Thursday, April 12, 2012

"Joyland," A Tower With No King, and Other Tidbits

The Kingverse was set ablaze this weekend when news of Joyland, the Master's next next novel, made its way onto the web via an interview -- conducted by no less a personage than Neil Gaiman -- that appeared in the Sunday Times across the pond in the good old UK.  (I wanted SO badly to type "the U of K" there, but thankfully realized that that would have made no sense.)

The Sunday Times is a pay site, so I can't link you to the interview.  I can, however, link you to a post at The Fire Wire, which has a transcript.

It's an interesting interview, to say the least, and I'm going to cherry-pick a few of my favorite bits, and then tell you what I think about 'em.

If that sounds like your idea of a good time, then giddy-up, pardner; these doagies ain't gonna corral themselves.

First off, it seems mandatory to talk about the new novel, Joyland.  Here's what Gaiman had to say on the subject:

Right now he's writing a book called Joyland, about an amusement park serial killer.

Later (as a means of answering a question from Gaiman about how long King's publishers could keep his death a secret by pumping out stockpiled books a-la Mike Noonan, the famously writer's-blocked author in Bag of Bones), King said that Joyland is not yet finished, but that in the event of his death, it could be finished by his son, novelist Joe Hill, whose style the proud poppa described as being "indistinguishable from mine."  King also said of his eldest son that "being around Joe is like being around a Catherine Wheel throwing off sparks, all these ideas."

And that's it.  That is currently all we know about Joyland; no word on length, release date, or any of the other pertinent details (although a brief statement posted on King's website clarified that the book was completed but had not yet been edited).

With that in mind, there's not much that I can say about Joyland. It sounds like King is getting a bit closer to his horror roots with the concept, but the execution might end up disputing that statement.  And really, does it matter?  Not to me.  I'm always excited for a new King novel, and while the set-up is intriguing, it doesn't have me salivating for the book any more than I would under any other circumstances.

There is an unrelated quote in the story, however, that made me sit up considerably straighter when I read it.  I'm going to save that for the end of this post, because it has to do with The Dark Tower, and there's no way to talk about what King said without getting into big-time spoiler territory.  So if you aren't familiar with that series and want to stay unspoiled, you might want to bail out once we get to that section.  I'll give you a warning when that time is nigh.

Here's another quote from King, this one answering a question from Gaiman about why he would write a sequel to The Shining:

I did it because it was such a cheesed-off thing to do.  To say you were going back to the book that was really popular and write the sequel.  People read it as kids; then as adults they might read the sequel and think, this isn't as good.  The challenge is, maybe it can be as good -- or different.  It gives you something to push up against.  [And] I wanted to see what would happen to Danny Torrance when he grew up.  I knew that he would be a drunk because his father was a drunk.  I thought, okay, I'll start with Danny Torrance at age forty.  He is going to be one of those people who says, "I am never going to be like my father."  Then you wake up at 37 or 38 and you're a drunk.  Then I thought, what kind of life does that person like that have?  He'll do a bunch of low-bottom jobs, he'll get canned, and now, I really want him to be a hospice worker because he has the shining and he can help people get across as they die.  They call him Dr. Sleep, and they know to call for him when the cat goes into their room and sits on their bed.  This was writing about the guy who rides the bus, and he's eating in a McDonald's, or on a special night out maybe Red Lobster.  We are not talking about a guy who goes to [the upscale restaurant] Sardi's.

This is perhaps not the first thing that would come to the minds of people who are trying to figure out what a sequel to The Shining might be like.  That's fine by me; it sounds like a hell of a great idea, and what's more important, it sounds like an idea that is consistent with The Shining, but not chained to that novel.  I suspect some fans will read this description and have a WTF-style reaction, and they are welcome to it; not me, though.

Discussing The Green Mile, and responding to a comment from Gaiman about finding just the right elements of a story present mentally when he needed them, King said:

When John Coffey goes to jail -- he was going to be executed for murdering the two girls.  I knew that he didn't do it, but I didn't know that the guy who did it was going to be there, didn't know anything about how it happened, but when I wrote it, it was all just there for me.  You just take it.  Everything just fits together like it existed before.

I never think of stories as made things; I think of them as found things.  As if you pull them out of the ground, and you just pick them up.  Someone once told me that that was me low-balling my own creativity.  But still, on the story I am working on now, I do have some unresolved problems.  It doesn't keep me awake at nights.  I feel like when it comes down, it will be there...

King has said some variant of this -- regarding the story driving him, rather than him driving the story -- numerous times, and more than once, on a message board or a comment section, I've seen people express disbelief in what he's saying.  As for me personally, I don't write fiction.  I dabbled in it a bit during college; I enjoyed what I wrote, and for a time entertained ambitions, but I ultimately came to the conclusion that I did not possess the stick-to-itiveness that I would need if I wanted to go somewhere with it.  Nor, perhaps, the talent, although on that score, I still wonder.  Regardless, I wrote enough that I can immediately feel the truth of what King is saying here.  I'm not suggesting that all writers write that way, nor that I would have written that way if I had continued, but it seems to me like a perfectly valid means of putting thoughts onto paper.

