An Evening with the Kings

We're very lucky here in Chicagoland to have Anderson's Bookshop. It's an independent bookstore--really an independent chain with three different locations--and it's been in the same family for six generations. (As an aside: A member of the fifth generation is running for Congress in my district. She's one of seven candidates--six of whom are women--competing for the Democratic nomination for the seat. The six women are all strong candidates. Our Republican incumbent is going to have his hands full.)

Anyway, one of the great things about Anderson's is the plethora of author events that they host--not just at their bookstores, but at surrounding locations as well. There's a different author appearance almost every week. This past Friday night, they hosted Stephen King and Owen King at North Central College in Naperville and I was able to buy a ticket.

 Stephen King (left) and Owen King (right). This was the best shot I could get from my seat in the back.

Stephen King (left) and Owen King (right). This was the best shot I could get from my seat in the back.

I've been reading Stephen King's books since I was a kid. He's one of my favorite authors. I was giddy about having the opportunity to hear him speak. He didn't disappoint. The event was held in the college gym, which left something to be desired as a venue. The acoustics, for one, were terrible. The echo made some things difficult to hear. In some places, the acoustics were so bad people got up and left early. Fortunately, I was able to hear fairly well from my seat in the bleachers at the back, but there were things--questions, answers, parts of sentences--that I missed. On the whole, though, it was a good experience. I laughed far more than I thought I would.

Keep your courage up. Be brave. Write what comes to your mind. . . . Stay brave.
— Stephen King, North Central College, September 29, 2017

Each King read an excerpt from the new book that they co-wrote, Sleeping Beauties. I missed chunks of those excerpts, but what I heard sounded good and colorful. (As part of the event, we each received a copy of the book. It's hefty tome--almost 600 pages hardcover.) From there, the conversation became informal and hilarious. Both Kings have a delightful sense of humor, with Owen's being a bit drier and more subtle than his father's. There was a lot of laughter in the audience as they quizzed each other and shared anecdotes about writing the book and Owen's life growing up as a King. My favorite part came at the end of their conversation, when Owen pulled out The Stephen King Quiz Book and tested his father on knowledge of his own work. He presented it as a test of his father's mental acuity, since his father is now 70 years old. Apparently, in their previous stop on this tour, Papa King had missed a question or two about The Shawshank Redemption. This time, he was presented with questions about his short story, "The Body"--which became the movie "Stand by Me." He earned a perfect score and raucous audience applause.

We’re taught to see reviewers and critics as teachers giving a grade. . . . Don’t take them as teachable moments.
— Stephen King, North Central College, September 29, 2017

The laughter continued as Becky Anderson (bookshop matriarch and Congressional candidate) asked pre-submitted audience questions. I missed most of the questions, but managed to infer what they were about based on the Kings' answers (what I could hear of them). Over the course of the conversation and Q&A, Stephen King also shared some wise words for those of us who are writers. (I've added a few pieces of his advice as pull-quotes.) 

If they [reviews] are all saying the same thing, that you f**cked up in the same way, you did. If all reviews say something different, they’re full of sh*t.
— Stephen King, North Central College, September 29, 2017

The entire evening reinforced my impression of Stephen King as one of the most down-to-earth authors we have. (And as one of the saltiest. The man does love his curse words.) With his success, he could be a real asshole, but he didn't come across that way at all. So many professional (and not-yet-professional) writers get so full of themselves and their process--their way is the only way and their advice is the best/only advice and writing is mysterious magic that requires specific sacrifices and rituals--but King is not like that at all. Even with his success, he still seems like the hack he started out as and, as a writer who's still trying to make her big break happen, I found that very comforting and encouraging.