M & Mr. King

Neil Gaiman has posted the raw draft of an interview he did of Stephen King, the polished version of which appeared in UK Sunday Times a few weeks ago (while I was in London, in fact, though I never picked up a copy, so I’m glad Neil posted this).

Which gives me, in turn, the perfect excuse to write about the time I encountered Mr. King in the Borders at Downtown Crossing in Boston, back when there was a Borders in Downtown Crossing, or anywhere for that matter. I think it was a game day (that’s the Red Sox for those not in the know), which would explain why “Uncle Stevie” was in town. I was just browsing; we lived on Beacon Hill and haunted Downtown Crossing when we had nothing better to do. The place was pretty empty. I spotted Mr. King in the stacks—he was taller than I expected, though then again, I really didn’t expect to see him in person, like, ever, much less in the Borders—and, after catching his eye, gave him the universal “Are you . . .?” questioning look. He gave me a little nod, which might’ve been resignation, and I left him alone. Maybe because he was really tall (though not as tall as my grandfather, but nearly), but I like to tell myself I did it because I’m not the kind of person who goes around bothering people in bookstores. Even if they are, themselves, famous authors.

Go read the interview in any case. I agree with King that I “find” my stories, and that often, as I’m writing them, they start to fit together in ways I never imagined at the outset. I’m excavating, discovering, as much as my readers do. Maybe that’s craft, but I don’t try to put any label on it. I take it like I would take a gift and thank whatever is in the cosmos handing it to me.

Also like King, I’m not happy if I don’t write. If I go a couple days without writing, not only do I suffer for it, but everyone around me does, too. I’m not pleasant to be around if I haven’t been allowed to release that pressure.

I’ll never be as prolific as King, and horror isn’t my genre, either . . . I like to read his books, though. I remember sneaking them off my father’s bookshelf, slipping a similar-sized book into the space. But my dad is no fool, and he keeps his shelves neat and alphabetized; he worked out pretty quickly that something wasn’t right. And then said to me: “Just don’t let your mother find out you’re reading that stuff.”

On a good day, I’ll get the six pages King writes about. Some days I’m struggling just for three. I try to make three my minimum, but the point is to write a little every day, no matter how little.

Lastly, I share King’s fondness for John D. McDonald. And that one is courtesy of my mother, who introduced me to Travis McGee after I’d exhausted the public library’s stash of Agatha Christie.

It’s childish, though, to compare, and ridiculous too. King is, well, King. And I’m just me. But I’ll keep writing anyway. If only to spare my family.

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