Readings and questions #1, August 1, 2006
Date: 1 August 2006.
Location: Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY.
Also starring: Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Bates, Stephen King, Andre Braugher, John Irving, and Jon Stewart.
Source: fan recordings.
Context: benefit reading to raise money for Doctors Without Borders and the Haven Foundation.
Transcription credits: Leaky Cauldron staffers Josee and Super Alex with corrections and notes by Lisa Bunker.
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy winner, a star of movies based on well-loved books such as The Color Purple, Sister Act, and Sister Act 2, Whoopi Goldberg! (crowd screams).
Whoopi Goldberg: Welcome to An Evening with Harry, Carrie and Garp (crowd screams again). This evening, on the great stage of the Radio City Music Hall, this legendary showplace of the nation, we are bringing you three of the world's most legendary writers. Stephen King, J.K. Rowling (crowd screams), and John Irving. Three fantastic writers, three unmatched storytellers, three distinct phenomena, each an industry unto themselves.
These three writers are forces of nature equal to or greater than any
of the supernatural events you can find in any of their books. (crowd
laughs). Listen, I have read every book by all three of these writers,
and I can't (crowd yells) -- because with a book, your mind takes you
on the adventure, and the writer shows you the path. And I can hear a
lot of kids in the audience. And I am so glad (crowd screams) -- And
I am just so glad that you're here. I am just so glad that kids are involved
in hearing writers read. It's so cool. And your parents are okay too
(crowd laughs). Thank you honey!
Harry, Carrie, and Garp. Somebody maybe should have put them all together a long time ago. Did you know, if one of those boys from the Hogwarts school, had asked that poor girl (crowd laughs) -- you know, the one at the prom -- (crowd laughs again) if somebody had just asked that poor child out for a date, a lot of people would have been saved a lot of grief. I'm just saying, you know.
Now this night is historic. Never before has such a group of literary stars assembled on a single stage. In fact you know they were all just backstage, all just chit-chatting you know, just quiet. I was trying to listen but I couldn't hear anything (crowd laughs). But what I ascertained by just all of the hand movements (waves hands around wildly) and stuff, is I think they're working on a collaboration (crowd laughs). I don't do gossip so don't listen to me but I think that like, young Harry Potter casts a love spell on his teacher, who is a middle-aged gnome, and they have this really hot affair and relationship and everything. And on their way back to Exeter they get lost and stumble on the lip of hell (crowd laughs). Only to be chased down by a whole group of telepathic wolves. And I don't want to give away the ending but it will make you laugh and cry and tingle with enchantment and finally just expunge your body. It will just blow your [unintelligible].
This intimate evening with these writers would not be possible without you. Their closest fans. Six thousand of you are here tonight. We have three active fan clubs assembled under this one roof. It's quite amazing. There are plenty of fans of J.K. Rowling (crowd SCREAMS). And I think I know why all of the Potter fans are screaming. It's because all of the Stephen King fans are whispering to them that Harry's going to like, bite it (crowd laughs and boos). And it's just amazing how many Stephen King fans are here tonight (crowd screams). And you know what, there are millions of us all over the world. But we hardly ever get together because so many of us are angry loners (crowd laughs). And the John Irving fans are here in full force (crowd screams). And you know, John is famous for writing about strong women (women scream). And maybe that's why women love him so much. He doesn't have a lot of black women yet but I'm gonna work on that (crowd laughs). But the last time I saw him like 10 minutes ago backstage he was really talking to those rockettes. (crowd laughs)
But the truth is that this evening is really a tribute to you all. So put your paper-cut fingers and carpel-tunnelled hands together and give yourselves a round of loving applause (crowd applauds). Because in this room -- in this room are the best readers in the world and if this evening proves nothing else, it does prove that reading (Whoopi Goldberg's earring falls off and whole crowd laughs) -- now was it my whole ear that just came off or just my earring? (crowd laughs) It's just what kind of evening it is. But the truth of what this evening -- (crowd laughs) what this evening really does communicate to everyone is that reading is alive and well (crowd screams). We proved that what happens when great books fall into the hands of great readers, we all want to talk about it.
Reading is alive and well because of the price of gas pushing $4.00 a gallon. Reading a fantastic book is just about the only way most people can afford to travel right now. Reading is alive and well because due to this weeks heat wave, more people than -- ha ha what? -- more people than ever are sitting on beaches, burning through bestsellers. I'm just going to pick of my earring for a sec. And thanks to global warming ... (Whoopi makes weird face and stares at the teleprompter and crowd starts laughing). Sometimes you just have to skip over stuff, you know what I mean?
