Some follow-up novels are written by others after the original author has died. It happened to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, and Mario Puzo’s Godfather. Do you ever feel: When I’m gone, that ain’t happening to me, pal?
I understand what you’re saying, and I’m totally in agreement. There have been a lot of sequels to the Sherlock Holmes stories, there have been sequels to Dracula, there’s even a movie in development called Demeter, which is about the trip Dracula takes between Transylvania and England. Now, it might make a tremendous movie, but in a lot of cases I think of those books as, ‘Hey, come on! You’re eating this guy’s dinner! Go find your own dinner!’
Is there ever a scenario where it is cool for someone to pick up where another writer has left off?
Well, John D. MacDonald wrote this series of novels about a guy named Travis McGee and they all had colors in the titles: Pale Gray for Guilt and The Quick Red Fox. The last one was called The Lonely Silver Rain. And John died [in 1986] while he was having a heart bypass operation. His wife had passed on, and he had one child named Maynard who lived in Australia. I thought, ‘What a shame, because there are all these wonderful Travis McGee books, and yet the story kind of ends and leaves you hanging.’ I wrote Maynard a letter because I had an idea, and I said: ‘I would like to write a final Travis McGee novel. I have an idea in mind, and it’s called Chrome, and it will put a button on the series. I don’t want any money for it. I’ll write the book and we’ll give the royalties to charity.’ Maynard MacDonald wrote me a letter and said, ‘I’m very touched by your offer, but I think we ought to leave things as they are because there was only one John D. MacDonald, and he’s passed.’ At the time I was a little bit pissed, but the more I think about it, that was right.
You hope for the same as your legacy?
My kids will exert my wishes and there won’t be anybody to come in and pick things up the way some people have picked up the James Bond books or the Bourne Identity books. I don’t want to see that happen to any of my books. Eventually, the copyrights will run out, and I’ll be in the public domain, but I’ll be long dead by then. People probably won’t even remember. [Laughs.]
Black House, the book you co-authored with Peter Straub, was a sequel to The Talisman. And you’ve written a couple short stories that follow previous books, so this isn’t totally alien territory for you. Most of your books are interconnected. Familiar characters and places tend to pop up. And The Dark Tower series wove everything together.
My son calls those things Easter eggs. There’s a little ‘Salem’s Lot Easter egg in Doctor Sleep. I don’t know if anyone will spot it or not, but it’s there. All of the books kind of relate to other ones. The only exception is The Stand, where the whole world gets destroyed. I guess it’s sort of like Stephen King World, the malevolent version of Disney World, where everything fits together.
I definitely want to buy tickets to Stephen King World.
Let’s put it this way – if there was a Stephen King World, people would only go on the rides … once.
This is an extended version of a Q&A that ran in Entertainment Weekly’s Jan. 18 print edition.
For more on the artist who created the illustration at the top of this article: Tyler Jacobson Art