Thursday, November 30, 2017

A Guided Tour of the Kingdom: A Chronological Walk Through the Career of Stephen King, Part 11 (1999-2002)

We pick up in one of my favorite years of them all:

Not for Stephen King stuff, per se; I just liked that year in general.  Lots of personal mythology of mine that year.  Plus, a fucking KILLER year for movies.
Regarding King, we begin with...
The Lost Work of Stephen King
(by Stephen J. Spignesi)

hardback published by Birch Lane Press on January 15, 1999

I don't know whether there had been a book about rare King stories prior to this one in 1999; it wouldn't surprise me if there had been.  However, if there was, I am unaware of it; and even if there was a similar book that preceded this one, I doubt it was as good as Spignesi's The Lost Work of Stephen King.  It's a bit over 350 pages, which makes it the length of a decent-size novel, and when I read it for the first time it was with the rapt attention I usually give a King novel.

And why not?

Check out the back cover:

I don't know how a non-casual King fan circa 1999 could possibly fail to be fascinated by that.  I'd heard of some of the contents covered within the book -- such as The Cannibals -- but was unfamiliar with most of what Spignesi covers here.  He does so in thorough, passionate, and entertaining fashion, and for my tastes, this is handily one of THE all-time great books about King's work.  It's been rendered semi-obsolete by later works on the same topic by Rocky Wood, but in no way should that diminish one's love for and appreciation of Spignesi's work.

Storm of the Century

  • trade paperback published by Pocket Books in February 1999
  • hardback edition published concurrently by the Book of the Month Club

trade paperback

I've got two different chicken-or-egg type questions for you tourists:

  1. What came first?  The screenplay or the movie?  I mean in terms of which was available to consumers first.  Was the book on shelves prior to the airing of the miniseries?
  2. What came first?  The trade paperback or the BOMC hardback? 
My research has yielded tentative results on the first question.  Amazon lists publication date as February 1, 1999.  Problem with that is, February 1 was a Monday, and books release on Tuesday.  I'm pretty sure that was true back then, as well.  So was the BOMC version shipping on February 1?  Is Amazon just wrong about the day?  (I've seen them frequently list older release dates as the 1st of whatever month, so I take this as spurious in accuracy.)  The only clarifying info I've seen is that USA Today apparently had the book on their bestseller charts for February 11.  But even then, I've been unable to find an actual copy of that chart, so whereas that seems to definitively state that the book was out before the miniseries, until I've seen it for myself I wouldn't want to rely on it TOO much.

See the kind of shit guys like me have to deal with?  (We kind of love it, though.)

In any case, the book itself is a terrific read.  I don't always think much of King's abilities as a screenwriter in terms of the end results.  However, if you are judging the screenplays themselves divorced from the movies -- in other words, if you are judging them as pieces of writing -- then he's what I would consider to be above average.  He hasn't written anywhere near as many screenplays as novels, but he does have a fairly extensive resume as a screenwriter: eight produced feature films, one television movie, four television miniseries, and at least fifteen episodes of various television series.  Plus who knows how many unproduced screenplays.

Only a handful of them have ever been released commercially in book format: Silver Bullet, "Sorry, Right Number," and "The General" (an excerpt from Cat's Eye).  Plus, obviously, Storm of the Century, which was arguably the highest-profile release of all of those.  The conclusion to draw from that?  King was proud of his work, and wanted people to be able to read it as well as watch the project it resulted in.

As well he should be.  This book is just as readable as many King novels; if you've got no experience reading screenplays, it might throw you a bit, but it feels almost as if King has written the screenplay with that in mind.  Whether all of his screenplays bear that hallmark of readability, I do not know; but this one does, and Silver Bullet does, and the two shorter pieces do.  So I think it's logical to assume that it's just how he writes them.

That being the case, it's too bad more of them are not commercially available.  I'd especially love to have Rose Red and Sleepwalkers in book format.

Maybe someday!

Storm of the Century
(television miniseries)

  • broadcast by ABC on February 14, 15, and 18, 1999
  • directed by Craig R. Baxley from a teleplay by Stephen King

Not sure if this was actual promo art for the miniseries; I found it on

This three-night miniseries was considered to be a ratings failure at the time of its airing.  In part, this was due to scheduling; rather than put the miniseries on in May, which was where its previous successes with King had aired, ABC decided to make Storm of the Century its big bet for February sweeps.  Part of its gambit involved airing the third and final part on Thursday night, directly against the then-titanic hit series ER.  ABC had been getting routinely crushed in that timeslot, and figured King was a good chance at reversing its fortunes, if only temporarily.

King himself was none too shy about complaining publicly about this choice; he mentioned it on an appearance on Conan O'Brien's show, and O'Brien gives him the look you'd give somebody who was walking the plank in a few days.  And the finale did indeed get curbstomped by ER, but less severely than typical ABC programming; a Knight-Ridder story from the time reported that Storm of the Century brought ABC its best ratings in five years in that timeslot.

Nevertheless, the miniseries was viewed then -- and is remembered now -- as a ratings disappointment.

In terms of its quality, though, its reputation has improved over the years.  It's overlong and a bit too repetitive -- to say the least -- but is also genuinely unsettling at times, and has a killer concept that is executed quite well.  The cast is excellent, and the story ends in go-for-the-jugular fashion in a way that network programming still doesn't do often.  By 1999 standards, this was grim stuff indeed, and it stood out as a result.

Hey, you ask for Stephen King, sometimes you get Stephen King.

In my book, that's a good thing.

The Rage: Carrie 2
(feature film)

  • an MGM film, released on March 12, 1999
  • directed by Katt Shea from a screenplay by Rafael Moreau

This is, obviously, a complete fauxquel.  King had no involvement of any kind, nor did Brian DePalma.  Producer Paul Monash and co-star Amy Irving were the only notable returnees.
It didn't help.
However, I have a confession to make: I like this movie.  It's not great; it's not even good.  But I like it all the same.  The cast is fairly good, and while the story is almost entirely unrelated to Carrie, it's nevertheless kind of engaging at times.  As a whole, the movie does not work; but in individual moments, it's got a bit of spark to it that is generally 100% lacking in these fauxquel projects.
The setup is this: Carrie White's father eventually went on to sire another daughter with a different mother.  She's named Rachel, and has no idea her lineage is so fraught with peril.  She's living in foster care, and is a reasonably well-adjusted goth girl who has friends, plenty of self-respect, and (seemingly) a working education of how her body works.  In other words, she's not very much like Carrie White at all.  This is part of what I like about the movie; part of what I dislike about the movie is that it takes this character and forces her into similar situations to those Carrie experiences.  It doesn't work; you can practically see the movie wanting to go in a different direction, but being herded into a prom-style massacre just because that's what is expected of a Carrie movie.
I maintain strange intentions of writing my own fanfic version of this someday and titling it Rachel.  It'll suck, but I'll have fun doing it.  Look for it in the whenandif.

"An Evening With Stephen King"
(public appearance)

  • King spoke at the University of Vermont on March 30, 1999
  • a transcription was collected in Secret Windows, 2000

photo borrowed from

Among the topics covered here:
  • tennis
  • OCD
  • the origin of It 
  • Santa Claus
  • Lee Harvey Oswald
  • the odds of the Red Sox winning the Series, ever
  • The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon 
  • God or not
And other things.

I expect a pretty fine collection could be constructed using nothing but transcriptions of King speaking engagements.

