It was so long ago. I began my relationship with Stephen King's writing back around 1984. Pet Sematary had just been released in paperback. I had known about him, of course, but I thought that King was some kind of trashy bestseller. I finally woke up and started reading The Shining. To say that I enjoyed it would be a massive understatement.
That began a binge-reading journey through every last thing I could get my hands on from Stephen King. Virtually without a break. The only other time in my life I have done that was when I soared through every Robert A. Heinlein book when I was a little boy.
It's thirty-five years later, and Stephen King has remained on top. He has taken his readers to many places, and I have to admit that I wasn't enamored of them all. However, I respect that he has taken chances, bucked the trends, and has been ambitious as hell. Happily, I have loved everything from King since Duma Key. It has felt like the old days, when each new Stephen King release was a cause for celebration and an excuse for me to tune out the rest of the world for a while.
Along the way came Cemetery Dance Publications. From the start I loved what Richard Chizmar was doing with his company. His editorial decisions have always been shrewd and the books were always things of wonder and beauty.
Stephen King and Cemetery Dance have had a fruitful relationship. CD has published numerous novels and stories by King, and it's pretty safe to say that Cemetery Dance would not be the success it is without King's participation.
I like to think that Cemetery Dance, and Richard Chizmar, have been inspirational to Stephen King. Perhaps King's career would not be what it is today without Cemetery Dance.
As well as being an editor and publisher, Richard Chizmar has written fiction. In the early days of his career, Chizmar penned quite a few really good stories, and they were collected in a book called Midnight Promises. However, his duties as the head honcho of CD prevented Chizmar from pursuing his writing career. For the past few years, he has been making up for lost time, much to the delight of readers of horror and suspense.
So I guess it was inevitable that Stephen King and Richard Chizmar should collaborate. The result, in 2017, was a short novel called Gwendy's Button Box.
I don't feel that Gwendy's Button Box represents the best work of either author, but it's a good story. It has a nice, comfortable small town/Castle Rock feel, and a comfortably nostalgic 1970's setting. I detected the influence of Richard Matheson's classic story, Button, Button, and I am not the only one who has done so. I don't think the plot similarity to the Matheson story hurt Gwendy a bit.
Gwendy's Button Box was a resounding success for Cemetery Dance Publications, and I'm sure it was a personal one for the two writers.
A sequel to Gwendy's Button Box has been announced. This time the authorship is credited to Richard Chizmar alone. Questions arise: How much of Gwendy's Button Box was King's, and how much input did Richard Chizmar have? Would Chizmar be able to carry the torch on his own, without King's direct involvement? Would Gwendy's Magic Feather be a satisfying continuation of the Gwendy character and story, or would be come off as a cynical money-grab?
I was delighted when Cemetery Dance provided me with an Advance Reading Copy of Gwendy's Magic Feather, and as soon as I finished the novel I had been reading, I jumped right into it.
Gwendy's Magic Feather is not only a worthy successor to Gwendy's Button Box, but I found it to be a more cohesive, better book.
Gwendy, a precocious little girl in Button Box, is now a full-grown, successful woman in Magic Feather. When she least expects it, the button box has re-entered her life. Terrified of the implications, she returns to Castle Rock for Christmas, where some nasty business has been going on. Young girls are disappearing. Does the button box figure into it? How much influence has the box had on Gwendy's remarkably fortunate life? What price is there to pay for the benefits the button box has brought to Gwendy? How will all of this affect Gwendy's life, family, and the entire world?
These questions and more plague Gwendy, as she is drawn closer to what seems to be the work of a serial killer. Tragedy hangs over her personal life as well.
I liked Gwendy's Button Box a lot. I loved Gwendy's Magic Feather. These stories deal with horror, but they also delve into magic and wonder. The magic of life itself, and all the wonders of the world, seen, unseen, and imagined.
Richard Chizmar has done a wonderful job of channeling King's voice. His writing does not always resemble King's, but when dealing with the town of Castle Rock, it well should. With the exception of Joe Hill, I don't know of any other writer who could pull off the magic trick of bringing Castle Rock to life as Chizmar has done with Gwendy's Magic Feather.
I don't see this as the last time Constant Readers will hear from Gwendy and her beloved home of Castle Rock. I don't think the box is done with her, and I don't think the writers are done with the saga.
Preorder Gwendy's Magic Feather from Cemetery Dance Publications: https://www.cemeterydance.com/gwendys-magic-feather.html
Written by Mark Sieber