I had met Stephen King twice before the Bangor signing at Betts Bookstore, once when I was seventeen and once when I was twenty. Both those times had been rushed, impersonal affairs, although I got a picture with him the first time. Still, when you are as big a fan as I am, meeting Stephen King never becomes dull. In fact, because I would have a little time to speak with King during the Bag of Bones signing, i was even more nervous than I had been those previous times.
Stu Tinker had set up the signing table in the back of Betts – a large industrial table with a rolling seat behind it – complete with a large display of nearly every King book set up behind that. Nervously, some of us took turns posing behind the table, sitting in the seat which King would sit in in a few shot hours. My heart had begun it's jittery little jump. The reality of the signing was coming down fast -- I had waited for this moment for a long time, and that time was almost upon me. God, I hoped I didn't say anything stupid.
Some of us waited at the tableau between Betts and the Phenix Inn instead of jumping in line immediately. We knew there was a space for King's car beside the building, and we wanted to catch the first glimpse of him. We chatted a little, felt the excitement and tension growing in our bellies. Suddenly, Pat Donahue (friend and fellow SKEMER) said from behing me:
"There he is!"
I turned. A lanky, denim-clad man sauntered frm behind the Grasshopper Shop, heading in the vague direction of Betts. My first reaction was "It can't be him." I looked a little closer. Could it? Could it really?
Oh my God, it was.
Still walking, King turned to us, smiled, and waved. Some of us, stunned, raised our hands in return. Then, he favored us with a thumbs-up. Way to go, kids. And then he was gone, into the bookstore and out of sight.
I couldn't believe it. Stephen King had walked right past me and I -- couldn't -- talk. It seemed all right, though, because I was in good company. The others were all stunned speechless, too.
We made our way into line then, where we were treated to cookies and cocoa and hot cider. I eat when I'm nervous, so on top of the large meal from Oriental Jade (a nice treat from the editor of Phantasmagoria, George Beahm), I stacked a few cookies and a cup of cocoa, too. I still had no idea what to say when i got up there. I had my copies of Misery and The Dark Half with me, ready for the signature -- I have always believed King's books about writing have been his best, and these two were special ones to me. I thought briefly of engaging King in a discussion of writers and writing, but figured I would probably just screw it all up. I was so damn nervous.
I conferred a little with Jay Torreso (yet another SKEMER) , who was behind me in line. I decided I needed to go with something simple that wouldn't fly out of my mind the second I saw King. I hit on it: I'd ask about Alan Pangborn and Polly Chalmers, two of my favorite characters of all time, folks I really want to see in a book again. Great, that was simple and direct.
Soon, Bob Ireland was up. I heard him talking with King about the Rock Bottom Remainders concert Bob had seen that Thursday. I was envious. Bob, as usual, seemed so calm, so collected. I could never be like that, never do ----
Then, it was me. I moved up, a certain lightheaded glee going off in my head like fireworks. Mr. Stephen King smiled at me.
"Nervous?" he asked, sticking out his hand. I gripped it, shaking a little.
"Y-yeah." A big, goofy smile. Dammit, i'd promised myself I wouldn't be a total freak here. From somewhere behind me, I heard Jay Torreso's voice call "Aaaallllan and Poooollllyyyy."
"Oh yeah," I said, finally rerailing my train of thought, "I wanted to ask you about Alan and Polly." King grinned.
"Alan and Polly?" he said. "Those names sound so familiar---"
The Fanboy decided he would assist Stephen King: "From Needful Things."
"Oh yeah. Yeah, they're doing okay." I guess that was all I needed to hear.
Mr. King signed my books, and before I left, I handed him the SKEMERs anthology I had brought to Bangor, explaining as coherantly as possible what it was and who had done it. He said he would read it. Ladies and gentlemen, when you hear Stephen King saying that he will read your stories, you have to try real hard not to spontaneously combust with happiness.
I was ushered out the back door. I thought I had everything chilly. I was fine -- no need to worry about me. I had met Stephen King and made it through without embarassing myself too badly. Then, truth of it hit me -- I had met Stephen King, talked with him, and shook his hand. That's when I began to hyperventilate. My wrists and my ears tingled for some reason. I felt incredibly weak. Bob and Chris, a friend from California, helped me to a bench nearby before I could collapse -- this thing ROCKED me, man, rocked me hard.
When I was finally able to climb out of the spell of dizzyness I saw George Beahm, Stu Tinker, and Roy Robbins standing around asking me if I was okay. I assured them I was, although even I was in debate on that issue. They got back to what they were doing, and I was left with my books. I cracked the cover of Misery to look at whatever inscription King has written down. I read these words, written in blue ink, and dated 11/23/98:
"Best wishes from your number one fan, Stephen King."