"The New Lieutenant's Rap"
(short story)

  • a Philtrum Press chapbook, published April 6, 1999
  • revised version collected (as "Why We're In Vietnam") in Hearts In Atlantis, 1999

April 6, 1999 was an important anniversary in the Kingdom: it was the 25th anniversary of King's first novel (Carrie) being published.  There was evidently a party of some sort held to commemorate this event, and Philtrum Press published a chapbook of "The New Lieutenant's Rap" to give away to attendees.
How cool is that?
Even cooler than you think: the pages are a reproduction of King's handwritten manuscript of the story.  A revised version would be incorporated into Hearts In Atlantis later that year.

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

a Scribner hardback, published April 6, 1999

A rare foray by King into YA territory, although the novel was not marketed that way.  I suspect that if a reprint WAS marketed that way, this one could find a whole new audience.
It's not a favorite of mine, but, like all King novels, it has passionate fans.

Stranger Than Fiction
(by The Wrockers)

a Don't Quit Your Day Jobs album, released May 4, 1999

In practical terms, this is basically a Rock Bottom Remainders album.  Why it wasn't marketed as such is a mystery to me.
Here's a tracklist:
Not all that helpful in terms of determining who does what, is it?  Well, here's one place you can get a better idea of that.
King appears on three tracks:

Don't say you weren't warned.

Secret Window, Secret Garden
(radio play)

  • broadcast in three parts on BBC Radio 4, May 15-29, 1999
  • directed by Gordon House from a radioplay by Gregory Evans

Another above-average BBC Radio adaptation of a King story.  I don't have a whole heck of a lot more than that to say (even in that review I linked to above), but if you can find this, I say it's well worth hearing.

"The Bogeyboys"

  • delivered at the Vermont Library Conference, May 26, 1999
  • transcript published on King's website (link)
  • uncollected

In this speech, King tackles the issue of "adolescent violence in American schools" head-on.  The speech was given only a bit more than a month after the Columbine killings, and wouldn't it be nice to say that the world had somehow been fixed -- or at least improved -- in the intervening years?
Yeah, that'd be nice.  It's very much NOT, though.
I won't bother speaking to the actual content of "The Bogeyboys" apart from saying that it is worth reading.

June 19, 1999

screencap from a WBLZ news report
I've mostly steered clear of covering events in King's personal life in these posts.  It's just not what I'm here for, and anyways, there aren't that many notable ones which have seeped into the public consciousness enough to put an actual date to.
June 19th, 1999 is another matter altogether.   It was on this day that King was struck by a vehicle while walking on the side of the road in North Lovell, Maine.  If you want to know more about that, the best place to find out about it is probably King's 2000 book On Writing, which contains a vivid and harrowing section about the accident.
For our purposes, though, I think it's important to note that this day represents a moment in time in which we very well could have lost King forever.  We are on Part 11 of what is going to be a 15-part series of posts, meaning that on June 19, 1999 a huge chunk of a fucking third of this series could have simply winked out of potential existence.  (And, by the way, who knows how much further King's career will extend beyond Part 15 of this Guided Tour?  I can -- and do -- imagine him publishing well into his nineties, and would not be the least bit surprised to learn that Future Me will eventually work on a Part 20.  I'd love nothing better!)
What a horrid thought it is to imagine that on that day, so many books and stories and such might have simply never been permitted to happen, all due to the poor driving/riding skills of a hick and his dog.
I must admit that when I heard the news that Stephen King was on death's door, one of my first thoughts was to fret over the possibility that he'd never finish The Dark Tower.  I'd have rued the day for other reasons as well, of course; but it's hard to deny that Roland and his ka-tet seemed potentially doomed to an eternal limbo state during those days when King's fate was unclear.
And, as we will eventually see, this was not lost on King himself.

"Fenway and the Great White Whale"

  • published in the souvenir program for the 1999 Major League Baseball All-Star Game
  • uncollected

"I've got a theory about Herman Melville's classic novel Moby-Dick that you'll never come across in a college lit text," King says in opening this essay.  "I believe that Captain Ahab, the crazed New Englander in charge of the Pequod, was doomed to spend his life chasing a white whale because the Red Sox hadn't been invented yet."
For those of you who may not know this, Stephen King is a devoted Red Sox fan, and is none too shy when it comes to letting people know about it.  Good!  Why should he be?
Well, at one point in time that question could be answered by saying, "Well, because the Red Sox are kinda cursed, aren't they?"  It sure seemed like it.  For a while there it seemed like they were as doomed as if they were a teenager at Camp Crystal Lake.  See, the Sox were an undeniably great team for a while there, winning four World Series titles in a single decade.

The 1910s, to be exact.  They won it in '12, '15, '16, and '18.  And that one in 1918 was the last one they had won as of the time Stephen King wrote "Fenway and the Great White Whale."  In this essay, King'll tell you about several years in which Red Sox fans felt like it was definitely their year "to finally harpoon the cursed whale."  Oh yeah, he'll tell you about 1967, and about 1978, and definitely about 1986.
He'll also tell you why chasing the big white whale is maybe not such a bad thing.
What he won't tell you -- because he doesn't know yet -- is what would end up happening in 2004, and again in 2007, and yet again in 2013.  Shh!  No spoilers.

Mr. X
(novel by Peter Straub)

a Random House hardback, published August 1, 1999

Another Straub novel I've not yet read.
"The Road Virus Heads North"
(short story)
  • published in 999: New Stories of Horror and Suspense (an Avon hardback, edited by Al Sarrantonio), September 7, 1999
  • collected in Everything's Eventual, 2002

An unsettling story in which a guy on a road trip stops at a yard sale.  He purchases a painting -- the work of a recent suicide -- that depicts a man behind the wheel of a car.  The painting is deeply unsettling in some way the man can't quite put his finger on; but, since he's a horror writer, this is the sort of thing he enjoys, so he buys it.
He'll come to regret that decision.

Sometimes They Come Back...For More
(feature film)

  • a Trimark film, released on home video September 7, 1999
  • directed by Daniel Zelik Berk from a screenplay by Adam Grossman and Darryl Sollerh

With this doo-doo burger of a movie, the Sometimes They Come Back trilogy comes to a merciful end.
This grand finale has about as much to do with the King story upon which it is ostensibly based as Saving Private Ryan does.  Less, if anything.

Hearts In Atlantis

a Scribner hardback, released September 14, 1999

Let's talk about the issue of whether this is a novel or a story collection.
I'm saying it's a novel.  My rationale for saying this is that the five included works -- "Low Men In Yellow Coats," "Hearts In Atlantis," "Blind Willie," "Why We're In Vietnam," and "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling" -- build upon each other in unexpected ways.  Characters from the first novella show up in the second, and in the three short stories that conclude the book.  Each of them (the final story excluded) does have a substantial degree of independence from the other stories, and stands on its own well enough that one certainly could read any of those four without benefit of the others.
However, I feel as if the emotional impact of each is amplified considerably if they are experienced with a knowledge of the foregoing tales.  And I don't think "Heavenly Shades of Night Are Falling" works at all except as the coda to the entire book.
So for me, it's a novel and not a collection.
Whatever it is, it's wonderful.
Children of the Corn 666: Isaac's Return
(feature film)
  • a Dimension film, released on home video October 19, 1999
  • directed by Kari Skogland from a screenplay by Tim Sulka and John Franklin

So, turns out Isaac -- the creepy child preacher from the first Children of the Corn film -- has been in a coma for the last fifteenish years.  He wakes up and some stuff happens.
That's what I remember about this movie.
Good for writer/star John Frankling for getting himself back in the movies, though.  I mean that sincerely.  I get snarky about movies like this one, because it's fun to do so, but there's also part of me that is delighted by the way in which the horror community permits for stuff like this to happen.  In many ways, horror fans just want to have fun; they want people -- especially people within the community -- to be happy.  Does it make any sense for Isaac to return?  Not at all.  
So what?  Why waste a good villain?  Or even a mediocre one?  There is a certain segment of the horror community that will applaud almost literally anything like that, and while it's easy to bemusedly shake one's head in response, it's also easy to see the appeal of such an easy get-along-gang type of approach to fandom.

