Posted - 01/21/2010 : 06:57:01 AM
Interview with: Bev Vincent
Occupation: Novelist, short story writer, chemist
Author: The Road to the Dark Tower (2004, New American Library. ISBN: 0451213041 Limited Edition (2005, Cemetery Dance Publications). ISBN: 1-58767-104-2
The Stephen King Illustrated Companion (2009, Fall River Press). ISBN: 1-43511-766-2
Interviewed by: Allen Klingelhoets
Allen: I have enjoyed reading Stephen King stories for most of my adult life. I recall buying my first Stephen King book in high school. I read Fire Starter. I soon found myself reading The Dead Zone and countless other Stephen King novels. I had always hoped to read some of stories not readily available. I always hoped someone would fill in spaces between novels. I wanted to read generation of concepts behind Richard Bachman novels. I wanted to see what spawned some of the ideas for The Dark Tower, The Stand, Napkins later called (The Eyes of the Dragon) and other novels. I wanted to see generation of books like The Shining. I wanted to hear more about Castle Rock. I wanted to know more about Mr. Jingles and John Coffey in The Green Mile. I hoped someone would come along and write book to fill in blanks about The Territories in The Talisman. There were so many questions. I received large hard cover coffee table style 176-page book from my sister for Christmas 2009. The book is called The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. Book is written by Bev Vincent. I would like to introduce Bev Vincent to our Jazma readers. He is Bram Stoker Award nominated author of The Road to the Dark Tower, an authorized companion to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. Bev Vincent is also a contributing editor at Cemetery Dance magazine. He has also published over 50 of his own short stories. His recent book The Stephen King Illustrated Companion won in the non-fiction category at the London Book Festival, which honors the best in International Publishing. Bev Vincent is person that worked hard writing wonderful companion book about Stephen King and his stories. Now that you know a little about Texas writer Bev Vincent, let’s dive right into interview.
Allen: What were some of your earliest memories reading Stephen King books?
Bev Vincent: I picked up a paperback copy of ‘Salem’s Lot at a used bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1979 among a stack of other books. I wasn’t familiar with King at the time, but I remembered hearing good things about the book so I added it to my weekly purchases. The dilemma of this small Maine town captivated me. As soon as I finished, I looked for other books by King and went through everything else he’d written. I became a big fan—he was the first author where I couldn’t make myself wait for his new books to come out in paperback so I splurged on the hardcover editions. I also wrote my first fan letter in about 1982 and received a personal response from King.
Allen: Were you also a writer growing up?
Bev Vincent: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that I was a writer when I was young. I remember sitting at my typewriter tapping out long stories or the beginnings of novels that I never completed. My eighth grade English teacher told me that a mystery story I wrote for his class was good enough to be published. Not true, but flattering! I also wrote quite a few short stories when I was in university, but I didn’t do anything with them except show them to my friends. Then I didn’t write anything for a long time, until about 1999 when I started again. I haven’t stopped since.
Allen: Did you read many comic books in your youth?
Bev Vincent: Sure. I don’t think I bought very many, but I used to read them at the barbershop. Some of the superhero books and things like Archie and Richie Rich. I don’t think I was as big a comic book junkie as many of my fellow writer friends are, and I certainly don’t know as much about the lore of the classic superheroes as they do.
Allen: Have you presently been reading Stephen King stories adapted into comic book format?
Bev Vincent: I’ve been following the Dark Tower series from Marvel. At first, I was mostly interested in the ancillary material that Robin Furth wrote that delves into some of the history of Mid-World and its mythology. More recently, I’ve become interested in the stories themselves as they get beyond what King wrote.
I’m less interested in The Stand because it is a literal adaptation of a novel that I’m very familiar with. I’m not such a big fan of the graphic novel format for stories that I know already. The same thing applies to The Talisman adaptation, although I understand that Robin may have some extra material in those books, too, so I’ll check them out at some point. I’m looking forward to the American Vampire series, though, as that is all new material written by King.
