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Before The Dead Zone #StephenKingRevisited

by Jay Wilburn

The plan is to reread all of Stephen King’s works in the order that they were published. Richard Chizmar of Cemetery Dance had the vision. I’m doing it because I am a writer and I want to improve my long fiction. I think there is something to be learned through this challenge. As Richard Chizmar and Bev Vincent put up their posts on the official site, I will link those in the corresponding ones of mine on this blog most likely in each of the “After” posts following my reread.

You can go back and read my After The Long Walk post.

Or back to the beginning for Before Carrie.

But right now it is time for The Dead Zone.

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I will strive to be spoiler free as much as possible dealing with specific examples in a general way, but I will be discussing content in these blog posts. So, you have been warned.

It took me an embarrassingly long time to recall that I had read this book before. As I was beginning my own revisiting Stephen King adventure, I started collecting the books I did not own. Most of them I did not even including many I had lost over the years through unexpected evictions and periods of having no home to house my shelves for books. I thought for a while this would be the first King book I would reach which I hadn’t already read. But I was wrong.

I thought the details I remembered from the story were from the movie, but then catching clips of the movie, I realized I had never seen the movie through. I was remembering story details from having read it. So, when did that happen?

It had to be in college. I was at a junior college for two years before finishing at a four year school. That college was “nestled deep in the hills of northeast Georgia” as the school song went. It was so deep that it had a few fastfood restaurants and a used bookstore to break up all the churches. The town was called the gateway to the mountains because everyone drove through it to get somewhere else. I’m sure the town fathers in White County thought of it as a more majestic motto.

Everyone left that school on the weekends and went home. The campus was deserted except for a few students and the staff who cooked meals for the meal plan. I didn’t have a car and typically nowhere to go even if I did. I earned all my money not covered by scholarships for housing, tuition, books, room, and board for all three quarters during the summer and came to school functionally broke. I found some temporary friend during the summer to drive me up and dump me off in the fall. I lined up a job and a ride during the spring for the end of school. I disciplined myself to only use odd job money earned during the school year for spending to keep from running dry before the third quarter and the next summer’s dash for cash. I missed the meal plan in the summer. At the four year school, it was semesters, more people stayed for weekends, I got a better on-campus job, I had a more comprehensive scholarship, I met my future wife, I bought a car my senior year, and lined up a real job after graduation with benefits and no illegal activity required.

At the two year school on the weekends, I would walk a few miles into town and spend change to get old paperbacks from the used bookstore. I usually tried to keep the King novels I got, but traded in everything else to afford the next book to read to get me through the weekend. The school was on the quarter system and I could usually schedule all my classes on two or three days a week all after the noon hour. I only had to get up in time for lunch every day, stayed up as late as I wanted, and never missed class. I did my homework when I was bored waiting for friends to finish classes on days I had none. I had a 4.0 and usually nothing but time once the weekend arrived. When I went to a four year college my junior year and realized I was going to have classes five days a week in the morning, I considered changing my major, but there was no path free of morning classes. So, I remained an education major, taught school for sixteen years, got a Masters Degree in Educational Leadership, quit on a Tuesday in the middle of February, and now I write horror stories for a living. Stay in school, kids.

I suppose I traded in the Dead Zone one weekend when I hadn’t scraped together enough to buy my next round of books. I feel bad about it now, although I probably would have misplaced it at some point along the way before my life stabalized anyway.

Rereading King, I notice a theme concerning the fear of being known, akin to the fear of being exposed. As I recall, this story may be the novelized realization of some of that exploration in his earlier short stories.

With my health and mental processing issues in connection with my recovery from kidney transplant, I look back on this story with a new appreciation for the main character dealing with trauma and the fear of not being sure he can trust his own mind. Not feeling safe about contact with people with my weakened immune system makes me appreciate the vulnerability to what others carry with them. I get the jarring shift in perspective in coming so close to the place of death and not being able to see the world in the same way again. Not being able to see people and their problems the same way. It comes with positive and negative changes. Perspective is funny that way. I wonder how King might have written this story differently if it had come to him after his van accident.

Maybe this story will read differently to me now on this side of my own medical traumas in an era with a president so many people so deeply fear.

Let’s get ready to enter The Dead Zone.

You’ll be able to read my After The Dead Zone post once I am finished.

Thanks for reading,

— Jay Wilburn, writer, reader, survivor of the dead zone

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Jay Wilburn
Jay Wilburn has a Masters Degree in Education that goes mostly unused since he quit teaching to write about zombies. Jay writes horror because he tends to find the light by facing down the darkness. He finds the journey through life easier by having you join him. Jay is the author of 2 series: The Dead Song Legend and The Great Interruption. He cowrote The Enemy Held Near with Armand Rosamilia. You can also find Jay's work in Best Horror of the Year volume 5 and Dark Moon Digest. Each year Jay has the pleasure of featuring many great authors in the genre through the Summer and Winter of Zombie blog tours on his website.

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