I think the song was Country Roads.) And my favorite not to another author came early in the book when King compared the carnival to Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury. King once said that without Bradbury, there would be no Stephen King.
In The Dead Zone, there is a wonderful scene in which Johnny Smith meets Jimmy Carter. And he looks right in to Carters soul. I loved it. We forget that even politics of the late seventies were not as nice and clean as we remember them. The smiling man from Georgia was a breath of fresh air after the corrupt Nixon years. A man, some felt, who was just too good for Washington. What I appreciated about the Dead Zone was King's ability to bring me back into the politics of that era, without a lot of heavy exposition.
I also want to note that I appreciate King's flawed characters. Johnny might be an all american nice guy, but he still makes decisions that leave me totally frustrated with him. I don't want to give anything away, so no further comment, just that Johnny sometimes takes his own path.
I'm swept away. If my favorite writer is Stephen King, my favorite kind of books are books about Stephen King. There have been times that I've wondered if I actually enjoy reading books about King as much as I love reading King himself. Nah. Well, maybe. . .
I'm currently reading Tracing the Trails: A Constant Reader's Reflections on the Work of Stephen King, by Chad Clark. And yeah, I'm pretty much in love already. I was familiar with the project -- a plan to read all of King's work in order -- from the blog. What I didn't know until the other night is that the blog had been transformed into a wonderful book. And it's a gem.
What I love about some so many of the books about King is that they reflect and articulate my own journey with the author. Moments I felt were solely mine turn out to be shared experiences. We all shared 9/11. But we also, we all knew we were sharing the moment. In the introduction, Richard Chizmar shares how he first encountered King, at almost the same age I did. And I too remember the day IT was released (I was a kid) and how the book was like stacked bricks in the bookstore.
Clark's book gets to the point quickly. Discussing the novels first, he opens with reviews of Carrie, Salem's Lot and The Shining. Clark does take time to give some insights on the movie version of The Shining, only because it has become so controversial. Like him, I enjoy the movie very much, and can simply shrug and say it stands as its own thing; its own art.
It is when he came to The Stand that I felt the deepest connection to Clark. Like Clark, I was introduced to the Stand in it's unabridged format. For years it was not available in audio (my preferred avenue) so I developed other means of listening to the book. In the 90s I became a member of an audio book store that had tapes of the original version of The Stand. Later (when I had more money) I bought the tapes off the internet, sent them to a company, who recorded them digitally for me. But imagine how happy I was when The Stand unabridged finally came out on Audio and CD.
Clark's essay's so far are spot on. You don't have to agree with him on every point to enjoy the road trip with him. The book is like a long drive (or for me, listening while running, a long run) with a good friend who is familiar with every Stephen King book. Clark doesn't try to be a scholar, he just shares simply what he likes or doesn't like about the book -- like your friend would.
This is not a review. It’s my discussion points on the movie Pet Sematary.
If you haven’t seen the movie – see the movie. If you need to be told not to read spoilers before you see a movie, you’re seriously reading the wrong blog. Everything here is about what’s on the screen.
The new Pet Sematary takes us down old familiar roads while offering generous doses of new scenery. Or, so it would seem. The movie begins with familiar setting, familiar family, familiar plot line. A doctor and his family move into a small college town in Maine to get away from the busy life and have more time with their kids.
About the time the viewer thinks they know what is going to happen, the movie pulls the rug out from under you.
The changes are considerable, deep, and the results are an almost entirely new story. A scarier story. In fact, a much better story.
Here are a few very successful changes:
1. Ellie not Gage.
The most striking change is that it is Ellie who gets whacked by the truck. This is the most important part of the rewrite because it changes the tone and direction of the entire movie. In the original, Gage was so small, he couldn’t talk. The result was, he simply became a killing machine. It was fun, if not a little hollow. In the new version, Ellie comes back aware that something has happened to her. She is flat out creepy! And evil – Very evil.
By replacing toddler Gage with 9 year old Ellie, the viewer is given something very important: Conversation. Sweet moments with Luis after Ellie comes back. She is more than a little aware that things are not right. The story has the courage to take us where we’ve often wanted to go – but not one has really gone. How do you handle your child coming back from the dead? What do you tell the neighbors? Or your spouse? It’s Ellie who asks this question of Luis. “What are you going to tell her, Daddy?” Ellie asks.
Ellie is old enough to dress herself. This is important when she chooses to take off her clean clothes and opts instead to wear the dress she was buried in. Again, creepy.