Allen: Tell me about some of your Stephen King collection
Bev Vincent: The first limited edition I ever purchased was the Donald M. Grant edition of The Talisman. I was a university student at the time and it was an expensive book, so I though long and hard about spending that much money. I have quite a few limited editions, but I’m most interested in the books that are works of art on their own—books like Skeleton Crew or The Eyes of the Dragon—or in limited editions that are unique, like The Plant and Six Stories and The New Lieutenant’s Rap. I’m no longer interested in by-the-numbers limiteds that don’t offer anything other than a signature.
I do have a number of unique items. King sent me copies of the first draft manuscripts of the final three Dark Tower novels when I was working on The Road to the Dark Tower. He also gave me a notebook in which he first wrote, by hand, the scene in Song of Susannah where Roland and Eddie first meet Stephen King. That’s probably my most treasured collectable item.
Allen: What are some of your favorite Stephen King movies?
Bev Vincent: I don’t think my list will be all that surprising: The Shawshank Redemption, Misery, Stand By Me, The Green Mile. I have a particular fondness for The Mist because I visited the set during filming, something I’d never done before. I also think that Dolores Claiborne is underappreciated. The movie is radically different from the novel in many ways, but I believe that it captures the sense of the book very well. I have no use at all for most of the remakes or sequels. I enjoyed The Stand and, to a lesser extent, The Shining miniseries. I thought Storm of the Century was well done and gutsy in its resolution.
Allen: Tell me about Stephen King short film that you worked on. Tell me name and basis for story. When did short film get released? How can people watch short film? What was reaction to short film?
Bev Vincent: I wrote the script for Stephen King’s Gotham Café, which is based on the short story “Lunch at the Gotham Café,” part of the Blood and Smoke audio book and later collected in Everything’s Eventual. The film was done as part of King’s “Dollar Baby” program, where he allows filmmakers to adapt his short stories for non-commercial use. To preserve his ability to sell the rights to these stories as major motion pictures, King limits the way these “amateur” adaptations can be distributed or viewed. They cannot be distributed on the internet or DVD, nor can they be exhibited in movie theaters for a fee. That limits them to film festivals, primarily, which is how Gotham Café was shown. It won a number of awards at these festivals, including Best Adaptation at the International Horror and Sci-Fi Film Festival in 2004. It’s the only Dollar Baby that King has been directly involved with – he provides a voice cameo in the film.
You can find the trailer on YouTube or at the official film web site, but the entire 15-minute movie is unavailable.
Allen: How did you break into publishing field? What were some of your first jobs? What kinds of stories did you first write for publication?
Bev Vincent: My earliest foray into publishing happened when I was a student. For two summers I worked for a small town newspaper and published dozens of articles. Later, as a graduate student, I was co-author of something like 30 articles published in scientific journals, and my doctoral thesis is as long as The Stand. So I’ve actually been published for a long time.
In terms of fiction, though, I started submitting stories for publication in 1999. I set a goal of getting something published within a year and that worked out pretty well. I had a story accepted by a relatively new Australian publication in the final days of 1999; however, the issue of the magazine that was to contain my story never appeared. The magazine folded.
In 2000, I wrote a story called “Harming Obsession” for The Harrow’s Halloween contest and, as luck would have it, I won. That story, which I’d describe as psychological suspense, turned out to be one of my most popular over the years. Though I wrote a lot of horror stories early in my fiction career, I also published mainstream, fantasy, science fiction and crime stories.
Allen: How long have you been contributing editor at Cemetery Dance Publications? Tell me about Cemetery Dance’s publications goals.
Bev Vincent: I’ve been writing the column News from the Dead Zone for Cemetery Dance since early in 2001. A “contributing editor” is simply someone who contributes regular material and, for me, that’s the King news column. I don’t have any involvement in other aspects of the magazine, although I have published some interviews, short stories and book reviews with them as well. To date, I’ve written nearly 30 columns for the magazine, as well as keeping up with an on-line version that has more current news: News From the Dead Zone.
Allen: Have you ever edited any of Stephen King’s stories over at Cemetery Dance Publications?
