ecause I think it's irrelevant to what I do. It does, however, give bookstores a handy place to shelve my books.
The Marsten House
Chapter One Ben (I)
Chapter Two Susan (I)
Chapter Three The Lot (I)
Chapter Four Danny Glick and Others
Chapter Five Ben (II)
Chapter Six The Lot (II)
Chapter Seven Matt
The Emperor of Ice Cream
Chapter Eight Ben (III)
Chapter Nine Susan (II)
Chapter Ten The Lot (III)
Chapter Eleven Ben (IV)
Chapter Twelve Mark
Chapter Thirteen Father Callahan
The Deserted Village
Chapter Fourteen The Lot (IV)
Chapter Fifteen Ben and Mark
One for the Road
For Naomi Rachel King
"...promises to keep."
Introduction to 'Salem's Lot
By Stephen King
My father-in-law is now retired, but when he was working for Maine's Department of Human Services, he had a very cool sign in his office. It said ONCE I HAD NO CHILDREN AND EIGHT IDEAS. NOW I HAVE EIGHT CHILDREN AND NO IDEAS. I like that because once I had no published novels and roughly two hundred ideas about the art and craft of writing fiction (two hundred and fifty on a good day). Now I have just about fifty published novels to my credit and only one surviving idea about fiction; a writing seminar as taught by yours truly would probably last about fifteen minutes.
One of the ideas I had in those good old days was that it would be perfectly possible to combine the overlord-vampire myth from Bram Stoker's Dracula with the naturalistic fiction of Frank Norris and the EC horror comics I'd loved as a child...and come out with a great American novel. I was twenty-three, remember, so cut me a break. I had a teaching certificate upon which the ink had hardly dried, I had published eight short stories and I had a perfectly insane amount of confidence in my own ability, not to mention a totally ridiculous sense of my own importance. I also had a wife with a typewriter who liked my stories--and those last two things, which I took for granted then, turned out to be the most important things of all.
Did I really think I could combine Dracula and Tales from the Crypt and come out with Moby-Dick? I did. I really did. I even planned a section at the front called "Extracta," where I would include notes, clippings, and epigrams about vampires, as Melville does about whales at the front of his book. Was I daunted by the fact that Moby-Dick only sold about twelve copies in Melville's lifetime? Not I; one of my ideas was that a novelist takes the long view, the lofty view, and that does not include the price of eggs. (My wife would not have agreed, and I doubt if Mrs. Melville would have, either.)
In any case, I liked the idea of my vampire novel serving as a balance for Stoker's, which has to go down in history as the most optimistic scary novel of all time. Count Dracula, simultaneously feared and worshipped in his dark little European fiefdom of Transylvania, makes the fatal mistake of taking his act and putting it on the road. In London he meets men and women of science and reason, by God--Abraham Van Helsing, who knows about blood transfusions; John Seward, who keeps his diary on wax phonograph cylinders; Mina Harker, who keeps hers in shorthand and later serves as secretary to the Fearless Vampire Hunters.
Stoker was clearly fascinated by modern inventions and innovations, and the underlying thesis of his novel is clear: in a confrontation between a foreign child of the Dark Powers and a group of fine, upstanding Britishers equipped with all mod cons, the powers of darkness don't stand a chance. Dracula is hounded from Carfax, his British estate, back to Transylvania, and finally staked at sunset. The vampire-hunters pay a price for their victory--that is Stoker's genius--but that they will come out on top is never in much doubt.
When I sat down to write my version of the story in 1972--a version whose life-force was drawn more from the nervously jokey Jewish-American mythos of William Gaines and Al Feldstein than from Romanian folk-tales--I saw a different world, one where all of the gadgets Stoker must have regarded with such hopeful wonder had begun to seem sinister and downright dangerous. Mine was the world that had begun to choke on its own effluent, that had hooked itself through the bag on diminishing energy resources, and had to deal not only with nuclear weapons but nuclear proliferation (big-time terrorism was, thankfully, at that time still over the horizon). I saw myself and my society at the other end of the technological rainbow, and set out to write a book that would reflect that glum idea. One where, in short, the vampire would end up eating the fearless vampire-hunters for lunch. (Which he, as a vampire, would eat at midnight, of course.)
I was about three hundred pages into this book--then titled Second Coming--when Carrie was published, and my first idea about novel-writing went west. It would be years before I would hear Alfred Bester's axiom "The book is the boss," but I didn't need to; I learned it for myself writing the novel that eventually became 'Salem's Lot. Of course, the writer can impose control; it's just a really shitty idea. Writing controlled fiction is called "plotting." Buckling your seatbelt and letting the story take over, however...that is called "storytelling." Storytelling is as natural as breathing; plotting is the literary version of artificial respiration.