I can honestly say I never felt happier in my entire life.
A week after my trip to Bangor had ended, I found myself in line for another Stephen King signing. This one took place at the Circle Cinema in Brookline, Massachusetts, my home state. That old excitement gripped me as I got into line early with my friend George Mercier, the nervous energy that knew I would be meeting Stephen King again. But it was somehow muted, eclipsed by the fact of the Bangor trip a week previous. When you have been through Heaven, the Caribbean looks shabby by comparison.
I met some friends from SKEMERs in line, and we chatted about King and other subjects for awhile. George, who listens to me drone on and on about King endlessly, finally saw that I was not alone in my fascination. He knew about SKEMERs, and understood vaguely that King fans are part of a large network, but he had never had it actualized until this point. It’s a bit odd to think that King, a creator of horrors great and small, could inspire a vast community of generally nice people who make easy friends.
Something else interesting surfaced in line, as well: I got my first brush with celebrity. A man in line whom I’d never met came up to me and asked me if I was Kevin Quigley. I informed him that I was indeed. He shook my hand and told me he liked my articles in the last issue of Phantasmagoria. He recognised me from the pictures. And that was neat. We were all in line to see Stephen King, big time writer guy. But someone saw me, too, and liked what I wrote. Suddenly, my hopes of being a real author someday seemed less futile.
Before the reading and signing, we ticket holders were treated to a sparkling cider reception, complete with finger sandwiches and cookies in the mezzazine. As I was partaking in yet another chicken salad sandwich, other people came up to me and told me they recognized me from Phanto. I was beginning to feel a little starstruck. You haven’t known fame until you find yourself trying to catch chicken salad drippings before they catch in your goatee, and you hear “Kevin? Is that you?”
After the reception, we were ushered into a large movie theater, with a podium situated at the front. After everyone was seated, King came out, greeted by general applause.
“They wanted me to read from Chapter One [of Bag of Bones] here,” King said, smiling, “Because they wanted to play Chapter Two over the speakers. But nothing much happens in Chapter One. So, I’m going to read from Chapter Seven.” He looked up at us and grinned. Chapter Seven was just fine by us.
The words washed over the audience like silk. King has certainly honed his reading voice over the years. Anyone who has heard King’s audio recording of The Gunslinger knows that he could only get better from there. Judging by this reading, King is at the top of his game. The voice of Mike Noonan came through in the voice of Stephen King beautifully. You can hear the official recording of this on the newly released Bag of Bones audio, one of the best readings King has ever done, seeming very much like King’s personal story due to the first-person point of view.
After the reading, King chose to forego the usual question-and-answer period, going right onto the signing. As soon as King left the room, the theater pumped in the audio of Bag of Bones at eat-shattering decibles. By the time my row was called up to the signing desk at the back, I had a major headache. That was okay. I was going to see Stephen King again.
This time, I was a little more cool. When I reached King, i was able to speak without stuttering or shaking.
“Remember me from last week?” I asked, still grinning like a fool.
“Oh yeah,” he said smiling. “What, are you people following me?” I laughed a little. Okay, now the nervousness was coming back.
“I, uh, had heard Hearts in Atlantis was going have a Dark Tower connection,” I said, referring to his upcoming collection. King glanced up, smiling as nervously as I’m sure I was.
“Well, it’s not being promoted like that, but Hearts in Atlantis will be the next Dark Tower book.”
I thanked him. He was finished with my two copies of Bag of Bones (one American, one British) and he handed them back to me. My time was up.
When I got outside, I had to stop for a little while. I wasn’t hyperventilating – it was nowhere near as bad as it had been in Bangor. Still, my knees felt a little watery, and George had to help me to the car. It’s a little pathetic, yeah, but I guess I can’t help it. You don’t earn the nickname Fanboy for nothing.
On the way home, I reflected on how this past week had affected me. These two signings, and the circumstances surrounding the signings, had somehow become the greatest moments of my life. Except for the SKEMERs cons, and the various King events I've attended, I never feel that sense of extended euphoria in life -- a kind of rapturous joy you only notice when it's over. You see, King may have gotten to my heart with his words, but it was the people I met, and the places I've physically been to because of those words that have really touched my soul. There really is a "King Community" out there, and I, for one, am blessed to be a part of it.
Stephen King is a storyteller, tending toward the dark side and with a penchant for redefining genres. He is a philanthropist, a novelist, and a fair to middling singer.
But he also grants wishes. For that, above all, I thank him.