Bev Vincent: No – see my answer to the previous question.
Allen: It took me a very long time. I did though finish reading The Dark Tower series. How did you become involved with writing The Road to the Dark Tower companion?
Bev Vincent: I first read The Gunslinger in 1983 and followed the series as each new book was released in the ensuing years. When I heard that King intended to write the final three volumes back-to-back-to-back an idea started percolating in my mind. Though people had often asked me when I was going to write a book about King’s work, the scope of such a project always seemed daunting. It was just too big. However, since the Dark Tower series spanned much of King’s writing career and had links to most of his novels, I thought that an analysis of that series would allow me to say something meaningful about his entire body of work.
I bounced the idea of a companion book off my friend Rich Chizmar from Cemetery Dance. He encouraged me to pursue it, so I put together a 1-page proposal for King, to see if he had any objections to me writing such a book. I also suggested that if I could get access to the manuscripts of the final three books, I could have my book ready for publication at the same time as the seventh Dark Tower book. It was a little audacious of me to suggest such a thing, but nothing ventured – nothing gained, and King agreed, much to my delight. I then wrote a detailed outline and pitched the book to a couple of NY publishers. The second one I approached bought it. That meant I had to sit down and write the book, which took about nine months in total.
Allen: Tell me a little about The Road to the Dark Tower.
Bev Vincent: I like to think of The Road to the Dark Tower as a Mid-World travel companion, where I’m the tour guide. I take readers on a guided tour through the series, starting with the real-world road to publication of the series, which is a fascinating story in its own right, and then through the seven books. Not only do I walk through the stories, I point out connections and influences and trivia that casual readers might otherwise have missed.
I also wrote character profiles of the major players, and a chapter that explores the non-series books that are strongly connected. There is a lot to consider when writing about the Dark Tower series. By injecting himself into the plot, King opens the door to some fairly sophisticated literary analysis. The series had such an influence on King’s career that it’s like a microcosm for everything he’s ever written. In the final chapters I look at the big picture—the literary criticism and the metaphors. At the back, there is a detailed timeline of the series, both in Mid-World and in the real world, which puts the whole thing into perspective, I hope.
Allen: Tell me about the artist Glenn Chadbourne. How did you manage to link up with such a busy artist? I noticed Glenn also is the artist for the Stephen King short story books Secretary of Dreams volume 1 and 2. Is Glenn working exclusively for Cemetery Dance Publications?
Bev Vincent: To be honest, I can’t remember the first time I met Glenn. He’s been doing work for Cemetery Dance for quite a long time, but I also know him through NECON, a writing convention I go to most years. I think the first time I worked with him directly was when Brian Freeman and I edited The Illustrated Stephen King Trivia Book for CD Publications. While the idea for that book was neat—getting fans to submit the questions—what really made the book for me was all the artwork Glenn did for it. He also did the artwork for the CD limited edition of The Road to the Dark Tower, and created a series of seven bookmarks for the book as well.
He doesn’t work exclusively for CD Publications. He did the artwork for one version of the PS Publishing limited of The Colorado Kid, for example, and recently illustrated Doug Clegg’s Isis for Vanguard Press. He’s also a commercial artist who does murals all around Maine. He also designed the mascots for King’s radio station and for Lilja’s Library, one of the most popular King fan sites on the internet. A very talented guy and a great buddy.
Allen: If Stephen King continues to find Dark Tower stories will you write more companion books?
Bev Vincent: King currently plans to write another Dark Tower novel, perhaps next year. Assuming he does so, I might update The Road to the Dark Tower to include that, as well as the new material from the Marvel graphic novels. Whether or not the publisher will be interested in a revised edition remains to be seen, though.
Allen: How did you go from Dark Tower companion to writing The Stephen King Illustrated Companion book?
Bev Vincent: I never planned to write a second book about King. I was busy working on my short stories and novels when the Companion was proposed to me. However, it’s a straight line from one book to the other – I was asked to write the Companion because an editor was familiar with The Road to the Dark Tower. As with their other books, they wanted an expert on the topic to contribute the text, so they approached me.
