Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Good Day

There are good things and bad things about being a writer. In truth, the good things far outweigh the bad, and the bad are generally things about which it is churlish to complain. I realize that I am immensely fortunate to be doing what I do for a living, so that even when I have relatively bad days I acknowledge that they are far better than even the best of days in some of the other jobs I have had. (Nevertheless, it is reassuring, sometimes, to recall James Thurber's wonderful observation that "even the most pleasurable of imaginable occupations, that of batting baseballs through the windows of the RCA Building, would pall a little as the days ran on.")

On Sunday, I flew from South Africa to London, and from London to Dublin. I had three hours at home to shower, change, and pack some clean laundry, then returned to the airport to fly to New York. I tried watching Season Two of Deadwood on the DVD player of my computer during the Dublin-New York flight, but started dozing towards the end of the first episode. I think I got to my hotel at about nine o clock that night. I had a bite to eat, then fell into a deep sleep. Only my alarm clock woke me in time for a telephone interview the next morning.

That day, as for many of the days over the preceding week or so, albeit with a new sense of urgency, I fretted over what I would have to do that evening. At seven-thirty, or thereabouts, I would step on to a stage at New York's Symphony Space to interview Stephen King in front of an audience of hundreds of fans and the representatives of the publishing house that I share with him. I didn't want to make an idiot of myself, and, more to the point, I wanted to make King look good. No, strike that: he would make himself look good, just as he has done for the past three decades or so. I just didn't want to get in his way while he did it.

So I thought, and worried, and thought, and worried some more. At about 3.30pm I went back to my hotel room, sat down, and began compiling a list of questions. At 5.45pm, I arrived at the Symphony Space, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. Better early than late, I had thought, although perhaps not quite that early . . .

At 6.45, King arrived.

I think that, over the hour or two that followed, I did my best. I was helped immeasurably by the fact that King was just as I might have wished him to be - polite, funny, self-effacing - especially given the fact that I had been a fan of his for about a quarter of a century. He even signed my books, all twelve of them. (I know, I know: it's not the done thing for writers to present to a fellow writer copies of books to be signed, but I've never subscribed to that belief. I was a reader, and a fan, of a great many writers long before I became a published writer myself, and I have never quite managed to shake off that fan boy element of my personality. In fact, I hope that I never do.)

True, perhaps I tried too hard with some of my questions, and I am still kicking myself 24 hours later over the fact that I confused the words "ambiguous" and "ambivalent" in one of my interrogations (I plead nerves), an error that King corrected without comment. Yet all through the interview, and for some time afterwards, a small voice in my head reminded me that this was probably as good as it was going to get. I was interviewing a writer whom I had long admired, and whom I had long wanted to interview, in front of a sympathetic audience. This was a writer whose work I had begun reading before I even entered my teens, and my boyhood self could never have imagined that, one day, he would be sharing a stage with this man.

After the interview was concluded, I went to the Delta Grill on Ninth Avenue. I ordered a bottle of Abita Reconstruction Ale, and a Margharita straight up, with salt. I sat at the bar and recalled the first interview that I had been fortunate enough to conduct with a writer whom I had long admired: James Lee Burke, in his house in Montana in 1999. Burke was one of the writers who inspired me to become a writer myself. I will always be in his shadow, yet it is a shadow in which I am happy to dwell. King, I realize, is another such writer.

To hell with Harold Bloom, I thought, who decried the decision to award one of America's highest literary honors to King in 2003. I doubt that anyone ever became a writer because of Bloom or his ilk. I think that Bloom is an intelligent, perceptive, valuable critic, but in his criticism of King he was guilty of literary snobbery. King deserved that award (and Lisey's Story, his latest novel, stands as a riposte to those who would contend that he is a poor writer, for it is a beautifully written book) and I was proud to spend an evening in his company.

I finished my Margharita, and started in on the beer. This, I said to myself, has been a very, very good day . . .

This week John read:

Promise Me by Harlan Coben
On Writing by Stephen King
Open Wide: How Hollywood Box Office Became A National Obsession by Dade Hayes and Jonathan Bing

and listened to:

Immortal Memory
by Lisa Gerrard and Patrick Cassidy
Under the Skin by Lindsey Buckingham


Josh said...

Hello there. I just wanted to let you know that I was in that audience, and had a great time the other night listening to you and Stephen King. I was doubly pleased that there were two authors there that I admired (both you and him) and whose writing has inspired my own. Seems there is a cycle here. Perhaps one day I'll have the honor of interviewing you. That'd be one of those "It can't get any better" moments, I'm sure. It was a fun night, and you've got a great sense of humor.

Frunny The Frog said...


Honk Honk

Michael said...

As a writer, not sure if you enjoy people writing about reading your books, but I thought too.

I came across Dark Angel at my brother in law's cottage and being bored, started reading it. I am not a 'horror' or 'detective' book reader. Prefer sci-fi and books of that ilk.

I stopped after the first chapter as it was clear it was part of a story line and I was enjoying it. So, I bought your first book and really enjoyed it.

You are a very talented writer and I was left wondering through the book, is this actually going to be a horror with supernatural components or not.

Amazing work. The only feedback - have your publisher put the books in order inside the jacket so people know which is the first book. That drove me crazy, I bought Bad Men and The White Road before I figured out that these were not the first (Which I only figured out by going online). Although .. I guess that is one way to sell books ... LOL.

As for your schedule .. one could read that and believe that you have a .. job! Yes, it would appear that the glamour is not what it is cracked up to be .. one traveller to another.


Mark said...

I am yet another fulltime writer and novelist who was inspired to give it a try by Stephen King. I'm ever grateful to the man, though we've never met.

Mark Terry

(And you and I share a webmaven)

Mark said...

I'm from Maine and was a Freshman at U Maine shortly after he graduated and my best friend's sister had been in classes with him.

He sruggled for a long time doing time teaching English in nearby Hampden living in a trailer. Carrie got him out of that fix with Tabitha's help in the trash basket. The reason his stories and characters ring true to me is because we're both "from theyah" as the say in Maine. On a visit home one time years ago a neighbor gave me a tip and I wound up working on the movie of "Graveyard Shift." Certainly mirrored every job I ever had in Maine. The story that is.