Ellie is also old enough to communicate where she went when she died. And it wasn’t heaven. This, of course, brings up all kinds of theological discussion points. Do 9 year olds go to hell? I think not. But then again, mot 9 year old’s don’t get buried in an ancient burial ground and raised from the dead – so go with it. She becomes a messenger of hell itself, ready to carry her entire family down into the grave with her. Her murders are given motive beyond just the ground being “sour.” By killing her family, she is actually reuniting them. Yeah – that’s a little twisted.
I never felt right about the ghost of Psacow in the original movie. He was too present. Too much – there. The new movie makes him much more ghostly. It worked far better making him appear, disappear and hang more at the edges of scenes instead of dominating the center stage.
The movie teases older viewers who remember well the final moments of Jud Crandall. In the original, Gage slices his ankle. Using almost the exact same camera angle as Jud walks through his house, the viewer prepares for the attack – which doesn’t come quite as expected.
Here’s some stuff they could have just as well left alone:
1. Zelda -- The death of Rachel’s sister. This storyline was way overplayed. Dreams, visions and memories all surround the death of Rachel’s sister. And the story-line gets played over and over. It becomes like a broken record. What is supposed to feel deep with each callback really becomes tiresome. Give it up and get back to the main story.
Rachel comes across kind of like Jack in the Shining -- a little crazy from the get go. Not just broken or grieving; she's nuts. Rachel suffers from visions that take her out of reality.
2. The end. The ways things finally play out, make the movie more of a zombie flick than – well, whatever Pet Sematary originally was. It ends by taunting the viewer, but not really providing any answers. The movie loses its depth by being a little silly with its ending. Really, no one is taking this too serious, anyway, right? But, the fright is lost in the absurdity of the final frames as the dead family members approach the car Gage is locked in. Will they get him? Of course they will. And then what? They storm the country killing people and burying them in the ancient burial ground? It just becomes Night of the Living Dead.
3. The funeral. A major cut in the film was Rachel's parents. In both the book and the movie, the tension between Luis and his inlaws is an important emotional subtheme. I thought the original funeral scene, where Luis and his father in law go after each other, only to knock the coffin over and the body come spilling out was brilliant. That all goes away here for a much more subdued funeral scene. (I would say: Give us the fighting funeral back at the expense of the corny ending.)
My final grade: A-
(I enjoyed THIS article on the major differences between the two movies)
WHO WE ARE
John Campopiano is an audiovisual archivist, film writer, and producer living in Boston. He co- wrote, produced, and directed the 2017 documentary, Unearthed & Untold: The Path to PET SEMATARY and is writer and co-producer on the forthcoming documentary, Pennywise: The Story of IT. Ryan Grulich is a writer/producer/director based in Seattle. He produced the 2017 film, Foolish Mortals, a documentary about Disney’s Haunted Mansion, and has directed several short films including, I Hate Halloween, which premiered on July 28, 2018.
ORIGINS OF PROJECT IDEA
GEORGIE started out as an adventurous idea "what if?" What if, years after his apparent death, Georgie Denbrough returned to the screen? As two ardent fans of the 1990 miniseries, John and Ryan decided they wanted to explore the possibilities of that very scenario in the form of a short film. GEORGIE will shake your mind and rattle your bones.
WHY WE NEED MONEY / WHAT WE'LL DO WITH IT
GEORGIE needs your help to return to reality. Your participation will support the hiring of cast and crew, to turn what is truly a surreal and horrifying script into the cinematic return of the original Georgie Denbrough.
As a way of showing our appreciation for any contribution you're able to make, we have a variety of really exciting and very limited perks that you have the chance to add to your collection. These one of a kind items have been procured lovingly by the filmmakers with the IT fanatic in mind. You will only be able to see them here, so join us before the chance FLOATS away.
- Receive a signed & personalized GEORGIE postcard from Tony Dakota! Artwork by Tom Ryan. (Limited to 150)
- Official Theater of Creeps GEORGIE enamel pin! Artwork by Zachary Jackson Brown. (Limited to 225)
- Official Fright-Rags GEORGIE t-shirt! Men & Women designs available. Artwork by Zachary Jackson Brown.
- Official GEORGIE 11x17 poster signed by Tony Dakota! (Limited to 150)
Paperbacks from hell is a book about books. Simply put, it's a fun filled wild ride through the world of horror paperbacks.
Yes, there's plenty of Stephen King references; but the book is about lesser novels. About a genre of sloppy horror, back when getting scared was just plain ole fun.
You'll come away with a reading list -- and another list of books they couldn't pay you to read.
