2020 was a hell of a year to be reading Stephen King’s 1978 novel, The Stand….never mind devoting an entire podcast to it.
Jason Sechrest thought the same thing — in fact, he was reading it when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. He took to Twitter with his thoughts about the book, and with a dream about examining it in detail in a podcast, and before he knew it he’d assembled an amazing lineup of co-hosts: director Mike Flanagan, author Tananarive Due, and journalist/author Anthony Breznican. The result is a six-episode podcast that is entertaining, informative, and incredibly timely. (You can WATCH The Company of the Mad: The Stand Podcast at TheStandPodcast.com, or LISTEN on Apple Podcasts here.)
With the final episode set to go live on January 20, Sechrest took a few moments to talk to Cemetery Dance about the origins of the project, and what he and his mad company learned along the way.
(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)
CEMETERY DANCE: Tell us how you came up with the concept for The Company of the Mad: The Stand Podcast.
JASON SECHREST: It’s all Richard Chizmar’s fault. lol… Rich started a site a few years back called StephenKingRevisited.com where he was endeavoring to read, or in many cases re-read, all of Stephen King’s work in chronological order. I decided to join him in that journey, and it just so happened that The Stand: Complete and Uncut Version was coming up for me to read around the same time COVID hit. I thought, “What an insane time to be reading this book!”
I sent out a tweet, half-jokingly really, saying it would be a dream to host a podcast that was almost like a book club where Mike Flanagan (director of Doctor Sleep), Tananarive Due (author of My Soul To Keep, who has played with King in The Rock Bottom Remainders), Anthony Breznican (novelist and journalist who has interviewed King countless times) and I would discuss 200 pages of The Stand each month. I never in a million years thought Mike Flanagan would retweet it and respond, “I’m in!”
I think sometimes when something is meant to be, all you have to do is put it out into the universe.
You had never done a podcast before, correct? And here, you have these big-name panelists. Was that daunting?
Never. I had to learn how to create one from scratch. That was the most challenging part. I didn’t want to let Mike, Tananarive, and Anthony down. I wanted to do it right.
As the host, did you have an idea of how you would guide the conversation each episode or is it all off-the-cuff?
I have copious notes in front of me every episode and tons of questions prepared. Because the one thing I knew I didn’t want this to be was a rehash of what happens in each chapter, or us just talking about who our favorite characters are. I wanted a deep-dive analysis of The Stand, discussing how crazy relevant the novel is to what we are witnessing in the world today. Ultimately, the goal was for the listener to feel like they were sitting in on the coolest Stephen King book club in the world.
What is it about The Stand that speaks to you, personally?
I think it is truly one of the great American novels. It’s so much about America, the dream of America, the dream of what we can be. To be reading it during a time of pandemic was surreal. As Mike Flanagan said on the podcast, the pandemic is supposed to be the escapist hook, and yet in these times it provides no escape at all, making the story that much more terrifying. Of course, Captain Trips is far more deadly than COVID-19. There’s some big differences there. But there’s also some really big similarities in how humanity, both individual and collective, chooses to deal with the pandemic, and to the divisiveness that happens between the two camps.
You know, in the beginning, I think we expected the relevancy would come from the pandemic alone, but as we read on we found something in every section that mirrored what was happening right outside our doors. When the riots and looting began, we were reading about riots and looting. As our nation was becoming more and more divided, the survivors of The Stand created two camps where they were either for Flagg or against him.
It felt important to be reading The Stand during this time, and it felt important to document the thoughts of those reading it in the year 2020. It’s sort of like a time capsule we’ve created that I think Constant Readers will be able to return to for the next several decades. Any reader, at any time, can decide to read along with us, even 20 years from now and know what it was like to read The Stand during a time in which it seemed more relevant than ever.
How did you choose your special guests: Josh Boone, Kate Siegel, Steven Barnes, and Andy Burns?
Well, the first guests we booked were the spouses! Mike immediately said that his wife, actress Kate Siegel, would be reading along with us and that if we were thinking of special guests, she’d love to join. I just fell in love with her the moment I met her, really. I felt like I was talking to a long lost friend. Steven Barnes was a phenomenal guest. He lent such perspective and knowledge to one of the most important episodes. Steven is Tananarive’s husband. He’s a writer and the episode they co-wrote together for The Twilight Zone had just aired.
Josh Boone, of course, is a writer/director/producer of the new miniseries and Andy Burns is the author of This Dark Chest of Wonders and a new book on the making of the recent The Stand miniseries. Both just a wealth of knowledge and added so much to the conversation.
Is there anyone else, aside from Stephen King, of course, who you would have liked to have had on the podcast?
I would have loved to have gotten Grover Gardener, who reads the audiobook. He would’ve been a great choice I think, but I couldn’t hunt him down. And Mick Garris I had originally wanted as a panelist, but I think so many people had reached out to Mick about The Stand during the pandemic, he was just tired of talking about it. He couldn’t see doing a six-episode podcast discussing it at length. Plus, he has a podcast of his own! So if people want to hear what he has to say about The Stand, there’s already plenty of episodes where he discusses it there.
What are your thoughts on the original mini-series adaptation of The Stand and the new television series?
I think there are things to love about both. Nothing’s like reading the book though.
As you’ve been reading and discussing the book, what are some new things you’ve learned about it?
I had read the original version, but this is my first time reading the complete and uncut edition. I have to say, for me personally, it’s a completely different experience. It’s the difference between the book being in your Top 20 favorite Stephen King novels or your Top 10. I found myself getting really emotional, eyes welling up with tears; especially in the first 200 pages there were several moments like that for me. I came to discover that every sequence I felt the most moved by were sequences cut from the original. Because they’re unnecessary. King killed his darlings. But unnecessary though they may be, there’s a lot of heart there. And without the heart, it’s a lesser novel.
Who is your favorite character from The Stand? Favorite sequence?
Oh, there’s too many good characters and moments to choose from. I like the scenes that remind me of other King novels because it feels like a familiar old blanket you can just wrap yourself up in. Nadine’s college flashback with the planchette feels like something straight out of Carrie. Harold is a fantastically complicated character who feels like he’d have gotten it on with a dude named Charlie Decker from another King novel, Rage.
I don’t have a favorite character, but I’ll tell you a secret. I think everyone hates Rita Blakemoor — especially these days, she could be viewed as the epitome of white privilege — but I’d sure love to have had a long martini lunch with her. She’d be a hoot and a half to hang with for a while.
Do you plan to extend this podcast to other books, either with this set of co-hosts or a new set? What would be your next book to explore in this kind of depth?
My Patreon page has an ongoing podcast called What I Learned from Stephen King. It’s me reading my columns on the hidden wisdom and life lessons I find in King’s work. Those are available to Level 3 subscribers. There’s also several bonus episodes on my Patreon where I talk more about my thoughts on The Stand, the stuff there wasn’t time to get to in the main episodes. Beyond those, I don’t know that I’ll do another. It was never my intention to become a podcaster. I’m a writer and I like writing short horror stories, which you can also read as a subscriber to my Patreon page. I’d like to get back to writing more of those in the new year and working on my first novel.
Although…I do have this sort of fantasy where Mike, Tananarive, Anthony and I come back 20 years from now and do it all over again. The Stand in 2040! Or, maybe we’d tackle It. That would be cool.