INTERVIEW: Owen King

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STORGY: I firstly wanted to say how much I enjoyed ‘Sleeping Beauties’ a book that you penned with your father. Could you explain to us where the original concept came from?

OWEN KING: The premise was mine, but it was pretty vague. I pitched my dad something like, “What if one day all the women in the world went to sleep and didn’t wake up?” I was a relatively new parent at the time so maybe I had sleep on the brain, although that’s a connection I’ve made only recently. It may be that there was no particular activating association and the idea just sort of descended. 

STORGY: Could you shed some light on the construction of the book? Was it a collaborative process in every sense, were there specific elements that you wanted to weave into the narrative?

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OK: We actually started to develop the story as a television mini-series and got two episodes in, but then decided we wanted to expand it into a novel. What was great was that those scripts functioned as an outline for a lot of the action in the first part of the book. With that structure in place, we took turns writing 25 or 30 page sections and, simultaneously, kept building onto the outline, figuring out what was to come. (By the time we hit the mid-point, we had most of the second half of the book mapped.) We also rewrote each other throughout. To me, this is the key to a successful collaboration. Collaborators have to be able to tinker with the other writer’s material. Also, this is why Sleeping Beauties doesn’t read like an Owen King novel, or a Stephen King novel. It’s something different.  

STORGY: I think what makes the book so endearing is the amount of characters that are within the story and their individual fates and fortunes. How did you both decide the varying narratives for each of these?

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OK: A few of the characters had arcs that we saw clearly from the get-go. Other characters, they kind of got swept up in circumstances. That’s really the nature of the whole book. Lots of it was planned, but lots of it was improvised. Really, for me, that’s how most stories unfurl.

STORGY: Were there any characters or story arcs that you took the lead on, or was this a back and forth exercise between you both?

OK: You know, in the first draft there were characters that I wrote a bit more of than my dad, and vice versa. In the second draft, though, that got flipped around, so in the end I don’t think so.

STORGY: Where there any heated debates creatively about the book, differences of opinions etc. and how did you resolve these?

OK: There weren’t, I’m afraid! Obviously there were points of disagreement, but part of collaborating successfully is not trying to jam your collaborator with something they aren’t enthusiastic about. If I wanted to go down a path and Dad was skeptical, I generally tried to find an alternate route.  

Sleeping Beauties cover

STORGY: Are there any characters that you personally enjoyed working on?

OK: To pick only one is hard! Okay, I loved writing about Van Lampley, who is an officer at Dooling Correctional and a competitive arm-wrestler. Her perspective is quite appealing – amusingly skeptical, but tough. She’s one of those characters who just grew and grew. We didn’t plan for her. She just appeared and made herself important.

STORGY: It is a testament to both your writings in how much I despised the character Don Peters; at the mention of his name I became somewhat angry and detested everything about him, he seemed to sum up all that was wrong in attitudes towards women nowadays (Trump-esq). How did this character emerge in your writings and did you enjoy bringing him to life, was he based on anyone in particular?

OK: Don’s not based on anyone in particular. It did occur to me not long ago that he’s basically an incarnation of all those comment board misogynists you see beneath basically any article about a woman. In the context of the prison world, he has all the power, and yet, inside his own mind, no matter what awful thing that he does, he can always find a way to rationalize it so that he’s the victim. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed writing about him. However, he certainly wasn’t difficult to write. We saw him vividly.

STORGY: ‘Sleeping Beauties’ had me in stiches; whether that be talking about ‘trumped-up tax dodgers, emphasis on the Trump’; or ‘the Kardashians farting being breaking news’ but it also had some gruesome content many King fans have grown to love and expect. Could you offer any advice in how to balance humour and horror in writing?

OK: I’m not sure if I have any advice, but the humor in Sleeping Beauties is reflective of the points-of-view of the characters. It comes from them, from how they see the world. 

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STORGY: The book has a huge heart beating within its pages; I noticed many themes within ‘Sleeping Beauties’ such as the current state of America, society, class and people’s prejudices. Was this your intention and do you believe that it is important that this book shines a spotlight on these pertinent issues?

OK: There’s no doubt about it: all that stuff comes up in the book. That said, we never tried to “wedge” anything in. For instance, once the Aurora epidemic gets going, there’s some business about false reports on social media leading to more trouble. That gestures toward the controversy over “fake news” that’s been going on since the election. It wasn’t part of the outline, though. We just thought about what would happen in the situation and in so doing we had to consider how the story might spread and get distorted, and that part came about organically. You have to let the story go where it wants to go. The political implications spin off from the story. It’s a contemporary piece and so it reflects the moment – and at this moment, our country is battling over these issues that you mentioned. It would be strange, I think, if we had attempted to divorce our characters from the time they’re living in.

STORGY: With the recent ‘The Handmaids Tale’ television show and ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman focusing on the role of women in society; what are you hoping ‘Sleeping Beauties’ brings to the table and what do you hope readers will take away with them after reading?

OK: I wouldn’t be sorry if Sleeping Beauties caused readers to think about the role of women in society, but our first priority was to tell a diverting story.

STORGY: What was your earliest experience / engagement with literature?

OK: When I was a kid my favorite novel was Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. I loved Alan Breck. His fierceness appealed to me greatly. (I wasn’t, and am not, a particularly fierce person.) Our copy had wonderfully evocative N.C. Wyeth illustrations.

Kidnapped Cover

STORGY: Are there any books or authors you would recommend?

OK: So many! Here I’ll just say Kelly Braffet, who happens to be my wife. If you liked Gone Girl, or the novels of Megan Abbott, you’ll love Kelly’s stuff. All her books are available in the UK, by the way.

STORGY: What do you think is the best book your father has written and why?

OK: Boy, this is an awfully tough one. I’m going to say Different Seasons, because it shows what an extraordinary range he possesses. People who have never read Stephen King have certain ideas about his books will be like, and Different Seasons upsets all of them. “The Body,” especially, is terrifically meaningful to me because I feel like it’s his most autobiographical work.  

Different Seasons Original Cover

STORGY: What’s next for you? Are you currently working on anything?

OK: I wrote a pilot for Sleeping Beauties and we’ve got a great producer on board, so hopefully that will turn into an ongoing project. Otherwise, I’m tinkering with a story, a new book, and a couple of other tv/film things. We’ll have to see what crosses the finish line first.

STORGY: Thank you.

Interview by Ross Jeffery

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