Written by: Wayne C. Rogers
I was working in a used bookstore in Morehead City, North Carolina when Salem’s Lot originally came out in paperback format during the year of 1977. That was sure a long time ago. It seems almost like another lifetime…a lifetime filled with dreams and expectations.
During the previous year, a ton of Carrie paperbacks had been traded in, but Salem’s Lot was a paperback that was very slow in coming back into the store. I hadn’t read Carrie. Anyway, people seemed to be re-reading Salem’s Lot, or passing it on to their friends. In fact, one of my close friends, John, who loved a good horror novel as much as I did, asked I’d read the book. I told him no…that I was waiting for a used copy to come in. At this time, I was only making $2.00 an hour and money was tight. Why buy the book when I could read a used copy for free? John told me to forget the waiting and just go on down to the newsstand on the other side of town and buy a copy. He said if I didn’t like the novel, he’d personally give me back the money I’d spent. John was working at the Duke Marine Biology Lab on Potter’s Island near Morehead City. In other words, he was making more money than I was.
Well, that got me even more interested in reading the novel.
So, I paid a visit to our competitor that night after I got off from work, purchased a copy of Salem’s Lot and read the sucker in two days. I immediately purchased the hardcover edition of The Shining, which had just been published, on my way into work. The newsstand, however, only had two copies. I told John to go buy the other one.
I then read The Shining in two days.
Afterwards, I realized I’d just read two of the best horror novels ever written, and I was now hungry for more Stephen King fiction. I mean who in the hell was this guy? He seemed to have appeared from nowhere. I asked other readers who came into the story if they knew anything about him. They just shook their heads and told me that he’d written Carrie. I remember staring at the picture of King at the back of the dust jacket. I took in his Coca Cola horn-rimmed glasses, the goofy smile, and the sense of mischievousness that appeared in his eyes. This guy looked like he wanted to scare the bejesus out of people.
It was a long wait, but the next year Night Shift came out.
I’d wanted a new novel, not a collection of short stories. Still, I bought the book. Short stories were better than nothing.
That night after work, I read the introduction to Night Shift by John D. MacDonald. I was already a big fan of the Travis McGee series and was impressed that MacDonald would actually take the time to write something for this young man. I then read Jerusalem’s Lot, Graveyard Shift, The Mangler, Battleground, Trucks, Quitters Inc., Children of the Corn, and the others. By that time I was a total goner. My addiction to Stephen King was confirmed. Reading his fiction was now like a drug to me. It was a fix for me that kept the jones at bay during the rest of the year. From talking to other people who visited the bookstore, I discovered he had this affect on them, too.
A year later, The Stand finally came out. The book was HUGE. The size of it reminded me of James Clavell’s Shogun. I figured The Stand would take me four days to read. It took me three nights without any sleep. And, as they say, the rest is history.
The bookstore had to order The Stand new because of so many people wanted copies of it. My boss and I argued back and forth about the money required to buy them. Remember, we were a used bookstore, not a regular retail one. The local newsstand purchased its usual two copies, sold out, and hadn’t reordered any more copies of the novel. I, however, convinced my boss (the owner of the store) into ordering twenty-five copies of The Stand. I told him I’d buy whatever copies were left over after three months so he didn’t lose any money. We ended up having to order another fifteen more books, bringing the total up to fifty. Stephen King was therefore the reason our used bookstore eventually started carrying new hardcovers. People were so desperate for a new King hardcover when it came out that they wouldn’t wait. They’d drive thirty miles to another town to find the book if we didn’t have it in stock. Screw a used copy. They wanted a new one, and they wanted it NOW!
I think we sold over a hundred copies of The Dead Zone in hardcover when it was published the next year.
My boss never said thank you for my idea about carrying new hardcovers of Stephen King’s novels, but he did give me twenty-five-cent per hour.
