His books are too scary for me, but I’m still a big fan of Stephen King
The Stanley Hotel near boulder, Colo., where Stephen King wrote “The Shining.”
I was looking forward to reading Owen King’s debut novel “Double Feature” (Scribner $29.99) when it came out March 19, but copies of the book had not yet arrived on Kenmount Road.
“Double Feature,” which takes place in New York State and spans centuries, is about a family of famous screen writers (Owen King is also a screenwriter) and the relationship between a father and son. It also deals with “what happens when people become famous for reasons they didn’t choose,” says King, in a USA Today interview.
This last part I find particularly interesting, as Owen King is the second son of writer Stephen King, one of the most well-known novelists of our time. It must be tough to put out a book knowing it will be forever compared to your father’s successful works. In fact, Owen’s brother Joseph, Stephen King’s elder son (also a novelist and comic book writer), publishes under a pen name, Joe Hill, in an attempt to avoid this very problem.
The two brothers, like the sons of actor Martin Sheen, have taken different approaches to their careers. In the case of the Sheens, Charlie Sheen, the actor, has, from day one, been recognized as his father’s son, whereas Emilio Estevez chose to try and make a career in acting without the backing of his father’s famous name. In the same vein, Joseph King wanted his writing to be recognized on its own merit. So much for that though — it didn’t take long for the press to piece together that author Joe Hill was actually Joseph Hillstrom King.
It’s gotta be tough competing with a father whose 50 novels have sold more than 350 million copies. King senior has even felt the pressure of competing with himself. After writing so many successful books, King decided to write seven novels under a pen name, Richard Bachman, to see if novels written under Bachman’s name would be as successful as those written under his own. The experiment was short-lived, however, when a bookstore clerk came across undeniable similarities in the writing of the two authors and contacted King’s publisher. Apparently, once King was outed, sales of the Bachman novel “Thinner” rose by 10 per cent. If you look online today, a used copy of “Thinner” signed by King as Richard Bachman can be had for a mere $2,500.
So, while I wait to get my hands on a copy of “Double Feature,” I reflect on Stephen King, whom I admire even though I’m too frightened to read the majority of his work. He makes it all too believable. In fact, the only King book I have read is his memoir, “On Writing,” which is part autobiography, part tips on how to write. I have seen screen adaptations of three of his novels: “The Green Mile,” “Misery” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” which is the highest-rated movie of all time, outranking even “The Godfather,” according to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The movie adaptation of King’s 1977 “The Shining” ranks third on an IMDb list of most popular horror feature films.
Even though I haven’t read or seen “The Shining,” I somehow know the story by osmosis. Last November, while visiting Boulder, Colo., we stopped for lunch on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park, home of the Great Divide. As you approach the park from the east on Trail Ridge Road, you come to the Stanley Hotel (opened by F.O. Stanley, co-inventor of the Stanley Steamer). This is where King wrote “The Shining,” the story of a writer and his family who sign on as caretakers of a hotel during the winter. Soon into their stay, it is revealed that the creepy groundskeeper and the son of the caretakers share a psychic ability, referred to as The Shining, which allows them to see evil murderous events both in the past and future. Jack Nicholson plays the father who goes crazy and, well, I won’t say anymore. Note that a walk-in freezer and a hedge maze feature prominently in the film. I was brave enough to watch the Simpson’s Halloween parody, where Baby Maggie spells REDRUM out of blocks.
After a lovely lunch, we stopped by the hotel gift shop to peer at dozens of variations of Jack Nicholson’s scary face. You can buy anything from shirts, books and movies to a plaque that claims: “I keep my copy of The Shining in the freezer,” an apparent reference to the TV show “Friends” in which the character Joey is so freaked out by the book that he keeps it in a freezer when he gets too frightened to read any more.
Brass hotel door numbers for both Room 217 and Room 237 are available. I picked up a 217 for my third son, the movie buff. I knew he would know that Room 217, where the family stays in the book, was changed to Room 237 for the movie because Room 217 actually exists in the Timberline Lodge in Oregon where the movie was shot, and the owners believed, rightly so, that no one would stay in that room after seeing Stanley Kubrick’s horror movie.
No. 3 confirmed that indeed he would not sleep in Room 217.
Although King recommended the Stanley Kubrick movie be shot in Colorado, there was no snow around the Stanley Hotel when the crew was ready to begin filming. Instead of trucking in snow, exterior filming of the fictitious Overlook Hotel was done at Mount Hood at Timberline. Some of the interior shots, done on a sound stage in England, were based on Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite. The opening aerial shots of the Volkswagon Beetle making its way to the hotel were shot from a helicopter above Going to the Sun Road in Glacier National Park in Montana, where we brought the children on our cross-America road trip in 2007.
OK, how did my column about wanting to read “Double Feature” get side-tracked by a scary movie? Oh yes, it’s my fascination with author Stephen King. I am amazed how many of his stories have become part of our collective knowledge. “Carrie” (1974), “Salem’s Lot” (1975), “The Stand” (1978), “Pet Sematary” (1983). The “Dark Tower” series, “Delores Claiborne,” “Cell” … Basically, one horror story a year has been offered to keep people like my brother, Brian Marshall, terrified.
Stephen King “scares the crap out of you,” he says. “He makes it seem like (his stories) could really happen. You like getting a rush now and then.”
Even Brian admitted he had a hard time with King’s last novel “11/22/63” that deals with going back in time to prevent the assassination of JFK on Nov. 22, 1963. “It was too real,” he says. “I didn’t enjoy it at all.”
You can be assured I wouldn’t enjoy it. But I have to admit that even though I can’t handle the realness of it all, I am envious of Stephen King’s ability to bring fiction to life.
Later on the same 2007 cross-America road trip, my sister and I brought five-and-a-half children to King’s two-storey red Victorian house in Bangor, Maine, with its turret, tower and white wrap-around balconies. The children loved the monogrammed black fence decorated with bats and dragons, spiders and webs. They took turns pretending to impale themselves upon the cast iron. You gotta hand it to King; he lives the dream of spookiness.
Later this year, Stephen King is expected to release a follow up to “The Shining” called “Doctor Sleep,” with the Danny character all grown up. I’ll be sure not to read it. I’ll stick to the work of his son, Owen, who said in the same USA Today interview: “My Dad is my Dad to me … And I love him very much.”
Susan Flanagan just finished reading “The Dinner” by Herman Koch and is still in shock. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.