I was first introduced to this on audible; so I listened to it. I listened as I ran, and would have to stop many times and text myself the titles of books I just had to check out. Later, I bought an acutal print copy of the book. I really recommend this -- for the pictures! Every page is full of pictures of paperbacks -- from hell.
The authors keep the book moving. It's lighthearted, never taking itself or its subject too serious; after all, these are mostly books people have forgotten. But want to know about some of the craziest stuff put in print, this is the book that gives you that tour.
Labels: Other Writers
Want a great, non-spoiler, honest review of King's new book, The Outsider? Head on over to Bryant Burnette's great blog, thetruthinsidethelie.blogspot.com. What I like about the review is that he's not King's hired gun. The review is from a fan's point of view.
He declares, "Alas, in the end, I've got to mark it down as a misfire." But that's not quite the final take. Keep reading, because the comments section is just as fun as the article itself.
He declares, "Alas, in the end, I've got to mark it down as a misfire." But that's not quite the final take. Keep reading, because the comments section is just as fun as the article itself.
For Stephen King fans, the name Stephen J. Spignesi should be quite familiar. He’s written a slew of books about Stephen King, and has been noted as an authority on King and King’s body of work.
As I’ve said before, one of my favorite things to read is books about Stephen King. Go figure. Anyone who wants to know more about King and his work should take some time reading books by Stephen J. Spignesi. His passion for King and his work shine through his research. In The Shape Under The Sheet, Spignesi writes, “Stephen King’s work became something beyond entertainment for me; I realized that I was privileged enough to be witnessing the creation of a true American literary giant.”
One thing I appreciate about Spignesi is that he is factually correct – something not true of every book/work about Stephen King! I have often reached for The Shape Under The Sheet to fact check things before posting on the blog, or to fact check other authors who might say something that seems. . . iffy.
Spignesi is author of books like the massive Encyclopedia, The Shape Under The Sheet and the outright fun The Essential Stephen King , The Lost Works of Stephen King and The Stephen King Quiz Book. He has also written books about the Beatles, the Titanic, assassinations, recipes, the Beatles, ER, and even Native American History for Dummies – and so much more! He has also written fiction as well.
Talk Stephen King: Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions. Tell me a little about yourself.
Stephen J. Spignesi: I was born in a manger on a cold winter’s…oops…sorry about that.
I was born in New Haven, Connecticut and have pretty much lived here all my life. I graduated from Catholic grammar and high schools and then went on to graduate from the University of New Haven where I now teach. For 25 or so years I helped run a family jewelry business while also writing full-time. The business closed in 2001 and in 2005 I started teaching full-time while still writing around a book a year.
I’m the eldest of four siblings, a lacto-ova vegetarian, and I collect TV series on DVD (someday you can ask me about my collection, which I take great delight in). I always put copies of my manuscripts and published books on my Kindle, and I have a grey cat named Chloe who I love dearly. I also believe Wintergreen Altoids is one of the most under-appreciated candies of all time, and I can’t stop wondering what ever happened to Pudding Pops.
TSK: Please tell us a little about your novel. Most of us know you for your non-fiction.
SJS: I’ve written one novel so far that’s been published. (I’ve got five or six in manuscript currently making the rounds of publishers.) It’s called Dialogues and came out in hardcover from Random House in 2005, and is now in mass market paperback from Bantam. I teach it every semester to my Composition and Literature students. Rather than ramble on, here is what the publisher said about the book:
In this electrifying debut, Stephen Spignesi reinvents the psychological thriller with a chilling tale of mounting intensity. Ingeniously crafted and crackling with suspense, here is a puzzle within a puzzle, at the center of which stands a hauntingly enigmatic young woman whose story will challenge everything you think you know....
Six people have been murdered in the animal shelter in which they worked. One unlikely woman stands accused of the crimes. Her name is Victoria Troy, and she is the most improbable of cold-blooded killers. A lover of animals, petite, brainy, and gifted with a sharp sense of humor, she too worked in the shelter, in an anguishingly difficult job. What could possibly have provoked her to murder six of her own coworkers--some of whom were her friends.
Who is Tory Troy? It is up to Dr. Baraku Bexley to find out. An astute psychiatrist hired by the court to determine whether Tory is mentally competent to stand trial, Bexley must explore her complicated background and her unusual convictions as he interviews her in the Connecticut psychiatric hospital in which she is confined--and also talks to others who have known her.
