The day I met Stephen King
It was a dreary day in Fairfax, Virginia. The kind of day where the sun never makes an appearance (except to provide enough heat to boil up a nice thick humidity) and the sky bides its time, waiting until you step out of your car to release a downpour of rain. My hair was hopeless; twelve desperate bobby pins were clinging to my strands for dear life.
It was the perfect setting for an evening with Stephen King.
My first thought when he burst onto the stage was this: It’s him! He’s real! He’s right there! That’s right, I was starstruck. At the sight of a 64-year-old man from Maine.
But you have to understand – this was the guy who wrote ‘Salem’s Lot and It, the books that left me terrified of bare windows and storm drains. This was the man who’d had the gall to write Pet Sematary, the courage to pursue The Dark Tower, and the capacity to create The Stand. From writing on his lunch breaks while working at an industrial laundry, to becoming the 19th highest selling author of all time, Stephen King has created some of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever read.
Yet here he was, speaking in a small auditorium at a university in Fairfax, Virginia, and calling us his friends. He was wearing jeans, motorcycle boots, and a plain red t-shirt. And as he filled the hour with stories and small talk (and the occasional F-bomb) my perception of him began to change.
He expressed his gratitude. He was humble, yet he spoke frankly about his success. He cracked jokes about his fame, sharing one particularly embarrassing story about being recognized in public (it involved a bathroom stall with an absent door.) Even though he said it’s an author’s least favorite question, he shared how he came up with the ideas for Cujo, The Stand and The Body. He didn’t boast; he happily satiated our curiosity. He told us about the new novel he’s working on, a story about what happened to Danny after The Shining. And then he read an excerpt to us. For ten minutes.
(Sorry the video cuts off! My iPhone wasn’t cooperating. Click here to view a full-length recording by the pro’s at GMU!)
Stephen King used to be a name on a book. Those books entertained me and inspired me to write my own stories about the paranormal. Then, after reading On Writing, I became inspired by the author himself, and his “rags to riches” quest to become a full-time writer. But when I finally saw him right in front of me, talking to us with a smile on his face, I finally had the opportunity to see him as something else (maybe even the way he wants to be perceived). Stephen King is a good guy. Contrary to his dark and often grim subject matter (and despite those troubled years that are now in the past), Steve is probably one of the happiest, kindest, and most pleasant guys on earth. And that’s really the best thing I took away from that evening. Because now, when I read one of his stories, I feel like I’m listening to an old friend.
Oh yeah, and we got a book signed.
DANA RUTKOWSKI (my mom): Hi, how are you?
STEPHEN KING: Better now that you guys are here.
(She hands over our battered copy of The Stand. He turns to the title page and begins carefully signing his name.)
DR: Thank you for signing our book.
SAMMY RUTKOWSKI: Thank you for writing books.
SK: You’re welcome.
DR: I bought that book at a time when I really couldn’t afford it.
(SK hands back our book.)
SK: I know ‘bout that!