“I’ve got to tell you a story. That’s what I do.” – Stephen King
The rat-tat-tatting cadence of McKinney North High School’s Drum Line ricochets and explodes off hollow walls as they lead the march of pep rallied students through the hallways of the school. Their excitement is contagious. I fall in line and join the impromptu parade. One by one, students fall out, happily exiting the school in search of Friday night lights. I follow the drum line to the band hall. They erupt into congratulatory laughter, as they set about the task at hand: divide and conquer. While many of the band mates go about the business of loading equipment onto the bus that will take them to the post-season play-off football game where they will perform an entertaining half-time show, others hang back to go about the business of preparing the house, because company is coming. World famous author, Stephen King, has chosen, their house, McKinney North High School, to host the Dallas leg of his five city book tour launching his new book, 11/22/63.
For their efforts, the McKinney North Band will be gifted $1000.00, and 50 seats to this sold-out event, where they will serve as ushers, and entertain the 1000 visitors who will flock to their campus to hear King speak, and read excerpts from his new novel.
As I follow the band members about their tasks, I come across a group of adults unloading carton after carton of King’s books. I survey their work and am impressed as I note the cartons that line an entire hallway, 2 deep and 7 high. Despite the heavy-lifting, the workers laugh and cut up with one another, as they are in their own way, as excited as the post pep-rally North students on this football Friday afternoon. They are employees of A Real Bookstore in Fairview, the independent bookstore sponsoring of King’s visit. As King’s book tour only covers five cities in the nation, I imagine that tonight’s event, in bookstore terms, must be a Super Bowl win in its own right.
Andrew Hobbs, buyer for A Real Bookstore, describes this day as the best day of his life. “He’s the best author on the planet,” says Hobbs, “The only reason I read is because of him. My favorite, favorite, favorite. 1986, Stand By Me, came out in the movie theater, I bought the book and I’ve been a huge fan ever since. I got to meet him today and I was on cloud nine. He was the most down home, cordial, kind, funny, perfect author.”
“Make sure you let them know that you broke his head-set when he was autographing your book,” says Angela, A Real Bookstore’s Operations Manager. She smiles, as she ribs her friend. Friends and colleagues erupt into laughter as they remember the fun afternoon spent with their favorite author.
“I did!” laughs Hobbs, “I was walking around to get my book signed, and crunch! I will have nightmares about that sound for years to come, I am sure of it.”
Despite the mishap, and the sore muscles that are sure to be a by-product of transporting 1000 hardbacks from point A to point B, according to Hobbs, “Today has been a perfect day.”
As Hobbs goes back to the business at hand, I hang back to watch. bookstore employees, band members and volunteers, move about under the direction of A Real Bookstore owner, Teri Tanner, who graciously allows my colleague, Maryann and I to bear witness to their efforts. Before long, we too are caught up in the anticipatory make-readiness of it all, and find ourselves happily canvasing the auditorium, placing 500 book bags on every other seat in the house.
Before we know it, it’s two hours till show time. The cartons of books are unpacked, neatly stacked and guarded in all four corners of the theater. 1 in 4 lucky guests will go home with an autographed copy. The McKinney North Jazz Ensemble with the added addition of the brass ensemble from University of Louisiana at Monroe is back-stage ready to perform. The theater doors open and hundreds of King fans pour into the auditorium. From my vantage point in the front row, it is a sight to behold as the super-fans race harem-scarem toward me.
In the interim, I make small talk with the fans around me. All have driven great distance to get here, and many attended King’s appearance in Dallas last night.
“I have 1st edition copies of everything he has ever written, many of which are autographed,” says the gentleman sitting behind me, “This is the first time I will see him in person though.” He and his wife have come from Abilene to attend today’s event.
After an interlude of jazz music, under the direction of McKinney North High School’s band director, Alan Harkey, King takes the stage. An excellent speaker, he regales attendants with highlights of his career, and addresses the frequently asked questions he receives.
“What scares you? Everything,” he says, then proceeds to list the litany of things that terrify him.
King, who began his career as an English teacher, told of his rise to fame as a writer noting that, writers ought not be famous, but be the secret agents that fly under the radar. He told of the first time he was recognized (in a men’s room) and of signing an autograph from a sitting position, and of the more pleasant experience of having a young fan ask for his autograph in the presence of his dinner companion, Bruce Springstein. The audience roars with laughter.
On being a writer, King says, “It’s a free pass to be the designated kid. I get to make stuff up.”
“11/22/63 was our 9/11”, says King of the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, “I was 17 years old.”
In 1971, while still working as an English teacher, King began to wonder about the unlikely chain of events that brought Kennedy and Oswald together on that fateful day.
“How did these two lives come together?” asks King.
King’s historical novel follows an English teacher who goes back in time with the intent to stop the JFK assassination.
King whet the appetite of audience members by reading an excerpt from his book. Rounding out the evening, is a question and answer session with Tanner, reading pre-selected questions submitted by audience members.
With a final “Go Bulldogs”, King makes way to the next city on his book tour, and audience members spill toward the book tables to collect their first edition, hopefully autographed books. Meanwhile the McKinney North High School band members march off to meet up with the rest of the band, hopefully, in time for half-time.