Stephen King enthralls Wichita audience

Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books introduces Stephen King to a large audience at the WSU Hughes Metropolitan Complex on Friday night.
Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books introduces Stephen King to a large audience at the WSU Hughes Metropolitan Complex on Friday night. Corespondent

Beloved author Stephen King tickled Wichita on Friday night, setting an easy-going, conversational tone for his audience at the Wichita State University Hughes Metropolitan Complex.

Fans filled the main auditorium and two overflow rooms set up with audio and video to hear King speak about his newest book, “Revival.”

He warmed the crowd up quickly – and many people needed just that after spending hours in the cold outside waiting in a line that snaked around the Metroplex. Many people expressed frustration about the line and not getting a seat in the same room as King, saying the event should have been held in a bigger location.

A few people said on social media that they walked away, despite the promise of a book that came with their $33.22 tickets.

Most people, however, seemed pleased to get to see King at all. His stop in Wichita was one of only six on his tour, which started Nov. 11 in New York City.

Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books and Cafe, which with WSU sponsored King’s visit, welcomed King to the stage.

“I’m wearing my WuShock,” he said, saying it was apropos that he was speaking to a crowd of Shockers because his new book, which is decidedly dark, has an undercurrent, so to speak, of electricity.

It tells the story of main character Jamie Morton, who as a young boy meets a charismatic minister who tries to cure people with electricity. King said he grew up in a religious family and “I remember as a kid being fascinated by faith healers like Oral Roberts.”

King said he was drawn to writing about “old-time religion.”

“I wanted to write about those things,” he said. “I wanted to write about healing” and science and knowledge “outracing any sense of morality.”

He read excerpts from the book, and a hush fell over the audience.

Although King said he rarely speaks because being in front of big crowds scares him, he seemed at ease.

He said a woman once told him, “Oh, I know who you are. You’re Stephen King. You write those horrible books.”

She told him that she didn’t like horror novels.

She said, “I like uplifting things like that ‘Shawshank Redemption,’ ” King said. “I said, ‘I wrote that.’ She said, ‘No, you didn’t.’ ”

People have told him, he said, “You scare the (expletive) out of me. Can I have a hug?”

He called himself a mix of Godzilla and Santa Claus.

“I am not what you would call an organized writer,” he said, noting that writing is all about “pulling a string.”

If you pull enough, you might get a novella. Pull further, a novel. Sometimes, the string breaks.

He said the idea for “Cujo” came to him when he went to see a repairman about his broken-down Honda motorcycle. The small engine repair shop was in the woods in Maine.

“I got on my bike, and it was missing like crazy,” he said. “I got most of the way up there before it got really bad. I turned into the guy’s driveway, and it stalled. It just quit.”

He got off his dead bike and “under the garage came a huge St. Bernard dog,” King said, “and he was making an extremely unfriendly sound.”

The repairman told him, “Don’t worry about Buster,” King said. “Buster does that to everyone, but he’s really very friendly.”

The dog bared his teeth, and King felt he was going to come at him. The owner, King said, “swatted him on the haunches.”

The dog settled down.

“He never apologized,” King said. “He just said, ‘Buster must not like your face.’ But he fixed my bike. I did get a great idea, and it turned into a book called ‘Cujo.’ ”

Writers get asked a lot of questions, but he said his friend and bandmate author Amy Tan noted that “nobody ever asks about the language, even though it’s the basis of what we do,” King said.

King took a few questions, which were read by Bagby on stage.

Is he still afraid of the dark, something he’d once said?

“That’s embarrassing,” King said. “I’m a big boy now.”

He doesn’t sleep with the light on, but he sleeps where he can get quickly to the light switch, he said. And he makes sure he’s protected by bedcovers.

“Always make sure your feet are under the covers,” he said. “Bedcovers are like monster Kryptonite.”

King did not talk about “A Good Marriage,” a novella that he said serial killer Dennis Rader, who called himself BTK, inspired. The story, part of the “Full Dark, No Stars” collection, focuses on the wife finding out her husband’s dark secret.

St. Louis resident Glen Reitz came to Wichita to see King for the 10th time. He had flown to Portland, Maine, on Monday to buy a ticket for King’s presentation there that day. Reitz boasted that he has 65 of King’s 69 books “flat-signed,” a term for signature-only book signings.

Reitz secured a seat close to the stage and expressed melancholy that he had not been first in line.

“I’m always first in line,” he said.

He’s been a devoted fan of King’s since he read “Salem’s Lot” when he was a teenager. He can’t resist the thrill of being scared by words on a page.

Amy Morris and two of her friends from southeastern Kansas arrived at the Metropolitan Complex at 11:45 a.m. Friday.

They brought blankets and a lawn chair and had pizza delivered.

“This is our Rolling Stones,” she said. “This is my Cher.”

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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