Blood and Smoke
(audiobook story collection)

a Simon & Schuster audiobook, released November 22, 1999

The idea behind Blood and Smoke was to -- as the cover indicates -- offer an audiobook-exclusive to King fans.  It was -- and is -- a cool idea, but boy am I glad the three short stories included here eventually found their way into print.  If that had never happened, I'm the type of guy who'd have felt obliged to eventually try to transcribe the stories, just so he could look at them on the page.  And without King's pagination and punctuation, I'd feel like I had a very impure version indeed.
Luckily, it was a non-issue ... although part of me still kind of loves the idea of King having produced something that was strictly for audiophiles.
The first story in the set, "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe," actually had already seen print: in both Dark Love and Six Stories.  Many King fans would not have been aware of that at the time, though; I wasn't.
Additionally, two stories made their debuts here:

  • "1408"

In this instant-classic story, a "true-life" paranormal writer checks into a famously haunted hotel room, seeking to debunk it.  He won't get what he bargained for.

  • "In the Deathroom"

This one is about a guy in a Central American -- South American? (I can't remember) -- prison being tortured for information.  Will he escape?  Read it and find out.
Better yet, let King read it to you. 

Both of these -- as well as "Lunch at the Gotham Cafe" -- would be collected in Everything's Eventual a few years later.  "In the Deathroom" would also pop up in the 2000 collection Secret Windows.

The audiobook was ostensibly themed around the presence of both blood and smoke -- cigarette smoke, to be specific -- with the stories.  I can't really remember if that is the case, but it seems like a safe assumption.  The packaging was designed to resemble a pack of cigarettes, which has always struck me as being ridiculously cool.  And I'm not even a smoker!

The Green Mile
(feature film)

  • a Warner Bros. film, released December 6, 1999
  • written and directed by Frank Darabont

For his first post-Shawshank film, writer/director Frank Darabont adapted another King story.  This time, though, it was a bit different in that people were aware of it.  Not only had the novel The Green Mile been an enormous success, but the home-video redemption of Shawshank's reputation meant that Hollywood itself was eager to see what Darabont would do next.
This is how the movie presumably ended up starring Tom Hanks, who (along with Tom Cruise and Will Smith) was handily one of the biggest movie stars of the time.  He probably still is, but back then...?  Massively popular.
This made The Green Mile by far the highest-profile King movie to come out since The Shining some nineteen years earlier.  And it had little competition for that distinction; the closest thing to it would probably be The Running Man, I'd argue.  Yeah, sure, Misery; but that movie became a big deal after its release.  Nobody expected much from it ahead of time.
The Green Mile, however, was coming out after the Hanks-led masterpiece Saving Private Ryan the year before; and only a few years after the astonishing run he went on with films like Sleepless In Seattle, Philadelphia, Forrest Gump, and Apollo 13.  Not to mention Toy Story (the sequel to which had also come out in 1999 and had lit the world on fire).
Hanks in a major prestige movie marking the return of the guy who made The Shawshank Redemption?  This was expected to be a colossal success.
And here's the thing: it wasn't.  
Sure, it did well.  It made well over a hundred million dollars, which was enough to make it the biggest-grossing King film ever.  But Saving Private Ryan had made about $80 million more, and The Green Mile ended up with a mere four Oscar nominations, winning zero.  So it made more money than Shawshank, but not AS much more than it was expected to make; and its reviews weren't quite as stellar.
So in the short run, it was deemed to be a mild disappointment.
It is nevertheless a hell of a fine movie, and while it remains within the shadow of Shawshank to some extent, it's got one thing going for it that is going to help it endure down through the ages: it's part of that Peak Hanks era of 1988-2002.  Let's have no doubts about it: barring some unforeseen calamity, Tom Hanks WILL go down in history as one of the all-time great movie stars, and The Green Mile was one of the above-average films he made while he was at the height of his stardom.  
People will be watching this movie two hundred years from now.  Mark my words on that.
And mark my words on this, too: that sort of thing will be a big part of why people in the year 2217 still know who Stephen King was, too.

On that futuristic note, we now replace the first number of our year as we move into the year

Remember how tense things were as 1999 turned into 2000?  Remember how people thought all the computers were going to crash and the world was going to descend into chaos.
It didn't happen, obviously.  But I stayed at home that night, getting drunk and eating buffalo wings.  Ah, squandered youth.

Stephen King's F13
(computer game)

  • developed by Presto Studios
  • released on January 18, 2000 by Blue Byte

I could just repeat the information from the game's Wikipedia page, or I could just link to it.

Or I could do both!

Here's some stolen information about Stephen King's F13, which I never owned:

  • it included minigames -- "casual games," as the page refers to them -- such as "No Swimming," "Bug Splat," and "Whack-A-Zombie"
  • the set included "screamsavers" one could download to one's PC -- see, kids, once upon a time you couldn't just find hi-res photos all over the place to set as your desktop background, so companies made screensavers and sold them to you
  • the story "Everything's Eventual" (which had only thus far appeared in F&SF) was included

So there you have it!  King makes a foray into PC gaming, or whatever you'd call this.

"Riding the Bullet"
(short story)
  • released as an e-book on March 14, 2000
  • collected in Everything's Eventual, 2002

I quote now from the New York Times, March 16, 2000:

In an extraordinary surge of interest in an electronic book, Stephen King's latest novella, featuring a Mustang-driving ghost, has proved so popular in two days of literary life on the Internet that several online booksellers could not meet the demand from people wanting to download digital copies.
The publisher said yesterday that 400,000 orders were received in the first 24 hours after the novella, ''Riding the Bullet,'' became available on various retailers' Web sites. Readers overwhelmed the sites with purchases or orders to download the digital horror story into their computers, electronic readers or Palm Pilots.
No one seemed sure whether the surprising demand marked the beginning of a revolution in the fledgling electronic publishing market -- where individual literary works have not sold more than a few hundred copies -- or simply resulted from the novelty of having a marquee author dabble in bytes.
The novella, the equivalent of 66 written pages, was given away for the first day or longer by some booksellers to nurture the infant market, but others were getting brisk orders at $2.50 a copy. The 400,000 figure included both the paid and free downloads, as well as orders received but not yet filled because of the heavy demand. But even factoring in the free copies, the enormous first-day demand has markedly raised the profile of electronic books.

The early sales and orders far outstripped demand for any traditional book in a similar fleeting period, said Jack Romanos, president and chief operating officer of Simon & Schuster, Mr. King's publisher.

One certainly can't say that Stephen King invented the e-book, and one would have to be a fool to think it wasn't destined to be a popular format even if "Riding the Bullet" had never happened.  But one would also have to be a fool to deny that King had a big role in moving the e-book forward from niche format to wide-scale success.  (Wikipedia mentions it in its timeline of the history of the e-book.)
"Riding the Bullet" itself is a deeply-felt story about a guy hitch-hiking to see his hospitalized mother.  I don't personally think it's all that special a story, but middling King is still pretty damn okay, and this is pretty damn okay.

