Stephen King stunned students at the Sussex Regional High School (SRHS) in New Brunswick, Canada, by paying a surprise visit to the school library, a week and a half before Halloween.
The most famous living author of horror fiction strolled into the library unannounced on October 19, following a year-long campaign by students to convince King to visit their school by Halloween of this year.
Students had written 1,100 letters to King, sent by mail and posted here. They also sent King-themed artwork to the author, displayed on a project site; shot films and YouTube musical parodies, including a rap composition; and, with teacher Sarah-Jane Smith, chronicled events on Twitter at @StephenKingSRHS. A Stephen King book drive added 120 of the author’s books to the school library.
“I came because of all those letters,” King told the small group of students, who had been informed that they had been assembled to meet with a representative from their school district. “I was just blissed out to get them all.”
“You are so not from the school district,” one of the students told King, prompting laughter.
Dressed in a grey T-shirt tucked into jeans, King, a former teacher, went on to speak with the students about his evolution as a writer, his working habits, and how to improve their own writing.
“I’m just like you,” he told the group. “I came from a small town across the border in Maine. I went to a one-room school. I went to a high school that was smaller than this. I started to write stories because I liked it. That was the only reason.”
He added that his grades weren’t so great, except in English.
“How many of you like to write?” He asked them. “You don’t have to raise your hand.”
But most of the hands went up. King then took a black marker and wrote a sentence, composed by one of the students, on an easel. Conducting an informal workshop, he asked the kids for suggestions on how to improve the sentence and handed the marker to a volunteer.
Later, King moved into the school auditorium and chatted informally with a larger group.
“Writing is about seeing and saying,” he said. “You see something, you say it, and you try to say it in a way that’s new. But you also write it in a way that will make people want to read it.”
”Write with the door closed. It’s not anybody’s business but yours,” he advised. “Then, if you like what you’ve done, you’ve got to open up the door, look at it, and say, ‘Can I improve this?’”
Before his first story was accepted for publication—“a publisher paid 35 bucks for it”—King used to display rejection letters on a nail on his wall. After 60 or 70 rejections, the nail fell down, he said.
He offered this encouragement to determined young writers: “There’s always going to be room at the bottom, because people like me are going to croak.”
About his own writing process, King said, “I write from 8 in the morning until noon every day. And when that time is going by for me, I’m not in the world. I’m inside whatever the story is. It’s a little bit like being crazy, only they pay you for it, so that’s really good.” And after all these years, “For me, it’s still fun.”
And what was the most frightening thing that ever happened to him? “I got hit by a car,” he told them, an experience he detailed in his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Scribner, 2000).
Smith told SLJ that she and SRHS students, overwhelmed by interview requests, were no longer speaking to the media. A 31-minute video of King’s visit is available here and a 5-minute highlight reel is here.
This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.