For those that don’t know, Richard Chizmar is an award-winning author and editor, as well as the CEO and founder of perhaps the best-known horror publishing house, Cemetery Dance Publications. Recently, Richard has grabbed headlines for his novella collaboration with Stephen King, Gwendy’s Button Box. The story, set in one of King’s favorite stomping grounds, Castle Rock, is a great lesson in third person narration.
What you may not know is that Richard will be releasing another great collaboration, Widow’s Point, on February 28th of this year, but this time Richard worked with none other than his own son, Billy Chizmar. Having had a chance to read and review an ARC of Widow’s Point, I can say the story of this haunted lighthouse will not be easily forgotten. One has to wonder, with Billy having experience in film, if Widow’s Point isn’t destined for the big screen. Only time will tell.
I am very thankful Richard decided to do this interview. I hope everyone enjoys.
Ames: Thanks for being here, Richard. To start, may I ask who decided to set Gwendy’s Button Box in Castle Rock? Though Needful Things was said to be the last King story set in there, what is it about the town that keeps bringing us back?
Chizmar: That was all Steve. He had started “Gwendy’s Button Box” as a short story back in 2016 and it kind of stalled on him after about 7,000 words. When we decided to collaborate, I just picked up where he had left off…so the Castle Rock setting was already in place. It was also very intimidating, I have to add! I really felt like I had to do justice not only to Steve’s amazing writing, but also to the legendary town of Castle Rock.
Ames: In both of your collaborations, Gwendy’s Button Box and Widow’s Point, there is no way to know who wrote which parts. May I ask how you and the authors you have worked with accomplished such seamlessness?
Chizmar: Well, first and foremost, I think the seamlessness was a result of my sharing similar storytelling philosophies with my two collaborators. I think both Steve and Billy believe that “story” is King and “character” sits directly at the King’s right-hand side. After that, it was most likely a result of how the actual collaboration process worked for us: we traded drafts back and forth multiple times, and felt complete freedom to revise/tweak the other’s work. When you do that enough times, the words become layered, and if you’re lucky they transform into a combined third voice.
Ames: Did you learn anything new from working with Stephen King or Billy Chizmar that you can pass on, about craft, language, style, or writing methods?
Chizmar: Steve and I both work pretty quickly, so Gwendy felt like a really cool game of Ping Pong or chess, with each of us spending a few days scribbling, then hitting SEND, and yelling “Your turn!” It was fascinating to see the choices Steve made, both with his own sections of the story and the handful of revisions he made on my sections. I got to see all his trademark qualities up close – the true-to-life characters, the crisp prose, the sharp dialogue and clever turn of a phrase – and once I got past being scared to death, the whole experience was a blast. Dream come true stuff.
Billy just recently turned nineteen years old, so it was an eye-opening experience to work with someone who has so much creative energy. Man, the ideas just rocketed out of his head. I told him early on that Widow’s Point was one of those everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of stories, and he really ran with that idea. At times, he tried to toss the kitchen sink in there, too, but I did my best to rein him in. Truthfully, Billy reminded me that it was okay to be a little daring and wild with the characters, to let them go to some unexpected places at the last possible moment. He also contributed some excellent writing. It’s been extremely cool to read the early reviews and see Billy’s contributions specifically praised.
Ames: Without giving away the ending to Gwendy’s Button Box, there could easily be a part two. Is this something you and King have discussed? What about with Widow’s Point? Billy hinted at a possibility of a sequel…
Chizmar: I’m not sure about Gwendy. I’ve certainly mentioned the overwhelming reader response to Steve. He knows folks would love a sequel. Who knows that the future will bring. As for Widow’s Point, I would actually love to sit down and write not only a sequel, but also a prequel. Billy is particularly busy in the Spring, with school and lacrosse, but hopefully we can knock something out over the Summer.
Ames: What wisdom have you given to your son, about writing, that you could share?
Chizmar: Mainly just to get the words down on paper, get the story out first, then go to work on achieving clarity and finding that rhythm of the language. I’ve also tried to impress upon him that you don’t have to try to break new ground every time you sit down to write. Just find something – a person, a place, a moment in time – that is meaningful to you and tell that story.
Ames: How did your family cultivate such a love for language and artistically expressing yourself?
Chizmar: I grew up surrounded by books and readers. Both my parents and all my siblings were big readers, and it rubbed off on me at a very early age. Billy and his younger brother, Noah, grew up in an even more book-oriented environment thanks to my publishing company. I mean, they were literally surrounded by books – at home and at my office. Billy likes to tell the story of how he always looked at all the scary book covers lining the hallway shelves and how he would turn around the particularly frightening ones so he didn’t have to see them anymore on his way downstairs. Other than that, my wife and I have always encouraged our boys to read for pleasure, treated regular trips to the bookstore as part of our normal schedule, and tried to expose them to the fun side of creating through Cemetery Dance. Once they become older, it was only natural for them to try their hands at writing their own stories and comics. As a father, it’s been an amazing thing to watch take shape.
Ames: Both of these stories, while different in style and content, grab the reader and never let go. There are real characters, ones that feel tangible and are fallible. Your short fiction stories do the same thing. If you had to guess, what about your writing captures your readers?
Chizmar: I probably wouldn’t have known how to answer this question before my last collection, A Long December, was published. But now that I’ve been blessed with so much reader feedback, both online and in personal email, I think I have a little better handle on it. Most readers have commented that my stories are so relatable to them – in both characterization and setting – that it’s very easy for them to get lost in the story I’m telling. Much like Stephen King or Richard Matheson, I tend to write about everyday people caught in extraordinary circumstances. Other than that, a lot of readers and reviewers have commented on the fact that I write believable dialogue. I’m not a flashy stylist, there’s not a lot of fanciful, elegant prose in my work; I just focus on telling a good story as honestly as I can.
Ames: You hear ‘show, don’t tell’ all the time as writers. When giving backstory and developing real characters people care about, it can be unavoidable. How do you write such deep backgrounds for a character while still upping the tension and keeping the reader hooked?
Chizmar: Honestly, writing backstory is one of the things I enjoy the most when telling a story. I don’t think I have any particular mindset or method when approaching backstory; I just let myself climb into the character’s shoes and live that part of his or her life. That’s fun to me. It’s such a wide open part of the process. Not a lot of rules to follow.
Ames: Richard, thank you for agreeing to this interview. I wish you the best. Thank you for your time.
Chizmar: Absolutely my pleasure. Thanks for asking me.
RICHARD CHIZMAR is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author.
He is the co-author (with Stephen King) of the bestselling novella, Gwendy’s Button Box and the founder/publisher of Cemetery Dance magazine and the Cemetery Dance Publications book imprint. He has edited more than 35 anthologies and his fiction has appeared in dozens of publications, including Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and multiple editions of The Year’s 25 Finest Crime and Mystery Stories. He has won two World Fantasy awards, four International Horror Guild awards, and the HWA's Board of Trustee's award.
Chizmar (in collaboration with Johnathon Schaech) has also written screenplays and teleplays for United Artists, Sony Screen Gems, Lions Gate, Showtime, NBC, and many other companies.
Chizmar’s work has been translated into many languages throughout the world, and he has appeared at numerous conferences as a writing instructor, guest speaker, panelist, and guest of honor.
Please visit the author’s website at: Richardchizmar.com
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