The follow-up to 'Gwendy's Button Box' picks up 25 years later

By Anthony Breznican
May 01, 2019 at 08:00 AM EDT
Cemetery Dance Publications

When strangers come to Castle Rock, they usually bring trouble with them.

That’s what you can expect from Richard Chizmar, who is venturing solo into Stephen King’s not-so-sleepy small town in the new sequel Gwendy’s Magic Feather.

The author and Cemetery Dance publisher teamed up with King on the 2017 novella Gwendy’s Button Box, about a 12-year-old girl who receives a gift from a strange man in a black hat: a mystical box with various buttons that dispenses good fortune to its user while unleashing calamities elsewhere.

That story was set in 1974, a few years before most of the unsettling events that transpired in Castle Rock in The Dead Zone, Cujo, The Dark Half, and Needful Things, and about 15 years after The Body, which became the film Stand By Me.

When Chizmar came up with an idea to revisit a grown-up Gwendy Peterson 25 years later, King gave him permission to go it alone.

Chizmar doesn’t just bringing his own ominous story to Castle Rock, but also gets to include a few memorable King characters, like Norris Ridgewick, once a hapless deputy in Needful Things and now the sheriff of Castle County.

While King didn’t write this one, he is supplying a forward and served as the first editor on the book. Otherwise, he got to enjoy it as a Constant Reader this time. “I was very curious to see Gwendy all grown up, and very pleased with the result. I think readers will be, too,” King said in a statement. “Especially when the button box makes a mysterious reappearance.”

Gwendy’s Magic Feather will be published in hardcover by Cemetery Dance Publications and as an audiobook by Simon & Schuster Audio on Nov. 19. Trade paperback and ebook editions will be released next year by Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books.

Chizmar, author of the story collections The Long Way Home and A Long December, as well as the upcoming novel The Girl on the Porch, spoke with EW about his solo journey through King country.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What inspired the idea for a sequel about Gwendy 25 years after she first got the button box?
RICHARD CHIZMAR: I guess from just watching the news and seeing that a lot of new, diverse people were elected to Congress, a lot of females, a lot of young people, that stuck in my head. I woke up with a really clear picture of Gwendy and saw where she was all those years after we left her.

So you saw her in office? How did you pitch the idea to King?
I wasn’t pitching Steve, I emailed him and just said, “Hey, I saw Gwendy however many years later, and she’s an elected member of Congress, living in D.C., and the button box shows up again.” That’s all I wrote him. And I just looked at the email that he sent back. He said, “That’s a cool idea, very cool.”

But he didn’t want to write it himself?
He said, “I’m going to be spending the foreseeable future with Holly Gibney [a character in his Mr. Mercedes novels and The Outsider who is a major character in his newest book], but you should write it.”

He did offer some ideas and insights, though?
He sat down and he read it. And then, wonderfully typical, generous Steve did a line edit for me. He went through page by page. And I had my favorite author, best-seller Stephen King, as my editor on this.

Was that a scary experience, being edited by an author you know and admire?
He was like, “This is what I do on my own manuscripts, so don’t [worry].” He prepared me for a lot of ink. And to be honest, I told him, “This is tremendous. I agree with 95% of it,” and it wasn’t a lot of ink. I’ve had a lot more ink on manuscripts when I’ve gone through it myself. But again, that second pass I did knowing that Steve was not going to clean up my mess. I really focused.

What kind of notes did he give you?
A lot of them are very positive, and again, typical Steve, a lot of them are very funny. A few are off-color, but very helpful.

When we last saw Gwendy, she thought she might be a writer.
As the very first chapter says, if anyone had asked Gwendy even 18 months earlier if she thought she’d be living and working in D.C., serving the American people and the state of Maine, she would have said, “No, you’re crazy.” But it’s the path that her life took. She wrestles in this book again with how much of her life, and all the good things that have happened to her, are her own — and how much is still coming from that button box.

The button box could’ve been a source of real evil. The more she pushed those buttons, the more horrors she unleashed on the world.
Yes.

So is this showing her as someone who has learned to wield power responsibly?
I think so, yes. [King and I] talked about that with the first book, where maybe it was put in the perfect person’s hands, because she had a good heart, she had a good conscience, and she had the innocence of youth, so her temptations were much smaller than if she had been an adult and involved in this complex world, which is what she is now.

Why does the box return to her?
That’s what she struggles with. “Why did the box come back to me? Richard Ferris [the man in the black hat] said I would never see him or the box again. So why now?”

What else should we know about the story?
It opens in D.C., in December, right before the congressional three-week break for the holidays. That’s when the button box shows up.

How long has she been in Congress?
Gwendy got 11 months on the job, she’s a little soured on it. Reality has smacked her in the face. She’s trying to get things done, trying to keep people’s attention, trying to do the right things. So she’s in a tough spot, and some of her hope is draining away. Then the button box shows up, and at the same time there was just a second abduction of a young girl in Castle Rock.

And she gets entangled in that?
She goes home for the three-week holiday break, and we get to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve in Castle Rock. We get to know her family again, and get to know exactly where she’s been the last decade and a half. And she’s involved in what’s happening with these abducted girls. A third girl is taken while she’s there, and her participation is integral to solving what happens.

It’s about a decade after Needful Things, and I see Norris Ridgewick is part of the case — and he has been promoted?
Yeah, Norris is back and a handful of the folks from town are back. And there’s talk of Castle Rock’s dark history, with not only what happened in Needful Things, but the Castle Rock Strangler from The Dead Zone, and what happened to the previous sheriff and a few townsfolk, Cujo the St. Bernard…

How did King like seeing his characters from the outside?
I thought he was going to tell me, “Rich, that’s great, but just put it in a drawer somewhere, because I can’t have you writing about my town.” But he read it, and I’ll save the email I got for my kids, because he was just like, “It was a treat to read about my people and my place through someone else’s eyes.”

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