What Bexley learns about this gifted young woman comes almost solely from these interviews...but is that enough to explain the divide between the person Tory seems to be and the terrible crimes she’s accused of committing? Others find her difficult to fathom too: her lawyer, her nurse at the hospital, her mother, one of her former teachers; but all seek the same objective, to learn the truth no matter where it leads--or what secrets it may reveal about Tory, about the nature of evil, about us all.
Fiercely engaging and morally provocative, Dialogues is a rush of adrenaline that will keep you riveted from the first page to the last.
With the daring immediacy that a novel-in-conversations can deliver, Dialogues will confound, conflict, and possibly convert readers to the heroine’s hauntingly disturbing point of view. Here is one of the freshest first novels of the year. In a mental hospital in Connecticut sits Tory Troy, a young woman facing six particularly grotesque charges of felony murder. Tory--bright, blunt, and empathetic--has spent the past year as a certified animal euthanasia technician; it was in the Waterbridge Animal Shelter that the police arrested her. As readers, we come to know her through the dialogues conducted with the doctor the court has appointed to assess her competence to stand trial--and through further conversations with the nursing staff, her mother, her one-time English professor, her lawyer, and others. Her singular perspective on the world--intricate, contrarian, deeply felt--makes Tory a fascinating but enigmatic guide to the darker regions of the human soul. In a novel that is distinctive not only for its subject matter but also for its unorthodox and riveting structure, author Stephen Spignesi leads us into Tory’s world and leaves us there to find our way out. Each dialogue reveals something new or confounds our assumptions about her. Each time we believe we understand what has happened, difficult questions and insights arise. Gathering pace as the case reaches the courtroom--and then far beyond it--Dialogues will leave us both breathless and deeply moved.
TSK: You’ve written a LOT of books. What’s your favorite?
SJS: There’s more than one, actually. I’ll give you my Top Ten (in no particular order):
TSK: When people find out about your work on Stephen King, do some people give you that look that says, “You read him?”
SJS: I sometimes get an “I can’t stand that stuff!” type of response, but I perceive that to mean a general dislike for horror. I also commonly get an “I love/hate his movies” response. When I explain that I write about his written work and his significance as an important American writer, suddenly they get interested. I’ll get asked questions and I have a few standard answers about the best of his work.
A very common approach that I use is to ask them if they’ve seen either The Shawshank Redemption or The Green Mile. Of course they have, and of course they loved them, so when I then tell them, “Stephen King wrote them,” they’re immediately amazed and usually won over as to my thesis of taking him seriously as a writer.
TSK: A lot of us have read with interest your books about Stephen King. In fact, my copy of The Essential Stephen King is worn to tatters! What books does Stephen Spignesi read about Stephen King? Were there any particular works that have been helpful in studying King?
SJS: I’m a big fan of the others who have written about King, particularly George Beahm, Bev Vincent, Michael Collings, Rocky Wood, Anthony Magistrale, and Tyson Blue. I’ve read almost all of their books about King and loved them all. They’ve all been helpful in the sense of giving me insights into how other experts perceive King’s work, but my books about King are so thematically-focused that ultimately the books of others serve mainly as background research rather than influences.
Some memorable titles that stand out for me include George Beahm’s literary biography of King, as well as his Stephen King Country (not to mention his monumental look at the art of Stephen King, Knowing Darkness) ; Michael Collings’ literary analyses of King (his Starmont volumes); Bev Vincent’s Road to the Dark Tower and Illustrated Companion, and Tony Magistrale’s book about The Shining. Kevin Quigley has also been doing some really interesting King-themed chapbooks that I greatly enjoyed. Also, I’d be derelict if I didn’t mention one of the books (along with Beahm’s The Stephen King Companion) that started it all, Douglas Winter’s The Art of Darkness.
TSK: In your book The Essential Stephen King, you listed IT as the number one novel. Does this mean it is your personal favorite work of King’s as well?
SJS: Yes, it does mean that IT is my personal favorite. However, The Shining and Misery come in at an extremely close second for tie as personal favorites.
TSK: If you were writing TESK today, would IT still hold the top spot, or would it have to step aside for another work?
SJS: That’s a good question. I haven’t changed my mind about the placement of almost every other work on the list, so essentially I’d have to ask myself if anything he’s published since 2000 been of such excellence that it would kick IT out of the top slot. The answer, for me, is no.
I would, however, move things around a bit to get 11/22/63, Lisey’s Story, Duma Key, Under the Dome, and probably Cell into the Top 20, or maybe Top 25. If you study my ranking, you’ll note that novels are all in the top 50 or so, so those major works would have to be included. All the new Dark Tower books would fall under the one single Dark Tower ranking, which is number 10.
