The Books Stephen King Hasn’t Written Yet, But Should

Stephen King has his faults as a writer—this is the man who gave the world a book where people literally shit aliens—but the one accusation you can't lay at his door is that he doesn't write enough. The King opus runs to 54 novels, 5 works of non-fiction and more short stories than you can shake a crucifix at. But even so, a careful assessment of his bibliography suggests some gaps remain to be filled. King still has a few years left before he hangs up his pen. Here are some suggestions on how he might fill that time.

The Sequels

Until 2013, King had steered clear of sequels, prequels or any-other-kind-of-quels, but the publication of Doctor Sleep, which follows the story of Danny Torrance, survivor of the Daddy-gone-bad mayhem of The Shining, popped his –quel cherry, so to speak and paved the way for more, begging important questions about which other of his books might support a continuation.

One of King's greatest strengths as an author is in the creation of characters we truly care about and, for me, the novel which achieves this best is The Stand. Despite its quasi-religious themes and clichéd casting of a saintly black person as the Force for Good (along with the clichéd casting of a saintly deaf person as Sacrificial Victim), The Stand…erm…stands out in the canon for its almost pitch perfect capturing of ordinary people in the grips of extraordinary events. From the taciturn Texan Stu Redmond, to the entitled musician Larry Underwood by way of strong-willed, stubborn Fran Goldsmith and doomed Nadine Cross, King gives us fictional people so real you could swear you just bumped shoulders with them in the morning Starbucks coffee queue. Although The Stand ends on a suitably peaceful note, with the human race again beginning to prosper and the Forces of Evil thoroughly annihilated, King also produces a villain of such Teflon-coated durability in the form of Randall Flagg that one can't help feeling that Flagg isn't going to stay annihilated for very long. Flagg deserves a second chance at causing the Apocalypse—there are people to crucify, babies to eat—and a few decades after the first show down, Stu and Fran and the others will have produced a second or even third generation of ordinary people who, as well as coping with the challenges of regrowing civilization from the bottom up, need to be tested by extraordinary events. Think of the potential—small bands of colonists, bears, wolves, splinter groups, harsh winters and Flagg beginning his mischief again—and your mouth starts to water with what King could do here.

Setting a book beyond this comfort zone of the recent past would be a risk for King, but opens up realms of possibilities.

Spool the tape back all the way to the beginning and you have King's massively successful debut (not for him the more usual career of writing four or five moderately-successful works before hitting the big time). Carrie took the world by storm—mega sales and three movie adaptations (if you don't count 1999's The Rage: Carrie 2) and King was off and running. His next few books were on a grander scale: all good but none quite achieving the haunting intimacy of his first novel and its lonely, vengeful heroine. While Carrie herself has to stay where King left her—well buried—his teasing conclusion to the novel, given in the form of a letter from one of Carrie's relatives, leaves the door wide open for a second bite at the psychokinetic cherry. You could say that there's no other possible conclusion to that kind of story which would outmatch the one King gives us in the original, but actually wouldn't that be the kind of challenge a writer of his talents would relish?

The Prequels

If we all want to know what happens after a King story ends, we also sometimes wonder what happened before it even started. King is good at filling in the back histories of his characters—in fact he prefers to fill out his people that way than by the more traditional methods of physical descriptors—and some of those narratives are tantalizing enough that you can see how they might form books in their own right.

Poll position here would have to go to Annie Wilkes, star of King's 1987 novel Misery. Trapped in Wilkes's home, writer Paul Sheldon manages to uncover his captor's past life as a nurse, one with a radical approach to healing which involves treating her patients to massive overdoses of morphine. Yes, Wilkes is a serial killer, an idea which brings with it scads of opportunity to investigate just how she got that way and all the other things she might have done before fetching up in her remote Colorado farm.

