Hail to the horror King

Stephen King speaks to creative writing students at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. King recently sat down for a conversation with fans at the Bushnell in Hartford.
Elise Amendola, file/AP Photo Stephen King speaks to creative writing students at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. King recently sat down for a conversation with fans at the Bushnell in Hartford.

At this point in his singular career, writer Stephen King is fairly reclusive - at least in terms of book tours or extravagant promotion. After hundreds of interviews and 40-plus years of writing more than 50 bestsellers, what is there, other than perhaps new projects, to ask him?

That was the chore facing Colin McEnroe, the Hartford Courant columnist and Connecticut NPR host, when he interviewed King live Thursday in Mortensen Hall at Hartford's Bushnell Performing Arts Center.

Billed as "Stephen King in Conversation," the program benefitted the Mark Twain House and Museum. And however familiar King might be at this point, his status is such that fans in the sold-out hall were thrilled for the opportunity to spend 90 minutes riding, so to speak, with The King.

McEnroe chose what was probably the only realistic path, asking broad-stroke questions on topics such as King's disapproval of Stanley Kubrick's film of "The Shining," past addictions to alcohol, cocaine and Oxycontin, and the Rock Bottom Remainders - a band made of bestselling authors including King, Dave Barry and Amy Tan.

King, tall and lean in jeans and a short-sleeve black shirt, and twisting the cap on a 16-ounce bottle of Diet Pepsi, was relaxed and in great humor. And if he seasoned his responses and stories with no shortage of folksy F-bombs, well, that's relatively mild given the collective mayhem in his books.

Some high points from the evening:

• At any mention of any King book title - whether by the himself or McEnroe - cheers and cries of adoration erupted. King said, "Before we're through, I'm going to mention all of them. This makes me feel like Led (F'in) Zeppelin!"

• On King's tendency to feature characters that are "sensitive boys with certain gifts who need protection," McEnroe asked, "Is it possible that boy is you?"

King described a similar question he's gotten over and over: "What (screwed) you up so bad?" He added that, yes, he was scared and sensitive growing up - not of poverty or real world possibilities, "but of monsters under the bed. At the same time, I was absolutely fascinated by them."

• In many of his books with children, "I was writing about kids for adults - not kids for kids. I don't think a lot of writers do that."

• On character development: "You have to let the characters be what they want to be. I thought 'Salem's Lot' would be the polar opposite of 'Dracula,' in terms of the role of the vampire, but the characters wouldn't let that happen."

• On how books start with just an image in his mind. For a long time, he said, he had an image of a boy in a wheelchair flying a kite but wasn't sure what to do with it. Then, driving past a carnival, it all came together in his mind - and he wrote his latest book, "Joyland."

One problem: a lot of folks sitting in the mezzanine - not just old musicians like myself with questionable ears - simply couldn't hear the dialogue very well. Repeated requests to ushers were fielded graciously but, ultimately, seemed to have little effect on the volume. Frustrating.

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