by MARTY DEMAREST & r & & r & Duma Key & r & by Stephen King & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & espite having written a whole book about writing, Stephen King has never really revealed his secrets for becoming the world's best-selling novelist. So I thought I'd glean a few notes from his latest novel, Duma Key, due out in paperback on Oct. 21.

1) The scariest monsters are the most familiar. Even though the novel's hero, Edgar Freemantle, confronts a ghost ship and watery zombies, his real challenges are a divorce and recovery from an accident. King's protagonists have grown increasingly human over the years, and it's the homey familiarity of their struggles that makes them sympathetic. Nevertheless ...

2) ... luxury is always appreciated. Freemantle reveals he's worth at least $40 million, which is a convenient sum with which to try and survive a Stephen King novel. It also allows King to set the novel on an isolated Florida Key, replete with "palm trees silhouetted against the sky." King gets a picture postcard on which to doodle his unnatural creepy-crawlies. "Florida is evil," he seems to say. "Wish you were here."

3) The secrets to salvation lie in innocence and community. The innocence is found in a side-character's childhood backstory. The posse emerges from a gang of incomplete adults -- one-armed Edgar, his dementia-descending landlady and her brain-damaged caretaker.

4) Even with flawed and interesting characters, don't make them unique. Edgar's wife describes him as speaking like "a pill-popping Magic 8-Ball." Not only is it unnerving to encounter bloodless prose in a horror novel, but clich & eacute;s and pop-song lyrics save writing time, allowing King to maintain his publishing quota.

5) A single evil force is better than several evil forces. Even though there can be mini-monsters scattered through the pages (like the novel's sharp-toothed giant frogman), it's important that they all boil down to a solitary source of evil that can be battled in one climactic showdown.

6) Put the showdown at the very end of a lengthy book even if it feels like the story is going on too long.

7) In fact, just make the story go on too long. Duma Key spins its novella-sized plot into an epic. King's books aren't called page-turners for nothing.

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