Forgetting the human element for a moment, the other King-creation whose back story intrigues is the town of Salem's Lot, setting for the eponymously titled Salem's Lot, published in 1975. King's towns often take on the role of characters in his fiction—he's brilliantly capable of conjuring up small communities which have a flavor and personality all their own. Jerusalem's Lot, which King once claimed was inspired by an apocryphal tale he once heard about a Vermont town mysteriously deserted by the obscure religious sect that founded it, is exactly the kind of place which ought to have an interesting past. The trouble in Salem's Lot begins with the arrival of The Master, but what about before that? Some places just seem to attract trouble and Salem's Lot seems tailor made to be one of them. Mr. King should write about that trouble. In much detail. And soon.

The Past

Speaking of the past, one dimension left relatively untouched by King is the historical. He prefers a modern-day setting for his fiction, occasionally venturing back a little way, but rarely further than the decades encompassed by his own lifetime. I'm guessing that part of the reason for that is that King's signature style (and the reason for much of his success) depends upon an ease with a vernacular of the day. From what is playing on the radio, to the right flavor of gum, King brings his work to life with the small details which precisely nail the period in question.

...there's a whole world of alternative genres out there, ripe for the plucking, ready to be transformed by the King touch.

Setting a book beyond this comfort zone of the recent past would be a risk for King, but opens up realms of possibilities. Some of the finest horror fiction dates from the Victorian era, to the extent that this is a point in time now embedded in our cultural consciousness as Spooky—full of houses with pointy roofs, echoing sepulchers, cobwebbed tomes and unpleasantly rustly things in corners. King is no stranger to unpleasant rustly things, but instead of updating the classics for an age of Converse sneakers and baseball cards, as he did with Dracula and Salem's Lot, why not go straight to the mother lode and set a novel in days of top hats and antimacassars? Think M.R. James with larger monsters (everything in the US is larger). He couldn't lose.

The Future

King has dabbled in science fiction, concentrating mainly on variations on the 'It Came from Outer Space' theme in which various aliens (all brimful of menace) impose themselves on a hapless human population. This is where the alien-as-bowel-movement comes in and we can safely say that—barring his short fiction which contains several stories with a Twilight Zone-alternate-Universe vibe—these books don't represent King's finest work. But that doesn't mean that King and sci-fi can't succeed. It just means he might not have found the right kind of sci-fi for his talents.

With King, the aliens always come to us and never the other way around. His characters don't explore strange new worlds, unless said worlds happen to find themselves in small town New England after a spot of top secret scientific military research goes tits up and opens a portal between Universes. No one sets foot on a space craft or orbits the Orion nebula or ends up marooned in the outer reaches of the Milky Way with nothing to eat but a tin of Cream of Tomato and their crewmates. I get that King isn't a hard sci-fi man—his interest in tech seems to start and end with large, shiny motor vehicles—but a little research would soon deal with that and as further encouragement, I would just mention that while on Earth you can't have too many alien-monster-things without stretching the reader's credulity, on other planets the number of alien-monster-things is potentially limitless.

The Right Out There

Many artists reaching the end of their career experience the need to try something completely new. A certain ennui sets in, a feeling that awards and prizes simply don't mean as much as they used to, that massive creative success has become just a little too easy, a little undemanding and that what might be needed is a fresh and exciting challenge. I don't know if King ever starts on an outline and is overwhelmed with boredom at the idea of yet another monster hiding at the bottom of the crypt, but if he does, there's a whole world of alternative genres out there, ripe for the plucking, ready to be transformed by the King touch.

Take erotica for example, newly respectable after 50 Shades of Grey not only revived sales of riding crops but also rescued single-handedly the economy of the Western world. King flirted with naughty sex in Gerald's Game, but revealed a puritan streak by contriving a plot where being handcuffed to a bed led not to juddering orgasms but instead to imminent death from thirst and hunger. He had another go in time travel epic 11/22/63 and ended up with a nomination for a Bad Sex Award. Clearly there is work to be done here. A whole book of monster-based sexy shenanigans would give him the opportunity to hone an element of his writing skills which currently lacks an edge (there are courses, right here on the site, if he wants to practice first). King has perfected the art of writing fiction in which everyone gets killed and eaten. Now all he needs to do is perfect the art of writing fiction in which everyone has sex, then gets killed and eaten. Nothing could be simpler.

