An audience with the king

I hadn’t been to a book signing for a long time, but last Friday night made up for it…

(Stephen King holds up the Mason Award from the Fall for the Book Festival. Photo by Alexis Glenn, respectfully ganked from the FFTB website since we couldn’t take our own. That’s a George Mason t-shirt and baseball cap under his arm.)

The award presentation was the closing event of George Mason University’s annual Fall for the Book festival, taking place on campus at 7:30. We made it through traffic on the Beltway and got to George Mason in good time despite the rain and fog. (One thing that struck me as we made our way into the concert hall was the diversity of the crowd, especially in terms of gender and age.) King received a standing ovation just for making it onto the stage, then demanded that we clap for ourselves, since we were all out on a Friday night because of books. He talked about getting older (“I’m 64! I’m in a f***ing Beatles song!”), what inspired some of his books, and life on the book tour circuit (including the various celebrities he’s mistaken for — “Aren’t you Steven Spielberg?” “Hey, you’re Francis Ford Coppola!”). He also read an excerpt from his current work in progress (which involves revisiting a character from The Shining), and answered some questions submitted by the audience (asked if he believed in ghosts, he declared himself a “ghost agnostic”). He bantered with the emcee and had us laughing so much it felt more like a comedy show than an author event, and every time he mentioned the title of one of his books, everyone burst into applause, as if he were a rock star who’d started playing the first bars of a song everyone recognized.

After the award had been presented, those of us with the randomly distributed ‘golden tickets’ were able to get into the book signing line. I hadn’t expected that they’d given so many out, and the length of the line surprised me, but soon enough the ushers were moving down the line letting everyone know that, yes, he’d promised to sign all 400 books, so as long as you had a ticket and were in line, he’d still be there.

I went through quite a lot of thought back when I first got my tickets, as to what book I’d have signed. If I’d had, say, a hardcover of It or something like that, I might have gone with that, but I did some overzealous library cleaning years ago and only kept my absolute favorites of his books, and those all wound up being the paperbacks.

And then I started thinking about what would really mean something to me — I mean, to me, not as a trophy to show off to people, or for whoever survives me to sell on eBay. 🙂 It wasn’t about owning a book signed by Stephen King as much as it was about the experience of getting a book signed by Stephen King.

And coincidentally, I had just bought myself something special.

With the recent sale of my first novel, I had some fun figuring out whether I was going to have some sort of ritual for each book, something to do or treat myself to. I finally decided that with each book sold, I’d honor the process that got it there, and buy myself a nice journal. (Not that I need any excuse for that, as I currently have 23 blank books I haven’t used, but… yeah, anyway, where was I…) So I’d spent a smidge more than usual on my blank-book habit and got a nice Italian leather journal to commemorate my first book. And that, I decided, was what I wanted signed. I was a bit nervous that there might be some sort of problem with that, but then I remembered a story about Neil Gaiman signing somebody’s arm once (or some body part; they then had it made into a tattoo), and I figured these guys are asked to sign just about anything. (All the same, I did take a copy of On Writing as a backup.)

Jeff and I wound up about halfway through the line (couples could get in line together, but you could only get one signature). It wound up moving faster than we expected (a good thing and a bad thing, since a fast line means they’re not giving fans much opportunity to be chatty). While we waited, I tried to decide what to say and how to say it, because I figured it was a good idea to explain what the heck he was signing. I’d spent the whole day barely able to eat, and found myself laughing at the other fans’ nerves because I was feeling the same thing. Jeff jokingly compared the scene to Ralphie in A Christmas Story waiting to see Santa, and I was terrified I was going to fumble everything and wind up asking for a football instead of the Red Ryder BB gun.

And then it was finally my turn. I tend to go seriously deer-in-the-headlights when I’m in front of authors I love, and this was like Bambi facing a semi with all its halogens blazing. The whole thing went by in something of a blur as he said hi and I passed him the open journal. While he was signing, I explained that I usually write most of my first drafts longhand, and that was the next journal I’d be using. (Or something like that. If it weren’t for Jeff observing the whole thing, I wouldn’t have wanted to bet that I was still forming intelligible syllables.) King finished signing with a flourish, gave the book a hearty slap closed, and looked up at me. “Good luck,” he said.

“Thank you.”

Then, almost as an afterthought as I took the journal back, he added, “Pretty book.”

I grinned. “Thanks.” The line moved on. I went out into the misty night clutching my prize… and exhaled for possibly the first time that day.

Jeff: “He wished you luck.”

“Of course he wished me luck! That’s what you’re supposed to say. That’s what I’d say.” (Little voice inside, giddy as a thirteen-year-old: He wished me luck!)

The journal in question (from Barnes & Noble — you can’t tell from this picture, but it’s something like 2 inches thick):

And the signature:

(Of course, now the question becomes, what goes on the next page? I’m thinking a selection of my favorite Stephen King quotes on writing, but we’ll see.)

So I don’t have the trophy of saying “I have a copy of [whatever] signed by Stephen King.” Instead I have what, to me, is something more precious. I have a reminder not just of the famous author who’s sold 350 million books, but the struggling writer who started out teaching high school English, the one whose wife rescued the first chapters of his first book from the trash, because he’d given up on it and thrown it out.

I have the reminder that we might be at different places on the journey — with different skills and challenges, different goals and visions, different styles and methods — but when we sit down to write, we all sit down to the same blank page, and try to tell our story.

One thought on “An audience with the king

  1. Pingback: My Name is Renee, and I’m a Notebook Addict | Renee Carter Hall

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