Allen: How did you get books authorized by Stephen King. How much input did Stephen King offer to project?
Bev Vincent: For The Road to the Dark Tower, it was a simple matter of asking. I knew that some books had been written about King that he wasn’t terribly thrilled about, and I didn’t want to do that. I was very open in my initial proposal—if he hated the idea, I would drop it immediately. However, he was flattered that someone took his work seriously enough to do this sort of literary analysis. The tangible sign of his authorization was the fact that he gave me the manuscripts for the last three novels a couple of years before they were published. That was a very generous gesture on his part.
Since King is amazingly busy, I tried not to bother him too much during the writing process. I e-mailed him from time to time when questions arose, and he generally answered promptly. When the manuscript was complete, I sent it to him for review in case there were any egregious errors. As I recall, he made no requests for changes. Finally, when my publisher wanted to put “Authorized by Stephen King” on the front of the book, he provided a very flattering blurb that was printed on the cover instead.
For The Stephen King Illustrated Companion, he had virtually no involvement other than to approve the project when Barnes & Noble proposed it. He opened up his archives and personal photo albums to the document and photo researcher, and had final approval on anything that we wanted to reproduce, but he didn’t veto anything. His personal assistant, who I’ve known for many years, handled the mundane details of this project on King’s behalf.
Allen: How did you come up with manuscripts, correspondence, drawings and Stephen King memorabilia to go with book?
Bev Vincent: The material comes from three main sources. The manuscripts and ledgers and handwritten drafts came from King’s personal archives, which are stored at the University of Maine in Orono. These materials are only available by written permission from King, and it isn’t generally possible to make copies of them. The correspondence and some of the rarer magazine covers and things of that sort came from an avid collector who I know quite well. I put the documents researcher for the Companion in touch with him. Many of the pictures came from photo albums that King made available to us. The rest were drawn from public sources.
Allen: How did you come up with Stephen King Lisbon, Maine high school story in January, 29, 1966 issue of The Drum? This was a true treasured read for me.
Bev Vincent: A few copies of the newspaper turned up in someone’s basement or attic several years ago. The collector I mentioned above had a copy, which he allowed us to reproduce.
Allen: Tell our readers about the mission for The Stephen King Illustrated Companion.
Bev Vincent: Barnes & Noble has published companions for other writers – most recently for Jane Austen and Edgar Allan Poe –containing removable documents and memorabilia. When they decided to do something similar about King, they approached the book packagers who had created those previous volumes (a company called becker&mayer! in Seattle). Their editors then contacted me to see if I would be interested in writing the book because they were familiar with The Road to the Dark Tower.
Once I saw their other volumes, I was sold on the concept. I knew it would be a book I’d be proud to have on my coffee table. I came up with an outline and then worked with the photo and documents researcher as he looked for material that complemented what I was writing about.
I wanted to interpret King’s biography through his works. Other books have been written that concentrate primarily on his life, mentioning his novels and stories only in passing. I wanted to write about instances where what King was writing reflected or was inspired by what was going on in his life at the time. I had a limited space to do this, so I couldn’t explore every book—I had to pick and choose. I selected books that would be well known to casual fans, but also ones that had autobiographical overtones. I also wanted books that spanned his entire career. I could probably have written the same amount of text about just the early Doubleday books, but that wouldn’t reflect things that happened in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.
Allen: Is this a book only for hard core Stephen King fan? Or would this be handy for anyone interested in Stephen King stories?
Bev Vincent: I think that The Road to the Dark Tower is of interest only to hardcore fans who have already read the series, but the Companion is of general interest to anyone who wants to learn more about King’s biography and works.
Allen: I noticed that you also covered Stephen King’s drug addiction days. How hard was it for you to see Stephen King fight demons of addiction?
Bev Vincent: I didn’t see it personally. That was a long time ago.
Allen: Tell me about binding for The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. I put the ISBN ordering number in the heading. Was the book a limited edition or mass publication book?
