Where would I be without Stephen King?
I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. You’d think the answer would be along the lines of “probably exactly where I am today.” But the truth is, I wouldn’t be where I am at this exact moment without his stories.
I grew up on Stephen King, having first found a movie tie-in version to Christine in the cabana room by the swimming pool at my Bubbie’s condo way back in the early ‘80s. I would have been six or seven. I didn’t read that copy; instead I flipped through the pictures, wondering what it was all about. Not long afterward, I did read my dad’s paperback copy of the same book, sans pictures, thus beginning my love affair with the author.
Stephen King scared the shit out of me regularly; earlier this week, Jeffery X Martin wrote about King’s collection Night Shift, which remains in my opinion his strongest and scariest set of short stories. I found “The Boogeyman” especially terrifying, reading it at age ten while suffering from the chicken pox. I spent many nights in my mother’s room, scared of what lurked in my closet. Truth be told, it took me years to conquer that particular fear.
A new book by Stephen King was always cause for celebration, but I would say the author really hit me hardest during one of the less ideal times in my life. It was the winter of 2010 and I was commuting three hours a day to a shitty job I’d taken because I needed a gig. Every morning, I’d trudge onto the subway and then transfer onto a bus, grudgingly taking the 90-minute ride to an office in the middle of nowhere and then repeating it all in reverse to get home.
What became my saving grace was a gift from my then-wife; a Sony e-reader, one of the first of its kind on the market. Thinking of what would make sense and engage me on my daily grind, I made the decision to finally read King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower from beginning to end. I’d previously read a few of the Plume trade paperbacks, but I found the years between volumes kept me from really remembering the story. At this time, the series was done (or so we thought), so over the course of three months I read through the seven books in The Dark Tower, the work finally spinning its magic thoroughly around me. I still remember sitting on the subway during the climax of the final volume, shivers running through my body.
In so many ways, during those winter months on crowded trains and busses, Stephen King and The Dark Tower saved me. Some folks revere Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and its hobbits and elves. For me, my life was changed by gunslingers and bumblers, and I say thankee-sai for them all.
It would be enough to simply be a Constant Reader, but my vocation has allowed me the privilege of writing my own books about Stephen King. The first is 2018’s This Dark Chest of Wonders: 40 Years of Stephen King’s The Stand. I’ve often been asked how This Dark Chest of Wonders came to be, and the story is really very simple. I woke up one morning in 2017 and realized the fortieth anniversary of The Stand, one of my favourite books, was neigh. I had the idea of writing a book that would look at the history of King’s massive tome and its various editions and adaptations, and that same morning I pitched it to Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance. Rich said yes. That’s how it happened. I was, to put it mildly, extremely lucky.
From This Dark Chest of Wonders came my second King-related book, The Art and Making of The Stand, published by Titan. I was invited to write this one by filmmaker Josh Boone, who was spearheading the Paramount+ adaptation of The Stand and who had read and thought highly of This Dark Chest of Wonders. One of the biggest draws of this new mini-series was that it would feature a final episode written by King himself, giving The Stand a finale that he’d long thought about. For the Constant Reader that I am, the highlight of The Art and Making of The Stand is that my words share space with King himself, who graciously allowed us to include his script in the book. It’s still hard to fathom.
Today Stephen King turns 75, just weeks after the release of Fairy Tale, his 64th novel and one that’s been getting great reviews. With more years behind him than in front, King is still creating stories for all of us to dive into. It boggles the mind; he boggles our minds. And so, on this big day, from all of us here at Biff Bam Pop!, to the King of Horror, we say happy birthday, give you a hearty thankee-sai for all the words and, of course, wish you long days and pleasant nights.