When I received the newsletter announcing Stephen King's book tour, I knew I had to go. When I looked at the tour schedule and saw that Tulsa was on the list, I knew I was going.
While I am a huge fan of his stories, a dedicated "constant reader," my respect for Stephen King reaches beyond the realm of fiction. I was first introduced to King's work through the unofficial biography Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King. I knew practically nothing of the world-famous author prior to opening that book. I only knew him as a guy who happened to write scary stories at an alarmingly fast pace. Haunted Heart made quite the lasting impression.
What intrigued me about Mr. King was his passion and resolve to do what he loved during the early years of his career. He began writing stories at a young age, began his first novel in high school, and finished several more during college. He submitted four different novels while living in virtual poverty after college, supporting a wife and child while teaching high school English for minimal pay. Each of these manuscripts was ultimately rejected, but he refused to give up. While supplementing his teaching with an occasional published short story, King began work on a novel entitled Carrie. He wrote this story in his tiny home's laundry room, clicking away on an old typewriter he'd set up on a child's desk. The book was written bit by bit between the grading of school papers, tending to his family, and many other necessary demands. And of course, his work and dedication paid off, as Carrie was eventually accepted by Doubleday Publishing House.
All of this was circulating in my mind while waiting in line for the event. It was King's own story of dedication that inspired me to begin writing again, to focus on one interest and aspiration above all others, and put my heart into a dream. I was moments from seeing this man with my own eyes. After several hours in the sweltering heat, the doors opened and we filtered inside. We found great inside-aisle seats about seven rows from the stage, and cooled down while a local band entertained the audience. About forty-five minutes passed before the band cleared off and the stage was set for Mr. King. The audience was then greeted by Jeff Martin, the founder of Booksmart Tulsa, the official sponsor of the event, and was given a little backstory about the book tour. And then without further ado, Stephen King himself was welcomed onto the stage.
The crowd of over a thousand fans rose to its feet and cheered in excitement as the 68-year-old master of horror graced the podium. Jeff Martin remained to present him with a declaration from the Mayor of Tulsa, proclaiming June 15th as "Stephen King Day" in Tulsa. The crowd erupted at this announcement, and Martin then left the stage.
I had a perfect view as Mr. King began his speech. He started off by mentioning that he had never been to Tulsa, or to Oklahoma for that matter, at least on a physical level. His novel “Revival” featured a scene set during the Tulsa State Fair.
“The more I read about Tulsa, I knew there was something here for me,” he said. “I couldn’t explain it, but it was in the right place. And I wrote that scene at the Tulsa State Fair — I could smell it, I could see it — just from reading about it."
"Don’t tell anyone, but I’m working on another book, and it’s going to be set in Tulsa,” King said. “Assuming it gets done.”
He then weaved through a wide range of topics, from previous books to future plans and encounters with fans.
He touched a little on his inspiration for the Bill Hodges Trilogy, and his struggle in deciding if he should pursue the idea before beginning. He reflected on this struggle, saying, “I knew I could write this, and it would be a really good pulp detective story. And then another part of me said, ‘No, you can’t. … It’s not horror. I’ve been working all my life, and I developed this reputation as the 'scary guy.' It’s like being typecast." Regardless, King decided to go for it, and it clearly paid off. Mr. Mercedes, the trilogy's first entry, went on to win the coveted Edgar Award.
One of my favorite segments of King's speech was what he referred to as the "Three Stephens." There's Home Steve, the everyday man who does things like taking out the garbage or plunging the toilets; Public Steve, the man who goes on book tours, signs autographs, does interviews, etc.; and then there's Scary Steve, who does the work. "I have this little house in the woods," he said. "It's about 70 feet from the house to this little house. And somewhere between those two places, those other two Stephens go away and Scary Steve goes inside the little house and does the work."
I love the acknowledgment of this separation of mentalities. The person who gets out of bed and tends to the family, the house; the man whose face you see on television and on the inside flap of book jackets; there is a separate mentality unseen: the one isolated and hunched before the computer screen, typing away and letting the creative juices flow with no outside distraction.
I firmly believe that true creation comes from the ability to look deep within yourself; to shut out unnecessary distraction and unneeded influence and simply reflect what you find in that innermost self. The mentality I have when driving around town running errands, conversing with my family or girlfriend, or when I'm at work is a stark contrast from the mentality I engage when I sit down to write. Hearing one of my idols explain this in his own way was truly uplifting.
The seventy-five-minute event in Cain's Ballroom was thrilling. Not only did I get to witness a man for whom I have great respect speak about what he loves, but at the end of the night, my girlfriend and I received a limited signed copy of his latest book, End of Watch. What a fantastic evening!
In addition to the topics I covered here, some of his other works that he mentioned and are worth noting include Duma Key, Doctor Sleep, Revival, Gerald's Game, and IT.