Forty years ago this month a promising horror writer checked into Room 217 at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado. The place crept him out so much it inspired his third published novel. You might have heard of it. It’s called The Shining. Story goes that Stephen King picked the hotel after opening a U.S. atlas and randomly pointing at a location, which turned out to be Boulder, Colorado. He wanted to get away from Maine so his next novel would have a “different sort of background.” It certainly worked.
Now on the anniversary of that trip, editor R.J. Cavender has organized a writers retreat at the haunted hotel in the Rockies for a group of authors looking for similar inspiration. It may be a brilliant idea or — if things turn out as well as they did for Jack Torrance — the worst idea of all time.
Before leaving on his trip this week, the intrepid Cavender answered a few questions for SF Signal. So, without further ado, heeeeeere’s R.J.!
JAMES AQUILONE: Why have a writers retreat at the Stanley Hotel? After all, Jack Torrance didn’t get much writing done during his stay in the Rockies.
R.J. CAVENDER: On the contrary! Jack was prolific, just very repetitive. To answer the question, though…why not? I’ve always dreamed of staying in the hotel from The Shining, so why not stay at the version that actually inspired the book? And with 40 of my author friends! It’s such a gorgeous, stately old place. Almost time to find out if Room 217 is haunted or not…
JA: Other than ghost activity, what can attendees expect from this writers retreat?
RC: We’ve got some great events planned over at the Estes Valley Library over the weekend. They’ve given us the run of the place, so we’ve got panels and signings, author meet-and-greets, and even a presentation on the origins and traditions of the season by renowned Halloween expert Lisa Morton. The events are sponsored by The Horror Writers Association and the library itself, and they’re free and open to the public both days.
JA: What non-writing events do you have planned?
RC: I picked the dates I did at The Stanley Hotel so they would coincide with their annual Shining Masquerade Ball and Murder Mystery dinner, so right there…two nights of entertainment that I didn’t have to set up. The hotel also has a ghost and history tour as well as an after-dark paranormal investigation of the building and the grounds. We’re also going to be making a convoy into the Rocky Mountain National Park via Trail Ridge Road, for our own kind of white-knuckle tour through the mountains. Lots of great places to explore in Estes Park, as well. If you want to shut-in and write all weekend, you totally can. But if you want to join the group for outings, there’s plenty to do both at the hotel and elsewhere.
JA: The Stanley Hotel sounds like the perfect place for a horror writers retreat. Is this the first one there?
RC: Y’know…I’m not sure. I know they host a successful horror film festival up at the hotel, so I couldn’t possibly be the first person to think of doing a retreat there.
JA: The Stanley offers beautiful landscapes and an interesting history. How important are your surroundings when you edit?
RC: The great thing about my job is I can do it anywhere. All I need is a laptop and some earbuds. That said, I’m not going to be doing any work while I’m there. Even editors deserve a week off sometimes.
JA: Are you planning to do a writers retreat every year?
RC: As long as they’ll have me at The Stanley and as long as people are interested in going…YES!
JA: You’re doing a writers retreat at the Winchester Mystery House next year. What other places do you think would make good locations for writers retreats? What other Stephen King-related places would you like to have a writers retreat?
RC: Lizzie Borden House, Alcatraz, Waverly Hills Sanatorium, Jerome Grand, Copper Queen Hotel. Can’t really think of any other King-related locations (though I used to live close to where they shot scenes from Desperation). I do consider Winchester Mystery House closely associated with Rose Red, though. I’ve visited there twice now and I’d love to get our group on a flashlight tour and maybe even see if I can get some after-hours time alone in the house to write.
JA: What do you think goes into making a successful writers retreat?
RC: You got me there. I’ve never been to one before. So what I did when I was putting this one together was just try to find the optimum time to go to a cool place, let the weekend activities sort of form the itinerary, and then leave a lot of options open. I want people to have time to write, but when they’re not writing…have lots of options for fun!
JA: You say The Shining is your favorite book. It’s the scariest book I’ve ever read. What puts it above other horror novels? What does it have that other horror novels don’t?
RC: The dread. The slow, plodding dread that eventually builds up steam until it’s a ticking time-bomb. Both literally and figuratively. Couple the book with the movie and it adds so many new layers to both pieces. I’ve been borderline obsessed with both since I was a kid.
JA: What writing lessons can be learned from The Shining?
RC: That sometimes…a writer just needs some quality time alone.
Visit James Aquilone at http://jamesaquilone.com