On occasion of World Book Day, I am sharing an awkward personal interaction with mega-author Stephen King. It is an example of imprecision with a simple question. By the way, this is an excerpt from my forthcoming e-book, “AWESTRUCK – Personal Encounters With Legends”. That book describes my curiosity with famous and important people. I have found ways to meet lots of historical figures. Chatting one-on-one with them was very revealing. Stay tuned for more about that project.
Typically, my interest excludes people in the entertainment industry. They are famous, but not necessarily important. I made an exception by attending a talk by author Stephen King. Hey, the guy has published fifty-four novels and has sold more than 350 million copies. I would die happy if my books sold a total of five thousand copies!
King also wrote roughly two hundred short stories. One of them became the film “The Shawshank Redemption”, considered one of the greatest films of all time. Mr. King is a literary rock star.
Julie, son Roger, his wife Lorraine and I attended “An Evening with Stephen King” in a San Francisco theater at which King was interviewed on-stage about is career and life. It was interesting to hear what prompted King’s pitch-black book ideas and characters. It was clear that he was more than a tad eccentric; read one of his books and you will think that a gross understatement. The word “twisted” comes to mind.
Like most folks, I have seen many of King’s books that were turned into movies…some spectacular, some stinkers. To be fair, it is tricky to make a good movie even out of the best book. The best of the King movies by far, in my opinion, is “Stand By Me”, directed by Rob Reiner and released in 1986. The script was adapted from the King novella, “The Body”. However, as with me, I heard that King was unhappy about the quality of some of the films that were based on his books.
After his onstage interview with a local celebrity, the audience was invited to ask questions of King. Uncharacteristically, I was the first to raise my hand. I was called upon, and a staffer with a microphone scampered to my side. The audience directed its attention to from Mr. King to me.
Doing my best to hide my nervousness, I said, “Thank you Mr. King. I would like to know your general feelings about what Hollywood has done with your books.”
Nearby, a few of my fellow attendees gave a nod. “Yes, yes…profound and insightful query,” they seemed to be thinking. Then they turned their attention to the stage and King.
More background. I am an experienced college and corporate classroom teacher/facilitator. My mentor said, “Being in charge of the class, your goal is to teach while making folks feel at ease. They learn and retain more that way. If someone is acting up or asking lame questions, you don’t ridicule them. You may need to handle some situations offline during a break. You never confront and embarrass them in view of their peers.” He summarized with a metaphor. “So, you have the ‘gun’, but you can never use it.”
Unwittingly, I gave Stephen King the gun, and he used it.
King responded, “Well, the book still exists in its original form, so it doesn’t matter, does it?”
That drew a big laugh from the audience and condescending looks from the same people who, thirty seconds earlier, thought my question was brilliant. Note to self: A crowd will turn on you quickly. Now they awaited my response. In truth, it was more precise than my first attempt.
“Mr. King, what film adaptations from your books do you like best and which do you least prefer?” I asked.
King refused to answer the question directly, but he said that he liked some film adaptations more than others. Then he said, “‘Stand By Me’ is very special.” The crowd’s enthusiastic applause communicated their agreement.
Alas, in the end it was an intelligent question and an reasonable response from a legend. That part was satisfying, but the real lesson was to think fully about any question I would ask in a future public forum. You never know who will use the gun you give them.