"Uncle Stevie" King wows sold-out crowd of hundreds at Van Wezel Hall in Sarasota
But I'm not ashamed to say I have been a Stephen King fan since his second book, 1975's Salem's Lot, led me to keep the lights on at night -- every night! -- while in junior high school.
So joining a sold-out crowd of hundreds at the Van Wezel Hall in Sarasota Monday to genuflect before "Uncle Stevie" -- as he calls himself in his most-excellent pop culture column for Entertainment Weekly -- felt just fine.
Turns out, King in person is a lot like his books; funny, down-to-earth, given to entertaining and meandering asides and capable of occasional bursts of profanity.
He took questions from Susan Rife, arts editor at the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who was refreshingly playful and relatively at ease with the superstar novelist. Which made for a pretty fun conversation with a local hero (he and wife Tabitha King have a home in nearby Casey Key).
--His new book, Under the Dome, was first conceived in the mid-'70s, put aside for a long while, and eventually reworked over a few more years. And after finishing an initial manuscript even bigger than the current 1,074-page behemoth, his sister heard the plot and said "Oh, you mean like The Simpsons Movie?" (which is what my wife said when she heard about it, too). Uncle Stevie swears he never saw it.
--He doesn't outline or plan out his books much before writing. To him, writing is more like excavating, pulling out a story which already exists, told to him by a cast of characters he loves. He said many books start with an image in his mind -- Under the Dome began with a press conference featuring emaciated, starving people facing a well-fed press corps. When he heard John Irving talk about knowing the final chapter and final scene of every book when he starts writing, Uncle Stevie said "What fun would that be?"
-- He's going to write new installments of both the Dark Tower series and the Talisman series. I never really got into those books, but the fanboys and girls around me squealed like little children when they heard the news.
-- He's got a PDF version online of his manuscript featuring a version of Under the Dome that was his second try at the book, written in Pittsburgh while director George Romero was filming Creepshow, featuring folks trapped in an apartment building. He's also got a way-cool Web site.
--For the umpteenth time, he confirms that he's a pretty normal guy who had a pretty normal childhood. The master of the modern horror novel also confided that the only time he saw a ghost was out of the corner of his eye while searching for his coat in a room while preparing to leave a party. It is to Uncle Stevie's credit as a storyteller that he managed to make even this underwhelming story sound compelling.
--But while he claims to be a normal guy, he also talked about taking a motorcycle ride across Australia just before writing Under the Dome and collaborating on a music-drenched audio play which will feature Kris Kristofferson, Sheryl Crow, Elvis Costello and Roseanne Cash with music by John Mellencamp. So he keep some pretty amazing company.
By the time a couple of city officials came out to hand him the key to Sarasota, you were left in awe by a major talent and publishing dynamo -- he estimated authoring something like 70 books under his various pen names -- who somehow managed to maintain a regular-guy spirit and joy for what he had.
In a business rife with tortured artists and giant-sized egos, it was a welcome discovery, indeed.