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Meeting the master. A close encounter with Stephen King.

Updated on May 25, 2013

As a rule, I try to keep a personal voice out of my hubs, but the following true story requires my perspective.

I was attending the World Fantasy Convention in Fort Worth, Texas with a carload of card-carrying Houston fanboys much like myself. For me, the big names at this gathering were Harlan Ellison and Stephen King. We had carpooled 269 miles to see these guys, and had arrived giddy with anticipation. We inhabited a room at the Sheraton for three days and two nights, plotting world domination, and discussing those sublime little pockets of pop culture that seem to galvanize the young and the feckless. We spent most of our time downstairs, however. There were collectibles to peruse and published authors to pursue.

I'm pretty sure it was Friday, October 13th, 1978 when I encountered the master of modern horror. It was early evening. He was seated on an armless hotel sofa, surrounded by adoring fans. I joined them and quickly realized two things. First, King was a tiny bit inebriated. Not drunk. Not sloppy. Just happily buzzed. I would say: two vodka martinis on an empty stomach. The other thing I noticed was the predictable dearth of social skills fanboys of a certain age are doomed to display. King was doing all the talking. He was making direct statements and eye contact. He was asking for opinions on matters we held sacrosanct, and receiving little more than nervous laughter and the occasional adenoidal non sequitur ... these blurted at predictably elevated octave and decibel with the clipped precision of a debate captain.

You know. Fanboys.

Finally, he dropped the big one. "I just got off the phone with Stanley Kubrick."

Audible gasps all around. I will paraphrase his next few comments. After all, it has been nearly thirty-three years.

"He called my room. They're having a problem with the concept of hedge animals. Kubrick says we can't do the topiary. Cinematically, we just can't do it. They're going with a maze, instead."

Our heads were swimming. At this point, we all knew that The Shining was in extended pre-production. And, we all pretty much loved that book. The idea of changing any portion of it for the sake of a movie was heretical.

But that isn't what were thinking about. We were thinking about that phone. The phone in Stephen King's room. It would be so simple. Locate his room number. Return to the Sheraton after the conference, Request that room. Replace the phone with an exact replica, and own the Stanley Kubrick/Stephen King topiary phone.

Replacing the phone was crucial. We were fanboys, after all, not thieves. The phone must be replaced, rather than simply stolen. This was not because of some arbitrary moral code, but because it supplied the requisite intrigue and specificity. It's what The Man From Uncle would have done.

To be fair, I never heard anyone discuss this plan. But I know what I was thinking, and I remember a lot of conspiratorial eye contact, self-satisfied nodding and furtive whispering that can only be interpreted one way. By me. Uh … thirty-three years later.


I certainly remember what King said next. And it was profound. It changed my life. He grinned like the gargoyle who swallowed the cherub and said very slowly, "The greatest filmmaker In the world can't do the hedge animals, but I can." At this point, the smile took full possession of his beard.

And he said, "I can do them with a typewriter."

This was a brilliant observation. And, he knew it. The man was visibly pleased with himself. He stood up, took one final accounting of the unwashed, guppy faces in his thrall, and bid us goodnight. I don't know where he went, but I suspect he was seeking the company of kids his own age.

Had I known how increasingly rare these King/fandom confabs were to become, I might have made more of an effort to engage the man in intelligent conversation. I might have asked questions about other books I loved, like Salem's Lot. Or Carrie. There might have been a few questions about the discipline of writing. The business of writing. Or, that odd malady that infected Stephen King at a very early age and plagues him to this day -- the inability to not write. But, I let the opportunity slip away. And, it's gone forever.

Hell, I didn't even go back for the phone.


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