"The Yellow Mile"
(comic-book parody)

  • published in Mad Magazine #393, May 2000
  • written and drawn by the usual gang of idiots

The third (that I know of) King parody appeared in the May 2000 issue of Mad: a send-up of The Green Mile titled "The Yellow Mile."

Here are the first two pages, because why not?

"John D. Caff" made me chuckle, and if that makes me a simpleton, well, simple is as simple does.


Magic Terror
(story collection by Peter Straub)
a Random House hardback, published June 17, 2000

I have not read Magic Terror, which is actually the final Straub solo work we will mention on this Guided Tour.  His next book was Black House, the sequel (written with King) to The Talisman.
The two have said they want to write a third and final book, and if that ever comes to pass, I'll revise these posts and add in the various post-Black House books by Straub.

"The Old Dude's Ticker"
(short story)
  • written in the early '70s, unpublished until 2000
  • published in the Necon XX Commemorative Volume, July 2000
  • reprinted in The Big Book of Necon, 2009
  • e-book published in Dark Screams Volume Six on April 25, 2017
  • uncollected

This is a pastiche of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," updated to a post-Vietnam era.  It's not all that great, in my opinion; it reads to me like the work of a writer who had not fully managed to leave behind the bad habits he picked up from college writing classes.

The Plant Book I: Zenith Rising
(serial novel)

published in six e-book installments on July 24, August 21, September 25, October 23, November 27, and December 4, 2000

"Riding the Bullet" had been such a stonking success that King decided to try to replicate it on a larger scale a few months later with The Plant.  This was no mere short story -- or novella, as one might also fairly call "Riding the Bullet" -- but a full-fledged novel.  And, like The Green Mile four years earlier, it was going to be published serially once per month.
The thing that made The Plant different was that it was being sold directly via, with each installment costing $1.  Payment was done via the honor system: one downloaded first, and then paid.  Or not, as the case may be.  But there was a catch: King stated up front that he'd only continue writing the story if 75% of the people who downloaded it paid for it.
So far as I know, King never released any figures pertaining to how many people downloaded, or what percentage of them paid for the installments.  He did, however, eventually release some statistics indicating that the venture had profited a bit more than $450,000.  And in a piece he wrote for Time, he had this to say:
Is there anything about the coverage of Steve's Excellent Adventure that bothers me?  Probably the implication that by using the honor system, I was either displaying a naive belief in the honesty of my fellow man or (worse) indulging in a bit of electronic bungee jumping.  Neither one.  By offering the story in installments and promising to pull the plug if payments fell off, I felt that I had armed myself with a stick to protect my carrot.  It worked, too.  Part 5 payments fell steeply, but only after I announced the venture was nearing its end.  I'm afraid that did bring on a certain amount of looting.
Sounds like the words of a guy pleased with the results he's gotten.
A few things I'd like to add:
  • I don't remember all that much about the novel, but I do remember enjoying it, and looking forward to each new installment.
  • And yes, I paid.  Every time.
  • In that same Time article, King said, "Do Parts 1 through 6 constitute an entire novel? In the sense that there's a beginning, a middle and a resolution, yes. Readers will be as satisfied as they would be with, say, the first volume of a trilogy like Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (not that I am claiming the same literary quality; never think that)."  With nearly two decades having passed, it seems increasingly less likely that The Plant: Book Two will ever appear, but one can hope.
  • It is entirely unclear to me whether the first three e-book installments correspond to the first three chapbooks King issued via Philtrum Press in the eighties.  I would tend to assume that they were, but that is purely an assumption.  Were there revisions?  Beats me.
  • All six installments remain available for free download on King website
I can't move past this novel without mentioning that yes, I am indeed one of the weirdos who felt the urge to print the entire thing out.  Oh, but I didn't stop there, nosir.  I knew that my mother's job had occasional dealings with the local library bindery, who did custom hardback binding jobs of various records and also created oversized scrapbooks for them.  I don't remember how the subject came up, but this led to the bindery creating this for me, at the price of something like $17:

Nothing super special about it; it's just Xerox paper held together inside a generic hardcover binding.  But man, do I love the fact that I've got it.  It was done circa 2004, so it's closing in on being a decade and a half old; but the pages have not yet begun to yellow, and it remains one of the very first books I'll be grabbing if I ever have a need to evacuate the premises quickly.

Secret Windows

a Book Of The Month Club exclusive hardback, published October 2000

As a sort of companion piece to the impending On Writing, King put together this collection of material -- most of it nonfiction -- that had to do with the craft of writing.  It was available only through the Book of the Month Club, which I believe I may have joined expressly so I could get a copy.
I'm sure I wasn't alone in that.
Here are the contents:
  • Introduction (by Peter Straub)
  • Dave’s Rag: “Jumper” and “Rush Call”
  • The Horror Market Writer and the Ten Bears: A True Story
  • Foreword to Night Shift
  • On Becoming a Brand Name
  • Horror Fiction (from Danse Macabre)
  • An Evening at the Billerica [Massachusetts] Library
  • The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet
  • How It Happened
  • Banned Books and Other Concerns: The Virginia Beach Lecture
  • Turning the Thumbscrews on the Reader
  • “Ever Et Raw Meat?” and Other Weird Questions
  • A New Introduction to John Fowles’s The Collector
  • What Stephen King Does For Love
  • Two Past Midnight: A Note on Secret Window, Secret Garden
  • Introduction to Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door
  • Great Hookers I Have Known
  • A Night at the the Royal Festival Hall: Muriel Gray Interviews Stephen King
  • An Evening with Stephen King
  • In the Deathroom
There's a lot of great stuff in there, and among it is a very, VERY long segment from Danse Macabre.  I'd argue that this could and should have been omitted, and replaced with ... well, I'm not sure what with, but with something else.  I love Danse Macabre, but I've got it; it's its own book.  The space this chunk of it occupies could have been used to gather up other essays, or even interviews.
Similarly, what King fan buying Secret Windows didn't already have "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" in Skeleton Crew?  
It's an odd table of contents, for sure; but the theme of writing as a craft helps it all hang together, and there are some great pieces which are otherwise difficult to find.  Plus, it's the first print appearance of "In the Deathroom"!

On Writing

a Scribner hardback, published October 3, 2000

At one point in time, people were quite skeptical about the fact that a book about the craft of writing had been written by the guy who wrote all those scary books.  But they needn't have been; that dude is a hell of a writer.
Flash forward years later: On Writing is commonly taught in college courses (and maybe in high-school ones, for all I know).  I'd love to see where it ranks in terms of his biggest sellers; I wouldn't be surprised if it is high up on the list.
I also wouldn't be surprised if, in the LONG long run, this is one of the books King is remembered for.  His writing advice is fundamentally sound, and is extremely approachable; and the autobiographical sections are written with the flair of his finest fiction.
Nothing here not to love.
The audio version read by King himself is also pure gold.

And now, a new millennium begins...

Don't hand me any of that horseshit about the millennium having begun on January 1, 2000.  There was no 0 A.D., folks; our calendar began with 1 A.D., so you do the math on when the thousand years end every time.  (Hint: the year ends in a zero.)

"All That You Love Will Be Carried Away"
(short story)

  • published in the January 29, 2001 issue of The New Yorker
  • collected in Everything's Eventual, 2002

A haunting story that has nothing to do with ghosts or the supernatural but is instead about a lonely businessman who sits in a motel room contemplating suicide.  

