Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Giddy Fangirl Soaks Up Wit and Wisdom of Stephen King

By Cecilia Gigliotti

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

The first words out of Stephen King’s mouth when he took the stage at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts Thursday were, “I’m a Belieber.”

It might have been a joking reply to Colin McEnroe’s comment about the full house simply failing to get into the Justin Bieber concert a few blocks away, but it seems typical of King’s attitude toward life.

His sense of humor is incredible, given the dark matter his work explores. It’s hard to believe so much scary stuff sprang from the mind of this adorable guy in a black turtleneck, jeans, and large glasses, boyishly shying away from the tumultuous standing ovation he received upon walking onstage at the Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall.

His memoir On Writing gives gallons of invaluable advice to readers, including “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

That one was hard for me, given my affinity for adverbs at the time. I undoubtedly adored them, spilling them haphazardly over my pages, trying relentlessly to make my writing sound effortlessly interesting – oh, crap, there I go again. Sorry.

Among the writers King mentioned in admiring tones throughout his conversation with WNPR’s Colin McEnroe were Margaret Atwood, Charles Dickens (for his presentation of “honest emotions,”) William Golding (for Lord of the Flies – one of my favorite books, too!) and Dr. Seuss.

You can’t get much better than a tip of the writer’s hat from Stephen King. So, if we call ourselves King fans, let’s all pick up a copy of Great Expectations, and oh, the places we’ll go!

In On Writing, King details his employment of the “Hemingway Defense” at the height of his alcoholism. As a writer, King said, “I am a very sensitive fellow, but I am also a man, and real men don’t give in to their sensitivities. Only sissy-men do that. Therefore I drink.”

While I in no way endorse this approach, my Hemingway-fan-sense starts tingling whenever I read this passage. King knows what good writing is. That’s why he’s such a great writer.

In his Bushnell appearance, King touched on the 1999 accident that nearly killed him, his (mis)adventures playing guitar with the Rock-Bottom Remainders, the person whose body he would choose to inhabit for 24 hours (he chose a person with a life vastly different from his own), Stanley Kubrick’s mutilation of The Shining, why he likes to say “Excedrin” instead of “painkillers,” the indistinguishable difference between popular fiction and literature, his upcoming novel Doctor Sleep (a sequel to The Shining), and a little boy playing with a stick in the mud – an image which inspired It.

Along the way, he got a lot of laughs, hollers, and applause. There is no denying his charisma, and he deserves all the accolades. But his small-town-ness is just as real – the simple Mainer whose most cherished pastime is sitting down and letting the words flow.

Here are just a few more ideas the King threw out last night, not necessarily about writing, and my reactions:

1.  “The Great American Novel is the quest novel.” Okay. Good to know. Note to self: start thinking up some interesting quests.

2.  “I still can’t get through Moby-Dick.” Wait, isn’t that a quest novel? (Not to mention widely considered the Great American Novel?)

3.  “I choose to believe in God – it’s a conscious decision…because what’s the downside? I mean, if you die and there’s nothing, you’re not gonna … know!” Perhaps. You can believe what you believe, Mr. King (or, if you prefer, beliebe what you beliebe). But hey, Stephen King and I both believe in God! Pretty cool, no?

4. “If you didn’t laugh at life, you would cry.” A rather pessimistic notion for my taste, but King is pushing 67, and, as Mark Twain said, “There is no sadder thing than a young pessimist, except an old optimist.”

5.  “[When the interviewer asks about your childhood,] what they really want to know is, ‘What fucked you up so bad?’” We all have our demons, Mr. King. Your triumph over alcoholism and drug addiction is a real testament to us budding book-writers that a belief in the craft can conquer anything. Thank you for being that beacon to us. And with that, my philosophical quota for this post is filled.

6.  “For one golden moment, books trumped rock.” First, how many people can say they had dinner with Bruce Springsteen? And second, how many people can say a fan approached their table and requested the autograph OF THE PERSON WHO WASN’T BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN?

7.   “My idea of a really good meal when you’re hungry is Waffle House.” Allow me one sentence of fangirlish folly: STEPHEN KING EATS BREAKFAST FOR DINNER! JUST LIKE ME! EEEEEEP! (By the way, in case you’re interested – which I know you are – he has a waffle, two eggs over easy, bacon, and sausage.)

8.   “I write books that are over a thousand pages long. I don’t do lightning rounds.” Do you do lightning bug rounds? (*ba-dum-tish* Twain reference!)

9.   “I like Hartford … I don’t like coming in on I-84.” You and the entire house, buddy.

Thanks for sharing your nuggets of wisdom with us, Mr. King. You’re truly a wonder, for people who like the horror genre and for people who just like to write. So keep sending this reporter those checkered tablecloths and blue eights, because I’ll keep taking them. And I’d bet any money that everyone in the house enjoyed themselves at least as much as, if not more than, the Beliebers.

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