All bets are off, though, when Doctor Sleep is published. Considering the excellence of The Shining, I am greatly looking forward to it, but am very curious as to whether or not it will equal the literary merit of The Shining, which is the most taught King novel at the high school and college level. I taught The Shining when I taught my “New Gothic Horror of Stephen King” course at UNH. Hardly any of the students had read it, but they were all blown away by it.
TSK: Speaking of TESK’s rankings, did you get any reader feedback on slipping The Stand down to the lowly, humble second spot?
SJS: I got some feedback, but I think most of my readers realized and understood that I was trying to focus on literary merit and the quality of the two most important elements of fiction: plot and character. IT excels in both those categories, especially plot. King writes two parallel novels — 1958 and 1985 — and switches back and forth, and the reader never gets lost. I think it’s his magnum opus.
Fan popularity wasn’t allowed to factor into my decision. My co-author and best friend Mike Lewis and I used similar criteria to rank the 100 best Beatles songs in our Here, There, and Everywhere. Musicality, Lyricism, Production, and Performance were the four criteria. Again, fan popularity did not matter. We get a lot of complaints about our ranking for that book. Fans get upset when their favorite isn’t on the list. It doesn’t matter to them that a song may be musically inferior (three chords) or lyrically simplistic (bland, one-dimensional lyrics), etc.
I always try to concentrate on the quality of the work. For many readers, The Stand is more fun, and I understand that and can relate to it. But I feel IT is a better novel and thus, its number one rank.
TSK: Both you and Stephen King have written quite a lot about the 60’s. King through fiction, you through non-fiction. What is so important about the sixties?
SJS: It was a seminal decade in the history of the United States and the world. It redefined everything: civil rights, voting rights, LGBT rights, and women’s rights. Art and popular culture were, in a sense, reinvented, and politics, freedom, and commerce all took on new meanings. Feminism was born, as were movements in support of Hispanic rights and African/American rights. The antiwar movement railed against the Vietnam War and we lost JFK, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, and others. It seems as though Americans woke up in the Sixties. Thus, it is fertile territory for an artist, no matter what area or element of the decade you want to study and write about.
TSK: You gave four years of your life to The Shape Under The Sheet. Did you feel like it was “complete” when you were done, or did you just decide “I’ve got to stop someday!” What was the signal for you that the work was whole?
SJS: The latter: I knew I had to stop. I knew the book would never come out if I didn’t set a stop date. King has never stopped publishing, so you have to set your sights on a specific year and say, “Okay, this is when it will be published; thus, I have to stop researching and writing here.” Which is what I did. Also, the publisher was getting a little anxious, considering the book had been announced. Plus, I had other books I wanted to write.
TSK: You indicated with The Shape Under The Sheet that you wanted to give the constant readers (and I guess the world) an “ultimate reference.” Of course, that was published over 20 years ago now. Any plans to update the volume – turn into volumes?
SJS: It’s highly unlikely I’ll ever be able to update the book. My life has changed drastically with teaching full-time and also maintaining a book-a-year schedule. The research alone would require a massive commitment of time, and frankly, there isn’t a publisher who would be able to pay me to do it. It would be great fun to do it, but I can’t see how everything could conspire to allow me the time and funds to do it. Maybe if I hit Powerball…
TSK: I loved all of The Shape Under The Sheet! One of the really unique points was the information gleaned from your interview with David King. What is he like?
SJS: Dave is a consummate gentleman. He had rarely (or possibly never before) spoken about his brother and their childhood and he went out of his way to provide me with items from their youth and to talk about the family.
Can you imagine what it must be like to be Stephen King’s brother? Anyone who finds out who your brother is, is going to immediately ask millions of questions (and possibly favors) and it has to be extremely difficult to be yourself, instead of “Stephen King’s brother.” Yet, Dave lives a quiet life, has a wonderful family, and is utterly normal. To this day, I am extremely grateful for all his help with Shape.
I know you’ve interviewed or spoken with Robert McCammon. What is his take on Stephen King? Is he offended or excited when fans and constant readers note the similarities in their work?
SJS: Rick is, likewise, a gentleman and a total professional. Some writers do not like to acknowledge influences on their work, or their particular genre. When I asked Rick if King had influenced his own writing, his answer was along the lines of, How could he have not? which is gracious, self-effacing, and yet completely recognizes the massive — and that is the appropriate word — influence King has had on both genre fiction and American fiction.