(unproduced screenplay, based on the novel by Patrick McGrath)

Patrick McGrath's 1996 novel Asylum (so sayeth Wikipedia) is "is the chronicle of a story about self-obsession narrated by the point of view of a psychiatrist."  Stephen King was hired by Paramount to adapt the novel for director Jonathan Demme, and, like so many such projects, the film proceeded to never get made.
Not by Demme, at least; and not with a King-written screenplay.  A film directed by David Mackenzie from a screenplay by Patrick Marber and Chysanthy Balis WAS eventually made, released in 2005.
King's screenplay has never seen the light of day, so far as I know.  I would love to read it; I bought a copy of McGrath's novel around the time this screenplay was announced, but never read it, and apparently lost it at some point.  Probably that happened during the hellish move from one apartment to another that I undertook in 2003, an event that we shall speak of no further.


a Scribner hardback, published March 20, 2001

A weirdo piece of work, Dreamcatcher.  Boy oh boy!  It was written longhand, largely on Oxycontin, and King evidently wanted its title to be Cancer, a thing he was talked out of by the eternally suffering Tabitha King.
It's sometimes mentioned as being one of King's worst books, and while I can't really dispute that, I have to say that parts of it are terrific.  The first ... oh, I dunno ... two hundredish pages are pretty great; all the character-building stuff, the initial setup, right on through the big shit-weasel scene with Jonesy.  That stuff is vintage King; or so I remember it, at least.
After that things get muddled and nonsensical, but even then it's mostly not bad.  It's just a bit of a swing-and-a-miss situation, you know?
I remember feeling that way while reading it in the spring of 2001, and shrugging it off.  After all, for a few days back in 1999, it had seemed as if there might not be any more King books written ever again.  If all that ever came after that was mediocrity, it appeared -- based on Dreamcatcher -- that it would mediocrity leavened by moments of brilliance.
I could have lived with that.
But I didn't have to, as we will continue to see.

"L.T.'s Theory of Pets"
(short story)

  • an audiobook version was released on June 7, 2001
  • collected in Everything's Eventual, 2002

"L.T.'s Theory of Pets" received its first mass-market release in the summer of 2001, via an audiobook edition.  The reading was by King himself, and was recorded live on August 25, 1998 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.  It's well worth hearing.

The story itself is an odd blend of serial killings and pet ownership, but don't let that put you off of it; it's a solid one.
"Calla Bryn Sturgis"
(excerpt from Wolves of the Calla)
published online at, August 21, 2001

I don't know exactly when King announced that he was buckling down to finish writing the Dark Tower saga.  I betcha one of Bev Vincent's books about the saga would answer that question, and if I were a better tour guide, I might get up from this computer, go grab them, and see if I could ascertain it for us one way or the other.  But it's incredibly late at night and I'm just waiting for these shirts to finish drying so I can go to bed; I've got the energy for some low-impact writing, but none whatsoever for research, and apologies all around for that failing.

What I can tell you no research needed, however, is that many Towerphiles -- including your tour guide -- celebrated when the first piece of tangible evidence of the new books manifested: and that was on the day "Calla Bryn Sturgis" got posted online.

King prefaced it with this introduction, which hopefully nobody will mind me replicating:

Dear Constant Reader,

Roland of Gilead--also known as the gunslinger--has finally saddled up again. This time I'm hoping to press on to the very end and publish the remaining volumes all at the same time. That probably means three books, one of them fairly short and one of the other two quite long. As for the time it will take to write them...well, that's ka, isn't it? All I know for sure is that DT5 will almost certainly not be called THE CRAWLING SHADOW, as previously reported here (reported by me, in fact, but I was younger then). If I had to guess, I'd say that the push to completion will take two years, depending on all the usual variables, like sickness, accidents, and--scariest of all--a failure of inspiration. The only thing I know for sure is that all these old friends of mine are as alive as they ever were. And as dangerous.

I'm posting "Calla Bryn Sturgis," the prologue to DT5, to repay the readers of these stories, if only a little, for their patience. And in my own defense, all I can say is that it's never easy to find the doorway back into Roland's world.

Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy all wish you well. So do I. And as the residents of the Calla might say, may this do ya fine, tell God thankee.


If I've committed a party foul and you want me to take that down, Uncle Steve, alls ya got to do is get somebody to ask me.

"Calla Bryn Sturgis" itself is essentially the prologue ("Roont," as it would eventually be subtitled) to Wolves of the Calla.  I don't know if there are any differences; I've never sat down and compared the two.

It's good stuff, though, and I recall being thoroughly excited by it when I read it.  Father Callahan makes his entrance into the tale; we'd have to wait another couple of years to find out what happened next.

But the next Tower-related tale was very close indeed...
Black House
(novel by Stephen King and Peter Straub)
a Random House hardback, published September 15, 2001

For their followup to The Talisman, King and Straub reintroduced Jack Sawyer as a somewhat troubled adult, tossed in a serial-killer plotline, and tied the whole thing in with the Dark Tower mythos in a major way.  Whether any of this works is a matter of individual taste; my recollection is that it's superior to The Talisman in many ways, and relatively enjoyable provided one can power through some of the stylistic quirks.
The Tower connections are plentiful, but many of them -- slight spoiler alert here, I guess -- end up being somewhat insignificant due to King's failure to follow up on them in any meaningful way in with the final trio of Tower novels.  Given that he likely wrote those very soon after finishing this, it's a curious and baffling state of affairs.
Still, I think Black House is a fairly strong work.  It's got good characters, a few terrific setpieces, and arguably points the way toward a different version of the final Tower books; the fact that King didn't go there should perhaps be held against THOSE books moreso than against this one.

Hearts In Atlantis
(feature film)

  • a Warner Bros. film, released September 28, 2001
  • directed by Scott Hicks from a screenplay by William Goldman

Stick with me, now: the film Hearts In Atlantis is adapted from the novella "Low Men In Yellow Coats," which appears in the novel/collection Hearts In Atlantis.  The novella "Hearts In Atlantis," which appears in the novel/collection Hearts In Atlantis, is NOT adapted as part of the film Hearts In Atlantis.
Hollywood, ladies and gentlemen; Hollywood.
I don't blame Warner Bros. too much, I guess.  You don't make a movie based on a best-selling novel and then not use its title.  That'd be similarly asinine.
This is not a bad movie, by any means; it's not much more than okay, but it's certainly not bad.  The definition of a two-and-a-half-star film, or a B-minus.  A thumbs up on a hand that doesn't stay raised for long.  Whatever metric you want to use, it's just sort of middling.
But, as I say, that don't mean "bad."  So here, you get good performances from Anthony Hopkins and Anton Yelchin and David Morse, and you get good music and nice cinematography and some good dialogue.  You also get a story that has had its Dark Tower connections ripped from it mercilessly, but that turns out to be okay; the story works without them, and William Goldman's Cold War paranoia replacement elements are just fine.

Children of the Corn: Revelation
(feature film)

  • a Dimension film, released on home video on October 9, 2001
  • directed by Guy Magar from a screenplay by S.J. Smith

Look, folks, I've got to be honest: I don't remember much about this movie.  I think it's got something to do with a haunted apartment, except instead of ghosts it's children of the corn.  I honestly don't remember there being any corn in the movie, but let's assume there is.

Sad thing is, one of these days I'll rewatch it so I can write about it extensively for this blog.
What a world.

