Transgressions by Stephen King & John Farris


Edited by Ed McBain



Stephen King


John Farris





by Ed McBain



by Stephen King



by John Farris



When I was writing novellas for the pulp magazines back in the 1950s, we still called them “novelettes,”

and all I knew about the form was that it was long and it paid half a cent a word. This meant that if I wrote 10,000 words, the average length of a novelette back then, I would sooner or later get a check for five hundred dollars. This was not bad pay for a struggling young writer.

A novella today can run anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 words. Longer than a short story (5,000 words) but much shorter than a novel (at least 60,000 words), it combines the immediacy of the former with the depth of the latter, and it ain’t easy to write. In fact, given the difficulty of the form, and the scarcity of markets for novellas, it is surprising that any writers today are writing them at all.

But here was the brilliant idea.

Round up the best writers of mystery, crime, and suspense novels, and ask them to write a brand-new novella for a collection of similarly superb novellas to be published anywhere in the world for the very first time. Does that sound keen, or what? In a perfect world, yes, it is a wonderful idea, and here is your novella, sir, thank you very much for asking me to contribute.

But many of the bestselling novelists I approached had never written a novella in their lives. (Some of them had never even written a short story!) Up went the hands in mock horror. “What! A novella? I wouldn’t even know how to begin one.” Others thought that writing a novella ( “How long did you say it had to be?”) would constitute a wonderful challenge, but bestselling novelists are busy people with publishing contracts to fulfill and deadlines to meet, and however intriguing the invitation may have seemed at first, stark reality reared its ugly head, and so . . .

“Gee, thanks for thinking of me, but I’m already three months behind deadline,” or…

“My publisher would kill me if I even dreamed of writing something for another house,” or . . .

“Try me again a year from now,” or . . .

“Have you asked X? Or Y? Or Z?”

What it got down to in the end was a matter of timing and luck. In some cases, a writer I desperately wanted was happily between novels and just happened to have some free time on his/her hands. In other cases, a writer had an idea that was too short for a novel but too long for a short story, so yes, what a wonderful opportunity! In yet other cases, a writer wanted to introduce a new character he or she had been thinking about for some time. In each and every case, the formidable task of writing fiction that fell somewhere between 10,000 and 40,000 words seemed an exciting challenge, and the response was enthusiastic.

Except for length and a loose adherence to crime, mystery, or suspense, I placed no restrictions upon the writers who agreed to contribute. The results are as astonishing as they are brilliant. The novellas that follow are as varied as the writers who concocted them, but they all exhibit the same devoted passion and the same extraordinary writing. More than that, there is an underlying sense here that the writer is attempting something new and unexpected, and willing to share his or her own surprises with us. Just as their names are in alphabetical order on the book cover, so do their stories follow in reverse alphabetical order: I have no favorites among them. I love them all equally. Enjoy!

ED MCBAIN Weston, Connecticut August 2004



There are certain things that are almost always mentioned when the name Stephen King comes up. How many books he’s sold. What he’s doing in and for literature today. One thing almost never mentioned— and not generally perceived—is that he single-handedly made popular fiction grow up. While there were many good bestselling writers before him, King, more than anybody since John D. MacDonald, brought reality to genre novels with his minutely detailed examinations of life and the people of mythical towns in New England that seem to exist due to his amazing talent for making them real in every detail. Of course, combined with the elements of supernatural terror, novels such as It, The Stand, Insomnia, and Bag of Bones have propelled him to the top of the bestseller lists time after time. He’s often remarked that Salem’s Lot was “Peyton Place Meets Dracula.” And so it was. The rich characterization, the careful and caring social eye, the interplay of story line and character development announced that writers could take worn themes such as vampirism or ghosts and make them fresh again. Before King, many popular writers found their efforts to make their books serious blue-penciled by their editors. Stuff like that gets in the way of the story, they were told. Well, it’s stuff like that that has made King so popular, and helped free the popular name from the shackles of simple genre writing. He is a master of masters. His most recent novel is Cell.


Stephen King

The things I want to tell you about—the ones they left behind—showed up in my apartment in August of 2002. I’m sure of that, because I found most of them not long after I helped Paula Robeson with her air conditioner. Memory always needs a marker, and that’s mine. She was a children’s book illustrator, good-looking (hell, fine-looking), husband in import-export. A man has a way of remembering occasions when he’s actually able to help a good-looking lady in distress (even one who keeps assuring you she’s

“very married”); such occasions are all too few. These days the would-be knight errant usually just makes matters worse.

She was in the lobby, looking frustrated, when I came down for an afternoon walk. I said Hi, howya doin’, the way you do to other folks who share your building, and she asked me in an exasperated tone that stopped just short of querulousness why the super had to be on vacation now. I pointed out that even cowgirls get the blues and even supers go on vacation; that August, furthermore, was an extremely logical month to take time off. August in New York (and in Paris, mon ami) finds psychoanalysts, trendy artists, and building superintendents mighty thin on the ground.

She didn’t smile. I’m not sure she even got the Tom Robbins reference (obliqueness is the curse of the reading class). She said it might be true about August being a good month to take off and go to the Cape or Fire Island, but her damned apartment was just about burning up and the damned air conditioner wouldn’t so much as burp. I asked her if she’d like me to take a look, and I remember the glance she gave me—those cool, assessing gray eyes. I remember thinking that eyes like that probably saw quite a lot. And I remember smiling at what she asked me: Are you safe? It reminded me of that movie, not Lolita (thinking about Lolita, sometimes at two in the morning, came later) but the one where Laurence Olivier does the im-promptu dental work on Dustin Hoffman, asking him over and over again, Is it safe?

I’m safe, I said. Haven’t attacked a woman in over a year. I used to attack two or three a week, but the meetings are helping.

A giddy thing to say, but I was in a fairly giddy mood. A summer mood. She gave me another look, and then she smiled. Put out her hand. Paula Robeson, she said. It was the left hand she put out—not normal, but the one with the plain gold band on it. I think that was probably on purpose, don’t you? But it was later that she told me about her husband being in import-export. On the day when it was my turn to ask her for help.

In the elevator, I told her not to expect too much. Now, if she’d wanted a man to find out the underlying causes of the New York City Draft Riots, or to supply a few amusing anecdotes about the creation of the smallpox vaccine, or even to dig up quotes on the sociological ramifications of the TV remote control (the most important invention of the last fifty years, in my ‘umble opinion), I was the guy.

Research is your game, Mr. Staley?she asked as we went up in the slow and clattery elevator.

I admitted that it was, although I didn’t add that I was still quite new to it. Nor did I ask her to call me Scott—that would have spooked her all over again. And I certainly didn’t tell her that I was trying to forget all I’d once known about rural insurance. That I was, in fact, trying to forget quite a lot of things, including about two dozen faces.

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