Last week I got to do something pretty cool and potentially terrifying: I got to see Stephen King do a book reading, live at Sacred Heart in New Orleans.
My broseph-in-law Danny got me hooked on King's Dark Tower series, which is more in the fantasy realm and less in the "oh no I crapped my pants" horror realm. Danny saw that King was coming down to New Orleans, so we had no choice but to go.
Here's what I knew of Stephen King going into this book reading:
1. He's written a ton of scary stuff that has been the single biggest reason why I am afraid of clowns, rabid dogs, rabid bats, pet cemeteries, and girls named Zelda (other than the one in the Legend of Zelda games).
2. He likes baseball.
3. He lives in Maine.
What I didn't know about Stephen King was that he's frickin' hilarious! Seriously, the first 30 minutes of his talk was really a stand-up comedy routine. We laughed, we cried (for fear that if we didn't then he would write a scary story about all of us in some other dimension), we cheered.
I took notes on my phone while I was listening to him speak, and here are some of the bullet points that I jotted down:
1. This was his first time to New Orleans, although he's said that he's been to N.O. several times in his mind because he reads great writers such as James Lee Burke.
2. He ate beignets and loved them. He also said, "Who dat!" (But he ultimately likes the Patriots more than the Saints. He's forgiven, since he's from the northeast.)
3. What scares Stephen King? Public speaking! At least, that was the case when he first started speaking publicly. He's actually a really great public speaker. He also hates snakes, spiders, and has a fear of getting trapped in an elevator (although I guess it depends on who is trapped in there with you). Also, works by Ruth Rendell are to Stephen King what the works of Stephen King are to us. (Ie, scary.)
4. He's a former schoolteacher. He got the idea for his current book (11/22/63, in stores now) while in the break room at his former school, when someone asked, "What would the world be like if JFK hadn't been shot?" He told stories about how 11/22/63 is the date that JFK was shot, and how that was his generation's 9/11. (Everyone knew where they were when they found out about JFK, the date is instantly recognizable to that generation, etc.)
5. He wrote a novella called "The Body" which was later adapted as the film "Stand By Me." Who knew?!? And since he also wrote "The Stand", that gave me the idea for a Stephen King mash-up called "The Stand By Me" - a post-apocalyptic horror/fantasy novel about the end of the world which also includes a pie eating contest where a fat kid pukes.
He read from his new book and then took questions from the audience. Some of the questions were about sequels to his previous books, to which he replied that a sequel to the Shining (called Dr. Sleep) and a new Dark Tower book (The Wind Through the Keyhole) will be coming out soon. The new Dark Tower book fits in between books 4 and 5.
The most interesting part of the talk was when King was describing his research for 11/22/63, and about how he traveled to all sorts of different places and about how times have changed. He read from a part of the book that describes Dallas back in the late 50's and early 60's, and it doesn't sound like a very pleasant place. But let's face it, it's Texas... how good could it be? (I kid, I kid!) He said that he found Dallas to be a nice place now, but it was interesting hearing about the way things were back then.
I've seen a couple of really great authors - Khaled Hosseini and David Sedaris stand out - but seeing Stephen King was a really great experience. And I'm not just saying that because if I don't then I'll have dreams about a terrifying clown or that a witch doctor will put a spell on me and make me turn so thin that I waste away. Or maybe that is why I'm saying it. Either way, it was great! Go see him if you get the chance, and if he's not coming anywhere around you anytime soon, then check out his new book - 11/22/63.