Given my dim view of small New England towns (I had grown up in one and knew what they were like), I had no doubt my version of Count Dracula would emerge completely triumphant over the puny representatives of the rational world arrayed against him. What I didn't count on was that my characters weren't content to remain puny representatives. Instead they came alive and began to do things--sometimes smart things, sometimes foolishly brave things--on their own. More of Stoker's characters are around at the finish of Dracula than at the end of 'Salem's Lot, and yet this is--against its young author's will--a surprisingly optimistic book. I'm glad. I still see all the nicks and dings on its fenders, all the scars on its hide that were inflicted by the inexperience of a craftsman new at his trade, but I still find many passages of power here. And a few of grace.
Doubleday had published my first novel, and had an option on my second. I had completed this one and another, what I thought of as a "serious" novel, called Roadwork. I showed them both to my then-editor, Bill Thompson. He liked them both. We had a lunch at which nothing was decided, then started to walk back to Doubleday. At the corner of Park Avenue and 54th Street--something like that--we were stopped by a DON'T WALK light. I finally pulled the pin and asked Bill which one he thought we should publish.
He said, "Roadwork would probably get more serious attention, but Second Coming is Peyton Place with vampires. It's a great read and it could be a bestseller. There's only one problem."
"What's that?" I asked, as DON'T WALK changed to WALK and people started to move around us.
Bill stepped off the curb. In New York you don't waste the WALK, even when decisions of moment are being made, and this--I might have sensed it even then--was one that would affect the rest of my life. "You'll be typed as a horror writer," he said.
I was so relieved I laughed. "I don't care what they call me as long as the checks don't bounce," I said. "Let's publish Second Coming." And that was what we did, although the name was first changed to Jerusalem's Lot (because my wife, Tabby, said that Second Coming sounded like a sex manual) and then to 'Salem's Lot (because the Doubleday brass said Jerusalem's Lot sounded like a religious book). I was indeed typed as a horror writer, a tag I have never confirmed or denied, simply b
Since then I have let go of all but one of my ideas about fiction-writing. It's the one I came to first (around age seven, as I recall), and the one I'll probably hold onto until the end: it's good to tell a story, and even better when people actually want to listen. I think 'Salem's Lot, for all its flaws, is one of the good ones. One of the scary ones. If you've never heard it before, let me tell it to you now. And if you have, let me tell it to you again. So turn off the television--in fact, why don't you turn off all the lights except for the one over your favorite chair?--and we'll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them, because while I was working on this book, I believed in them myself.
Center Lovell, Maine
June 15, 2005
No one writes a long novel alone, and I would like to take a moment of your time to thank some of the people who helped with this one: G. Everett McCutcheon, of Hampden Academy, for his practical suggestions and encouragement; Dr John Pearson, of Old Town, Maine, medical examiner of Penobscot County and member in good standing of that most excellent medical specialty, general practice; Father Renald Hallee, of St John's Catholic Church in Bangor, Maine. And of course my wife, whose criticism is as tough and unflinching as ever.
Although the towns surrounding 'salem's Lot are very real, 'salem's Lot itself exists wholly in the author's imagination, and any resemblance between the people who live there and people who live in the real world is coincidental and unintended.
Old friend, what are you looking for?
After those many years abroad you come With images you tended
Under foreign skies
Far away from your own land.
Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.
They crossed the country on a rambling southwest line in an old Citroen sedan, keeping mostly to secondary roads, traveling in fits and starts. They stopped in three places along the way before reaching their final destination: first in Rhode Island, where the tall man with the black hair worked in a textile mill; then in Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked for three months on a tractor assembly line; and finally in a small California town near the Mexican border, where he pumped gas and worked at repairing small foreign cars with an amount of success that was, to him, surprising and gratifying.
Wherever they stopped, he got a Maine newspaper called the Portland Press-Herald and watched it for items concerning a small southern Maine town named Jerusalem's Lot and the surrounding area. There were such items from time to time.
He wrote an outline of a novel in motel rooms before they hit Central Falls, Rhode Island, and mailed it to his agent. He had been a mildly successful novelist a million years before, in a time when the darkness had not come over his life. The agent took the outline to his last publisher, who expressed polite interest but no inclination to part with any advance money. "Please" and "thank you," he told the boy as he tore the agent's letter up, were still free. He said it without too much bitterness and set about the book anyway.
The boy did not speak much. His face retained a perpetual pinched look, and his eyes were dark--as if they always scanned some bleak inner horizon. In the diners and gas stations where they stopped along the way, he was polite and nothing more. He didn't seem to want the tall man out of his sight, and the boy seemed nervous even when the man left him to use the bathroom. He refused to talk about the town of Jerusalem's Lot, although the tall man tried to raise the topic from time to time, and he would not look at the Portland newspapers the man sometimes deliberately left around.
When the book was written, they were living in a beach cottage off the highway, and they both swam in the Pacific a great deal. It was warmer than the Atlantic, and friendlier. It held no memories. The boy began to get very brown.
Although they were living well enough to eat three square meals a day and keep a solid roof over their heads, the man had begun to feel depressed and doubtful about the life they were living. He was tutoring the boy, and he did not seem to be losing anything in the way of education (the boy was bright and easy about books, as the tall man had been himself), but he didn't think that blotting 'salem's Lot out was doing the boy any good. Sometimes at night he screamed in his sleep and thrashed the blankets onto the floor.
