Bev Vincent is living the life that most Constant Readers can only dream of.
Bev has written volumes documenting Stephen King’s work, from career-spanning books like The Illustrated Stephen King Companion to more focused works like The Dark Tower Companion. He co-edited an anthology with King called Flight or Fright. He gets early copies of King’s books, which he reviews for us here at Cemetery Dance as part of his “News from the Dead Zone” column. And soon he’ll have a new book out: The Stephen King Ultimate Companion: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences.
Recently, I fired off a few questions about this new project, which Bev graciously took the time to answer.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE: To start, tell us the “origin story” of your new book, The Stephen King Ultimate Companion: A Complete Exploration of His Work, Life, and Influences.
BEV VINCENT: The book arose out of the 2009 volume, The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. That one was commissioned by Barnes & Noble to be part of their “reader’s companion” series. I had limited time to produce the text and a strict wordcount, so I concentrated on a dozen or so works that spanned King’s career and had a significant biographical component to their creation. The first two printings of that book sold out quickly. I updated it and added a new chapter about more recent works in 2013, and that one sold out, too.
I queried the publisher last year about doing another update. That’s when I learned they had been acquired by the Quarto group. The editor suggested a much-expanded book rather than a simple update. With King’s 75th birthday on the horizon, that seemed like a good reason for the book.
There were many of King’s novels that had either been given short shrift or not even mentioned at all in the earlier book, so I was glad to have the opportunity to delve into them all, although not all to the same extent.
Between this book and The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, you’ve cornered the market on lavish, deluxe books about Stephen King. How do you keep finding fresh approaches and material to use and explore?
Every now and then, someone comes up with a suggestion and I’m always game to explore the idea. For example, Brian Freeman texted me one day to ask if I thought there was enough material for an essay about the original titles of some of King’s books. After a little thought, I decided there was. So, I dug into my reference materials and came up with a list of books where the titles were changed at some point and the stories behind the changes. That became the chapbook What’s in a Name? that Brian published as part of his Lividian Publications patreon. Getting François Vaillancourt to provide faux book covers for the original titles turned it into an elegant collectible. So, new ideas are definitely still out there.
What are some new things you learned in the course of putting this book together?
I’d hoped to create a map of Castle Rock using details from everywhere it’s mentioned in books and stories. I learned that it couldn’t be done — there are too many inconsistencies and contradictions. Derry is easier because it’s based on Bangor, so its geography doesn’t change much. Castle Rock morphs as required for different stories. That’s when I came up with the idea of using Glenn Chadbourne’s wonderful illustration of Castle Rock for my “interlude” about that town instead.
How long did this project take to put together?
I sent my query to becker&mayer in May 2021 and had an online meeting with the acquiring editor shortly thereafter. I produced a detailed outline in mid-July for her to try to sell the book within the publishing house. We got the green light to go ahead with the book in early August. I delivered the first draft the first week of October and the revised manuscript after editorial review in November. We still had layout and illustration discussions after that, and I made minor revisions to the text as new things came along (new short stories, some early details about Fairy Tale, for example). The first full pass layout was ready at the end of February.
Did you have input on the photos and other art elements?
Yes, once the book was in layout, my editor asked me for suggestions for photos or other art to illuminate the text or sidebars. Some material was reused from the earlier book, although they had to clear the rights all over again, so some photos didn’t make it into the new book. Since the text focuses on the written word, I often chose pictures from the cinematic adaptations.
Did King provide any assistance with any of the material here?
His office staff in charge of his literary archives, which were formerly stored at the University of Maine, fielded our request for some unpublished material to be reproduced in the book. King signed off on some of the requested documents, although not all of them ultimately made it into the book.
Have you gotten any feedback from him on this project?
