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Stephen King unveils secret project: a baseball novella

March 30, 2010

That Stephen King is one crafty fellow. While stumping for his last novel, the gargantuan Under the Dome, and preparing his next major story collection for this fall, he was secretly contracting with an indie Baltimore publisher for Blockade Billy, a baseball-themed limited edition novella.

People who weren’t raised right and therefore prefer football to baseball may be clapping hands to cheeks and screaming, “The horror! The horror!” The rest of us are rubbing our palms in anticipation.

And King’s announcement arrives –not so coincidentally — just in time for Opening Day. King, a lifelong citizen of Red Sox Nation (he lives part-time on Florida’s west coast so he can catch spring training games), is one of America’s most famous baseball fans. But this is his first baseball fiction since The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon — and Gordon left the Red Sox in 1999.

“I love old-school baseball,” King says, “and I also love the way people who’ve spent a lifetime in the game talk about the game. I tried to combine those things in a story of suspense. People have asked me for years when I was going to write a baseball story. Ask no more: This is it.”

Even now, King and Cemetery Books, the small Baltimore publisher of special edition horror and dark fantasy, are tight-lipped about Blockade Billy. Here’s the publisher’s deliciously plummy come-on:

“Even the most diehard baseball fans don’t know the true story of William ‘Blockade Billy’ Blakely. He may have been the greatest player the game has ever seen, but today no one remembers his name. He was the first — and only — player to have his existence completely removed from the record books. Even his team is long forgotten, barely a footnote in the game’s history.”

Featuring cover art by Glen Orbik and inside illustrations by Alex McVey, the book sells for $25. Fans are advised to order directly from the Cemetery Dance online store. Early buyers include a Blockade Billy baseball card (to see the dust jacket, with the Orbik cover and a front-and-back image of the baseball card, go here).

Stephen King

Those who don’t order from Cemetery Dance may be skunked. The publisher’s website says: “We’ll be filling direct orders first and then distributors, online stores, and the chains if there are copies left available after we’ve taken care of our regular customers.”

My guess: This will be a darned good book. Sure, King has written some crap, but he’s also written some of the best pop fiction of the past 40 years. I know of no popular writer, with the possible exception of Elmore Leonard, who is as admired by literary writers –and they should know, right?

I recall one year at the Key West Literary Seminar when a panel of highly refined literary authors — I seem to remember Tom McGuane among them, but I’m not sure — got sidetracked talking about how good a writer Stephen King is.

Plus, King gets extra credit for working with a small, independent publisher. This is a man who not only writes books, but loves books and knows the business.

What do you think? Will King hit one out of the park? Or will he strike out? Play ball!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy Smart permalink
    March 30, 2010 10:41 am

    “Under the Dome” was about as subtle and nuanced as an ice-cream headache.

    So, swing and a miss.

    Blockade Billy sounds good, really good. I am already asking the question, “What did Billy do to be removed from Baseball history?” It’s got to be something really horrible, like the designated hitter rule.

    I followed the link and signed up to follow Lonely Road on fb so I can get details on the signed special edition.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 30, 2010 10:58 am

    I did not read Under the Dome, as I have a neurological disorder that prevents me from touching novels of more than 1,000 pages. I break out into snores. However, King’s previous major book, Duma Key, was terrific — pulpy and literary in a way that’s hard to describe. A joy of horror and suspense and atmospherics and serious psychological characterization. Like I said, the man’s written his share of stinkers. When you’re as prolific as King, that’s hard to avoid. But the good ones are really good. I have high hopes for Blockade Billy.

    I think the reason Billy is wiped from baseball history is that he fired Cthulhu as his agent and hired Scott Boras…

    • Tommy Smart permalink
      March 30, 2010 11:42 am

      Well then, trading magic for money is a serious transgression, he deserves to be forgotten.

      • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
        March 30, 2010 12:16 pm

        Wow, Tommy, you are tough. I hope I never come up for trial in your court.

  3. March 30, 2010 12:02 pm

    I like the Evening Post/Norman Rockwell vibe of the cover art. King once wrote a New Yorker article about baseball – maybe a little league team in that his kid played on? Don’t remember the details but it was a fun and engrossing true story. I’m sure ‘Blockade Billy’ will be a pleasure. Think I’ll pass on ‘Dome.’