A letter came from New York. The tall man's agent said that Random House was offering $12,000 in advance, and a book club sale was almost certain. Was it okay?
The man quit his job at the gas station, and he and the boy crossed the border.
Los Zapatos, which means "the shoes" (a name that secretly pleased the man to no end), was a small village not far from the ocean. It was fairly free of tourists. There was no good road, no ocean view (you had to go five miles further west to get that), and no historical points of interest. Also, the local cantina was infested with cockroaches and the only whore was a fifty-year-old grandmother.
With the States behind them, an almost unearthly quiet dropped over their lives. Few planes went overhead, there were no turnpikes, and no one owned a power lawn mower (or cared to have one) for a hundred miles. They had a radio, but even that was noise without meaning; the news broadcasts were all in Spanish, which the boy began to pick up but which remained--and always would--gibberish to the man. All the music seemed to consist of opera. At night they sometimes got a pop music station from Monterey made frantic with the accents of Wolfman Jack, but it faded in and out. The only motor within hearing distance was a quaint old Rototiller owned by a local farmer. When the wind was right, its irregular burping noise would come to their ears faintly, like an uneasy spirit. They drew their water from the well by hand.
Once or twice a month (not always together) they attended mass at the small church in town. Neither of them understood the ceremony, but they went all the same. The man found himself sometimes drowsing in the suffocating heat to the steady, familiar rhythms and the voices which gave them tongue. One Sunday the boy came out onto the rickety back porch where the man had begun work on a new novel and told him hesitantly that he had spoken to the priest about being taken into the church. The man nodded and asked him if he had enough Spanish to take instruction. The boy said he didn't think it would be a problem.
The man made a forty-mile trip once a week to get the Portland, Maine, paper, which was always at least a week old and was sometimes yellowed with dog urine. Two weeks after the boy had told him of his intentions, he found a featured story about 'salem's Lot and a Vermont town called Momson. The tall man's name was mentioned in the course of the story.
He left the paper around with no particular hope that the boy would pick it up. The article made him uneasy for a number of reasons. It was not over in 'salem's Lot yet, it seemed.
The boy came to him a day later with the paper in his hand, folded open to expose the headline: "Ghost Town in Maine?"
"I'm scared," he said.
"I am, too," the tall man answered.
GHOST TOWN IN MAINE?
By John Lewis
Press-Herald Features Editor
JERUSALEM'S LOT--Jerusalem's Lot is a small town east of Cumberland and twenty miles north of Portland. It is not the first town in American history to just dry up and blow away, and will probably not be the last, but it is one of the strangest. Ghost towns are common in the American Southwest, where communities grew up almost overnight around rich gold and silver lodes and then disappeared almost as rapidly when the veins of ore played out, leaving empty stores and hotels and saloons to rot emptily in desert silence.
In New England the only counterpart to the mysterious emptying of Jerusalem's Lot, or 'salem's Lot as the natives often refer to it, seems to be a small town in Vermont called Momson. During the summer of 1923, Momson
apparently just dried up and blew away, and all 312 residents went with it. The houses and few small business buildings in the town's center still stand, but since that summer fifty-two years ago, they have been uninhabited. In some cases the furnishings had been removed, but in most the houses were still furnished, as if in the middle of daily life some great wind had blown all the people away. In one house the table had been set for the evening meal, complete with a centerpiece of long-wilted flowers. In another the covers had been turned down neatly in an upstairs bedroom as if for sleep. In the local mercantile store, a rotted bolt of cotton cloth was found on the counter and a price of $1.22 rung up on the cash register. Investigators found almost $50.00 in the cash drawer, untouched.
People in the area like to entertain tourists with the story and to hint that the town is haunted--that, they say, is why it has remained empty ever since. A more likely reason is that Momson is located in a forgotten corner of the state, far from any main road. There is nothing there that could not be duplicated in a hundred other towns--except, of course, the Mary Celeste-like mystery of its sudden emptiness.
Much the same could be said for Jerusalem's Lot.
In the census of 1970, 'salem's Lot claimed 1,319 inhabitants--a gain of exactly 67 souls in the ten years since the previous census. It is a sprawling, comfortable township, familiarly called the Lot by its previous inhabitants, where little of any note ever took place. The only thing the oldsters who regularly gathered in the park and around the stove in Crossen's Agricultural Market had to talk about was the Fire of '51, when a carelessly tossed match started one of the largest forest fires in the state's history.
If a man wanted to spin out his retirement in a small country town where everyone minded his own business and the big event of any given week was apt to be the Ladies' Auxiliary Bake-off, then the Lot would have been a good choice. Demographically, the census of 1970 showed a pattern familiar both to rural sociologists and to the longtime residents of any small Maine town: a lot of old folks, quite a few poor folks, and a lot of young folks who leave the area with their diplomas under their arms, never to return again.