Summer's Best Books ; Starring Stephen King, Whose Joyland Leads Our Roundup of the Season's Most Thrilling Reads
C O V E R A N D O P E N I N G P H O T O G R A P H S B Y M I C H A E L E D W A R D S, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, CO)
There are authors
who write best sellers, and authors who write literary fiction; those who become celebrities, and those whose books make the leap to film, TV, and the stage. Very few authors achieve all of this, but Stephen King is one of them--the king of them, in a way. Before his breakthrough novel, 1974's Carrie, horror was a dank subgenre of publishing. What King showed the world was a new way to scare people: By writing in clear, compelling prose incorporating twists on everyday life (the tribulations of an unpopular high school girl in Carrie; a troubled family in The Shining), he made the fright genre more emotional and universal.
He also began to transcend that genre. In tales like "Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption," King extended his range to become, simply, a firstrate storyteller. It's a skill that deepens in his new novel, Joyland, a paperback original due June 4 from the highly regarded small press Hard Case Crime. (It has already been optioned for the screen by the director of The Help.) Set in the early 1970s, Joyland follows lovelorn college student Devin Jones, who, while working at a small-time amusement park, learns the secret history behind a shocking murder. "I loved county fairs when I was a kid," King says. "There's sort of a cheesy, exciting feel to them, and I decided that's what I wanted to write about."
King, who divides his time between his native Maine and a home in Florida, is slim and fit at 65, flashing a frequently boyish and mischievous grin, though he still has a slight limp from the 1999 accident in which he was hit by a minivan while taking a walk. He continues to write accessible stories at a remarkable rate: A sequel to The Shining, titled Doctor Sleep, will be published in September, and he has "more or less" completed his first hardboiled detective tale, Mister Mercedes. A series based on his 2009 novel Under the Dome will air on CBS later this summer, and his musical-theater collaboration with John Mellencamp, Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, will begin what King terms a "road show tour" of American cities in the fall.
On this spring day, King settles in for a chat after completing his daily regimen. "I wrote 1,500 words this morning," he says. "Five pages a day, that's usually what I get through. It's obsessivecompulsive more than anything. I'm scared to death that if I leave it alone, the color will go out of it; it'll start to look fake." As always, he is full of strong opinions, recommendations, and good humor.
PARADE: Hard Case Crime publishes paperback novels, both new
work and reprints of 1950s and
'60s thrillers, complete with
retro-art covers. Was this why
you offered them Joyland, which
is set in an earlier era? STEPHEN KING: Yes. They reminded me of the books that I cut my teeth on, so to speak, the ones that were on the paperback rack at Roberts drugstore in Lisbon Falls, Maine, while I was going to high school. I thought, Joyland is perfect for Hard Case Crime. It's not a huge, fat book. It has a mystery, but it has another level, too, where it's kind of a coming-ofage story, this kid finding his feet after a heartbreak. And because it was so retro, I said to myself, "Let's sell it as a book. Let's hold back all this [e-book] stuff. You know, audio, fine. But if people want it, they go to a bookstore and buy it."
Joyland has supernatural elements,
but it isn't a horror novel.
I've been typed as a horror writer, and I've always said to people, "I don't care what you call me as long as the checks don't bounce and the family gets fed." But I never saw myself that way. I just saw myself as a novelist. With Joyland , I wanted to try my hand at the whodunit format.
I'm a situational writer. You give me a situation, like a writer gets in a car crash, breaks his leg, is kidnapped by his number-one fan, and is kept in a cabin and forced to write a book--everything else springs from there. …