Castle Rock has called Stephen King back home, but this time he’s bringing a friend.
The author has teamed up with Cemetery Dance publisher and fellow horror scribe Richard Chizmar on a new novella called Gwendy’s Button Box, which returns to the small Maine town King said farewell to with a bang in 1991’s Needful Things.
The fictional community was the site of some of King’s most well-known early tales: The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Dark Half, and his Different Seasons novella The Body (which kept the name Castle Rock for the movie Stand By Me, but shifted the town’s location to Oregon.)
Now King and Chizmar are returning with a coming-of-age novella that has a sinister twist, and Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive cover reveal. Here’s some detail on the story:
“There are three ways up to Castle View from the town of Castle Rock: Route 117, Pleasant Road, and the Suicide Stairs. Every day in the summer of 1974 twelve-year-old Gwendy Peterson has taken the stairs, which are held by strong (if time-rusted) iron bolts and zig-zag up the cliffside.
At the top of the stairs, Gwendy catches her breath and listens to the shouts of the kids on the playground. From a bit farther away comes the chink of an aluminum bat hitting a baseball as the Senior League kids practice for the Labor Day charity game.
One day, a stranger calls to Gwendy: ‘Hey, girl. Come on over here for a bit. We ought to palaver, you and me.’
On a bench in the shade sits a man in black jeans, a black coat, like for a suit, and a white shirt unbuttoned at the top. On his head is a small neat black hat. The time will come when Gwendy has nightmares about that hat…”
Based on that timeline, Button Box would seem to predate all of King’s other Castle Rock stories except The Body, since it is set roughly around the time that Johnny Smith, the wounded clairvoyant from The Dead Zone, would be emerging from his coma. It’ll be interesting to see if any familiar faces turn up.
King has teamed up with other authors before, most notably Peter Straub on The Talisman and its sequel Black House. He has known and worked with Chizmar, whose most recent book was last fall’s short story collection A Long December, for many years, and Cemetery Dance Magazine frequently publishes his short fiction and has regular columns about his books and screen adaptations.
“I had a story I couldn’t finish, and [Chizmar] showed me the way home with style and panache,” King said in a statement. “It was a good time, and I think readers will have a good time reading it. If they are left with questions, and maybe have a few arguments, all the better.”
The initial premise was King’s, then the two writers spent several weeks bouncing pages back and forth.
“Steve sent me the first chunk of a short story,” Chizmar says. “I added quite a bit and sent it back to him. He did a pass, then bounced it back to me for another pass. Then, we did the same thing all over again – one more draft each. Next thing you know, we had a full-length novella on our hands. We took a free hand in rewriting each other and adding new ideas and characters. The whole process took about a month.”
The novella comes just as J.J. Abrams is revisiting Castle Rock for a new 10-episode Hulu series that will thread together a wide range of King’s stories, including It, Misery, Needful Things, and The Shining — although not all of the ones referenced in a teaser trailer had a major connection to the town.
Is Gwendy’s Button Box a part of that …?
All we know now is that Abrams has offered a blurb for the book: “Man, I love this story! The whole thing just races and feels so right-sized and so scarily and sadly relevant. Loved the characters… and the sense of one little girl’s connection to the whole world through this weird device. It all just sang.”
Cemetery Dance will publish the hardcover for Gwendy’s Button Box in May. Here’s the preorder link.
Until then, here’s a full look at the jacket.
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