If you’re even remotely interested in the horror genre, there’s absolutely no way that you haven’t read something by Stephen King. I’m guessing you’ve probably read quite a bit of his work, much like myself and the my fellow Biff Bam Pop writers. Most recently, I completed his magnificent seven book series The Dark Tower, which was a hugely profound experience. Immersed in the world of Roland, The Man In Black, The Crimson King et all, I was unwilling to leave it all behind when I finally completed the series, which lead me to discover Bev Vincent’s critical analysis of the series, Road To The Dark Tower. Vincent, a fellow Canadian was given access to the final three Dark Tower books by King before they were published, which allowed Road To The Dark Tower to be published at the same time as the final addition to King’s magnum opus in 2004.
It was Road To The Dark Tower that inspired me to reach out to Vincent for an interview, along with the fact that his latest book, The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, was released last year and proved to be another excellent read. As you’ll see in part one of our email interview, a lot went into creating this most recent release, which includes great biographical info on King, along with reproductions of correspondences and drafts.
Bev Vincent: In late November 2008, I was contacted by an editor with becker&mayer!. They’re Seattle-based book packagers hired by Barnes & Noble to produce a reader’s companion to the works of Stephen King. They had done two of these previously, one on Poe and one on Jane Austen. In each case, they found an expert to write the text. Because of the success of The Road to the Dark Tower, they thought I would be the ideal person to work on this project.
After that, things happened quickly, as you might guess when you consider that the book was on shelves 11 months after that initial contact. While my agent worked with them on the contract, I put together a detailed proposal and outline. Once that was approved, I spent January and February of 2009 writing the text. I turned the completed manuscript in early, which was a big help to them as it gave their documents researcher a lot to work with when he was finding material to accompany the book. After that, we went through various revision and proofing processes until the book was ready to go to the printer. It all happened amazingly fast.
Andy Burns: Did you have any specific goals you wanted to achieve while writing this particular book?
Bev Vincent: I didn’t want it to just be a rehash of what’s been written before. I also wanted it to be more than mere biography. The book also had to be accessible and of interest to casual readers. Road To The Dark Tower was aimed at a different audience: zealous fans who had finished the series and wanted to learn as much as they possibly could about it. That book explored some fairly heavy literary aspects of the series. I wanted the companion to be something people could read for pure enjoyment. The audience needn’t have read any of King’s books—or they could have read them all.
Andy Burns: Over the past 5 years or so there have been many “scrapbook” style books, from ones chronicling the histories of Marvel and DC to books on Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Did you take a look at any of those books while working on The Stephen King Illustrated Companion?
Bev Vincent: becker&mayer! specializes in this type of volume. They sent me the two previous companions, as well as books about Marilyn Monroe, Kurt Cobain and a Marvel treasury, to show me what their books looked like. Surprisingly, these books typically end up in the bargain section of the bookstore, but they’re exquisite, detailed, informative books that deserve a lot more attention than they receive.
Andy Burns: One of the elements I loved most about the book was just how readable it was. It isn’t simply a book that relies on memorabilia to entice readers. It offers up so much information but in a very accessible and compelling fashion. How was the writing experience for you, as compared to your work on Road To The Dark Tower or your own stories?
Bev Vincent: I wanted it to be a very readable book. I had no idea what it was going to look like after I was done with my part. The text was written before the memorabilia were selected, so I worked without thought to how it might be illustrated. I didn’t have to match up the text with photographs and inserts. The funny thing is—when I received my first copies of the book, I spent a long time exploring the memorabilia without paying much attention to the text!
The book was written much more quickly than The Road to the Dark Tower. In part, that was because I had gotten my books, papers and reference material well organized during my work on that earlier book. I didn’t have to leave the house for any of it. Both books required a considerable amount of research. I hunted down every source I could find where King discussed the inspiration for or the writing of particular books.
Andy Burns: Since there’s only so much time and space, I’m wondering how you decided which Stephen King novels you would focus on throughout the book
Bev Vincent: This was one of my biggest challenges. Because of the limited word count, I was forced to narrow my focus to a dozen or so books. Since this is a general reader’s companion, I decided to select the more popular books—the ones casual fans might be familiar with. Since the concept was biography through art, another selection criterion was books that had either significant autobiographical context or where the stories about their creation were interesting. I also picked books that span his writing career. I could easily have gotten bogged down in the early Doubleday novels.
In part 2 of our interview, more on The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, and a look back at Road To The Dark Tower