Fourth period study hall is the dead zone of the school day.
It's also when Stephen King, a freshman at Lisbon Falls High School in Maine, fed his obsession, devouring the likes of Ray Bradbury, 1940s science pulp fiction and the soul-searing novels of a Clevelander: Don Robertson.
A former soap opera writer, Cleveland Magazine managing editor and novelist, Robertson's books stripped away pretense and left readers enlightened but exhausted. "There are a lot of his influences in my early books," says King from his home in Maine. "I loved him. I just thought he was terrific. Don had a taste for the gruesome, which really appealed to me."
King talked with us about Robertson, his Under the Dome TV series, two new books and his days as a Tribe fan.
Q. What inspired you to publish Robertson's The Ideal, Genuine Man in 1987?
A. Don was a balls to the wall writer. This is the best one he wrote before the end of his life. One of my favorite memories was an appearance for the book in Houston. There were hundreds of people there, and Don had never had that kind of attention before. He asked me if I ever got nervous before these things and then pulled out the biggest f---ing bottle of Valium I had ever seen and took four of them. He lived large.
Q. Is CBS' Under the Dome similar to your book?
A. The showrunner, Brian Vaughan, who is from Cleveland, created an arc of the story, which is different from the book. He wrote three of the episodes, and all of the scripts have gone through his hands. There's a lot of Cleveland in his head. When the disc jockey gets into trouble from gambling, it was because he kept betting on the Browns.
Q. In your crime novel Joyland, the main character reveals he once worked for Cleveland Magazine. Where did that reference come from?
A. Back in the mid-'90s, the Red Sox hired a terrible manager, and I was so pissed off I decided I was done with them, and I became an Indians fan. I was one of the first to buy season tickets for Jacobs Field, and I had a seat right behind home plate. I would fly into town and stay in a hotel, which is where I must have seen the magazine. For three years I tried my ass off to root for the Indians, but I couldn't do it. I realized I was in the wrong place.
Q. Your new book Doctor Sleep is the long-awaited sequel to The Shining. How daunting a task was this?
A. It scared me a little bit, but I decided I was going to do it because it scared me. I think it's pretty good. It fits fairly seamlessly with the original. Danny Torrance is all grown up, but he's still dealing with some demons. This book is like being the son of a famous father — it's always hard to live up to the old man.