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2013: The Year in Stephen King

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Most mainstream readers had been waiting a long time for the two books coming out in 2013.  Early the year before, news leaked that publisher Hard Case Crime would release a new book called Joyland as a paperback original, just in time for summer. Anticipation was cautiously high; reviews of King’s last book with the publisher, 2005’s The Colorado Kid, were mixed. Readers seemed far more eager for a book King announced way back in 2009; Doctor Sleep, King’s long-gestating sequel to 1977’s The Shining, was due to arrive in late fall.
 
But beyond these splashy new novels, King was as busy as usual, writing and publishing at a frantic (some might say lunatic) pace. King launched the year doing something that was becoming a trend: unearthing long-buried work from the past and bringing it into the light. “The Glass Floor” first appeared in the sixth issue of Robert A.W. Lowndes’ pulp magazine Startling Mystery Stories in 1967; King’s first professional sale, he received $35 for his work. Later, he said, “I’ve cashed bigger [checks] since then, but none gave me more satisfaction; someone had finally paid me some real money for something I had found in my head!” 
 
Though “The Glass Floor” had been published once more since 1967 (in a 1990 issue of Weird Tales), it has never been collected in an official Stephen King anthology. Its scarcity, not to mention its historic importance, makes any appearance of this story an occasion. Cemetery Dance magazine gave readers reason to celebrate: issue #68 reached back and brought “The Glass Floor” into the early winter of 2013.
 
SK_GunsThe contemporary publication of King’s earliest sale set the tone for a year in which King seemed especially interested in his past. However, he didn’t shy away from brand-new writing, either, and at the end of January, he released an unprecedented nonfiction Kindle Single called “Guns.” Addressing gun violence in the United States, “Guns” managed to present a calm and metered tone on a volatile subject, colored by King’s own experiences with his Bachman novel Rage, and killers who seem to have treated the novel as “an accelerant.” While critical response to “Guns” was divided (some critics and fans didn’t appear to have read the work, concluding that King was either anti- or pro-gun; those that did read it discovered he was a little bit of both), the essay was an instant bestseller, rocketing to the top of the Kindle Singles bestseller chart. Beyond the actual content, the speed at which King was able to get “Guns” onto eBook reading devices was stunning; it was accepted by Amazon the day after he finished writing it, and published less than a week later.
 
A flurry of books about King filled the stopgaps in his fertile year. A trio of insightful titles cropped up as the weather got warmer and spring took hold. Bev Vincent’s The Dark Tower Companion: A Guide to Stephen King’s Epic Fantasy offered an accessible, partially narrative guide to the eight books (and more) of King’s ambitious Dark Tower series. Robin Furth, one of the world’s foremost Dark Tower authorities, honed her focus differently, updating and expanding her Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance to include The Wind Through the Keyhole and more. It’s encyclopedic and readable, no small feat, referencing and cross-referencing the people, places, and things in Mid-World without ever bogging herself down in dry description or blandness. King expert Justin Brooks also took the revision road, offering a vastly expanded version of his Stephen King: A Primary Bibliography of the World’s Most Popular Author. Meant to function as a reference book, this version of Primary Bibliography also works as a book to be explored and read. Brooks not only includes entries on everything (everything) King has ever published, he also sheds light on newly uncovered unpublished work, stories like “The Points Dig Deep,” “The Insanity Game,” and “The Null Set,” which have never seen the light of day. The depth and breadth of this book cannot be overstated.
 
As these books were keeping interest in Stephen King high, an out-of-the-blue surprise blindsided everyone: an unfinished 1987 Stephen King novel called Phil & Sundance surfaced for sale online. Fan sites published an image of the first page of the book, complete with a handwritten note by King. Skepticism ran high. Fans and collectors scrutinized the handwriting and the style of prose, with many dismissing it as an obvious fake. But it wasn’t. Phil & Sundance was presented as a gift to an ailing child in the Make-a-Wish program, who, in 1987, was suffering from a rare form of muscular dystrophy. Having recovered in the years since, the recipient decided to sell the incomplete work in early summer of 2013. Publisher Cemetery Dance snapped up the manuscript, with as-yet no plans to publish or distribute the work. “Ms. Mod” on King’s official message board clarified the unfinished status of the work: “…[W]e do not have the complete manuscript — ours ends at page 101 but is mid-sentence, although there are other unnumbered pages that may continue it."
 
