Stephen King is arguably the most famous writer in the world, so calling him my favorite author isn’t exactly a revolutionary statement. I could say I prefer some obscure novelist who is beloved by the literary elite, but I’d be lying. He went right to the top of my list when I read It at 12, and he has remained there ever since.
So imagine how excited I was to learn that King would be giving the closing address at last month’s Savannah Book Festival. A select few would even get to have a book signed, something the author rarely does. I ordered my ticket in October — the event sold out in less than two hours — and started counting down the days.
When Feb. 19 arrived, I showed up outside the Trustees Theater in Savannah several hours before the event, hoping I’d get a chance to meet the horror icon. I struck up a conversation with the nice couple in front of me (who drove all the way from Niagara, N.Y., putting my measly four-hour drive to shame) and the time flew by. After the doors opened and the crowd filed in, I found myself holding the equivalent to Willy Wonka’s golden ticket. I was going to meet one of my literary heroes.
King’s address was terrific. He began by discussing how weird it was to be recognized in public, as he believed that writers were sort of the secret agents of the creative world. When he mentioned one of his books during a story and the audience clapped for it, he got a puzzled look on his face and said it felt like he was supposed to play “Free Bird” now.
He went on to explain how life always has a way of keeping his ego in check: the first time he was asked for an autograph, it was in a posh Pennsylvania restaurant. However, it was an elderly bathroom attendant making the request while King was otherwise occupied in a stall.
The author also mentioned that he spends a lot of time at Fenway Park, rooting on his beloved Boston Red Sox, and sometimes he dons a baseball cap and sunglasses to keep from getting recognized. Usually, he said, that ends with an 8-year-old kid yelling, “Look, mom! It’s Stephen King wearing a hat and sunglasses!”
King’s talk included several other hilarious anecdotes, along with fascinating observations about his craft and a tantalizing preview of Dr. Sleep, his upcoming sequel to The Shining. He even took questions from the audience for about 20 minutes.
After that, it was time for the book signing, which he warned would be an assembly line process since he had so many to get through. As we lined up by ticket number, I got my selection ready – a limited 25th anniversary edition of It that my parents got me for Christmas. Why not pick the book that kicked off my King appreciation?
The line kept getting shorter and I still didn’t know how I was going to handle the encounter. Do I just hand him the book and say thanks? Do I attempt a clever line, knowing he’s probably heard it a million times before?
Then it was my turn and I was still clueless. My feet took me to the table and my brain continued to melt down. Someone with the festival handed him my book, he looked up at me and something came out of my mouth on its own…
“You probably get this a lot, but you’re the reason I became a writer. Thanks for that.”
He smiled and said he was glad to hear it. Then he scribbled his signature on the book, handed it back to me and I was walking out of the building. The whole thing lasted less than 15 seconds. But I walked — heck, more like floated — back to my hotel with a big, goofy grin on my face and a story I’d get to tell for the rest of my life.