"The Death of Jack Hamilton"
(short story)

  • published in the December 24 issue of The New Yorker
  • collected in Everything's Eventual, 2002

As is the case lamentably often with King short stories from this era -- many of which I've only read once -- I don't remember much about "The Death of Jack Hamilton."  Pretty much all my brain has held onto is an impression: it's about a gangster who has been wounded and is dying.  Nothing supernatural, just a character/mood piece.  And a pretty good one, if memory serves.
The Man in the Black Suit

composed by Eve Beglarian; libretto by Grethe Barrett Holby and Eve Beglarian
Here's a curiosity: an opera -- apparently unproduced, though I am not certain of that -- based on "The Man in the Black Suit."
I know very little about it, so allow me to merely present links to the sources where I found what scant information I do possess:
  • A collection of brief news updates from Lilja's Library that mentions the libretto having been completed in 2001 and a workshop being planned for 2002.  (It is for this reason that I'm listing the opera as a 2001 work.)
  • A sort of encyclopedia entry at Opera America.  This lists the runtime as 01:20, which I assume means an hour and twenty minutes.
  • Best (by far) of all, a video posted sometime in 2011 on Vimeo.  This is about eight minutes long and has interview clips with Beglarian and Holby in which they discuss certain aspects of the story and production.  These are interspersed with highlights from what I assume to have been a workshop performance.  It's hard to tell too much from what this video shows, but I kind of like it.  The music is certainly more American-sounding than what I know of other King-based operas which came later (Dolores Claiborne and The Shining).  
Granted, I know very little about opera, so take that analysis for what it's worth (i.e., not much).
Anyways, given that there is no evidence of the opera ever having been produced outside of a workshop, this probably shouldn't even be considered a true adaptation.  It's more of a busted one; an adaptation gone belly-up before even making it to market.
But since I recently learned about it (via Stephen Spignesi's book Stephen King, American Master), I felt it was my duty to share that knowledge.  And, thus, it has been shared.  Let us venture now into 2002.

Unlocking Rose Red: The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer
(television special)

  • broadcast on ABC, January 11, 2002
  • no credited director; written by Mary O'Brien and Paul Carson

2002 began with a month occupied by Rose Red, King's latest miniseries for ABC.  Whatever you think of the end product, you certainly can't accuse ABC (and its parent company, Disney) of not trying to promote it.
The half-hour special Unlocking Rose Red was itself a promotional gambit on behalf of the tie-in novel The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer (about which I shall speak more momentarily).  It posits the notion that Joyce Reardon's Diary of Ellen Rimbauer is a real book, and that Rose Red is based upon that book, so it casts actors in the roles of the "real" people that some of the stars of Rose Red are portraying.  For example, Reardon (played by Nancy Travis in the miniseries) is played here by Sue Scott, who looks and behaves sufficiently like a "real" person that it's very easy to believe some viewers having been taken in by the artifice of it all.
I don't know this for a fact, but my guess is that the special took its inspiration from the Sci-Fi Channel's 1999 mockumentary The Curse of the Blair Witch, which was a part of the promotion for The Blair Witch Project.  That's one of my favorite horror movies, and I never watch it without watching The Curse of the Blair Witch first; it's a terrific lead-in, and so perfectly captures the rhythms of actual talking-head interview programs like it that I have zero doubt millions of people were tricked by it into thinking The Blair Witch Project actually WAS lost footage.
Unlocking Rose Red isn't AS good as The Curse of the Blair Witch, but it's plenty effective in its own right, and I'm very glad it's on the DVD along with the miniseries.

The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer: My Life at Rose Red
(novel by Ridley Pearson, writing as "Joyce Reardon")

a Hyperion hardback, published January 15, 2002

Designed to help promote Rose Red's three-night run on ABC, The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer helped fuel the charade that the miniseries was based on real events.  
The novel was a bestseller, largely on the strength of rumors that Stephen King himself had written it.  It actually made it all the way to #1 on the New York Times list, which is a heck of an indication as to how devoted King fans can be.  They -- WE -- weren't sure King wrote it ... but better to not take any chances and just buy it.

Speculation was rampant: if he didn't write it, who did?
The author was eventually revealed to be Ridley Pearson, King's bandmate in the Rock Bottom Remainders and a bestselling author in his own right.  This disappointed some King fans, but it needn't have, in my opinion; the book is entertaining regardless of who wrote it.  And for the record, there is a sufficient amount of crossover between the book and the miniseries that it feels to me as if King HAD to have supplied a decent amount of the novel's ideas.  Either that or Pearson supplied a decent amount of the ideas in the miniseries.  It's one or the other, and my money is on King having influenced the novel.

Rose Red
(television miniseries)
  • broadcast on ABC on January 27-28 and 31, 2002
  • directed by Craig T. Baxley from a teleplay by Stephen King

ABC was doing fairly poorly in the Nielsen ratings circa 2002, often missing out on landing any programs in the weekly top-ten.  This was a few years before Desperate Housewives and Lost helped restore their glory somewhat.
I say that so as to demonstrate the while you often see Rose Red mentioned as a ratings misfire, the truth is that it performed quite well for ABC.  Part one finished #5 for the week with about 12.4 viewers; parts two and three dipped somewhat, finishing #13 and #17 respectively on the following week's ratings, but still garnering 11.6 million and 10.3 million homes' eyeballs.  Most importantly, those were ABC's two top-rated programs for the week (and two of only three in the entirety of the top twenty).
So was Rose Red a monster hit?  No.  But NOTHING on its network was a monster hit; there were few hits of any magnitude at ABC in those days, so in a relative sense, Rose Red was very valuable indeed for the network.
What about the quality of the miniseries itself?  Well, I kind of dig it, personally.  It's not the masterpiece that Storm of the Century (the previous ABC miniseries from King and director Craig R. Baxley) is, and a few elements are admittedly grating in a manner that might well put some viewers off altogether.  I find it to be fun despite that, though, and while the resolution doesn't live up to the setup, the setup is strong enough that I can forgive the end result for being a swing and a miss.

The Wavedancer Benefit
(public appearance)

  • a benefit for The Wavedancer Foundation, February 2, 2002
  • King performed "The Revenge of Lardass Hogan"
  • released as an audiobook by Simon & Schuster on July 1, 2002

Audiobook narrator Frank Muller  -- who had (among his copious audiography) read the audiobook versions of King works such as The Green Mile, Different Seasons, the first four Dark Tower novels, and the then-recent Black House (as well as The Talisman) -- was badly injured in a motorcycle accident in November 2001.  The accident ended his career, and Muller was hospitalized for over six years, finally losing his life in 2008.
I can remember reading that this had happened, and being flat-out depressed by the news.  I'd become a huge fan of his narration style, largely thanks to his Dark Tower readings, and to this day it is Muller's voice I hear in my head when I'm reading.  He's one of only a few narrators whose work I accept fully; I often find myself disapproving of readers' styles, and on the whole tend to skip audiobooks.
So Muller's sudden absence from the audio landscape was -- and is -- a big deal.
In February 2002, King and a trio of fellow authors who had been read by Muller teamed up for a benefit.  A two-disc audiobook was released, and it is a gem.  Grisham tells some funny anecdotes about King; Straub reads a section from Black House; Conroy -- a true raconteur -- tells some good stories; and King performs a hilarious reading of "The Revenge of Lardass Hogan."
Well worth tracking down.

The Mangler 2
(feature film)

an Artisan film, released on home video on February 26, 2002

So the malignant spirit that once possessed an industrial laundry press in Maine has gotten loose and become a computer virus, see?  And now it's possessing the high-tech security system at a private school for the children of wealthy parents, see?
That's The Mangler 2, which is a truly dreadful fauxquel.