    Last King novel I read was ‘Bag of Bones,’ which I liked not for the fear factor above all – the moving magnetic letters on the fridge was kind of a goofy, Ouija Boards of Suburbia ghost manifestation – but for the whole effect of being pulled into one of King’s gothic rural Maine-scapes, with all the settings, characters and psychology.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 30, 2010 12:18 pm

      Sean, nice to hear from you. I did not like Bag of Bones so much, though it does have the qualities you admire. But I thought it was a step back from the more sophisticated stuff — Delores Clairborne, Gerald’s Game — that had preceded it. I love the Rockwellesque cover, too, and expect this will be a good one.

      • March 31, 2010 11:15 am

        Delores is awesome! Love her speech, and the way SK carries that vernacular all the way through. It’s as pitch perfect start to end as Huck Finn.

        Hey, ya think Joss Whedon got the “gorram” expletives in ‘Firefly’ from Miz Claiborne?

  4. Candice permalink
    March 30, 2010 1:39 pm

    Definitely won’t strike out. I predict Big Hit.

  5. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 30, 2010 4:01 pm

    Yeah, I think you’re right.

  6. Tena Hubble permalink
    March 30, 2010 10:48 pm

    I too, look forward to reading a new King novel. As one of my favorite authors, I anxiously await new material. And, being of a baseball ingrained family, how could I not love a Stephen King baseball book? I will place my order right away.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 30, 2010 11:13 pm

      That’s a good idea, because they could run out. And they might not print any more. Of course, this could all be a PR ruse, but who cares? Stephen King! Baseball!

  7. March 30, 2010 11:09 pm

    I’m rooting for King stealing home . . . in Fenway, that is.

  8. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    March 30, 2010 11:13 pm

    Oh, heck. He doesn’t have to steal it. He could buy the damned thing.

  9. rachel permalink
    March 31, 2010 9:37 am

    Now, Chauncey Mabe, this is really strange: I have that neurological disorder too! I have absolutely no desire to read “Dome.”

    I would be ashamed to say how much I loved “Duma Key” if it wasn’t such a good book. Because it is. A really, really, really good book. So I know that King has it in him to write really well. I’m just sure that this will be one of them. I think that probably a lot of the time when things are a little not so great is when he is like a factory just churning out product. And since he wrote a giant novel and is working on his short story collection, I’m just not sure where he found the time to write a good novella on the side. So I think that I will hold off on the buying mine in advance and let someone I trust tell me if it is good and then maybe, probably, they will let me borrow it.

    That being said. I think that the marketing ploy is a very good one. And people love King so much that it will work I think. But I also think that it is doing more than that, it (as opposed to Meyer’s free online content) is attempting to do something for books, and readers, and independent sellers. I like their order of importance. Although I wish we could cut out the online buyers, but that is a desire for a world which no longer exists.

    In the King vs Novella battle, I go with King.

  10. rachel permalink
    March 31, 2010 9:38 am

    And by King vs Novella, I mean King vs. Meyer.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      March 31, 2010 11:02 am

      Yeah, we all knew that. And: So far, it’s King by a landslide, although I must say it appears we have not heard from a single Meyer partisan, sadly. Like you, I am charmed by King’s commitment to the book, readers, independent publishers and booksellers — all, I fear, endangered species. As for King writing so much, I think it is less a mattered of his being a factory, seeking attention and profits, than it is a matter of compulsion. I think he is compelled by who knows what demons to write pretty much All The Time. Kind of like Joyce Carol Oates, only more interesting.

  11. March 31, 2010 11:21 am

    Rachel’s post made me think about this guy Lanier who’s been writing about the limits of free creativity and the problems with surrendering all, or even most, to The Hive Mind:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/15/books/15book.html

    p.s. I haven’t bought this book – loaner, anybody?

  12. Tommy Smart permalink
    April 9, 2010 2:36 pm

    Here is the link to the enter the drawing to win the chance to pay out the nose for the signed limited and lettered editions:

    http://www.cemeterydance.com/page/CDP/PROD/O_KING55

    $450 and $1250 respectively.

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