In the shadow of the US Bank Stadium, writers, readers and book peddlers gather in the make shift Minneapolis tent village, crowding the closed streets, haggling over words, sentences and paragraphs, and whispering in hushed tones, “Soon the master will be here.”
“Imagine” by John Lennon is being piped out over the crowd when I show up. And I wonder if these are the same people who sold out First Avenue last night to hear the Rock Bottom Remainders. I suspect they are. Why should they be any different from me? Here to witness the same phenomenon, the head horror writer in charge, Lovecraft’s current channeler on earth—Stephen King.
He doesn’t go on until 10 AM, so I pick out a spot fairly close to the stage, but far enough back I’m out of the crowd—at least for now. The morning is relatively pleasant. It’s sunny, there’s a spring breeze, classic rock plays along with a steady bongo drumbeat somewhere that has me thinking “Renaissance Festival for Writers.” Commercial interests are represented, mostly by Target reps in red shirts that hand out sunscreen and sunglasses, all with the Target logo.
I scan the crowd for writers I know—and come up empty. But there are enough people here they could easily be hidden in the growing mass of people. “I Feel Like Making Love” comes on, and the Ren Fest feeling now gives way to more of a “carnival for writers” vibe. I also think that in a King novel (Cell, for instance) this would be the moment right before it all goes bad, before people start going mad and biting each other. I take a step further back from the growing crowd, eye-up the exits.
A woman in the crowd asks me how Instagram works on her phone (I’m no help). Another woman, about four feet tall and at least eighty years old, leans close to me, enjoying the shade I provide. When I take a step away, she moves closer again. My toes are run over by a stroller filled with two sleeping infants and their mom yells “toes!” in surprise, and jokes with me that “You probably didn’t need those anyway.” No harm done, I concur. There are clearly a variety of people here, and most of them, it seems, are here just like me, readers or writers, waiting to see King.
“Dangerous Type” by the Cars plays now. Somewhere past the wall of people, King must make a brief appearance as he heads towards stage. A flurry of hands and cheers all go up at once, and stop just as suddenly as he ducks out of site. I can’t help but wonder if this is where fame gets you. People yelling and waving at just a slight glimpse. There are so many of us now in this crowd, my mind jumps to a scene in Jesus Christ Superstar: Jesus and the Lepers. “There are so many of you!” I hope King gets something worthwhile from this—besides big bags of writer superstar money, that is. I hope it’s worth it.
When King is finally introduced and makes it on stage I mostly see him on the big projection screen they have set up. He has a casual manner, and a wide, friendly smile. He shows his age a little: gray hair, a bit bent of posture, very soft-spoken.
Benjamin Percy, local author (of some fine books like Thrill Me and Red Moon) interviews King, with full disclosure, that they will mostly talk about one of King’s newer books, The Outsider (I’ve read it, not bad—the first two-thirds were great, the ending felt familiar to me, reminiscent of It).
King is so much fun to listen to, and between him and Percy they had some great things to say about reading and writing and horror. Here are a few gems (tried to capture as best I could, please consider most of what follows “paraphrased”):
· King complimented the crowd for being “People who read shit.” (Meaning: great that they are readers)
· “If you can read and write you can own the f•cking world.” - Stephen King
· He spoke of how many people have written him to say our current president reminds them of Greg Stillson, the president in his book The Dead Zone (The first thing I thought of when Trump was elected.)
· A few times he talked about how his books end, in this manner: “I’ll find out the ending in the course of writing the book.”
· He’s a Game of Thrones fan.
· Random thought/observation: The closed captioning at this event was bordering on hilarious. I’m sure it’s tough—I couldn’t keep up if I were typing, but here are a few captions I noticed that made me smile:
o Supernatural Beans (beings)
o Needful Chinks (things)
o Swagger (Jimmy Swaggart)
o Kid tanning on the window (tapping)
· Some projects King has in the works
o A sequel (perhaps) to Salems’ Lot
o The Outsider will be a Netflix series
o If It Bleeds (new novel coming out soon—it sounds good!)
· A joke by King: “So far so good: What the guy who jumped off the roof said as he was passing the 40th floor.”
· What does King write about? He says he writes to the point that monsters are real—and sometimes they win. He likes to write about people falling apart. He also talked about how all people have secrets, and used the example of Ted Bundy, who did terrible things yet to most people around him, they only saw a handsome, charming guy. He also uses his writing to pass on his fears and traumas to others (why pay a psychiatrist when people pay him to read his fears).
· King also spoke about how in these (current, terrible, scary) times people are frightened, and that writers have a responsibility to write about what frightens them.
o His upcoming book If It Bleeds may express some fears about Alzheimer’s and dementia. (A writer’s tool is his mind…)
· Some things that King spoke of fondly:
o Wait Until Dark (an old movie with Audrey Hepburn)
o The Shrinking Man (Incredible Shrinking Man)
· On fame: “Writers should be like Clark Kent.”
· “Minnesota is a great place. You’re lucky to live here.” – Stephen King
· “It’s a strange life.” – Stephen King
· How good writing should be: “A hem stitched so fine…” (meaning so well written people can suspend belief)
· Side note by King and Percy: the director, John Carpenter, apparently keeps a “File of Scares’—creepy images—that he uses to work from.
As King spoke the crowd grew. Some of the most interesting people in the audience, to me, were the ones who walked on by, who never looked at King up on stage, or even paused. One of the most popular writers on the planet is up on stage—and you can’t stop to listen in for a minute? I just don’t understand.
This is my third time being in a King audience—and I love to listen to him expound about writing. But why shouldn’t I, as someone who has read 40+ Stephen King books? I’m plenty biased.
One other moment I got to experience, thanks to The Loft’s Word Play event (and my thoughtful wife who bought us tickets for our anniversary), was to hear King and the Rockbottom Remainders play a blend of classic rock songs, most that I recognized as cover tunes from my father’s old record collection. Hearing this group of writers sing “Paper Back Writer” was wonderful, and as another writer friend of mine said, “Hearing King sing Stand By Me was a dream come true I never knew I had.”