Although this vintage manuscript would remain unpublished (at least for now), King of 2013 was gearing up for a flood of summer publishing. It started with a trickle in late May, when King released the short story “Afterlife,” a story he’d premiered live during a reading at UMass Lowell the previous December. Further exploring the possibilities of penance and repetition, “Afterlife” is a somewhat quieter, subtler cousin of King’s recent stories of sin, “Fair Extension” and “A Face in the Crowd.” The stage set and readers primed, the summer’s heavy hitter, Joyland, slammed into bookstores on June 4th.
 
SK_JoylandSeveral factors worked against this slim volume: Hard Case Crime is a small imprint, specializing in reprints of the best noir and crime fiction from the '40s, '50s, '60s, and '70s, as well as contemporary works retaining the flavor of those classic stories. King’s previous Hard Case Crime title, The Colorado Kid, strayed a bit from the publisher’s milieu, and its ambiguous ending divided critics and readers; the book stalled at #5 on the New York Times bestseller lists, appearing for only three weeks before dropping off for good. While King hardcovers have proven as popular as ever, King paperbacks have indulged the nasty habit of staying out of the #1 spot for over a decade – and that was for the movie reprint paperback of Dreamcatcher.
 
When Joyland entered the paperback bestseller charts on June 23rd, it looked like business as usual, sliding in at #2 just below the newest Sylvia Day Crossfire novel, also in its first week. The following week, it took over the top slot, becoming Stephen King’s first #1 paperback in over a decade. (It was also Hard Case Crime’s first #1 novel ever, hopefully indicating that this will not be the last Stephen King novel for the publisher.) Joyland managed to hold the top spot for five more weeks – all of July and the first week of August – before being pushed out by J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Even then, it managed to stay in the upper reaches of the bestseller list throughout the summer – King’s first summer non-series title under his own name since Rose Madder in July, 1995.
 
In retrospect, Joyland’s domination of the summer makes sense. It’s one of King’s most effortless tales, a coming-of-age story set in an appropriately romanticized bygone era, a formula King has utilized to great effect in It, Christine, and 11/22/63. Here, the early 1970s come alive as they did in King’s earliest novels. It also doesn’t hurt that our incredibly appealing main character, Devin Jones, suffers from a broken heart, solves a mystery, helps a sick kid, and faces down a ghost. There’s a lot of story in Joyland, all of it rich, all of it accessible, and all of it set during one archetypal summer in which a good guy stays a good guy and wins the girl anyway. Plus, unlike The Colorado Kid, it features a very definite ending – concrete and elegiac and remarkably moving.
 
Speaking of the New York Times lists, something interesting happened the week Joyland hit number one: King’s big 2010 novel, Under the Dome, snuck back onto the paperback chart, appearing at #20. Spurred by the popularity of the television show adaptation, the book climbed the charts slowly but steadily, re-peaking at #8 on July 21st. This marked the first time since 2000, when The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and the collected edition of The Green Mile were both paperback bestsellers, that two Stephen King books shared a chart.
 
The summer was just getting started.
 
DK_Dark_Man
 
Stephen King and Cemetery Dance surprised everyone by announcing the limited-edition publication of The Dark Man: not a novel or even a story, but a poem. Almost none of King’s early poetry – the work he wrote and published between 1969 and 1971 – has been included in King’s official collections… a decision which has always been a little baffling, as poems like “The Dark Man” and “The Hardcase Speaks” are direct antecedents to King’s longer, more complex work. If a poem – even one as weighty and important to King’s career as this one – seems a light prospect to hang a book on, be assured the poem itself is only half the story. Frequent King illustrator Glenn Chadbourne has packed this thing with artwork, over seventy weird, unsettling individual pieces. Stephen King was 22 when he wrote “The Dark Man,” and its creation was compulsive. The drawings here capture that spirit and energy completely, and the result is as impressive as it is disturbing.  For those interested in King facts and figures, The Dark Man is now the King book with the earliest copyright: ©1969. 
 
And that still wasn’t all!
 
