The horror 'King' visits Manchester

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MANCHESTER -- The master storyteller did not disappoint. Stephen King, now 62, author of more than 50 books, held a sold-out audience of approximately 800 people at the Manchester Elementary Middle School gym enthralled Wednesday night, first with a reading from a chapter in his latest book, "Under the Dome," and then with a follow up question-and-answer session.

King was introduced at the event, which was sponsored by the Northshire Bookstore, by fellow writer and Dorset resident John Irving.

After taking the opportunity to respond to critics and book reviewers who have critiqued both his work and King's for excessive length, Irving described King as one of the best storytellers around today and someone "who has been appalling us for years" -- in an enjoyable, entertaining and thought provoking way, he said.

What frightens people the most about King's work is not the creepy, strange and bizarre characters that populate his novels, but rather, "the wondrous display of human error," he said.

"It's what is human about the devil which makes that character so terrifying," Irving said. "The real horror comes from regular people."

King then took the stage to an enthusiastic ovation and began by urging the audience to go out and support local independent bookstores, like the Northshire, noting that a price war between Wal-Mart and Amazon Books had driven down the price of his book to $9 -- a level at which smaller bookstores could not hope to compete.

Then, before stating his reading, he gave the audience a bit of background about the long and winding road the tale took before falling into place. It may have been worth the wait -- "Under the Dome" made it's debut on the New York Times best seller list last week at Number 1.

He first started the book in 1976 and wrote about 75 pages before stopping. He picked up the thread of the tale again a few years later, but the idea veered off in another direction and turned into a different book, he said.

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"And then, for a long time, it just left my mind," he said. "But good ideas stay, and this one came back to my mind during a long plane ride to Australia." By the time he arrived there, he had the book more or less fully plotted out, he said.

"Under the Dome" is the saga of a small town in Maine named Chester's Mills, whose residents woke up one day to discover that an enormous transparent dome has descended over the town, setting the stage for the novel's principle bad guy, the town's second selectman and police chief named "Big Jim" Rennie, to begin a takeover of the town's government. To expand his power and the size of the police force, Rennie provokes a riot at a local supermarket in town. It was this scene, concluding with a frenzied crush as the beer coolers were broken into, that King read for about 30 minutes to an audience which seemed to be paying rapt and close attention.

King was last in Manchester four years ago when he appeared at a fund-raising event with John Irving at Maple street School in Manchester. His speaking appearances are relatively rare, and his audience came from some distances -- Ohio and North Carolina in two instances -- to hear his presentation, which was often animated and energetic, with arm and hand gestures punctuating his talk.

Afterward, King took questions from the audience. One questioner asked how he felt when he went back and re-read earlier books he had written. He said he sees some areas where a story went well, others when he could have done better. King said he always liked "The Shawshank Redemption," presumably referring to the novella he published in 1982 called "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," which was the basis for a movie released in 1994.

"(Sometimes) I go back and get a sense of despair," he said. "I start off each project hoping it will go well. Usually, I'm like a shark, I have to keep moving and eating, but I certainly have books that I like."

Another questioner asked what was his first inspiration to start writing. He replied that, while a child he had been sick for a long time, about a year, and to entertain himself he started copying stories from comic books. His mother encouraged him to write something original, and one thing led to another, he said.

The subject of book length, which Irving touched on during his introduction of King, came up again during the questioning, At nearly 1,100 pages, "Under the Dome" is not an unusual length for one of his stories, and King recounted a discussion with a former editor from an earlier book who told him he needed to trim 400 pages from the manuscript he had submitted. Nothing was wrong with the writing, the editor said -- it was just too long.

"When you write a long book, every review at some point says this -- ‘(It) could have used a good editor! -- this is self-indulgent,'" King said. "What do you want? You want TV? Go watch TV."


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