The Work of a King

Stephen King received a Louisville Slugger from Carol Besse of Carmichael’s Bookstore. Photo by TIM VALENTINO

Stephen King received a Louisville Slugger from Carol Besse of Carmichael’s Bookstore. Photo by TIM VALENTINO

“In case you didn’t know it, friend, the Weather Bureau can post tornado warnings, but when it comes to telling exactly when and where they’ll touch down, they don’t know…” I’ll let you guess the end of that quote, or you could always read “Misery” and find out for yourself.

Despite the unexpected and miserable rain, rabid fans turned out in droves to attend Stephen King’s first public appearance in Louisville at Iroquois Amphitheater on June 12, a venture that was made possible by Carmichael’s Bookstore, Louisville’s oldest independent bookstore. The community’s interest in King was so intense that one of the only venues that could handle the demand was the massive 2,348-seat amphitheater.

Stephen King is most certainly one of America’s most celebrated and prolific authors. His works have permeated the minds of the masses and become pop culture mainstays since the 1970s. His first novel, “Carrie,” was published in 1974 and spawned several film adaptations while catapulting King into literary superstardom.

“Salem’s Lot.” “The Shining.” “The Stand.” “The Dark Tower.” Odds are that you’ve heard these titles before, even if you’ve never actually read them. You may have seen such films as “The Green Mile” and “The Shawshank Redemption,” some of the greatest films of all time, and never realized that they are adapted from some of Stephen King’s finest stories.

King has the unique capacity to affect his readers in a way that transcends genre. He most assuredly knows how to scare us. In fact, it’s what he’s best known for. He also knows how to confound us, how to amuse use and how to touch us. He does all those things regularly, winning mountains of accolades along the way, including the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003, the National Medal of Arts in 2014 and several Bram Stoker Awards.

On the night of his appearance in Louisville, however, I was given the rare opportunity to hear the man speak. When I was in school, King was perhaps not given as much clout and merit as authors like Fitzgerald, Faulkner or Hemingway, but I, my mother and many of my teachers noted that his work was just as influential in the American literary landscape as any of theirs. In my mind at least, he was their equivalent.

When he stepped on stage on Sunday, June 12, I was not at all surprised. He seemed to embody the spirit of that ever-present narrator in his work, a man with a trove of experience and wisdom to be sure but also a bit of a smart mouth and a lewd turn of phrase. I realized all at once that he was everything I knew he would be.

King spoke freely about himself, relating amusing stories accumulated over a career that has spanned nearly half a century. One story I’ll never forget is how he compartmentalizes different aspects of his personality in order to live his life. According to King, one part of him is the Stephen who does things around the house and goes to the grocery. One Stephen is the one I was currently seeing, a public face for his work when he’s on tour. The third Stephen, the one he says he works hard to make sure we never meet, is the one behind the writer’s workshop in his mind, the designer of his horrific plotlines and characters. It’s the sort of insight that only a writer could share.

Also on the agenda was a reading from his latest novel, “End of Watch,” the conclusion to his Bill Hodges trilogy. I hadn’t had a chance to read the earlier novels in the series, but a few minutes of hearing from the last piece was more than enough to whet my desire to start.

Purchasing a ticket to the event also provided attendees with a book voucher. After the conclusion of King’s talk, the Carmichael’s employees patiently led each and every event attendee up on stage and exchanged vouchers for copies of “End of Watch.” Four hundred of the books were signed completely at random, so with a sold-out event, that gave each attendee a roughly one-in-six shot of snagging a signed copy. It was amusing to watch as lucky fans would occasionally jump up and down or shout in joy as they opened the cover of their books.

Having spent the majority of their patience sitting in the rain, many of the attendees left once they had their books. For those who stayed, however, there was a screening of “Stand By Me,” an adaptation of King’s novella “The Body” that many consider – including King himself – to be the most successful transition of one of his works to the screen.

I, for one, had read the story it was based on – appearing in his collection “Different Seasons” in 1982 – but never seen the film. It definitely maintains King’s trademark voice and humor, which is perhaps its biggest success, and since there are no supernatural elements in the story to speak of, it is perhaps a much easier sell to a general audience.

As I watched the film, I couldn’t help but think of Stephen King’s position in the literary world, how he’s accomplished so much – produced so many beloved works of breathtaking complexity, terror and beauty. And then, I smiled because I know he’s not done yet. VT