Writers at Home 3: Stephen King

I found Stephen King’s house at the end of a dead-end road.

Not a literal dead-end. If you have ambled past his famous wrought-iron spider web gates, you know that the house sits on a very ordinary street in Bangor, Maine.

 

Stephen King's home - Bangor, Maine

Stephen King’s home – Bangor, Maine

My finding it was not a horror story – just one of those little off-track episodes that reminds you, in retrospect, that life’s journeys are meandering and oft amusing. More amusing in that retrospective rear-view mirror, typically, than in the moment.

 

I came at Bangor from the south east, taking Maine Highway 15 up to Buckport and along the Penobscot River. I had been poking around Brooklin, Maine, to research the late writer E.B. White. The stop in Bangor, though, was related to another writing project.

 

I had written a mystery novel set in Banff National Park. At this point (I think it was 1996), I was well into the second draft and beginning to think about finding a publisher. All the advice out there is that the first step is finding an appropriate agent, so I had scoured all kinds of directories and begun sending out letters, excerpts, and the usual stamped-self-addressed-envelope for replies. Yes, youngsters, email did exist back then but hard copy was still the accepted standard.

 

Over the course of a few months, most of the agents had been stroked off my list – polite ‘we are too busy’ replies, non-replies, and a bunch of ‘we don’t think this is quite right for us’ replies.

 

The one exception was an agent located in Bangor, Maine. He had an official agency name and letterhead paper. I looked up Bangor on a map and saw that it was a few thousand miles closer to New York City than was my home town. Ergo the agent must be that much closer to the centre of the publishing work than me. Right?

 

You probably see where this is going. I didn’t, at the time. He was very encouraging about my novel’s prospects and keen on the possibility of representing me. I noted that I was traveling down through Maine that summer and would pay him a visit. Nothing like building a face-to-face bond, I thought.

 

I should have been tipped by the meeting place he chose: a tired ‘family’ restaurant featuring weary wait staff and a big greasy plasticized menu. He walked in and I had him pegged before he sat down. Failed writer. He looked the part, he could have played the part in a movie had he been just a tad more attractive. Someone glancing at the two of us hovering over our white porcelain cups of bad coffee could have easily pegged us for two failed writers, meeting to talk about how bad the literary business is.

 

And, um, he pretty much didn’t have any ideas about where or how to place my novel with a publisher. He hadn’t, in fact, actually placed any manuscripts with any publishers. He did have some that he was “working on.”

 

I don’t think I smacked myself on the forehead right there, over the sad coffee at the Formica table, but I wanted to. How could I have not asked all these questions weeks earlier, before setting up the meeting?

 

I killed a bit of time with literary chit-chat just to be polite, after having come all this way. At some point, the wannabe agent let me in on Bangor’s literary claim to fame. “Stephen King lives here,” he confided. “I can give you directions.”

 

Well. Here we go then. A little something to brighten the gloomy Maine day. I jotted the directions on a napkin and met my wife back at the car. Actually, she had gone for a walk and, expecting our agent-author discussions to take a respectable time, wasn’t back yet.

 

“So, how did it go?” she asked when she strode up a few minutes later. She looked a tad worried.

 

“He’s the agent for Stephen King,” I lied. “King wants me to come over. Right away.” I don’t do bravado well.

 

“Pretty much a waste of time?” my wife summarized.

 

“Yup. But I do have King’s address.”  We found it easily – an imposing home (built in 1858), sitting on a large lot on an otherwise unremarkable street. What people notice first is the black wrought iron fence, and the gate. Spider webs. Bats. Gargoyles. Fun stuff.

 

As a reserved, introverted Canadian, I wasn’t about to swing open the big iron gates, stride up the walk, clump onto King’s veranda and pound on his door. As I recall, my wife had to convince me to even stop the car. I’m not the type to ask famous people for autographs, to want to intrude. Sure, I would welcome actually connecting with someone of King’s stature, but my literary tourism was more accidental than intentional.

 

The prospect of actually running into King was daunting. In addition to the fear factor associated with his typical topic matter was my astounding ignorance of his work. I might have read Carrie at that point, and seen bits of King movies on TV or video.

 

What is now my favourite King book, On Writing, had not yet been published. That memoir gave me a perspective on the man’s personality and his obsession with writing that might have provided me with at least a conversation starter. He writes in a room at the back and writes almost every day. For hours every day. He was probably around back, in that studio, bashing out Blaze or The Mist at the very moment we were hesitating at his curb.

 

As it was, we took a quick look. I may have snapped a photo. Then we hit the road, east through Maine, up to Montreal and back home to western Canada.

 

Perhaps I should have grabbed that draft novel out of the back seat, took a shot of courage, and sought out Stephen King’s opinion on it. Naw. That wasn’t in the cards.

 

The second draft of my novel sits in a box in my basement, where it will probably sit until some day I get the energy to toss it in the recycle bin. In the years since I made that brief stop in front of his house, Stephen King has published 37 books. 37.

 

 

Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    37!! now THAT is intimidating…

    good story. 🙂 how could you not have asked all those questions weeks ealier? well, if you had then you wouldn’t have gotten the story! – K8

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