Bev Vincent: The book is a hardcover bargain book from Barnes & Noble. It’s large in format, roughly 8.5 x 11. It is a mass market publication—if it sells out, there’s nothing stopping B&N from ordering a second printing. In fact, I’m hopeful they will do so this year!
Allen: How much does book cost? What is best way to get reasonably priced copy?
Bev Vincent: The cover price is just under $25, but you can usually get it for less than that at Barnes & Noble bookstores. Many stores are offering it at 50% off, which is a real bargain. Currently, the book is out of stock at the Barnes and Noble website, but if you go there and enter your ZIP code, you can find stores near you where it is still in stock. I hope that it will soon be available online again.
Allen: What is best way to get signed copy of The Stephen King Illustrated Companion?
Bev Vincent: There are currently two ways. I signed a number of copies for my buddy Dave Hinchberger, who runs the Overlook Connection bookstore. If he still has copies, you can purchase one from him. Otherwise, you’ll have to send the book to me, along with return postage or request a signed bookplate. See the Contact link on my website for instructions on how to do this.
Allen: What is your website address? What is best way to contact you?
Bev Vincent: My website is www.bevvincent.com. If you go to that address, you’ll find links to my Facebook, Live Journal, MySpace and Twitter accounts, as well as my own message board. You can reach me through any of those, or you can e-mail me at the address you’ll find on the Contact link on my web site.
Allen: What Stephen King stories would you like to see made into television shows or movies?
Bev Vincent: My buddy Rich Chizmar and Jonathan Schaech have written a wonderful adaptation of From a Buick 8 that I’d love to see some day. I wrote a feature film script of “Lunch at the Gotham Café” for the person who was the creative force behind the short film adaptation we did a number of years ago. So, for personal and selfish reasons, that’s one that I’d like to see get the green light. In general, though, I don’t see an adaptation as a necessary step in the creative life of a novel or story. I don’t particularly care one way or the other if someone ever adapts the Dark Tower series, for example, though I’d probably watch it if they did.
Allen: Which character would you like to play if asked to do cameo in The Dark Tower movie?
Bev Vincent: That’s an interesting question, one I’ve never been asked before! Given that I don’t think that the Dark Tower will be adapted for a long time, and that I’m pushing fifty at present, it would have to be a fairly old character. Maybe John Cullum? No – I know. Calvin Tower!
Allen: What are some future projects you are working on?
Bev Vincent: I have quite a few things coming out in 2010. Probably the most significant is When the Night Comes Down, a book from Dark Arts Publishing that will contain four of my stories. The Dark Arts concept is to present a number of works by four authors—in this case, the authors will be Joseph D’Lacey, Nate Kenyon, Robert E. Weinberg and me. That book will debut at the World Horror Convention in Brighton, England, at the end of March. I also have a story in a vampire anthology called Evolve that launches at World Horror. I won the Apex Digest Halloween fiction contest this year—that story will be in the anthology Close Encounters of the Urban Kind this year, and I have a zombie story in Dead Set from 23 House Publishing.
I’m currently working on a novel – that’s going to be my big push for 2010. I’d love to have that one ready to show around to publishers later on this year. I have the first draft done but it needs substantial revision to whip it into shape.
Allen: I liked how you also worked in information about Stephen King’s non-fiction works into The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. I felt like I needed the book in my personal Stephen King collection. The book even has references to Stephen’s radio station. I also liked seeing pictures with Stephen King playing different characters in movies. I loved reading issue # 1 of Castle Rock The Stephen King Newsletter. I felt rewarded to read about Stephen King’s charitable acts done around Bangor. Thank you Bev Vincent for your hard work on The Stephen King Illustrated Companion. Would you like to leave with any closing thoughts?
Bev: Thank you for your interest in my book. I’ve been overwhelmed by the response to it so far, which has been unilaterally positive. It’s already won one major award and just this week I found out that it has been nominated for an Edgar Award—they’re given out by the Mystery Writers of America. I’m not optimistic about actually winning the award—the competition in the Best Critical/ Biographical category is strong—but it is very flattering and gratifying to be nominated.
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