In early 2017, Richard Chizmar revealed to me that he was collaborating with Stephen King on a short story called Gwendy’s Button Box. He asked if I would answer a few questions about the events, places, and people of Castle Rock, Maine, that famous (and even infamous) fictional town that was the setting for several King novels and many stories. I happily obliged.
Then in 2019 I started getting texts from Richard again asking for more details about Castle Rock. This led to Richard’s solo book, Gwendy’s Magic Feather, which furthered the adventures of Gwendy Peterson and the burden placed on her by the mysterious Richard Farris. In my afterword to the limited edition of Gwendy’s Magic FeatherI was wondering if I would hear Richard again in 2020 asking me more about Castle Rock.
I was wrong. Although I found the right time, it was Derry that he wanted me to research instead.
Four years after the start of their collaboration on Gwendy’s Button boxStephen King and Richard Chizmar were back at work on what would appear to be, from its title, the final book in a trilogy: Gwendy’s Final Task.
I had the opportunity to interview the co-authors at the end of 2020 about the book.
I suppose it was inevitable that one or both of you would wonder what happened to Gwendy Peterson after the events of Gwendy’s Magic Feather. What was the inspiration and motivation for this new adventure?
King: I get the credit (or the blame). I just had an idea. They seldom come full fledged, from start to middle to finish, but once in a blue moon they do, and when they do, they must be written. Not to do so would be like killing a puppy.
Chizmar: Steve sent me a series of text messages in June 2020, and the first started with, “Hey, Rich, suppose Gwendy has…?” And then he laid before me the nuts and bolts of Gwendy’s final task. We brainstormed a few more ideas and discussed our work schedules, eventually agreeing on a tentative start date. And everything followed from there.
After Richard wrote the sequel to Gwendy’s Button boxwhat was it like collaborating on Gwendy’s story again?
King: For me, it was like coming home. He’s a great character. Richard effectively brought the magic by simultaneously putting it into politics and literature.
Chizmar: Collaborate on Gwendy’s Final Task was a joy. We did everything electronically – by emailing files – but if you took a look at our texts and emails from the months we spent working on the story, it would be pretty easy to imagine the two of us sitting side by side. – next to the same messy desk with big goofy smiles on our faces. That’s what I felt, at least. A real partnership, and a great pleasure.
How are you preparing to write a sequel to books written four years ago?
King: Reread them, make character lists, get the flavor.
I know you’re not a fan of the sketches, but how many discussions did you have about the direction the book was likely to take before you started working on it together? To what extent did you stick to the original plan?
Chizmar: Not much! Steve knew how the story began and ended and much of what happened in between. We used these story elements as a kind of roadmap, but we were both flying blind most of the time, which is where the fun came in.
This book ventures more broadly into “Stephen King’s universe”, with references to places and concepts that extend beyond Castle Rock. What inspired you to take this approach?
King: In the previous two, we never talked about the origin of the button box. I thought about it and the answer seemed obvious to me.
Gwendy’s Final Task mentions current issues like the pandemic and the 2020 election. Things have changed since you started working on the book. How much revision did you do to take into account new information: the result of the election, for example, or the current state of the pandemic?
King: Richard better take this one. I mean we knew, Rich—right? About COVID, at least. The election must not have been decided, or am I wrong?
Chizmar: COVID was at the center of our lives as we wrote Gwendy’s Final Task— and the virus ended up playing an important background role in the book — but the election had yet to be decided. Once we were done, we put the manuscript aside for about a month to simmer, and when we came back to do a final polish, the election was over and on the books (well, it was less for most people). Anyway, Trump’s departure didn’t really have an effect on what we wrote.
Is there something one author wrote while creating the first draft that took the other by surprise?
King: Back to Derry! wow!
Chizmar: Ah! Yeah, it was my fault. All I can say is that once I sat down to write, I felt the very strong shoot from Derby. It’s a haunted place where a lot of bad things happen, and I knew it had a big part to play in Gwendy’s story.
The other side of the coin (an 1891 Morgan silver dollar, of course!): If you had told me a few years ago that Gwendy Peterson would go to space to save the world, I would have thought you were crazy.
Given the unusual main setting of the story, how much scientific research was needed to get the details of this environment?
King: I watched a lot of videos. Beyond that, two words: Robin Furth. She’s great. But we were wrong about some things. Rich, do you remember showering and brushing your teeth? Ha-ha. In the end, we had to give the MF station some gravity.
Chizmar: Same. Robin is a saint. She kept us on our toes and cleaned up some really big messes.
While you were working on the novel, did you discuss the direction of the book, or was it just a process of pushing the manuscript back and forth and letting the other author run wild to do what he wanted with the story?
Chizmar: Almost total freedom, which made the process all the more difficult and exciting.
How did you decide when it was time to hand over the manuscript to your collaborator?
King: 50 page rule.
Once you finished the first draft, how did you handle revising each other’s sections?
Chizmar: We actually made a lot of minor revisions and adjustments as we went along. Most of the time, when one of us received a new batch of pages, the first thing we did was read and review. It helped us get back into the flow of the story. Then we picked up where the other left off and ran with it.
Richard Farris is an intriguing figure in these books. The initials “RF” have historically been associated with pseudonyms of Randall Flagg, that “wild card” character who has appeared in several other works. Farris, however, seems more benign than other characters who shared those initials. Do you see him as another guise of “the black man”?
King: I saw him as an evil force when I started writing on the box. By the time I realized he was a white force, it was too late to change the initials.
Richard – what was it like exploring the world of Stephen’s other well-known cursed city, Derry? How about immersing yourself in the Dark Tower multiverse?
Chizmar: Incredible. Creepy. Dreamlike. I remember walking away from my desk for several days thinking: wow, Just spent the afternoon in Derry, Maine.
Is this the end of Gwendy’s story, or could she ever come back?
Bev Vincent contributed to the writing of graveyard dance magazine for more than two decades. His books include Stephen King’s Illustrated Companion and The Dark Tower Road. In 2018, he co-edited the anthology flight or fear with Stephen King.