Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Conversation with Stephen King.

~12/7/2012.
~Chancellor Series at UMASS Lowell. 
~Tsongas Center Arena.


Stephen King walked on stage to a standing ovation.

Of course he did.

His name is part of our vocabulary.  His stories part of our pop culture and the epitome of American Horror.  All these things.  All this notoriety and he exudes a comfortable  mannerism of just your average Joe who throws the f-bomb around with ease.  I think for a split second, that hey, I could hang out with him.  But no. I would never be able to keep up with his humorous patter and quick comebacks.

Fellow author Andre Dubuse III (Townie, House of Sand and Fog) and a faculty member at Lowell moderated the event and began to count off Stephen King's list of accomplishments, Mr. King interjected with one liners as if he were on a comedy tour.
Andre stated that he has outsold Charles Dickens...
"He didn't have e-books in his day." Stephen King reminded the audience.
Andre brought up his many movie adaptations.
"Some of which were good." Mr. King allowed.
Andre revealed that he and Mr. King met 25 years ago.
"You made dirty jokes and I, (insert dramatic pause), talked about literature."

Andre told the audience that many years ago, his father was run over and basically crippled, Stephen King along with a few other authors, gave him money for his astronomical medical bills.  "This is like Steve King's greatest hits.  Let's play Freebird." King quipped without missing a beat.  Then Stephen pointed out that John Irving put together the fundraising for Mr. Dubuse.  Stephen King: Mr. Humble.

Andre and Stephen discussed his book On Writing and the subject of plotting. When Stephen found out the John Irving writes the last line in his books, Mr. King blurted out "That spoils the fun."  He writes by discovery.  The story takes shape, the characters take shape.  He starts with the "What If?" exercise that writers seem to carry in their back pockets all the time.  Case in point, Cujo.  Stephen was riding to a repair shop on his bike and an enormous St. Bernard came growling out of it's resting spot.  He described his eyes and mouth as if the event happened yesterday.  "Oh that's just Buster, he does that to everyone.  But he loves everyone."  The owner said.  Stephen put his hand down in peace and Buster was just about to spring when the owner clocked the dog, perhaps saving Mr. King from being mauled.  "Buster must not like your looks." He explained.  What if the owner wasn't there?  What if he was in a car that broke down?  What if he had a child with him?  The situation first, then the characters.  Little by little the characters begin to develop.  "Let it." Advises Mr. King.  "Don't try to push or manage them.  I make all these things up."

"I make all this shit up and you pay me!" He cried with glee.  "You guys put my kids through college and I scared the shit out of you!"

The conversation turned to how Stephen is one of the most recognizable writers of our time and he regaled us with different tales.  How people will just yell out from vehicles driving by.  "Yo!  Stevie!  Cujo!  Yeah!"  How a cook at Nathan's in Coney Island mistook him for Frances Ford Coppola and Stephen gave him that autograph.  But my favorite, (favorite, favorite) was when he had dinner with Bruce Springsteen in a restaurant in New York City.  A teenage girl was out celebrating her birthday with her parents.  She approached the table with her feet barely touching the ground.  "The Boss" started to take out a pen from his inside jacket pocket.  "Are you Stephen King?"  She asked in adulation.  "She never fuckin' looked at him!" Stephen exclaimed.   

Andre read a passage from On Writing. A beautiful passage that sounded like poetry and reflection.  It is common sense and revelation given with gentle power.  I read the book and don't quite recall the piece verbatim, but I'm making a mental note to re-read it. 

"Do you want to hear a story?" Stephen King asked and then proceeded to read Afterlife, which has never been published before.  It's a tale about a man who dies and finds himself talking to a bureaucrat about going back and doing it all over again.

The Q&A was much more organized that I ever would have thought and I applaud the staff at the Tsongas Center.  Or maybe it's simply because Stephen King fans are just so civilized.  (Well perhaps with the exception of the zealous fan who was screaming something about going down on his hands and knees if Mr. King would look at his manuscript.  Or maybe it was just a scrapbook.  I didn't catch it.)

One reader wanted to know why he didn't work more with the Halloween industry?  Such as work with Universal Studios? 
"They wouldn't want a ride I created because there'd be nooooo repeat customers." 

A student asked about becoming a writer, Mr. King encouraged college, and talked about finding what gives you a buzz, whether it be writing or playing an instrument.  "Tuition costs but dreams are forever." Stephen King: College advisor.

When someone thanked him for all his books, he replied. "I'm glad it was good for you.  It was great for me."

One woman wanted to know when he did get that first advance for Carrie, did he and Tabatha repair their car or buy a new one?  The Kings bought a Ford Pinto.  "We loved that fuckin' car!  It was brand new!"

When discussing the relationships in his books, he stressed that he sets out to tell a story and make the characters as believable as he can.  What you want is reader identification and confessed,  "I've got a reputation as a Horror writer, but I've really got a marshmallow for a heart."  Stephen King: Romantic.

"Did you ever terrify yourself?" Stephen doesn't have bad dreams.  He puts them in his writing.  But after he wrote Pet Semetery it scared him so much that he put it in a drawer and thought no one would want to read it.  The time he scared himself the most was when he was writing The Shining and counted down the days to the scene "...he knew was coming."  Danny going in room 217.  The room with a dead woman in a bathtub who's not really dead. 

In my opinion the best question of the night was from a young boy named Vaughn.  (I may be totally crucifying the spelling.)  "I'm talking to Stephen King." He said in wonder.  He then said he was 11 to which the author replied, "You go on with your bad self!"  Vaughn wanted to know what were some of his best writing moments.  Stephen told us how the idea for The Stand germinated from a radio show he listened to in Boulder, Co where an evangelist talked about a plague. 

The evening was over in a flash.  Where did the time go?  As the audience prepared to depart, Mr. King warned that 7% of people forget to lock their car and to be wary of maniacs hiding in the back seat. 

His stories, not just the ones that come out of his head, but his personal stories, his struggles, his thoughts, grant us a view into the mind of the most iconic writer of our time.  His writing represents his love for the craft, story telling and exploration.  His openness is a testament to his generosity, his thoughtfulness and wisdom. 

I may have teared up once or twice.  Of course I did.



7 comments:

Karen said...

That must have been an amazing experience for you!!!

I haven't read any of his books in awhile but I used to read his pieces for Entertainment Weekly when I was a subscriber. I love reading his views on pop culture.

Kate Midnight Book Girl said...

Oh my God, I kind of want to print this post out and stuff it in a teddy bear and hug the heck out it! Thank you for making me feel like I was there!

fakesteph said...

I teared up reading this. And laughed. I'm jealous that you got to go to something this awesome, but you also did a great job of making me feel like I was there. And omg... that person shouting about the manuscript. There is always one. And I always feel embarrassed for them.

Julie@My5monkeys said...

OMG that sounds like an amazing time. Its was interesting to hear all of his ideas came about for books. I grew up reading and watching his movies...my fave will forever be THe Stand

Smash Attack! said...

Dude. DUDE! What an amazing experience! I absolutely LOVED your thoughts and thank you for sharing the amazing night with us!

barklesswagmore said...

Wow, I am so jealous. What an amazing experience that must've been.

iluvhallow33n said...

Thank you so much for allowing us to relive that with you. What a great experience to have, I like you always thought, Hey there is a guy I could sit and chat with. Funny isn't it.

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