(crowd laughs and screams). Reading is alive and well because tonight
we're harnessing it's awesome power for the benefit of two brilliant
causes. Causes so close to the hearts of this evening's [?] of authors.
The first is the Haven
Foundation. Established to support writers and artists who suffered
a serious illness or accident and can no longer support themselves (crowd
applauds). And the other is Doctors
Without Borders. This is a medical humanitarian organization that
delivers emergency healthcare and aid to places where people are in urgent
need. You can be proud of the fact that the proceeds from the purchase
of your ticket will be put to good use in the pursuit of these missions.
Because they're so important that even the ticket scalpers on 6th Avenue
have decided to donate a couple of dollars (crowd laughs).
So with great authors and fantastic readers and worthy causes we bring you this very first "Evening with Harry, Carrie, and Garp" and introducing each of tonight's biggest stars are the collection of artists that bring us special appreciation of their work. And to introduce tonight's first author, a brilliant actress, an amazing woman, Academy Award winner, Kathy Bates (crowd goes ballistic).
Kathy Bates: It's very fun to be here on stage ready to [unintelligible]. It's no wonder at all why I have been asked to introduce the first author. After all, I am his #1 fan (crowd screams and applauds). I used to be the #2 fan up until about 15 years ago when a woman named Annie Wilkes came off the list and the top spot opened up. I'm very proud to own that title and I'm very proud to have my name so closely associated with his. And I hope that all Stephen King fans will forgive me for being morbid. But I already know that no matter what happens to me in the rest of my life, one day the name Stephen King will appear in my obituary (crowd laughs).
For most people knowing this would be cause for concern. Because
99 times out of 100 when an obit mentions the name Stephen King, it means
that someone has suffered a pretty gruesome death (crowd laughs). Well
if you don't believe me when you get home, google Stephen King and obituary
and you'll find newspaper accounts of people who have said the cause
of death was quote -- something ripped from the pages of a Stephen King
novel. A lady from Utah tripped on a garden hose and was hurtled into
a pool of piranhas. True story. A meat packer from Milwaukee, the victim
of a workplace fatality, who was accidentally fed to his family in the
form of kielbasa. And a claims adjuster from Ottawa who was sucked through
a hole in the space-time-continuum and was sentenced to death in a parallel
universe for a crime he did not commit (crowd roars with laughter). You
know, stuff like that. But in my case, on that sad day, far far in the
future, when the name Stephen King shows up in my obit, it will dignify
something truly wonderful that happened to me, that I had the good fortune
to bring some of his most fascinating characters to the silver screen.
Let me tell you how it all began. Years ago a friend of mine had read a novel called Misery and implored me to read it (crowd screams). He said -- he said when they do the movie you ought to play Annie Wilkes. And I thought, "Yeah that'll happen in a million years." But I read the book, and I fell in love with it. And so, I just, began to dream. And then a few years later, Rob Reiner happened to be dating Elizabeth McGovern who just happened to be acting in a play with me. See I was playing the part of a crazed fanatic (crowd laughs). So I guess that gave Rob the idea to cast me as Annie. And it did work out pretty well for me after all. So that was my first in a series of Stephen King characters I was fortunate enough to play.
And what I remember most about him was that he used to carry a rubber rat in his pocket. Whenever things got a little dull, he'd pop the rat out in the middle of the thing and go woohoooo. Why? I don't know. I think it was just to think if he could freak us out or make us laugh. But later it occurred to me that what I had witnessed was the essence of Stephen King. The unrivaled master of the mundane run horribly amuck. He starts with what he knows so well, ordinary people leading what appear to be ordinary lives, and when he applies his powerful imagination, his peculiar sense of irony to the population of our town, the effect is all the more chilling because you know, you know it could happen to us. Yes, Stephen King carries a rubber rat in his pocket, and he has a deadly number of tricks up his sleeve.
Each Stephen King role I've played has been an actor's delight, and will strong characters and heartfelt deeds (crowd applauds) that go to extreme ends to achieve their goals and lend themselves to vivid interpretation.