If erotica doesn't appeal, the other big selling genre King hasn't yet attempted is Young Adult (I'm leaving romance out of the picture, because King demonstrated his aptitude for this with the book within a book conceit of Misery). You could say Christine represents his contribution to the canon, but although this 1983 novel contained many of the right themes—High School crushes, nerdy kids, love triangles, killer cars—it's all written from the perspective of an adult looking back on his younger self, a trope which is anathema to the intensely-lived here-and-now ethos of teen romance. Think of King giving John Green a run for his money with a YA where the protagonists not only have to battle geekdom and life threatening illnesses but also that thing that lives under the floorboards of the school gym. Ooh, I've given myself goosepimples.


But hey, these are only my ideas. What do you think? If we get enough suggestions we could feed them back to the man himself, via Twitter.

Image of The Stand
Author: Stephen King
Price: $12.03
Publisher: Anchor (2012)
Binding: Paperback, 1200 pages
Image of Carrie (Movie Tie-in Edition): Now a Major Motion Picture
Author: Stephen King
Price:
Publisher: Anchor (2013)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 304 pages
Image of Misery
Author: Stephen King
Price:
Publisher: Berkley (1988)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 352 pages
Image of 'Salem's Lot
Author: Stephen King
Price: $6.60
Publisher: Anchor (2011)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 672 pages
Image of Christine (Signet)
Author: Stephen King
Price:
Publisher: Berkley (1983)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 528 pages
Image of Gerald's Game (Signet)
Author: Stephen King
Price:
Publisher: Signet (1993)
Binding: Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Image of Doctor Sleep
Author: Stephen King
Price: $11.98
Publisher: Gallery Books (2014)
Binding: Paperback, 560 pages

To leave a comment Login with Facebook or create a free account.

Comments

nathaniel parker's picture
nathaniel parker from Cincinnati is reading The Dark Tower ~ King November 21, 2014 - 10:17pm

Leonard Likes This Post!

nathaniel parker's picture
nathaniel parker from Cincinnati is reading The Dark Tower ~ King November 22, 2014 - 4:09pm

Now that I think about it and because I'm in the middle of reading it, I wouldn't mid seeing what kind of trouble John Coffey got up to in his youth.

One thing I like about his stuff is the way some characters will come in and brush up against whatever new story he's doing. Like Ace from The Body and Needful Things. Seeing something like that with William "Billy the Kid" Wharton would be cool .

Also, he kinda sorta did a YA book with IT. That books so huge you could take out the kids section as it's own book and then have the grown-ups section as it's sequel.

Tea Bear's picture
Tea Bear November 23, 2014 - 10:25am

The character from The Stand is Stu Redman, not Redmond.

 

I can't conceive of why you think SK needs to go Hollywood and write prequels, sequels, and bodice-rippers. The success of 50 Shades is hardly a recommendation for writing erotica. It barely counts as writing, and reads like fanfiction. BAD fanfiction.

Tim Laplaca's picture
Tim Laplaca November 23, 2014 - 10:34am

King did write a prequel before 'Doctor Sleep', he wrote 'Black House' (2001) with Peter Straub, the sequel to 'The Talisman' (also with Straub).

Sebastian L. Jackson's picture
Sebastian L. Jackson November 23, 2014 - 10:44am

There is a prequel to Salem's Lot -- that would be the short story "Jerusalem's Lot" from the Night Shift collection.

Summer Weber's picture
Summer Weber November 23, 2014 - 10:46am

He did prequels. Desperation and the regulators. And he set one is present time and in the past in his book 11/22/63 where the main character is charged with going back in time to stop the Kennedy assassination. A little research goes a long way

Joethewhite's picture
Joethewhite November 23, 2014 - 10:48am

The back story of Randall Flagg needs to be told. 