Firestarter: Rekindled
(television miniseries)

  • broadcast on Sci-Fi Channel on March 10-11, 2002
  • directed by Robert Iscove from a teleplay by Philip Eisner

Should the title be given as Firestarter: Rekindled or as Firestarter Rekindled?  I just don't know.
I also don't know why Stephen King allows these things to happen to him.  I guess it's feasible that he has no control over something like Rekindled being made or not, but doesn't it seem likely that his agent(s) could, with a little hard work and some ingenuity, put an end to such garbage?
Well, who knows, but the fact is that -- at least circa 2002 -- they had NOT put an end to such garbage, and thus we have Firestarter: (?) Rekindled, which is actually not THAT bad as far as fauxquels go.  It's not that good, either, but you can give it credit for at least using some of the original characters and for having a decent cast.  Small consolations, but in a world that brings the occasional Mangler 2 one's way, one takes what small boons one receives.
The story here involves Charlie being grown up, and Rainbird implausibly (A) still being alive and (B) suddenly being not merely a white guy (like George C. Scott) but a white British guy (Malcolm McDowall).  Jeez.

Everything's Eventual

a Scribner hardback, published March 19, 2002

The contents this time consisted entirely of previously-published stories, with no debuts (the only time this has ever happened with a King collection):

  • Autopsy Room Four
  • The Man in the Black Suit
  • All That You Love Will Be Carried Away
  • The Death of Jack Hamilton
  • In the Deathroom
  • The Little Sisters of Eluria
  • Everything's Eventual
  • L.T.'s Theory of Pets
  • The Road Virus Heads North
  • Lunch at the Gotham CafĂ©
  • That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French
  • 1408
  • Riding the Bullet
  • Luckey Quarter

As always, let's take a look at the list of then-extant stories that were still not collected.  There were a passel of 'em:
  • The Glass Floor
  • Slade
  • The Blue Air Compressor
  • The Old Dude's Ticker
  • Weeds
  • The Cat From Hell
  • The King Family and the Wicked Witch
  • The Night of the Tiger
  • Man With a Belly
  • The Crate
  • Squad D
  • Before the Play
  • The Reploids
  • An Evening at God's
  • The General
Those last two are both debatable, I suppose; the former is a short play, the latter a screenplay excerpt.  But given some of the things King included in Nightmares & Dreamscapes, neither of these would have been too horribly out of place.
I'd argue that a collection titled Everything's Eventual would have been a good place to get some of the older stuff back in front of readers' eyes.  The problem is, the first three stories on that list of uncollected works are going to stand out negatively in pretty much ANY King book they appear in; so I doubt I'd have included them, either.
The ones I'd personally have put in: "Weeds," "The Cat From Hell," "The Night of the Tiger," "The Crate," "Before the Play," and "The Reploids."
Creepshows: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide
(nonfiction book by Stephen Jones)

  • a Billboard Books trade paperback, published April 2002
  • includes "The Man Who Would Be King" (an interview with Stephen King)

Among the best books I own about King and his works is Creepshows, which marches its way relentlessly through every single King-based film to have been released through Rose Red.  Yes, there are even pages for the many shitty Children of the Corn movies, and while the info for these lesser entries in the King filmography are bare in comparison to the profiles of, say, Carrie and The Shining, there is nevertheless some good information.
For example, did you know that Children of the Corn V was originally going to be subtitled Field of Screams?  Indeed it was, and the distributor inexplicably changed it to Fields of Terror.  Smooth move, ex-lax.  Not that it would have made the movie any better, but still.
The highlight of the book might be the nine-page interview with King, which touches on subjects ranging from Bag of Bones to the proposed Night Shift anthology film King (briefly) considered directing in the seventies to his X-Files episode to The Plant.  Does he spare some time to bash Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining?  Surprisingly, no; the movie does come up, and he gives some very conflicted-sounding opinions of the background behind the making of both that and the ABC miniseries directed by Mick Garris, but he does not indulge in his customary bashing of the film.
All in all, the interview is a great coda to a wonderful book.  This one is highly recommended.

"Cone Head"
  • published in the April 22, 2002 issue of The New Yorker
  • uncollected

This brief essay -- which can be read here -- is the story of an incident from King's early twenties in which he got drunk, ran over a traffic one while driving, and then compounded his errors in judgment by driving around and stealing all the cones he could find in a fit of pique.  He got caught, and this essay finds him contemplating the potential these events had to set him on the road to being a Really Bad Person.

Luckily, that seems to have not happened.

By no means an essential piece of King writing, but I think it's well worth a read.
The Dead Zone
(television series, season 1)
broadcast on USA, June 16-September 15, 2002
By 2002, conventional wisdom said that Stephen King mostly didn't work when adapted for the movies.  Sure, there had been successes; but unless a Frank Darabont or a Rob Reiner was steering the ship, you mostly ended up with a Hearts In Atlantis.

Television was seen as being somewhat a different story.  There had been some genuinely notable miniseries based on King's works, beginning with Salem's Lot and running all the way up to the recent Rose Red.  Somebody finally decided that a full-fledged television series based on King's work might be worth a try.

I'm not sure who had the initial idea, but The Dead Zone was the end result.  It was developed by television veteran Michael Piller, whose name you might recognize as being one of THE key architects of the second phase of televised Star Trek.  Piller had joined the behind-the-scenes crew of The Next Generation in its third season and stayed with it from then on, eventually also helping to create both Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  He enlisted his son Shawn to help with the development of The Dead Zone.

My sense of things is that the elder Piller was highly involved with the first season, and then more or less handed the keys over to the junior Piller for subsequent seasons.  I say this because there is a noticeable decline in quality beginning in the second season, especially the later the seasons get.  I'm jumping the gun in saying so, of course.  And, to be fair, I have no idea if Michael Piller actually did pull up stakes and abandon the series.  (Unless I encountered that information in the behind-the-scenes material on the season one DVDs; a possibility, that.)

Bottom line is this: the first season is quite good.  Yeah, sure, it's got the stink of early-'00s television on it, which can be a bit off-putting for anyone who is primarily only used to watching shows made in the middle of the decade and later.  In that way, it shows its age.  So what?  It was great television then, and it's great television now provided you put it in context of its era.
Here is a list of the first-season episodes:
  • 1.01 "Wheel of Fortune" (June 16, 2002)
  • 1.02 "What It Seems" (June 23, 2002)
  • 1.03 "Quality of Life" (June 30, 2002)
  • 1.04 "Enigma" (July 7, 2002)
  • 1.05 "Unreasonable Doubt" (July 14, 2002)
  • 1.06 "The House" (July 21, 2002)
  • 1.07 "Enemy Mind" (July 28, 2002)
  • 1.08 "Netherworld" (August 4, 2002)
  • 1.09 "The Siege" (August 11, 2002)
  • 1.10 "Here There Be Monsters" (August 18, 2002)
  • 1.11 "Dinner With Dana" (August 25, 2002)
  • 1.12 "Shaman" (September 8, 2002)
  • 1.13 "Destiny" (September 15, 2002)

At some point, I'll cover each individually, but for now, that's a task for Future Bryant.  Your actual tour guide, Current Bryant, has got to move the fuck on, so follow me, y'all, and let's get back to moving.

