Hi Beau, which book are we talking about?
The book I’d like to talk about is actually eight books, all of them combining to form Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.
Were you already a Stephen King man?
I was, I was – ever since my younger brother wasn’t into a present (Misery) I gave him for his thirteenth birthday. Not wanting it to go to waste, I’ve been hooked (a Constant Reader in King-speak) ever since.
I’ve not read much King. I read Christine when I was young and literal, and the premise annoyed me. I loved the movies Misery, Stand by Me, and The Shining, but I haven’t gone back to the books. His horror books could be construed as twisted fantasy, but aren’t The Dark Tower books out-and-out fantasy? A departure in King’s catalogue?
I think that man is able to write anything, so no, I can’t see it as a departure for him. It’s his longest work by far, in pages as well as years, but it becomes as rewarding as it can get if you are a fan. But yeah, if I have to get concrete, a little more fantasy would populate those books than some of his others. As I’ve been told: there are other worlds than this.
Your writing is gritty and planted firmly in the here-and-now. What attracted you to the fantasy of The Dark Tower series?
Ha – yup, I do love me some grit. As for what attracted me to The Dark Tower – it’s really two things. One, when my young punk self understood what King was saying about reality: that our world was but a blade of grass in a sea of grass, hence “there are other worlds than these.”
Second: when I realized how connected his books were. Easter eggs, guest stars, whatever you want to call them. But the connective tissue running under and through the spine of his stories … consider this the point in time when my youthful mind was blown.
Does each book in the series have a beginning, middle, and end? Does it leave a thread in, say book 1, and not pick it up again until book 6?
They are self-contained, sure, but each connects to the overarching narrative. It is basically a quest, to save the Tower, which stands as the nexus of all realities. If it falls, we all fall. Purdy cool.
Stephen King has told of the influence The Lord of the Rings has on the series. Do you see it?
For sure. Tolkien’s influence can’t be denied. Lord of the Rings is flat-out fantasy , whereas The Dark Tower has a good chunk of its time rooted in our world. A good mix, if I do say so myself. Mother Abigail would be proud.
Who is The Dark Tower’s main protagonist? What do you like about him?
Roland of Gilead. The Gunslinger, himself. We are all searching for something. Acceptance. Tolerance. This world is not so fucked up as we think it is. Roland’s quest is not only a hero’s journey but a redemption story as well. For whatever reason, those two ingredients have formed to become my Huckleberry and why I continue to come back for more.
What is Roland’s redemption all about? Has he failed someone. Has he committed a great sin he must rectify?
A great sin encapsulates it quite nicely. Roland chooses the Tower over a boy named Jake about halfway through the first book, the boy in turn falling to his death because of this decision. Heartbreaking, especially when it comes back in play later in the series. Hang on, I need a tissue. Okay – I am now ready for the next question.
Here’s a hanky, your face is all contorted. What about the antagonist(s)? As epic as Sauron?
I would say in league with, yes. Randall Flagg is one bad-ass dude. You may even remember him from that fine adventure called The Stand. That Dude, the WALKIN’ Dude, he gets around. More of the connective tissue I mentioned earlier. He even pops up as a Merlin-type in another book called Eyes of the Dragon. As for the Big Big Bad? The Crimson King? He was serviceable, playing his part , but if I had to, I’d go with Flagg for the win.
What does Flagg represent in the books?
Anarchy. Chaos. An agent of change. On the whole, a nasty piece of meat.
So he’s more Joker than Sauron?
Not so much a Joker, no. Purdy sure Flagg has more on the ball than Mar Napier. Bigger goals, too. Bringing about the end of all there is puts him in a different league, methinks.
What did you think of the film? A masterpiece? Good, but flawed? A miserable waste of everyone’s time?
Option 3. And to be honest, I couldn’t even finish it. I don’t mind Idris Elba as Roland, but McConaughey – man, was he woefully miscast. Grrr … aaargh…
Going back to the novel, King is a big advocate of pantsing. Does the series read like that? Does it go off on incomprehensible tangents, or does it have that shoot-from-the-hip thrill?
Doesn’t read like that at all. Makes me jealous, is what it does – me being a pantser as well. The man is just too good at his craft. You hit it on the head, too: it very much has a shoot-from-the-hip thrill. From the Tick-Tock Man to saving Eddie Dean, to Roland losing his own fingers, to what King calls Lobstrosities.
Do you pants from the start of your work? You have no thought of the end until you get there?
I think my writing process is maybe a beast unto its own. I sometimes get the ending first and work back from there. Sometimes it’s the opposite and the first line comes to me and boom – the story takes me where it wants. My least favourite is when somehow I start in the middle and find myself working toward both ends. As John Locke from Lost has been know to say: “It’s never BEEN easy!”
Have you ever pantsed to the end of a story and thought, “Sod that, I need to scrap it and start again”?
Nah, can’t say that I have. Now that’s not saying I haven’t switched perspectives when I feel it’s not quite working. I mostly write in first-person, but if I’m not feeling it I sometimes switch to third just to see what’s there. It has worked for some pieces, others not so much. When this happens I usually scrap the whole thing. Bottom drawer business, if you catch my drift.
I get your drift. Do you go into a story thinking of plot, or an emotion?
A little from column A, I guess, a little from column B. I’ve always considered myself a What If? guy.
Has The Dark Tower affected the way you write? Has King’s style influenced you at all? Is there a bit of Roland in Bishop Rider?
When I first began writing for sure I was influenced by King. I have always liked to write, but hands-down Uncle Stevie is the reason I put in the effort. I had limited success in his arena, however, and it wasn’t until I came upon crime fiction that I found my voice. That is not to say I am successful, far from it, in fact. I am having fun, though.
As for the Bishop/Roland comparison? Up until I read your question I would have said no. I can’t quite commit to that anymore, as both men are single-minded as a man can get, now that I think about it – Roland for his Tower, Bishop for every piece of scum his boots can crush. Looking back, then, yes – it would appear a seed had been planted.
That King – always looking out for me. Ha!
One reviewer said The Dark Tower is “high-falutin’ hodge-podge,” but “more than delivers on what has been promised.”
How would you sum up the beast?
One word – Epic. His magnum opus, for sure.
You’ve had some hot recommendations from highly regarded writers such as Tom Pitts, Joe Clifford, and Paul D. Brazill for your short story collection, A Better Kind of Hate. What’s next, and do you feel the pressure of such kudos?
I would say there is some pressure. I’d be lying if I didn’t. But I learned a long time ago I can only write for myself. If people happen to like my stories, hey, that’s the cake. If not, so be it. You can’t please everyone.
PS – Clifford, Pitts, and Brazill all made me pay for those blurbs. Three figures, too. Nah, I kid. Great bunch of writers to know, each one. I have been very fortunate to be accepted into this community of ours. The fact is not lost on me.
Beau, you’ve been a star. Thanks for your time and best wishes for your future work.
Jason, m’man, my thanks to you. Quite accommodating of you to give me time and space. Good luck on your newest work as well: City of Forts! For those of you who haven’t already, go grab yourself a copy. Have some fun.
You can get a taste of Beau Johnson’s work through the following links:
My Kingdom for a Fenceat Spelk Fiction
Hostile Takeoverat Shotgun Honey
Moments in Timeat The Flash Fiction Offensive
The following are other interviews he’s given:
Short, Sharp Interview with Paul D. Brazill
The Interrogation Room with Tom Leins