Stephen And Owen King On The Horror Of A World Without Women In 'Sleeping Beauties'

Sep 29, 2017
Originally published on September 29, 2017 11:20 am

What would happen if every woman on earth went to sleep ... and never woke up? Only men would be left to run the world.

If that's not the beginnings of a horror page-turner, we don't know what is. And it is — in fact — the premise of Stephen King's new book, Sleeping Beauties.

You'll discover the first twist right on the cover: King has a partner in crime, at least in this endeavor — his son, Owen King, who had the initial idea for the book.

"Owen kind of tossed this thing off, 'What do you think would happen if all the women in the world went to sleep?' And all my lights came on," Stephen King says. "They all went from red to green at once."


Interview Highlights

On the process of co-writing a 700 page novel

Owen: It was just a lot like when I was a kid; we used to play this thing called the writing game with our father — my brother and I would play it — where the first person writes a sentence, then the second person writes a sentence, and then the third person writes a sentence, and so on and so on until you get bored and have to go to bed.

But in this case, what we did was he'd write 25 pages and then I'd write 25 pages, or 30 or 35, and we had this scaffolding that we had talked through together, and so we'd just pass it back and forth. But one of the things about collaborating with somebody is that you want them to take ownership of what you've written and you want to be able to take ownership of what they've written, so I rewrote him and he rewrote me, and then also — we thought this was especially clever — we would leave openings inside the sections of the book that we wrote, and I would leave a message for him when it was my turn, and I'd say "Okay, this white space here, I want you to write a scene with this character, and I want this to happen, and here's how I think it will play out, and you know, just make it as hard as possible for the poor old guy," and then he would do the same to me.

Stephen: Well you know, the major thing that we were doing by leaving those holes in the script was giving us a chance to blend our writing together, and the result was, when we were done, the stuff was so interwoven, it's almost as though a third person had written this book ... So it's almost like we created a third person, which could be a horror story in itself.

On the centrality of women in Sleeping Beauties

Owen: You know if you read the book — and this is a bit of a spoiler — the story ends up splitting and the male characters are in one world, which is the world we're familiar with, and the female characters, after they fall asleep, they end up in another world, and it's not as if the world that they find themselves in becomes some sort of matriarchal utopia. An incredible number of things go wrong for them, but what's different about the world where the women end up is that in spite of all these challenges, in spite of all these things that go wrong, they never give up, they never lose focus.

On what comes next, besides a book tour

Owen: For me, the great thing about this experience is that it's very unusual to get to spend the kind of time that we got to spend together to work on this book ... I'm thrilled with the book. I'm very, very proud of it, but the thing that I liked the most about this was that I got to spend all this time with my dad.

Stephen: Yeah I thought it was a great gift to work with Owen, to hear him say "Yeah I'd like to embark on this project with you." You know, in a lot of ways writing a novel is like sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. It's a lonely job and it's a long job, and I had somebody with me on it, and that was great and for it to be my son ... that was a tremendous gift.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

When Stephen King was a little boy, his mother read him bedtime stories - gruesome bedtime stories.

STEPHEN KING: One of the things that she read when I was 8 or 9 was "Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson. And what I remembered very clearly was that when Dr. Jekyll was Mr. Hyde, he knocked down a little girl and walked over her. And you could hear her bones cracking in her body. And I thought, oh, my God.

KELLY: Kind of makes you wonder if that might've been the moment that set Stephen King on his way to writing horror. He has now written more than 50 books. And here's a twist you might not know. Stephen King's youngest son, Owen, is also a writer. And he, too, has a childhood memory that helped shape his craft.

OWEN KING: When I was a kid we used to play this thing called the writing game with our father. My brother and I would play it - where first person writes a sentence, and the second person writes a sentence, and the third person writes a sentence and so on until you get bored and have to go to bed.

KELLY: (Laughter) Now father and son have now collaborated on a new novel, trying to keep all of us up late into the night. It is called "Sleeping Beauties." Owen King pitched the creepy premise of the book to his dad. What if all the women in the world fell asleep and didn't wake up?

S KING: Owen kind of tossed this thing up. And all my lights came on. You know, they all went from red to green at once. And I thought, this is a situation that demands a story. And if you start, the story will pretty much tell itself.

