How I Edited It: Charles Ardai, on Stephen King's "Joyland"

Charles Ardai photo - photographer Melanie King[In a twist on our semi-regular "How I Wrote It" series, we asked Charles Ardai to describe what it was like to edit one of the world's most famous--and famously prolific and voluble--authors. In his role as founder of the retro-pulp Hard Case Crime publishing house, Ardai edited King's latest novel, Joyland -- selected this week as one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year So Far selection.]

There are easy jobs in this world and there are hard jobs. On the list of hard jobs: Coal miner. Brain surgeon. Middle-East peace negotiator. On the list of easy ones: Anger management coach to the Dalai Lama. Food taster to Tom Colicchio. And being Stephen King’s editor.

That’s not just because some forty years into a stellar career, Stephen King knows damn well how to do what he does. (Though clearly he does.) It’s also because he’s an enthusiastic and willing collaborator, more willing than many authors one thousandth as successful to listen to feedback, make changes when they’re called for, work with artists to get the visuals just so, help write lurid taglines for the front cover, and just generally be part of the publishing process. Working with writers can be ten kinds of pain, and working with Stephen King is exactly none of them.

Steve would probably tell you he’s got one of the world’s easier jobs too, or at least one of its best ones. He clearly loves every minute of it--loves making up stories and getting to tell them to millions of eager listeners crowded around a campfire of global proportions, loves the hundred little details that go into making a book a thing to cherish. The latter is a big part of why he and Hard Case Crime are such a good match: we both view books not just as vehicles for the stories they contain but as physical artifacts, colorful little treasures that shimmer and gleam like prizes in a midway arcade, paper pitchmen that draw you in with a showman’s lure and a coochie-girl’s seductive dance. C’mon, cutie, they whisper from the shelf or from a drugstore’s wire rack, want to see what I’ve got between my covers?

JoylandSo Steve’s job is easy (you just have to be one of the world’s most gifted novelists to do it), and mine is even easier (you just need one of the world’s most gifted novelists to let you do it)…is there nothing hard about being Hard Case Crime?

Well, in this particular case, just one: explaining to readers who’ve gotten hooked on ebooks why this book initially isn’t available in an ebook edition. Do we hate ebooks? Of course not. Steve has done plenty of ebooks before and I’m sure he’ll do more again; so has Hard Case Crime. But JOYLAND is something special, and we wanted to give it the special treatment it deserved. It’s a book about a time long gone but not (at least by Stephen King) forgotten, a novel that reminds us that music once came on vinyl, books once came in a form that could be creased and dog-eared, and amusement parks were once family-owned and the family’s name wasn’t Disney. It’s an old-fashioned book that Steve wanted readers to experience first in the old-fashioned way.

Which kind of leaves you with the easiest job of all: sitting back in a lounge chair or a swimming pool or grassy back yard and reading a terrific new novel by Stephen King.

Tell me--how did we all get so lucky?

 (Photo by Melanie King)

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