I wanted to bring a kid into the story to be his surrogate child. I don’t want to go any further with that [in the interview] because I don’t want to give anything away. She’s a little girl and her name is Abra. She’s named after the main female character in the John Steinbeck book East of Eden. I always sort of liked that name. I was able to create a kid character I thought was kind of a throwback to some of the kids that are in Pet Sematary, ‘Salem’s Lot and It — stuff like that. It’s been a long time since I used kids as big characters in a book, so this was a chance to do that.
Doctor Sleepreveals that Danny became kind of a drifter as a younger man. Who is in his life now — besides the cat?
You did used to write a lot of kid protagonists. Did that taper off because, well, your own kids grew up?
Yeah, you don’t have ‘em anymore! [Laughs.] I don’t want to sound slighting about this, or mean or anything, but they say write about what you know. Having kids is like having your own little ant farm in the house. I observed everything they did and it was possible to create young characters who were real. The other thing I used to think a lot about is there are very, very few books about children that are for adults. You could think of Lord of the Flies and Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer, as examples. There are some, but not many serious novels about that.
If anything, books about kids that are popular with adults are getting more common.
I don’t know how to explain it but there has been this merging of young adult fiction, which is usually about teenagers or younger kids, and adult fiction. And I blame J.K. Rowling. [Laughs.] Harry Potter books were sold as children’s books, but they’re books that everybody read. The same is true of the Twilight books. More of the Twilight audience were young women, but still there were a lot of grown-ups who read that book.
Having a child in Doctor Sleep seems like an important test for Danny. Having someone to protect — or not — would finally reveal whether he really is different from the dad he fears.
I knew if I did this sequel I’d have to try to put together some of the same elements, but at the same time I didn’t want to make it too similar. I didn’t want to make Danny a grown up with kids of his own, and try to replicate that whole losing-your-temper-because-you’re-drunk thing. But I did think to myself: ‘Not only alcoholism can be a family disease, but rage can be a family disease.’ You find that the guys who abuse their children were abused themselves as kids. That certainly fit Danny as I knew him.
Without getting into spoilers, the book has Danny and the girl being pursued by The True Knot, a kind of nomadic group of people who masquerade as Winnebago-riding old timers but feed off people who have psychic energy.
Driving back and forth from Maine to Florida, which I do twice a year, I’m always seeing all these recreational vehicles — the bounders in the Winnebagos. I always think to myself, ‘Who is in those things?’ You pass them a thousand times at rest stops. They’re always the ones wearing the shirts that say ‘God Does Not Deduct From a Lifespan Time Spent Fishing.’ They’re always lined up at the McDonald’s, slowing the whole line down. And I always thought to myself, ‘There’s something really sinister about those people because they’re so unobtrusive, yet so pervasive.’ I just wanted to use that. It would be the perfect way to travel around America and be unobtrusive if you were really some sort of awful creature.
Can you say anything about the settings of Doctor Sleep? Does it take place largely on the road?
I had a chance to return things to the New England setting that I know, but I did go back to Colorado and look around and said I’ve got to try to bring this back around to where the original book was. Everything should come home again. So there is actually a climax in – let’s put it this way – in an area people will remember. But one of the things – and I’m not sure if this is going to be a problem for readers or not – is that Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the novel. It’s not a sequel to the Kubrick film. At the end of the Kubrick film, the Overlook is still there. It just kind of freezes. But at the end of the book, it burns down.
I imagine you had to revisit The Shining before starting. How was that experience?
Oh man, that was a real exercise in self-consciousness. Let’s try to remember the guy who wrote this was barely 30 years old. That’s half the age I am now, and more. I’ve learned some new tricks since then, and I’ve lost some of the original urgency that went into the books at that time. I’m not the same man I was, but that was also sort of the attraction for it.