And every Stephen King book I've read has been a reader's delight. Don't you agree with me? (crowd screams it's agreement). He writes stories that cut through the [unintelligible] of blood. That makes it human. Sharp [unintelligible] that dig into our innermost secrets.
But most of all, Stephen has the gift of gotta. You know? I gotta turn the page. I gotta see what happens next. I know I gotta get up early tomorrow morning to go to work but I gotta keep reading this book (crowd laughs and applauds). I've adored Stephen King as a reader. I've gotten to play some of his most unforgettable characters so you can see why that makes me #1 fan. And there are tens of millions of fans who think they have a claim upon my title, and I think some of them are here tonight. And each has a story to tell about how and why and when and where they so strongly connected to the works of Stephen King. Here are just a few.
(Stephen King video rolls)
(Stephen King enters to music and loud applause and screaming)
Stephen King: Thank you very much. Is this cool or what! (crowd screams and applauds). Put a bunch of writers together with a whole bunch of readers. What a concept! (crowd laughs).
No more speeches for awhile. It's storytime. Umm, about 25 years ago, one of my wife's sisters told me about going to a pie-eating contest in a small town and uh -- (crowd cheers) oh some of you know this story (crowd laughs). Well don't tell the other ones how it turns out. They may have eaten supper. Anyway she said one of the contestants ate too fast and uh, threw up. Now I never met a gross story that I didn't like. So I turned it into what I'm going to read now and popped it into a book I was working on called Different Seasons (crowd applauds) and uh -- it became part of a movie called "Stand By Me" (crowd applauds). Where it was rated R. Soft R, this is the hard R version here. It's the uh -- I still think it's the best revenge a fat kid ever had. And I'm speaking as an ex-fat-kid (crowd applauds). All I can say is bon appetit (crowd laughs).
This is "The Revenge of Lardass Hogan" (crowd applauds). And I may move around a little bit so if you've got someone who's agile on that light. I'm not that agile myself anymore so you won't have to be too agile. And hopefully I won't fall over that damn wheelbarrow. And hopefully they didn't electrify this chair (crowd laughs). It does have that look doesn't it? (crowd laughs again).
(Stephen King reads his passage from Different Seasons)
(Crowd applauds as Stephen King departs)
Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome, Andre Braugher.
(Crowd applauds and Andre Braugher enters)
Andre Braugher: This evening, out of the three celebrated writers and extraordinary artists, only one has been inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame (crowd laughs). Granted it is a peculiar fact in the biography of a rather serious writer but it's exactly the kind of unexpected detail you might find in a John Irving novel.
John Irving is the author of 11 unforgettable novels all deeply imbued with the unusual because they so often place off-beat characters in situations that are extreme. His work is the perfect meld of his credentials as an amateur wrestler and a world class writer. If the wrestler taught the writer nothing else, it's that adrenaline draws from the person either their best or their worst, and you always have to fight on your feet, or, at the very least, your knees (crowd laughs). So it's also no surprise that he is a writer who is unafraid to challenge a reader head on. His expansive stories tell the tale of a life as a whole.
His novels are unusually eventful, intricately plotted, and laced with symbols, metaphors, subplots and refrains. Novel after novel, he asks his readers to explore with him the rules and manners and the consequences of breaking social code. Yet somehow this combustion of irregular characters and impossible events never fails to synchronize seamlessly by the end. Because John Irving understands that anyone who mistakes his offbeat characters for outlandish and believes their fait to be inexplicable have not been paying very close attention at all to ordinary life. And now, please direct your attention to this short video about this extraordinary writer.
(John Irving video rolls)
(John Irving enters to music and loud applause and screaming)
John Irving: I was trying not to get sick backstage (crowd laughs). Thanks a lot Steve. My seventh novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, (crowd applauds). It was first published 17 years ago.
And you might wonder what personal experience in my childhood prompted such a Christmas pageant as the one in that book. In my case, the vision in childhood were inseparable. As a child, acting out the story of the birth of Jesus was as close as you could come to the miracle. I was Joseph once, I was a king, I was a shepherd, I was one of the animals in the manger. I was the angel too. It's not a bad part. The angel has some good lines. At one time I everyone, except the Virgin Mary. That wouldn't have worked I suppose. Although, my grandfather was a terrific female impersonator. In my town's amateur theatrical productions, my grandfather had all of the best women's roles. Because he died when I was fairly young, I actually remember my grandfather better as a woman than as a man (crowd laughs).
