A few seconds with Stephen King by Josh Trudell

I am sitting in a line in Austin, Texas, on a gray and misty November day – the kind that makes you want to curl up with a good book. I’ve got a good book on my phone’s Kindle app, and I’m reading and waiting.

I am eight years old, and I’m sitting on a porch swing at my parent’s house in the New Hampshire woods. The Kindle won’t be invented for another cough-cough years. I’ve got a quart Mason jar filled with ice cubes, but it is beading and dripping on the floor untouched as I turn the pages of a book where a five-year-old - just a kid to my advanced years - faces unspeakable monsters.

I am rubbing the sleep from my eyes. It is long before the sun rises in still-steamy September, but I am on my way to Austin to get in line for tickets to see the writer of that book. My wife sleepily rolls out and joins me, and we sit in line for three hours before the store where he's appearing opens. By the time the doors open, the line stretches around the block. 

I am in high school, and I’m wondering out loud – as know-it-all high schoolers are wont to do – why we have to read depressing, dry tomes by the likes of Dickens and Hawthorne. I’m immersed in books about worldwide plagues and evil incarnate, chewing them up relentlessly. Depressing? Nah – bring it on! My English teachers aren't impressed – dismissing my favorite purveyor of scary tales as a hack.

I smile a bit when I find out he’s won the National Book Award, thinking back to those conversations.

Years later, I shut a book and probably will never read it again. The darkness is total, with not even the light of stars to brighten the way.

I’m about to start my sophomore year of high school, and I’m scribbling on a pad one afternoon in my room. (No, that’s not a euphemism.) It’s summer vacation, but instead of swimming or goofing off, I’m deep in this story, figuring out how our hero was going crazy and why. Later, after people read it, I get some odd looks and questions about if I’m feeling all right. I’m fine, I say, wondering if this kind of reaction is always what it is like.

The story becomes one of my first positive experiences while writing when I use it (with the prodding of one of those English teachers) to gain acceptance to a long weekend writing program at Middlebury College.

I look at a picture of the writer when he was young, with a full black beard covering his face, and see a strong resemblance to my dad, whose thick beard would smell of sawdust and chainsaw oil at the end of a long day in the woods.

I am attending college in the nearest major city, and I know this writer occasionally drops in and speaks to a certain professor’s class. With high hopes of meeting him, I take the class – no dice. I keep an eye on any news bulletins from the English department for five years – no dice. The idea of meeting him takes hold as a bucket list idea.

I start working at newspapers, and before long I am working nights as a copy editor/designer. One night I come home after midnight to find my wife sitting in a pool of light, a book clutched tightly in her lap. “Oh, thank God you’re home,” she says, dashing up the stairs she was afraid to climb in the dark, heading for the only bathroom in the house.

It might have been waiting.

I move through life on my track, and he moves through on his – I read about him online now. We're both apparently fascinated by the Harry Potter novels. I start to move away from writing full-time, resuming my on-again, off-again, on-again relationship with my camera that finally seems to blossom. He has a horrific car accident - I hope for his healthy recovery.

There's talk of retirement, but every eight months to a year, there's a new book on the shelf or on the Kindle. I read every one. He's revisiting some old favorite characters now - such that five-year-old boy who faced his monsters and won.  

I’m in Austin, and the line moves forward, and before long I see the person I’ve come to see. He’s thinner now, with a clean-shaven face – the beard has long since gone away.    

So many things to say, and so little time. I look at him and smile, and say "Thanks for not retiring."

He looks back, tired from meeting hundreds of people and a busy book touring schedule, and smiles. "Well, I'm not so sure about that," Stephen King leans back and says, in that New England way that means "Boy, sometimes that sounds like a good idea." ...and then he hands me an autographed copy of his new book. 

I walk back to my life, and he bends over his next book, scribbling with his Coke-bottle glasses close to the paper. 

Thanks, Stephen.