From A Buick 8

a Scribner hardback, published September 24, 2002

I apologize if I've beat on this particular drum a bit too frequently, but those are the sorts of things you get from tour guides sometimes: one of the things I most vividly remember about the 2002 release of From A Buick 8 is that it still seemed overwhelming awesome that ANY new King books were coming out.  Yes, what I actually mean by that is that it still seemed super-cool that King was alive at all.
Distasteful?  Maybe.  True, though; true.
Perhaps this explains why I seem to be a bigger fan of this particular novel than many other King fans.  Or maybe I have bad taste in King novels; beats me, but fuck you for suggesting it.  Oh, that was me?  Oops, sorry.
The story is about a kid whose state trooper father died and then an alien car -- seemingly the property of a Low Man -- shows up and weird shit happens.  I honestly don't remember many specifics.  So for all I know, when I finally crack this one open again and reread it, I might think it's mediocre.
Time will tell!

King "announces" his "retirement"

interview with Chris Nashawaty, published in the September 27, 2002 issue of Entertainment Weekly

In this interview -- which I do not have a copy of -- King allegedly announced that once the final three Dark Tower novels were finished and in the world, he was retiring from publishing.  Not from writing; but from publishing.  After all, if writing constantly and putting the manuscripts in a drawer for nobody to ever see was good enough for J.D. Salinger, then why not for Stephen King?

A valid question, I guess.

So treasure these last couple of years, Tourists!  We've got 2003 and 2004 and then that is an end to new books by Stephen King.  Oh how I rued the day!  Still do rue it, too, since there definitely were not twenty-plus more books to come, like there could have been.

Ah, well!  We'll always have Paris, by which I mean The Stand.



After writing the above section I decided that it was not acceptable for me to not to have a copy of this important piece of King lore, so I tracked down a reasonably affordable used copy, and today it came in the mail.

So now, I shall present to you a few excerpts:

  • "Stephen King limps toward his car like an innocent man being led to the electric chair and slides behind the wheel of his black Mercedes convertible -- grimacing in pain as he pulls his right leg into the driver's side like a piece of deadwood."
  • "King comes right out and says that he doesn't want to do this interview at all, hence his death-row demeanor.  Nothing personal."
  • "After we order, I pull out a copy of King's high school yearbook photo and slide it across the table.  The student staring out from the picture is all horn-rimmed nerdiness.  His NASA buzz cut gives his sizable ears nowhere to hide.  His square suit and tie make him look like he might knock at your door to tell you about The Good News.  but he seems to sport the sly grin of a guy who knows deep down he's going to make it out of this damn place."
  • "It wasn't long before King's stories found an audience.  Granted, it was through such low-rent 'gentlemen's magazines' as Cavalier, but he could crank out those stories in a few hours and make up to 500 bucks a pop.  Now, King cracks up recalling some of his early literary benefactors.  'Dude, Gent, Juggs, Adam, Swank, Gallery, you name it.' "  (Bryant's note: "In a few hours"?!?  If so, WOW.  But also, I'm not sure we know about any King stories having been published in some of those periodicals.  This makes one wonder if King is merely remembering incorrectly, or is pulling the interviewer's leg a bit, or ... if there might be forgotten King stories from the seventies just waiting to be rediscovered.  I know which of those options I'm hoping for.)
  • "In 1990, King published his first story for The New Yorker -- a long way from the pages of Juggs -- and it's around that time that something curious started to happen.  The jury on him seemed to go back into their chambers and amend their verdict."
  • King: "First of all, I'd never stop writing because I don't know what I'd do between ine and one every day.  But I'd stop publishing.  I don't need the money."
  • King:  "I've always rejected the idea that every book had to be available to every consumer.  I used to get these angry letters about the Dark Tower books when they were just limited editions.  Somebody would say, 'Well, I want that book!'  And I'm like, 'Hey, there are people in hell who want ice water, too!' "  (Bryant's note:  This is an unfortunate comparison, Uncle Steve.)
  • Peter Straub:  "I have a great deal of difficulty believing it....  It might be his last novel for the year."
  • King on the subject of whether he would miss "the rush of seeing" his novels published:  "Absolutely not.  Would I miss that?  What?  I mean, I'm going to Detroit this time and sign books at a Wal-Mart.  What a thrill!  Are you kidding?"  (Bryant's note:  There's no call for you to look down your noses at people.  You don't want to go to a Wal-Mart, don't go to a Wal-Mart, but don't agree to do it and then shit-talk it before you even go.  You got a real uncharitable side sometimes, you know?  It doesn't come out often, but it's absolutely there.)
  • "In the corner, there's a gigantic stack of galleys sent by publishers hopeful that King will find the time to blurb them.  Not far away is King's house, where he does all of his writing and where a steady stream of tour buses idles in front of his driveway.  King hates that -- and everything else that comes along with" [being famous].  (Bryant's note:  I'd like to take a tour of Bangor at some point, but I have zero interest in "visiting" King's house.  It feels like if I do that, I'm turning him in a zoo animal, and -- occasional comments that piss me off notwithstanding -- I've got too much love and respect for the man to do that.  I'd feel like my skin was trying to crawl off my body the whole time.  I've felt the same way at times when I've gone to conventions and lined up to see some celebrity.  It's just gross.)
  • King:  "It's the American freak show: Tom Cruise, Bruce Springsteen, Stephen King, John Grisham, Bob Dylan -- we're all freaks.  That's what we are.  And people come to look at us."

Ultimately, the article really doesn't have that much to say on the subject of King's retirement.  The magazine cover is a bit of a gotcha in that regard; King does mention the prospect, but seems to be doing so almost out of spite.  It's as if he's been asked, "Are you going to retire?" and he has spat, "Yeah, sure I'm retiring, so fuck you!  Lick my plate, you pencil-dick!  No more books for you assholes on the tour buses!"

The entire tone of the article is that King sounds fed up, and possibly as the result of being in perpetual pain thanks to a hick van driver in 1999.

But it's just as obvious that while he's frightened of repeating himself in prose, he's also very much engaged with the idea of still being a writer.  He tells a story about J.D. Salinger dropping boxed-up manuscripts at a safe-deposit box on a regular basis, and seems wistful -- maybe even envious -- at the idea.  This is a man who has tired of being examined.

Boy, I hope he never finds this blog!

(television movie)

  • broadcast on NBC on November 4, 2002
  • directed by David Carson from a teleplay by Bryan Fuller

Our final stop on this particular leg of our tour is Carrie, the NBC remake that aired in late 2002.  NBC hadn't been aiming for a remake; they had, amazingly, been aiming to make an ongoing series out of it.  An hourly series!  Whether this was inspired by the instant success of USA's Dead Zone is anybody's guess; I'd tend to guess not, simply because The Dead Zone was too recent to have inspired much in the way of imitation.  But it's possible.
If you're wondering how Carrie could possibly serve as fodder for a multi-season television series, then I conclude you may not have seen this remake.  Spoiler alert: Carrie lives at the end of this, and (with Sue) goes on the run.  The series would evidently have involved the two of them finding similarly troubled teens and helping them out.
It sounds like shit, doesn't it?  Here's the thing, though: the screenplay was written by Bryan Fuller, who would go on to become a big name in television.  So while the concept turns my nose up a bit, I can't write it all the way off.
Anyways, it never happened.  The movie is all we have of it, and it's ... so-so.  It looks cheap as hell, which hurts badly.  The acting is okay, and the screenplay is okay, but beyond that it is a bit lacking.
Nevertheless, the movie performed decently for NBC, delivering some 12.2 million viewers despite being matched up against strong competition (a big NFL game on ABC plus an entire night of top-rated series on CBS, all of which seemingly took a bit of a hit relative to their normal performances).  Was it any wonder the network was interested in scooping up some of those King fans ABC had long been courting?
Alright, y'all, let's call it a day.  Everyone still with me?  This bus is starting to smell a little funky, but we've only got four legs remaining.  I think we can make it!