But McCammon is a brilliant writer in his own right. King has influenced us all, but the cream of the crop, the great American writers who have their own voice and something to say, like McCammon, have written works of art that are theirs and theirs alone in terms of artistic sensibility. Art is everywhere and artists everywhere are influenced by other artists.
Going back to the Beatles, think about how many bands and songwriters today have been influenced by the Fabs. The list is endless and ongoing. And look at King: he himself has acknowledged being influenced by Poe, Twain, Dickens, John D. McDonald, Richard Matheson, Don Robertson, and many others. This is what art is all about. And there’d be no Dark Tower series at all if King hadn’t read and been influenced by Robert Browning, right?
TSK: I know that you “study” Stephen King. When you read a King novel for the first time now, are you simply enjoying it, or does the research continue?
SJS: All of the above. When I read King, I cannot help but notice the literary skeleton of the story, the man behind the curtain, the shape under the sheet. I read him as a fan, a King researcher, and an English teacher. It’s an all-consuming experience.
TSK: What do you think of the King movies? Got any favorites?
SJS: The Darabont collection — The Woman in the Room, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Mist — is extraordinary. Other standouts for me include The Dead Zone, Kubrick’s Shining, Misery, Stand By Me, Carrie Dolores Claiborne, Apt Pupil, and 1408. I’m also a huge fan of the short film Paranoid by Jay Holben (based on the King poem from Skeleton Crew) and the Golden Years TV series.
TSK: You said you are a Woody Allen fan. I loved Radio Days! What Woody Allen movies are you passionate about. . . or does being a Woody Allen fan mean by definition you like all of them?
SJS: I am a HUGE Woody Allen fan. I think he is a filmmaker and writer of, and for, the ages. And I’m not just talking about his films. I’m talking about his stand-up comedy routines (which I transcribed verbatim off his albums), his books, his plays, his essays, and more. He is the classic artist. His short stories and essays in Getting Even, Without Feathers, Side Effects, and Mere Anarchy are literally laugh-out-loud funny.
As for favorite movies, my number one is Manhattan, followed by Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Midnight in Paris, Whatever Works, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Love and Death, Stardust Memories, and Mighty Aphrodite. I even love Wild Man Blues, the documentary about Woody touring Europe with his jazz band.
I love Woody one-liners (Did you hear about Cyclops? He got a middle-eye infection.”). I am currently in the ongoing process of replacing my VHS copies of his movies with DVDs. I also hope to someday update my now out-of-date Woody Allen Companion. As far as I know it’s the only book to completely deconstruct every comedy routine he performed and every short story he had written up to that time. Woody is a genius, a brilliant writer, and a supremely accomplished artist. And I like his glasses.
TSK: Wow, I could go on writing questions all day, because I really do enjoy your work on King! I’ll stop here, but is there anything you would ask if you were given permission to interview Stephen J. Spignesi?
SJS: Yes, there is something I’d ask Mr. Spignesi:
In your book, The Odd Index, in the chapter “39 Acts of Select Mayhem in 2 Three Stooges Films,” you write “Moe dials Shemp’s eyes, thinking his face is a phone.” Do you see a deeper subtext in the fact that the metaphorical instrument of abuse is a communication device — that Moe uses Shemp’s face as a phone?
To which I would answer:
The Three Stooges were notable for their allegorical, metaphorical, and symbolic use of communication devices in their work. In a scene in Brideless Groom, Shemp’s fiancée compresses his head in a letter-press, an older type of printing press.THANKS STEPHEN!
In Punch Drunk, the Stooges drive a truck with a PA system playing music through a wall at a prize fight at which Larry had been hired to play the violin ringside. Larry’s violin is smashed by Curly who, it turns out, goes nuts anytime he hears violin music.
In Three Sappy People, the Stooges answer a phone call intended for three psychiatrists Ziller, Zeller, and Zoller and then assume the doctors’ identities. In They Stooge to Conga, Curly impersonates a telephone repair man to spy on spies.
In Goof on the Roof, the Stooges attempt to install a television antenna on their friend’s roof and they ultimately destroy his house. Oftentimes, the mishaps involving communication devices result in eye jabs, punches, pokes, and other forms of retaliatory punishment, usually inflicted by Moe upon the other Stooges.
What is this saying? That communication errors can result in “damage,” both metaphorical and literal? That effective transmission of whatever the message might be can assure a placid response? The semantic and semiotic impact of these scenes manifest a sociocultural paradigm that…what’s that? You meant a question about Stephen King? Oh. Sorry. Okay. I’m done.