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