Those are personal things, and I promised you a novelist’s perspective. You may be disappointed, because that may not actually exist — it may be more sell than substance. Nevertheless, it was as much the novelist as the man who wanted to come to Bangor. I had a very long book in mind, a book which I hoped would deal with the way myths and dreams and stories — stories, most of all — become a part of the everyday life of a small American city. I had done something like this before, but with the sort of small rural town in which I had grown up. That book was “Salem’s Lot.” The novel about the small city — a city named Derry which any native of this city will recognize almost at once as Bangor — is now written, in first draft, at least, and will be the basis of any coherent remarks I have to offer today (and when I run out of such remarks, I can always read from the novel itself — which may or may not be more coherent than any
extempore remarks I am able to muster). I’m fairly happy with it — as happy as one can be with a first draft I suppose — because the stories are there. Oh my Lord, my Lord the stories you hear about this town — the streets fairly clang with them. The problem isn’t finding them or ferreting them out; the problem is that old boozer’s problem of knowing when to stop. It’s entirely possible, I find, to overload completely on Bangor myth (which may be one reason why the novel runs better than 1,200 pages in its present form). I have cheerfully overloaded the book, and am not debating whether to prune back or stick in even more stories. Sanity cries in one ear to prune back before the novel starts to look like “ The Winds of War,” but there’s a devil whispering in the other ear, “Put in more, Steve! Put in all of them, Steve! Who cares if the book’s 5,000 pages long and you have a long gray beard when it’s done? It’ll be fun!”
And the really horrible thing is that it probably
would be fun.
[Stephen King’s ‘Pet Sematary’ house for sale]
Why Bangor specifically? Would not any small American city do? Why, the skeptic might ask, didn’t you find a small American city in some state where you don’t have to freeze your buns off for three months of the year? Well, I could point out that freezing for three months of the year may improve one morally, and it certainly widens one’s perspective — on a February night with the wind howling outside and the mercury hovering around -5 degrees, the idea of blackflies and clouds of minges seems absolutely jolly.
The real answer is that no, not any small American city would have done. Portland certainly wouldn’t have done. And no, I don’t know why. Maybe the book itself will answer the question (but if it does, I suspect the answer will lie in the narrow white spaces between the lines). If there really is such a thing as a “novelist’s perspective” (or, more properly, a “Steve King novelist’s perspective,” because I suppose each novelist must have a different way of looking at things), then it is a matter of heart and instinct. There’s a voice that says: “Here. Yeah. Right here. Dig in, Sonny. You’re home.” And if you try to ask any further questions, the answer you’re apt to get is, “Shut up, dummy, I’m writing a book down here, do you mind?”
[Stephen King meets Bangor’s other major celebrity]
One little story before I let you go — when I began closing in on the actual writing of this novel I’ve been bending your ear about, I went to the Bangor Public Library and asked if they had a history of the town in stock. The librarian nodded and said they had twelve of them.
Credit: Bangor Police Department
“I’d like the best,” I said.
“Isn’t one,” she replied.
I looked at her. She looked back, saying nothing, with perfect equanimity. Maine people are good at that. They can say nothing longer and with more emphasis than any other group of people on earth.
“Oh,” I said finally (lamely). “Well, I suppose I should have two or three with pictures, then. You see, I’m going to try to write a novel about Bangor as a locale, and —”
At that she brightened up. “Wonderful!” she said. “Just like that fellow
Ben Ames Williams! What a nice man he was! Sat in there —” she nodded toward the Reference Room “— every day for most of one summer. He was so pleasant and polite!” Her brow darkened. “Who ever would have guessed what awful things he was writing!”
I’m afraid I’ve also written some fairly awful things in my book, but I hope that when local people read it, they will sense that those awful things have been informed with a larger love for the place and the people — the love of a resident. The book has been finished for over a year now, but this place will always seem like the right place.
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