This is the second of my two part interview with Stoker and Edgar award nominee Bev Vincent, author of the recently released Stephen King Illustrated Companion and Road To The Dark Tower, an in-depth look at the legendary author’s magnum opus. If you missed it, you can read part one here. And now, the conclusion!
Andy Burns: While I think it’s safe to say you’re an expert on King and his work, I’m wondering if there was anything new that you discovered about the author or his work while you were writing The Stephen King Illustrated Companion?
Bev Vincent: No, I don’t think I discovered any specific details or facts that I hadn’t at least read before. However, I came away from the project with a better appreciation for how real life events are incorporated into his works.
Andy Burns: What are your favorite facsimiles that are found throughout the book? How were they acquired?
Bev Vincent: I was pleased that we were able to reproduce such a neat piece of history as the Doubleday telegram advising King they were acquiring Carrie. As a writer, I’m fascinated by the early draft manuscripts, to see how they changed. I was especially taken by the scene from The Shining where Danny encounters the fire hose. In the first draft, it’s clear that what Danny is seeing is real, whereas in the published version King leaves open the possibility that it’s a hallucination. I also like that we were able to make available some very early works of fiction, such as the story from King’s high school newspaper.
The photographs came either from a personal album that King gave us access to, or were purchased from news services. I know a guy in North Texas who has an amazing collection of King material, including rare magazines and files of correspondence that date back to King’s years with Doubleday. I put the documents researcher, Chris Campbell, in touch with him. Chris also flew to Bangor, where he was allowed to comb through King’s archives at the University of Maine. He did a brilliant job of selecting items that complemented the text. If I discussed The Stand, he found a manuscript passage from that book. For example, I wrote a sidebar about King’s favorite scene in that book, so there’s a manuscript excerpt that contains that passage. Or when I wrote about the changes King made between the first and second drafts of Bag of Bones, he reproduced pages of each that demonstrated what I was talking about.
Andy Burns: Have you heard what Stephen King himself thought of the book?
Bev Vincent:No, King tends not to be interested in this sort of book. He approved the project when it was presented to him on behalf of Barnes & Noble, and allowed access to photo albums and his archives at the University of Maine, but that was pretty much it. He reviewed the book when it was in proof state because he had final veto power over the reproduced material, but he didn’t ask for anything to be removed except for an address that appeared on one of the documents.
Andy Burns: Another aspect of The Stephen King Illustrated Companion that I really enjoyed was the fact that you highlighted how King’s work has received more critical acclaim over the last decade or so. Why do you think it took so long for him to get the proper respect?
Bev Vincent: I don’t think there’s any question that King’s writing has evolved over his career. The stories that appear in Night Shift are different than the ones in Just Past Sunset. In the early days he was writing on adrenaline, cranking things out to make money. Sure, there are some gems in the early stories, but I don’t think anyone would look back on Night Shift and say that the literary critics overlooked him. There’s nothing wrong with a story about a guy who drinks a bad beer and turns into a slug-like creature, but if King submitted that to The New Yorker today, I suspect they’d pass.
He has acquired maturity and insight that most young writers don’t have. He’s thinking about more complex matters, things that enter into the realm of literary fiction. It took a while for the literary establishment to get past the horror aspect and take a serious look at what he’s writing about now. Some will never accept him as a literary writer. I think On Writing has opened doors for him. Many aspiring writers who have never read one of his novels (or so they say) were inspired by that book.
Andy Burns: As someone who recently completed reading The Dark Tower and was profoundly moved by it, I was very pleased to discover your critical work on it, Road To The Dark Tower. What compelled you to write that particular book?
Bev Vincent: After I’d been written extensively about King’s work for a number of years, people regularly asked me when I was going to write a book about him. I usually said that the scope of such a book was too large to consider. Bill Sheehan wrote an excellent companion to the complete works of Peter Straub and came up with a meaty, sizeable volume ( At the Foot of the Story Tree). I extrapolated that in my mind to the complete works of Stephen King and imagined something comparable to Encyclopedia Britannica.
However, when I heard that King was going to write the final three volumes in the Dark Tower series all at once, an idea occurred to me. The series has tentacles that extend into much of his work, and its writing spanned most of his publishing career. Writing about it would be a more manageable project—I saw the series as a microcosm of King’s entire oeuvre. Plus there was a lot going on from a literary perspective, particularly once King injected himself into the series.
Once I found out that King would provide me with the first draft manuscripts of the last three books long before their publication so I could have my companion ready when the seventh book came out, I knew I had to write the book.
Andy Burns: It seems as though, for those of us that loved The Dark Tower, we REALLY loved it. What do you think it is about that particular series that resonates so strongly with readers?
Bev Vincent: Hard to say. King acknowledges that the series is different from most of his other work. That’s why he originally chose to publish the first volume as a limited edition. He estimates that half of his general readership has never ventured into the world of the Dark Tower. Epic fantasy has a certain appeal. The Lord of the Rings has had a manic following since the 1960s. One thing the Dark Tower series has going for it, in addition to the mysterious stranger character type that put Clint Eastwood on the map, is the fact that the supporting cast is made up of deeply flawed human beings. They aren’t elves or hobbits—they’re ordinary people who are called to rise above their natures.
Andy Burns: Seeing King speak last year when Under The Dome was released, he mentioned that he’s contemplating a sequel to The Shining or another Dark Tower book. Any preference?
Bev Vincent: No, I don’t have a preference. King has rarely failed to please me with what he’s chosen to write and publish over the years, so I’m content to sit back and see what he comes up with. The next book (after Full Dark, No Stars) isn’t going to be either of these, so I’m curious to see what struck his fancy.
Andy Burns: What writing projects are you working on right now?
Bev Vincent: I’m almost always working on short stories and essays for Cemetery Dance and Storytellers Unplugged and book reviews for Onyx Reviews, but this summer I’m also working on the second draft of a novel.
Thanks to Bev Vincent for taking the time to talk to Biff Bam Pop! Check out Bev’s home on the ‘net here!