SK_Hard_Listening
In late June, readers were treated to Hard Listening: The Greatest Living Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All. A book by and about the Rock Bottom Remainders (the all-writer rock band featuring Stephen King on guitar and occasional vocals), this de facto jam-book sequel to 1995’s Mid-Life Confidential was released exclusively as an interactive, epistolary eBook. King offers an essay called “Just a Little Talent,” relating a guitar-playing history that runs parallel to that of his writing history, and underlines the importance of trying to do well at something that doesn’t come naturally. There’s also a game of sorts: four of the authors (including King) submitted a story in the style of Stephen King, and readers were tasked with figuring out which was which. Worry not; the answers were included. Unlike previous King eBooks, this one is also packed with multimedia: songs, picture slideshows, videos, and quizzes illuminating the meat of the book and creating a truly unique Stephen King experience.
 
SK_Doctor_SleepAs summer wound down, interest turned toward Doctor Sleep, King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining. While the shadow of The Shining looms large over the novel, King manages to make Doctor Sleep its own entity by focusing on Dan Torrance, now grown and struggling with the addictions that claimed his father, as well as a new, fully-realized and fascinating character named Abra. Thirty-six years later, readers seemed eager to continue the story King began in 1977: the novel was released on September 24, and on October 13th, Doctor Sleep debuted at #1 on the hardcover chart. It remained at the top spot for two weeks, dipped once to #2, then regained the top spot for another week. Following that, popularity of the book mellowed by degrees, though it remained comfortably in the top 10 for the rest of the year. Doctor Sleep marks Stephen King’s 34th stay at the top of the hardcover lists; King has more #1 books than any other author in history.
 
Two more in-depth books about King arrived hot on the heels of Doctor Sleep, both from publisher Cemetery Dance: A revised, expanded edition of The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book, by Brian James Freeman and Bev Vincent (with illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne and an afterword by Kevin Quigley); and The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book, by Freeman, Hans-Ake Lilja, and Kevin Quigley (also known as me), also with illustrations by Glenn Chadbourne. This latter garnered a fairly glowing (and hilarious) review by pop-culture site Ain’t It Cool News: “[The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Trivia Book] will ask questions that it knows you will get wrong because you're thinking of the book instead of the movie, and then it will taunt you for not knowing the difference.”  
 
As autumn edged into the Halloween season, Cemetery Dance released the seventh book in its popular Shivers series. Like Shivers VI (which included King’s original version of “The Crate”), Shivers VII features a story that was later adapted as a Creepshow story. The effective, quietly horrifying prose version of “Weeds,” eventually adapted as The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill, closes this collection, which also features work by Clive Barker, Ed Gorman, and the aforementioned Kevin Quigley (again, that’s me).
 
Meanwhile (and a little surprisingly), one of King’s most critically acclaimed novels in recent years returned to the bestseller charts: in response to the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, 11/22/63 emerged at #4 on the Times new Combined Print & E-Book Fiction chart. (It also showed up on the very lowest reaches of the trade paperback list). This chart also featured Doctor Sleep at #11, making this the second time in 2013 that two King novels shared a bestseller list.
 
As winter whispered in, so too did one last offering by Stephen King before he called it a year. To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Cemetery Dance magazine, owner and editor Richard Chizmar put together a slim collection called Turn Down the Lights, featuring new fiction by the handful of writers who made Cemetery Dance the success it has been almost since the start. Jack Ketchum, Clive Barker, Brian Freeman, Peter Straub and more all feature prominently, but it’s Stephen King’s story, “Summer Thunder,” that kicks things off. A bleak, post-apocalyptic work that nonetheless finds grace in its hopelessness, “Summer Thunder” is, ironically, a perfect tale for winter.
 
 
The fact that brand-new fiction is coming this late in a year already overflowing with Stephen King work can give readers hope, too. At this point last year, we only knew about Joyland and Doctor Sleep. All we know about the future are the two new hardcovers announced for 2014, Mr. Mercedes and Revival. If the trend of 2013 holds true, we are in for a lot of surprises and excitement.
 
What else might we see – and read – next year? Be sure to look for my next article, “Overlooking 2014,” for some thoughts and rumors about what the new year might bring!
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