Catching up: Photo show, Doctor Sleep, and Italy by Josh Trudell

Josh Trudell's Point the Compass exhibit

Photo courtesy of FotoSeptiembre USA

So, we’ve gone from fireworks season to pumpkin season between posts. At least it is still baseball season (for the Red Sox, at least).

THE BIG NEWS: The opening reception for Point the Compass was August 28, and it was a rousing success. We drew between 175-200 people for the opening reception, and I sold several of the pieces in the show and some loose prints I brought with me.

The commentary was generally very positive, including random e-mails I received from people who visited the gallery and appreciated it.

I was having a bad day until I stumbled into your exhibit at Central Library. I have always dreamed of seeing the slot caves. Excellent work!

- one of the e-mails I received

There were some odds and ends and issues while putting it all together – I’ll detail those in another post – but in general it was a very positive experience. I’m not sure when I’ll try and do another show – it’s an expensive habit, and I’ve got lots of trips I want to take and camera gear I want to add to the toolbox – but it was definitely worth doing.

THE NEXT NEWS: Six weeks from today, we’ll be in Italy! Venice, Rome and the Amalfi Coast will be holding our attention for two weeks, and I can’t wait. Looking into photographing Venice, and I found this site, which is loaded with information. Great work.

IN OTHER NEWS: Currently catching up on Grimm, which I quite enjoy – it takes the fairy tale monsters and runs them through a dark strainer (Nazis – I hate these guys!) and keeps the cutesy to a minimum. Also watching the HELLYEAHAGENTSOFSHIELD…sorry, was I drooling? And Marvel’s holding my wallet? How’d that…oh, never mind, just take my money.

Stephen King’s new book, Doctor Sleep, is quite excellent. I read it far too quickly the first time – now I need to go back and savor it. The Shining was one of the books I grew up with, and to see Danny Torrance back is a treat.

So – another entry before the end of October? Why not?

Catch this doubleheader by Josh Trudell

The dog days of summer are my least favorite time of year. Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion – the 95-degree sun across the sky, me at the gym, Jon Lester’s fastball… you get the idea.

Baseball slogs through these days. Trying to take my mind off the Red Sox, who are slogging their way to oblivion, I’ve been listening to books about baseball.

My most recent doubleheader has been The Art of Fielding, by Chad Harbach and Calico Joe, by John Grisham.

The difference between the two is the difference between a 90-mph fastball down the middle and an artfully shaped curveball thrown by a lefty – one of those that when you see it on TV, it looks as if it is going to wander out past the first base batter’s box and hit the on-deck batter. Then it snaps back and thumps into the catcher’s mitt.

Harbach’s book is a lyric little bandbox of a novel, detailing the struggles of several figures brought together around a phenom dealing with confidence issues.

This could easily devolve into a paint-by-numbers jock book, but Harbach brings a sense of depth and reality to his characters that far surpasses the situation.

Baseball is the nominal backdrop – Grisham’s novel has more recognizable baseball moments – but Harbach crafts his story so well, the characters could have been playing cricket or sitting on a raft in the ocean.

He crafts several viewpoints, all dealing with different issues. I identified with some, didn’t with others, but couldn’t tear myself away from any of their stories.

Read it. Today.

Grisham’s novel, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same surprise or craft of language – it’s a simple little tale around a bitter father, an angry son, and what, at least partially, heals the gap between them.

I found the bitterness between the son and father so harsh as to be almost unreadable – my father and I bonded over baseball more than anything else.

It’s a decent read (or listen, in this case – both of these were on audiobooks), but it’s a John Burkett to Marbach’s Pedro Martinez.

Work:I've got a new piece in the San Antonio Express-News about Corpus Christi. Another piece is coming soon about the turtle release I wrote about here. The photo show at the San Antonio Public Library is still ongoing.

Movies: Plenty of thoughts about The Dark Knight Rises, which was epically long and included plenty of awesome, but was tragically overshadowed by a mass murder at a Denver theater. Still working out some thoughts about this.