I’m sure he’s been aware of the book for a while, but he did two very generous things recently. First, he retweeted one of my posts about the book, which raised awareness about it to a much broader audience — an audience who might be interested in such a book. Then he agreed to a request from the managing editor of The Big Thrill, the monthly publication of the International Thriller Writers, to interview me for the September issue. That was a big ask and I was nervous about forwarding the request. I was thrilled when he agreed to do it, and the interview ended up on the cover of the issue, which, again, helped spread the word to a wide audience.
Let’s talk about your relationship with King. You’ve written about him, you’ve collaborated with him, you got to watch The Dark Tower movie with him and you get copies of his books early….Sorry, there’s no question here, I’m just expressing my jealousy. LOL
Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d end up where I am today when I started reading his books over 40 years ago. I was thrilled to have a story in an anthology with him back in 2004. How things have developed since then…it’s hard to explain.
Seriously, though, what is it about his work that resonates so strongly with you? And why do you think his work resonates so strongly with other Constant Readers?
For me, it’s about two things: his ability to tell compelling stories and the way he creates characters who are so vivid we feel like we know them, whether we love or hate them. That’s been true for me from the beginning, when I spent several chapters with ‘Salem’s Lot getting to know a variety of fascinating people before the story kicked into high gear, and it remains the same today. With Fairy Tale, for example, almost a quarter of the novel is about getting to know Charlie Reade, his father, Radar and Howard Bowditch. Once that hook has been set, King sends Charlie and Radar off on a compelling and exciting adventure and we’re fully invested in the outcome because of those first 100+ pages.
When the time comes to look at King’s career in the past tense, what contributions do you think he will be remembered and celebrated for?
That’s a tough one. My wife and I were discussing legacy recently and I remembered one time in the late 1990s when I got to spend some time with King. I had recently read an interview with author Jonathan Kellerman in which he said that King’s work would be taught in schools in fifty years. King responded that that was great but, you know what, he’d be dead! In truth, King is already being taught in university courses and high school English classes. Will all his books stand the test of time? I think a lot of them will. While he was ignored by literary critics in the early years, his work has been taken much more seriously for at least the past two decades, so I think his contributions to horror fiction and just plain fiction in general will long be recognized. And he has certainly contributed to decades of cinema and other theatrical forms as well.
Do you collect King limited editions or other ephemera? Funko Pops? If so, what’s the Holy Grail for you?
I have a couple of things like that. A bobble-head figurine of him in a Red Sox baseball shirt comes to mind. Although I was once an avid collector, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less interested in accumulating stuff, so I’ve sold a lot of my limited editions and other collectibles. The ones I’ve kept are either unique or have special meaning to me. My favorite item is a small yellow notepad that contains King’s handwritten draft of the scene where Roland and Eddie meet Stephen King in Western Maine. He wrote it while on a trip to California to visit audiobook narrator Frank Muller. It was a thank-you for some fundraising I’d done for the Wavedancer Foundation (which later became the Haven Foundation). That one is special.
Are there other authors whose work you’d be interested in exploring in a similar fashion?
None come to mind. Bill Sheehan did a great exploration of Peter Straub’s books several years ago. There are a lot of authors who I enjoy, who go straight to the top of my TBR list when a new book comes out, but none have inspired me to dig into what inspired their novels or how they are all interconnected. I’m open to suggestions!
You’re a prolific fiction writer yourself, so tell us a little bit about what other projects you have in the works.
This has been a productive year. I have 16 new short stories that have either already been published in 2022 or are slated to appear before the end of the year, with the possibility of others (I always have 15-20 stories in submission at any given time). I have to start work on “The Dead of Night,” a sequel to “The Dead of Winter” from my collaboration with Brian Keene, found in the book Dissonant Harmonies. We’ve already shared our playlists with each other. I just need to find a block of time to write the novella. I also have two novels I’d love to get in front of publishers. One is a straight crime novel featuring Benjamin Kane, my Houston-based PI who has appeared in nearly a dozen short stories. The other is a book with horror overtones set at a fan convention for a celebrated horror novelist. That one I’m particularly excited about. I’m hoping to get some traction on those in the final quarter of the year.