Stephen King was a gateway to horror for me. I grew up loving monster movies and doing school reports on Edgar Allen Poe and the Salem witch trials. Then, at ten years old, my uncle took me to see The Shining. I pestered my mom until she let me read her movie tie-in paperback, and I was captivated.
I’d never read anything like Stephen King before. I fell completely into the worlds he built. The scenery surrounded me; his characters felt like people I knew. In the whirl of supernatural beings and evil forces, Stephen King’s stories felt more real than anything else I’d read.
So when I heard that Stephen King and his son, Owen King, were coming to Florida to discuss their new novel, Sleeping Beauties, I made a plan. I set alarms. I sat poised over the “send” key, waiting for the moment the ticket window opened.
Sleeping Beauties attendees stretched nearly around the entire Selby Library well before the doors opened. Constant Readers (Stephen King’s affectionate name for his fans) chatted about The Dark Tower and IT movies, and a slew of their favorite novels. Some wrote in notebooks. Many of them read, and Gwendy’s Button Box was common. But mostly, they looked awestruck as we took seats inside. With only 400 tickets, the event felt intimate, and the Kings sat just a short distance away.Stephen and Owen King immediately engaged the crowd when they stepped onstage. The atrium of Selby Library is bright and open, and hung with sharp mobiles that Stephen King speculated could do some nasty work, were they to fall. Of course, he said, they probably wouldn’t fall. But just imagine if they did, how we wouldn’t have time to get away. Then he giggled.
The Kings each read passages that alternated between horror and dark hilarity. They laughed through interviewing each other about the book, and as Owen tested his father with The Stephen King Quiz Book.
Their devotion to writing, to story telling, was clear. They talked intently about their collaborative writing process. Owen’s idea of a world where women went to sleep and never woke up started as a TV show, then expanded into a novel. They traded 25-30 pages at a time in the beginning, then 45-50 pages as the story flowed. They left holes for each other to fill and rewrote each other’s sections. They pushed themselves to write outside their comfort zones, and finally found what they called their Third Voice. Their hope was for their parts to be indistinguishable in Sleeping Beauties.
I was excited to see Stephen and Owen King speak, but I didn’t expect to be so moved by their deep connection. It was the last night of their book tour. They said they’d spoken to 20,000 people while on tour, and it felt good to get home, referencing Stephen and Tabitha King’s house on nearby Casey Key. Owen teased his father about turning 70, but he spoke poignantly about being 40 and usually only seeing his parents a couple of times each year. Their collaboration gave Owen a year of working closely with his father, and he said that was his favorite part.
They took questions at the end, and Stephen King spoke to the writers in the audience. He said they knew there were writers out there who saw them onstage and doubted themselves, and they wanted them to know something.
“We are all amateurs when we write,” he said. “No one knows exactly what to do.” The only thing was to keep writing, no matter what.
The Midnight Society are curled up in their graves and hidey holes, eagerly reading Sleeping Beauties for #MidnightBookClub. Stay tuned to #FrighteningFall; they’ll be scratching their way to the surface soon.