Before I became acquainted with Stephen King, I’d read some of H.P. Lovecraft’s books, Edgar Allan Poe, Julies Verne, H.G. Wells, Shirley Jackson, Richard Matheson, Thomas Tryon, William Peter Blatty and Ira Levin. King, however, brought horror into the living room and made it real in a way no other author had been able to do. I had readers in the store who would buy anything by King. For me and others, it opened up a new world that we’d been hungry for, but hadn’t known it.
Reading Stephen King led to Ghost Story by Peter Straub and Baal by Robert McCammon and Phantoms by Dean Koontz. A few years later, F. Paul Wilson came out with The Keep and Dan Simmons with Carrion’s Comfort and Joe R. Lansdale with Nightrunners. There was also Karl Edward Wagner with his short fiction, Ramsey Campbell, Charles L. Grant, Graham Masterson, John Farris, and Richard Laymon. King opened the floodgates for all of these great writers during the eighties and nineties, demonstrating that a living could be from horror fiction.
Still, there was nothing like knowing a Stephen King novel was about to come out. I would be just like a little boy on Christmas Eve, shaking nervously in my bunny slippers. Even today, at age 62, I get excited thinking about the sequel to The Shining (Dr. Sleep) that’s due out at the end of this summer. There’s also Joyland in May. Ah, but in 2014, there will be a novel titled, Mr. Mercedes, which will be thick book about a man who kills with his car for the pleasure of it.
I just want to be around to read all three of them.
Yes, Salem’s Lot was definitely the turning point in my life. Except for Stephen King and Elmore Leonard, there are no other authors I’ve stayed with for over three-and-a-half decades. If ever there was a man who was born to write, it’s the Maestro. Writing is this man’s gift to the world.
Here’s something I mentioned on a Stephen King fan site a few weeks ago. First, my desire to become a write was influenced by Stephen King. I wanted to scare people with the written word just like he was doing. When my first horror story was published in Cavalier Magazine back in 1986, Stephen King sent me a warm letter of encouragement.
I treasured that letter for years.
Then, I moved to Las Vegas and started working in the casino industry. I also started experiencing numerous layoffs after 9/11. One such layoff last for over eight months. I didn’t have much then and still don’t, except for my books, so I sold them to keep baloney & cheese sandwiches on the table after my unemployment ran out and to pay my rent. There finally came a time when I had to let the King letter go. It was the last thing of value I had to sell. The owner of a used bookstore (ironic, isn’t it?) offered me twenty-five dollars for it. I took the money and then ate sandwiches for the next three weeks. That letter literally saved my life! I then got hired back at the place I’d been laid off at, and slowly got back on my feet, but with no books and no letter.
Another thing I mentioned on the fan site was that my mother became an avid Stephen King fan just before she died of cancer. Unable to work due to the illness, she stayed home, read a bit, and worked in the garden to keep busy. My mom loved Harlequin Romances and would read one a day. Well, she ran out of reading material one afternoon and checked my bookshelves for something to read. I was living with her at the time, and she knew about my interest in horror and Stephen King (everybody in the county did). Against her better judgment (she didn’t like horror fiction because it scared her), she took my copy of Salem’s Lot and started reading it while I was at work. When I got home that night, she was in the living room with the television on, lying on the couch, reading the novel. She didn’t even hear me enter the house. I walked into the living room to see how she was doing and my sudden appearance frightened her so bad that she screamed and tossed the book up into the air. That’s how engrossed she was in Salem’s Lot. Before she eventually passed away, she finished reading Salem’s Lot, The Shining, and half of The Stand. Stephen King had, in many ways, helped her to deal with the pain of cancer and the fear of dying. He’d unknowingly given her a sense of peace and happiness during the last few weeks of her life.
I owe the Maestro (that’s my nickname for him) two debts that can never be repaid. He eased my mother’s suffering and saved my life. Those are two of the reasons I consider him to be the best author in the world. It also helps that he writes books that can’t be put down.