Diana Ellis's picture
Diana Ellis November 23, 2014 - 1:08pm

Although it was a short story, I thought that The Jaunt was an excellent example of King's Sci-Fi abilities.  No creepy aliens or anything, but psychologically terrifying.

malaclypse78's picture
malaclypse78 from Northern California is reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King November 23, 2014 - 7:07pm

I don't see any mention of The Dark Tower series here. That overall cycle of books is an uber-tale which actually encompasses most of King's books - Randall Flagg shows up as Flagg in the quasi-Game of Thrones-ish fantasy novel The Eyes of the Dragon, and he's also the villain Walter (and the villain Marten) in the Dark Tower series - they're all the same entity. And King has written the Dark Tower "inter-quel" The Wind Through the Keyhole. Not to mention that he essentially provided sequels to 'Salem's Lot, in the short story "One for the Road" as well as including Father Callahan in the Dark Towers novels starting with Book 5. So I'd say when it comes to sequels with King, it's not quite as streamlined as "let's have a Carrie 2." Are they necessary? Do we want an update on The Stand's universe? Yes, actually. What about The Tommyknockers? Not really. I suspect he may have done all the revisiting he cares to with Doctor Sleep, but he and Peter Straub are writing a third Talisman book. I look forward to everything he does, so I'm keeping an open mind.

Jackson Petito's picture
Jackson Petito November 23, 2014 - 11:21pm

He needs to write a continuation of the Dark Tower books, diverging from the timeline of the existing books because Roland leaves Jericho Hill with the trumpet. Leave books 1-4 the same, but having the trumpet makes Roland do something different after he tells the tale of Wizard and Glass, perhaps noting that he remembers losing the trumpet, but must be wrong because it's right here by the fire as he tells the tale.

With this conceit, King can start over and get books 5-7 right. I think almost dying threw him off, or the spectre of mortality made him rush to finish the tale that has hauted him since he was 19 years old. Either way, I bet he wishes he could have those back. He can: things are slightly different this time around because of the trumpet, and he's free to make up what that difference means. He can keep all the good aspects from the current 5-7 and improve on the less than great stuff. I think he saw that things had gotten away from him as the end approached and gave himself an out. At least I hope so.

Also, Steven Deschain prequels.

Leto Rodin's picture
Leto Rodin November 24, 2014 - 7:17am

He's written sequels and prequels, and the originon of Randall Flagg has been written. He's even done some sci-fi. Perhaps this author needs to read the Dark Tower series? As for YA, try "The Eyes of the Dragon", or "The Talisman". Aliens? Under the Dome, and Insomnia. The Mist is kind of about aliens, as well. I think that this article's author needs to read more SK.

cshultz81's picture
cshultz81 from Oklahoma is reading Best Horror of the Year Volume 8 November 24, 2014 - 8:03pm

Pointing out some sequels and prequels that Cath missed is all well and good, but all y'all need to stop mentioning that King HAS written some sci-fi, as though this is something she failed to realize. Cath CLEARLY acknowledges his sci-fi output in the article, and suggests he try distant future, extraplanetary hard sci-fi (as opposed to the Earth-grounded variety he's known for). 

Cath Murphy's picture
Cath Murphy from UK is reading Find out on the Unpr!ntable podcast November 26, 2014 - 7:24am

Thanks Chris!

My good friend Dwayne, a fellow LitReactor...erer, warned me this would happen because of the Dark Tower series, which I explicitly excluded because it's a series and the idea of a sequel becomes a little meaningless there. But hey, definitions, schmefinitions...

So you are all totally right and I should have mentioned the series. Co-authored books don't count. Not budging on that one. And this was about novels, not short stories, so what I'm looking for is a full-length treatment, not a few pages. I want MORE about Salem's Lot. So much MORE.

Also, did anyone else hear that Matthew McConaughey is slated to play Randall Flagg in a new version of The Stand? That would be a genius piece of casting.