If one of the best-selling authors of all time were to one day reach out to you and ask you to collaborate on a new book with him, you’d probably freak out a bit. Well, that’s what happened to Richard Chizmar, so his rather extreme reaction is understandable.
Gwendy’s Button Box, the newest novel from Stephen King, hit shelves yesterday. This time around, King co-wrote his book with Richard Chizmar. Although the two men are indeed old friends, Chizmar told Entertainment Weekly that he was absolutely terrified when Stephen King, his idol in terms of writing, reached out to him with help on his new novella.
“We were emailing in early January,” recounts Chizmar, “and he mentioned offhandedly a story he’d started some time over the summer, and he just couldn’t finish it. As I often do, if he mentions a new story, I always say, ‘Well hey, send it to me if you want. I’d love to read it.’ I didn’t expect anything to come of it. But the next evening a file titled Gwendy showed up, and the body of the email read: ‘Do whatever you want with it.'”
At that point, added Chizmar, he went with his gut.
“Before I could chicken out, I wrote him back and said, ‘I’d love a crack at finishing this.’ And we rolled with it.”
Chizmar is a writer himself, but even he went into a state of absolute panic when it sunk in he had asked for an actual collaboration with Stephen King. He may have been used to talking with King as an equal when it came to sports or TV shows, but writing was a whole different story.
“I spent a weekend in a state of mild terror because I knew what I had done,” Chizmar says of the few days after his fateful email exchange with King.
“I sat down Monday, and when I started writing some notes it was sheer terror. My hands were shaking. Then I tossed my notebook aside, and opened my laptop and just started writing. Before you knew it, I was in Castle Rock (the book’s setting) and the nerves were gone.”
The amount of trust that Stephen King placed in Richard Chizmar and his writing abilities for Gwendy‘s Button Box is amazing. King has rarely collaborated with other writers during his career, the most notable exceptions being when King co-wrote The Talisman and Black House with Peter Straub.
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Stephen King letting another writer work alongside him is rare in itself, and the fact that Gwendy‘s Button Box is set in King’s iconic town of Castle Rock makes the opportunity even more special. Stephen King fans will recognize the sleepy burg of Castle Rock as the backdrop for many King stories including Cujo, The Body (the novella on which Stand by Me is based), The Sun Dog, and Needful Things. Unfortunately, the setting also made the writing process all the more nerve-wracking for Chizmar, who said that writing a story set in Castle Rock made him feel like he was violating a hallowed dominion.
“I felt a huge obligation to trying to do the place and the story justice,” he said. “It’s sacred ground for Stephen King readers.”
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Even after he and Stephen King got into the meat of the story, Chizmar says, he was not really comfortable and was careful to treat King’s creative process with extreme care.
While writing, for example, he was afraid to critique King’s ideas or even tell him where Chiszmar thought the story should go. Eventually, it turned into an extended version of mad libs where the two would take turns inventing where the story would go next.
Even once Gwendy’s Button Box was finished, Chizmar notes, he could not understand why a writer as great as Stephen King had needed his imput rather than finishing the story himself. He was too afraid to ask King himself, though.
“I didn’t want to dip too much in his business and say, ‘Hey, hero of mine, best-selling author of all time, why couldn’t you finish this?'” he says. “I was just so stunned at the prospect of doing this, I didn’t want to go backwards at all. I didn’t want him to change his mind.”
Chizmar may have been nervous the entire time he was writing Gwendy’s Button Box with King, but Stephen loved it and just saw it as a chance to work with an old friend.
“It was a pleasure to work one-on-one with Richard Chizmar after all these years,” King told Newswire back in February. “I had a story I couldn’t finish, and he showed me the way home with style and panache. It was a good time.”
It seems that Stephen King might be going through a collaboration phase in his career. According to Sechrest Things, King has three collaborations (including Gwendy’s Button Box) coming out in this year alone, the other two being Sleeping Beauties with Stephen King’s son Owen and a third installment in his and Peter Straub’s series. Is it possible the author is discovering that working with others close to him gives the work a tone of warmth that solo writing cannot capture?
One can only imagine that it must be quite a relief for Richard Chizmar to be done writing Gwendy’s Button Box, although he has said that he had a great time with the project in the end. It is equally fair to assume that seeing his own name next to that of Stephen King, a figure he obviously regards as a writing God of sorts, is an experience he will never forget.
[Featured Image by Larry French/Getty Images]