Many celebrated novelists have flamed out in Hollywood. Perhaps that's why Stephen King has largely avoided adapting his own work for the screen.
But when it came to "Lisey's Story," an eight-part series now streaming on Apple Plus, the Master of Horror refused to be scared off.
"It means a lot to me because it's the one that I love best," King told TV critics during a virtual news conference earlier this year. "It's a story about love and marriage and the creative impulse. It's also got a kick-ass villain in it, which I liked a lot."
More than 60 of King's stories have been turned into feature films, most notably "The Shawshank Redemption," "Stand by Me," "The Shining" and "The Green Mile." There have also been at least 20 TV projects inspired by his imagination, including "The Outsider," which debuted last year.
"He's not an author; he's an army," said Richard Price, who wrote seven of the 10 episodes for that HBO series. "It's a brand name, like Jell-O. He gives you a great story and makes them as human as possible without the need for CGI pyrotechnics, which I prefer to avoid. He's like a boulder running downhill and has been for decades."
But King himself has written for the screen fewer than a dozen times, rarely earning rave reviews. Only die-hard fans have sat through 1992's "Sleepwalkers" more than once.
"Lisey's Story" is his most impressive effort yet. It stars Julianne Moore as a widow trying to find closure after the death of her husband (Clive Owen), a celebrated author whose legion of fans include more than a couple of maniacs.
Her journey means coming to terms with her late husband's dark secrets, visiting a mysterious dreamland guarded by a flesh-munching monster and battling an assassin who treats the rest of the world like a giant mosh pit.
The scary elements are intact, but there are also romantic elements usually not associated with King's work.
"It almost felt like it was an explosion of inner worlds," Owen said. "It's just sort of juggling all of those layers. It's something very, very intimate and something really epic at the same time."
King based the 2006 novel on his own brush with death and how it affected both his marriage and his legacy.
"I had double pneumonia and I came very close to stepping out," he said. "When it was clear I was going to get better, my wife decided she was going to totally clean out my office and make everything new again for me. When I came back home, she said, 'Don't go in there. You won't like it.' That's because it wasn't done yet. And the first thing I did was go into my office. And it was totally empty. I was still feeling very rocky and on a lot of different medication and I thought, 'This is what the room would look like after I die.' 'Lisey's Story' came from that."
King isn't done making an impact on the pop culture scene. More than 20 of his stories are being prepped for the screen. But no matter what comes next, "Lisey's Story" will remain a standout.
"I'm either all the way in as much as possible or all the way out," King said. "There have been a lot of projects where I've stepped back and written books, waiting for something to come along that I really love. That was this. This was that passion project."
Neal Justin • 612-673-7431 •
Njustin@startribune.com Twitter: @nealjustin