What Owen King remembers is how much time his father spent alone. Typing. Making up stories. Going to dark places in his head and coming out with books about killer cars, shape-shifting clowns, and burial grounds that bring the dead back to life.
That’s just how it was being Stephen King’s son. His mother did it, too. When Tabitha King was writing novels, both of Owen’s parents would disappear into that other dimension, hunched in front of a screen — the trance of a writer. They always came back, of course, just as pretty much all moms or dads leave every day for work and then come home. But it was their self-imposed solitary confinement daunted him. Haunted him.
“It was something they did every day, and they did it for hours at a time,” says Owen, 40. “It was kind of scary to look at how much time they spent alone, working at this thing. I didn’t really get serious about my own writing until I was convinced it was something that I wanted to do, that I wanted to spend that much time alone.”
It turns out nightmare-making doesn’t have to be a lonely business. Stephen King and Owen King figured out a way to turn storytelling into a shared effort, collaborating on their new novel Sleeping Beauties, which hits shelves Tuesday.
The 700-page tome is part plague thriller and part fable. It’s the story of a sleeping sickness (nicknamed “Aurora” after Disney’s drowsy princess) that overtakes all the women and girls of the world, leaving the men of the planet to sort things out on their own. Guess how that works out.
When the women go under, they are enshrouded in mysterious, protective cocoons. Peel away wrapping to wake them, and the women’s bodies lash out, like savage sleepwalkers. The novel centers on a female prison in the small town of Dooling, West Virginia, where an ethereal woman named Evie is both the genesis of the plague (take that pun as you will) and the key to ending it.
Evie is beautiful, alluring, magical, and able to meld with the minds of moths, and foxes, and rats. She is mother nature, the princess locked away in a castle, and Maleficent, the wicked fairy, all rolled into one.
“She’s all those things,” Owen says, on a conference call with his father in Maine. “I don’t know about you, Dad, but I like her un-know-abilty. She really isn’t quite defined.”
“She has a twinkle of humor there that gives the character some texture, and she seems human as well as otherworldly. So she’s got a foot in each, and I like that about her,” adds Stephen, who just turned 70 last week. “I like the mystery of her.”
But if the men of the town of Dooling end her first, the women of their world will be lost forever, living out their days in a separate dimension, where they are starting society anew. Maybe they don’t really want to come back.
Stephen has collaborated a few times before, most famously with Peter Straub on 1984’s The Talisman and co-writing comic books like IDW’s Road Rage with his other son, Joe Hill (The Fireman, NOS4A2).
But he hadn’t yet teamed up professionally with Owen, who’s the author of the 2014 novel Double Feature, a dramedy about a young filmmaker trying to make a masterpiece, and co-writer (with Mark Jude Poirior and artist Nancy Ahn) of Intro to Alien Invasion, a blackly funny 2015 graphic novel about an extra-terrestrial spore that infects a college campus.
Owen has inspired his father’s work before, however. Many times.
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