KELLY: OK. You've got an idea, and you're both excited about it. And you both think, huh, that's an interesting question. How does that then translate into co-writing a 700-page novel?

O KING: What we did was he'd write 25 pages, and then I'd write 25 pages. And so we just passed it back and forth. But one of the things about collaborating with somebody is that you want them to take ownership of what you've written, and you want to be able to take ownership of what they've written. So I rewrote him, and he rewrote me. And I would leave a message for him when it was my turn. And I'd say, OK, I want you to write a scene with this character. And I want this to happen, and here's how I think it will play out and, you know, just make it as hard as possible for the poor, old guy.

(LAUGHTER)

O KING: And then he would do the same to me.

KELLY: That sounds like that could either be a really exciting way to write or totally leaving little booby traps for each other. Like, you - I can't figure out what's going to happen next. So let me leave a little, hey, dad, have at it right here (laughter) - note for him.

S KING: Well, you know, the thing is once the story starts to roll, everything becomes story-driven and character-driven so that the major thing that we were doing by leaving those holes in the script was giving us a chance to blend our writing together. If I had a real problem with saying, well, I really don't know what to do here, he would tell me sort of like, well, you could go this way, or you could go that way - and leaving the choice up to me. Then I did the same for him. And the result was, when we were done, this stuff was so interwoven and so rewritten and plowed over, it's almost like we created a third person, which could be a horror story in itself.

KELLY: Sowen (ph) King (laughter).

S KING: The Sowen.

KELLY: I want to ask you to read me one passage. There's a woman at the center of this whole mystery sleeping sickness. Let me let you, Stephen, tell me about her. And then I want both of you to read this for us.

S KING: Well, her name's Evie. And she's the one character in the book that we can assume is a supernatural being. She's very enigmatic. And she's - everybody knows that she's something special. So this is this segment about Evie early on in the book.

(Reading) And Evie was almost everywhere. She was a fly in the 767, crawling down to the bottom of a highball glass and dabbling her legs in the residue of whiskey and Coke moments before the plane's nose connected with the ocean surface.

O KING: (Reading) The moth that fluttered around the fluorescent bar in the ceiling of Nell Seeger and Celia Frode's prison cell was also Evie.

S KING: (Reading) She was visiting the Coughlin Courthouse, behind the grid of the air duct in the corner of the conference room, where she peered through the shiny, black eyes of a mouse.

O KING: (Reading) On the White House lawn, as an ant, she moved through the still-warm blood of a dead teenage girl.

S KING: (Reading) In the woods where Jared ran from his pursuers, she was a worm beneath his shoes, nosing in the soil, bling and many-segmented. Evie got around.

KELLY: Now, I got to ask, can you two even remember which of you wrote that?

S KING: No. I cannot remember, to tell you the truth. And, you know what, Owen? I think we both wrote that.

O KING: I think we both wrote that, too.

S KING: Our fingerprints are on both of it, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So I'm trying to imagine what comes next for you two. Aside from book tour, which I know is going to take up the next few weeks, I'm trying to imagine breakfast in the King household, a whole family of writers. And it sounds like the basic conversation is you all sit around and try to figure out how to scare the living daylights out of each other.

O KING: I just want to say for me, the great thing about this experience is that it's very unusual to get to spend the kind of time that we got to spend together to work on this book. And to me, that was - I'm thrilled with the book. I'm very, very proud of it. But the thing that I liked the most about this was that I got to spend all this time with my dad.

S KING: Yeah. I thought it was a great gift to work with Owen, to hear him say, yeah, I'd like to embark on this project with you. You know, in a lot of ways, writing a novel is like sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub. It's a lonely job, and it's a long job. And I had somebody with me on it, and that was great. And for it to be my son - that was a tremendous gift.

KELLY: You could've ended up wanting to kill each other at the end...

S KING: Exactly.

KELLY: ...Of trying to write 700 pages. It sounds like it brought you closer.

O KING: We'll see if we survive book tour, Mary Louise.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: We'll wish you luck on that. That is father and son Stephen King and Owen King talking about the novel they wrote together. It's called "Sleeping Beauties." And it is out this week. Thanks to you both very much.

O KING: Thank you very much, Mary Louise. Really appreciate it.

S KING: Thank you so much.

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