Rocky Wood is the author of numerous books on Stephen King, on whom he is a leading expert. His publications include ‘The Complete Guide To The Works Of Stephen King’, and he has been involved in research for King’s latest novel, Doctor Sleep. He is also the President of the Horror Writers Association. Rocky met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about King’s fiction and what it was like working with him.
Stephen King’s latest novel, Doctor Sleep, is a sequel to the classic The Shining, that King himself described as a ‘crossroads novel.’ Tell us about your involvement in it and what it is like working with the foremost horror novelist of the past decades.
Back in 2011 Steve kindly invited me to do the continuity between ‘The Shining’ and ‘Doctor Sleep’, as well as some other things, including two sets of recreational vehicles, in different timelines. The RVs are used to help the villains of the piece travel incognito. I guarantee you won’t look at retired people travelling the country in mobile homes the same way ever again!
Working with Steve was a breeze. Of course, he’s a total professional and I enjoyed the interaction about obscure parts of the Torrance family history, the Overlook and so on. I got the chapters as they were written. Even though I had to come to expect fine, clear writing from Steve it was amazing to see how good it is even in first draft. As you know, he doesn’t plot, so the story was the same sort of experience readers will get – a roller coaster road of emotions. In fact, this is also one of King’s most personal novels, dealing as it does with alcoholism, AA and his eternal themes of hope and redemption. It was very interesting to see how he dialled up the story, and the emotion in the second and final draft. A great craftsman at work.
What do you think differentiates King’s work from other horror writers’?
King is much more of a mainstream writer than most horror writers. Yes, he writes horror, but he also dabbles in other genres and very often writes largely mainstream short stories and novels. There really is an effortless suspension of disbelief with King. His characters are ‘real’ in that we instantly recognise them. Even minor characters appear completely rounded. Of course, his tales are compelling and he creates very real settings. He doesn’t plot, he reports the reaction between characters and events, so even he is often surprised by the turn of events. He is a true craftsman, working hard every day (yes, every day) on improving his writing. In simple terms King is another Twain or Dickens, a once in a half century talent.
Tell us about your involvement as president of the Horror Writers’ Association.
The main role of the HWA’s President is to lead. Sounds simple, huh? But the point should be obvious – if you set the tone, and are willing to work hard yourself, lots of people will be motivated to follow. In the three years I’ve been President our volunteer team working on HWA’s functions has expanded from 40 to over 160. That has allowed to implement a raft of new programs – including Young Adult, Poetry and Librarian sections. These new programs and a reinvigorated membership is part of a positive feedback loop. As these programs grow and succeed we get more members – up from 240 in 2009 to over 1100 today. I have also made a major part of my role documenting and codifying our procedures so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel when a new person takes over a position. And in the end, HWA serves the genre, so we work every year on enhancing our iconic Bram Stoker Awards.
What are you working on at the moment?
Because Motor Neurone Disease is now affecting my hands, I can no longer touch type and control of the mouse is becoming more difficult. As a result I won’t take on any more book length projects. I am updating my ‘Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished’ with new and exciting material. Look for the update early in 2014!
Thank you Rocky for an informative and perceptive interview.
While you’re waiting for the Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished updated edition, check out these guides by Rocky Wood: Stephen King: A Literary Companion (Amazon US and UK) and Stephen King: The Non-Fiction (Amazon US and UK)
Read more about Rocky and all his works at his website here.