So, if you happen to be one of those people who roll their eyes at King when he makes a comment about how, as an example, he didn't kill a character in Cujo, the character simply died and he wrote it down, take him at his word; if someone like me (a recipe the contents of which are a small amount of desire, a small amount of talent, and a huge lack of motivation) can pound out a few dozen pages of failed fiction and experience something similar to what King is talking about, then there is no room in my mind for doubt that a writer of his talent is experiencing things exactly as he described it here.  Gaiman, for the record, seems to be in complete agreement, and if you aren't taking the word o Stephen King and Neil Gaiman on the subject of writing, you probably ought to reconsider.

King's thoughts about the self-powered engine that is storytelling now bring us to that promised bit about The Dark Tower, so consider the final spoiler warning issued.

Here is a seemingly throw-away comment from Gaiman:

Stephen King is a character in the fifth and sixth Dark Tower books, and Stephen King the non-fictional author is wondering whether to take him out on the next draft.


Okay, I've got a few thoughts here.  First of all, a correction: Mr. Gaiman, King does not actually appear as a character until Book VI; his presence is merely hinted at in Book V.  I'm just sayin'.  Look, it isn't every day a schlub like me gets to correct someone of Neil Gaiman's stature, so just give me that moment, wouldja?  Thanks.

Secondly, this: Gaiman must have known this would drive us Tower fans nuts, and decided to fuck with us by not dwelling on this topic for a while.

Thirdly: King was quoted several times around the release of the final novel in the series as saying that he would eventually like to go back and revise the entire series the way he had revised The Gunslinger.  This comment makes it evident that not only is that daunting project still alive in King's mind, but that he may well be envisioning a full-scale rewrite, with potentially massive changes.  Readers of the final book will know that the possibility of such a rewrite being called a sequel would be entirely possible, given the circular nature of the story.

And, finally: I would hate to see King write himself out of the story.  At this point, it seems integral to the overall tale, and I honestly don't know how the change could be made without the final two -- possibly even three -- books of the series being rewritten from the floor up.  If he's contemplating that massive a change, then perhaps King is currently wrestling with exactly that decision.

Writers revising their works is hardly unheard-of: Tolkien made numerous changes to The Hobbit decades after its publication, so as to bring it in line with its sequel, The Lord of the Rings, and King himself issued the expanded version of The Stand.  However, I cannot think of an instance in which a writer has made as fundamental a change as that one would be.

One thing is for certain: I am hopeful that King will return to the Dark Tower universe.  There is still plenty of story there to be told, especially as it regards the fall of Gilead and the years between then and the start of Roland's quest.  Might King someday tell that story within the context of a revised version of the series?

Only time well tell.


  1. An amusement park serial killer? I'm in.

  2. Well, not FTW!? Instead, my reaction was I remained calm on the outside, mentally though I put my head in my hands and muttered an, "Oh Jesus." I can remember that was my exact thought.

    It's best I be clear about this as possible, I've long entertained serious doubts about this as a potential for a novel with a "real" story. Hearing King's brief summation is sort of the final nail in the coffin for me, and has soured me on the novel's prospects. Even if it were to sell real well, (and I have no doubt it will) it still wouldn't make it a success in my eyes.

    The reason why is because I think it doesn't remain true to the integrity of the characters from The Shining, not just Danny Torrance, but all the characters, in fact the story of The Shining itself. For me, when I read The Shining I get the impression of a character who's much stronger and bigger than outlined in the Gaiman interview.

    This brings me to your comments about King's writing method. I believe him when he says stories are found things, I also believe sometimes a story if just a matter of pure invention or Fancy as I once heard called. King says the good ideas stay and that may be true, however I believe it can be equally true about uninspired invention, and besides doing the math for myself I doubt the could have been thinking about a sequel for very long, his first mention of it is back in 2011 where he calls it a ship passing in the night, in other words a passing fancy. It doesn't sound to me like inspiration so much as artistic frustration of some kind.

    Maybe I am getting to carried away with this, and maybe it's a case of valuing a bunch of words on dead wood pulp far more than they're worth, maybe. Even so, it's not a position I apologize for and my thoughts on this book aren't going to be changed. I believe Doctor Sleep as it stand is a mistake.

    The worst part is that there did seem to be the kernel of an idea there at first, I'm tlaking about the psychic vampire angle. As someone else remarked, it sounded like a good idea that should have been developed as it's own story seperate from The Shining. One alternate take I might not have been averse to is the idea of Danny doing a walk on cameo in much the same as Halloran did in It. In this scenario Danny and Doctor Sleep are two different character, Sleep could be this troubled teen and Danny is like his school English teacher, maybe at Stovington Vermont? In this version Danny recognizes Dr. Sleep has the same type of Shining as him and tries to help but the good Dr., whoever he is, moves on and drops out of school and from there goes on to meet the vampires.

    That's one idea I wouldn't have been averse to, anyway. I'm discouraged by the way things have developed. I'm also hoping King doesn't write himself out of the Tower story as it's what makes the story go for me. It might be the time for fans to stock up on as many pre-rewrite copies as possible before they are replaced on the market.

    Well, I guess it was my turn to say a mouthful, if anyone reading this is bored by now, I apologize, yet this has been something that's bothered me for a while and I couldn't pass the opportunity to get it off my chest. I still say doctor Sleep is a mistake, and I don't think i plan on reading it any time soon, that doesn't mean no one else should. I guess I just care about the integrity of a well written story.


  3. I hear what you're saying, and I'll speculate that a lot of fans are going to agree with you. I remain excited by the idea; hopefully the execution will reward me.