Storm of the Century
The "reach" is a coastal New England term that refers to the stretch of open water between an island and the mainland. A bay is open on one end; a reach is open on two. The reach between Little Tall Island (fictional) and Machias (real) can be supposed to be about two miles wide.
In most cases three or four out of every five, let's say I know where I was when I got the idea for a certain story, what combination of events (usually mundane) set that story off. The genesis of It, for example, was my crossing a wooden bridge, listening to the hollow thump of my bootheels, and thinking of "The Three Billy Goats Gruff." In the case of Cujo it was an actual encounter with an ill-tempered Saint Bernard. Pet Sematary arose from my daughter's grief when her beloved pet cat, Smucky, was run over on the highway near our house.
Sometimes, however, I just can't remember how I arrived at a particular novel or story. In these cases the seed of the story seems to be an image rather than an idea, a mental snapshot so powerful it eventually calls characters and incidents the way some ultrasonic whistles supposedly call every dog in the neighborhood. These are, to me, at least, the true creative mysteries: stories that have no real antecedents, that come on their own. The Green Mile began with an image of a huge black man standing in his jail cell and watching the approach of a trusty selling candy and cigarettes from an old metal cart with a squeaky wheel. Storm of the Century also started with a jailhouse image: that of a man (white, not black) sitting on the bunk in his cell, heels drawn up, arms resting on knees, eyes unblinking. This was not a gentle man or a good man, as John Coffey in The Green Mile turned out to be; this was an extremely evil man. Maybe not a man at all. Every time my mind turned back to him while driving, while sitting in the optometrist's office and waiting to get my eyes dilated, or worst of all while lying awake in bed at night with the lights out he looked a little scarier. Still just sitting there on his bunk and not moving, but a little scarier. A little less like a man and a little more like . . . well, a little more like what was underneath /.
Gradually, the story started to spin out from the man ... or whatever he was. The man sat on a bunk. The bunk was in a cell. The cell was in the back of the general store on Little Tall Island, which I sometimes think of as "Dolores Claiborne's island." Why in the back of the general store? Because a community as small as the one on Little Tall wouldn't need a police station, only a part-time constable to take care of the occasional bit of ugliness an obstreperous drunk, let us say, or a bad-tempered fisherman who sometimes puts his fists on his wife. Who would that constable be? Why, Mike Anderson, of course, owner and operator of the Anderson's General Store. A nice enough guy, and good with the drunks and the bad-tempered fishermen . . . but suppose something really bad came along? Something as bad, perhaps, as the malignant demon that invaded Regan in The Exorcist? Something that would just sit there in Mike Anderson's home-welded cell, looking out, waiting . . .
Waiting for what?
Why, the storm of course. The storm of the century.