What was your gateway to Stephen King? The Shining? It? Pet Sematary? These are a few of the more common examples, but being that King has written approximately fifty thousand books, it’s not that unlikely to get into the author through some of his less-famous (though, really still quite-famous) works.
For author Gemma Amor, it wasn’t The Losers’ Club’s adventures that sparked her love for King, nor was it Jack Torrance’s escapades at the Overlook Hotel. It was a gnarly, rabid St. Bernard named Cujo. In fact, the 1981 book had such an impact on Amor that it inspired her to pursue character-driven horror and short stories.
Gemma Amor is a horror and speculative fiction writer from Bristol, England. She is the author of the short story collection Cruel Works of Nature and writes regularly for the popular NoSleep Podcast, as well as several other audio dramas.
(Interview conducted by John Brhel)
CEMETERY DANCE: So how did you happen upon Cujo?
GEMMA AMOR: I was travelling in India, and wandering along a street in Delhi. Delhi has lots of street stalls where the goods are laid out on the floor, and near our hotel there was a book stall. I saw all these stacks of books on the floor and the only one in English was Cujo by Stephen King. I was desperate for something to read, and paid a few rupees for it. I’d never read any King up to that point, having heard lots of snobbery about him being a poor writer. Opened it, read the first few pages, and couldn’t put the damn thing down again.
How old were you when this happened?
Were you not a fan of horror before or did Cujo really make you a mega fan?
I was a massive horror nerd, still am, and lived for sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. I used to spend all my wage money on VHS tapes and watch things like Hellraiser on repeat. King didn’t revolutionize my love for horror, but he did make me fall in love with character-driven horror, and gave me a renewed respect for the art of the short story.
He also taught me to see what could be scary about everyday life—pulling into a gas station, buying a camera, writing a book.
It was eye-opening to me that someone could show such a deep understanding of human motivation and worldbuilding beneath the genre umbrella of horror.
That’s awesome. What was it about Cujo that drew you in so much?
On a basic level, it is the relationship between the mother and her son around which the story hangs. Then there is the tragedy of an innocent creature polluted by a sickness he can’t control, and seeing scenes from Cujo’s point of view. I also loved the main protagonist of the story being a mother haunted by her own infidelity, and all the little Castle Rock hints thrown in that made me fall in love with the Castle Rock universe.
Have you seen the movie? If so, how do you think it compares to the book?
I’ve seen half of it in Spanish. My Spanish isn’t great and neither was the dodgy copy I found on my laptop. I’ve put it on my list to rewatch! Ha ha.
My first experience of it will always be the most impactful though, so I’ll be surprised if I like it as much.
Do you have a favorite scene or chapter?
It’s a hard book to read, and grueling on a new level now that I’m a parent of a small boy myself, so it’s hard to find a favorite scene. But the one that keeps me awake at night is the ending. Without spoiling things, it doesn’t end well for anyone and it goes right to the core of me and my anxious mother triggers. Haunting.
Do you think that Cujo, or the themes within, influenced your writing in any way?
I think King has definitely influenced my writing in a lot of ways. His characters are rich and layered and I always, always try and build my characters before I immerse them into any situation, scary or otherwise. I also adore the Castle Rock mythology he built up across many of his earlier novels, and I have a very definite world in my own mind when I write too. Cujo introduced me to King, so you could say in that sense it influenced me, but his short story collections are the works that really I identify with most, particularly tales like “The Myst” and “The Langoliers.” They blew me away and I realized you don’t necessarily need to write a novel to do all the things a novel can do: excite, inspire, entertain. The themes within Cujo, and many of King’s work, do influence me more directly. Motherhood, addiction, sickness, and fear are all unfortunately things I’m well versed in, and that will never stop bleeding out into my stories.
Do you have a dog or did Cujo scar you for life?
Ha ha, no. I had two lovely gun dogs, Irish Setters called Saxon and Rhett. I miss having one now. I’m a dog person, and that is why I found Cujo so sound on two levels.
Have you written about dogs in any of your own stories?
Funnily enough, my new collection Till the Score is Paid (out in December from Giles Press) has a story in it about a dog called Copper. There was also a dog in my story “’Scuttlebug,” and I’m sure there will be lots more!
Do you have anything else you’d like to add about Cujo?
Not much more to say about Cujo except it’s been over ten years since I discovered it and launched into Stephen King’s whole back catalog and I still haven’t read everything he’s written. I only hope one day I can be as prolific—and the money would be useful, too.