But I was never cast as the Virgin Mary and of course I never got to be the Christ child. Only babies got to be the baby Jesus which always struck me as unfair. After all, in the real Christmas story, if not in most Christmas pageants, Jesus had the leading role. What actor wouldn't want the part?
The premise of A Prayer for Owen Meany is at parts religious and childlike. In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys, best friends, are playing a little league baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother. The boy who made surprisingly lethal contact with the ball, doesn't believe in accidents. Owen Meany believe's he's God's messenger.
(John Irving reads his passage from A Prayer for Owen Meany)
(Crowd applauds as John Irving departs)
(Crowd screams and applauds as Jon Stewart enters)
Jon Stewart: Thank you (crowd screams again). I was just wondering, how much do you think I could get for that chair on eBay? What an exciting night and thank you all for coming down. It is my absolute honor to introduce the final author of the evening.
I hope you're having
a pleasant time. This is truly amazing (crowd screams again). I was running
a little late and I was talking to my friend Mel Gibson on the phone
(crowd laughs) -- he just wanted to make sure I wished everyone here
(crowd laughs). And he hopes that tonight's mishigash puts
a smile on your panim. He's heading to rehab -- the Betty Ford
Clinic to battle alcoholism and the Henry Ford Clinic to battle anti-Semitism.
Why am I here? I am a television personality. Books are killing my profession (crowd laughs). I came here tonight to make one final appeal for TV over books. They make you provide your own imagination. We provide the pictures for you (crowd laughs hysterically). You don't even have to turn the page. You just sit there and stare. I'm actually here because I am an absolute great fan of each and every author you've seen here and will see here tonight. Steven King, John Irving, J.K. Rowling (crowd applauds).
I have the honor of introducing the video for J.K. Rowling
(Raowling) - Crowd: ROWLING LIKE BOWLING! -- You pronounce it however
you want. I was talking to her backstage and she said to me, "Say Rowling (Raowling)
because my crowd will yell Rowling," and they will be wrong (crowd laughs).
My wife Jay(?) -- silent.
Why am I here? I have kids, two of them. And my youngest is a little girl, she is five months old. And she has been in line for the latest Harry Potter book now for over 3 months. We miss her terribly. But I want that damn book (crowd laughs, screams and applauds). My son is 2 and he was born with a lightning bolt. Actually he wasn't but you'd be amazed that every night if you just do this with your thumbnail (makes lightning bolt sign with thumbnail and crowd roars with laughter), after awhile he looks like he was born with a lightning bolt (crowd still laughing hysterically).
What's remarkable about Jo is her ability to just transport people into a universe of hers that is at many levels universal and yet also absolutely unique. I admire it. I look forward to each and every installment. I should be sitting out there with you. So please, if you can, take a look at this video.
(J.K. Rowling enters to music and loud applause and incredibly loud screaming).
Crowd: Happy birthday Jo!
J.K. Rowling: The great thing about tonight is, no pressure (crowd laughs). You know it was great of Steven and John to warm up for me (crowd laughs). [Unintelligible] I do have the best shoes though (crowd roars with applause).
Umm, I'm going to be reading for you from the latest Harry Potter book (crowd screams). And at the end of my reading I'm going to be taking a few questions. My experience of my readers is that they want to -- well really they want to torture me for information. But Radio City Hall didn't feel that would be allowable. So I'm just going to ask a couple of people to put their questions [unintelligible] answers.
But before that, I'm going to read a short piece in which Harry Potter goes back in time and sees another famous pupil of Hogwarts school discover that he too is a wizard. So Harry and present-day Dumbledore follow a much younger Dumbledore as he walks to an orphanage to tell a particular pupil that he has a place at Hogwarts.
(J.K. Rowling reads her passage from chapter 13 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince)
J.K. Rowling: We have a few questions now.
Nina: I just wanted to know what Hermione would see if she looked into the Mirror of Erised?
J.K. Rowling: Well, (big grin from Jo, crowd laughs and applauds) at the moment, as you know, Harry, Ron, and Hermione have just finished their penultimate year at Hogwarts and Hermione and Ron have told Harry that they're going to go with him wherever he goes next. So at the moment I think that Hermione would see most likely the three of them alive and unscathed and Voldemort finished.
But I think that Hermione would also see herself closely entwined... with... another... person (crowd roars and applauds loudly). I think you can probably guess who. Thank you, very good question. I've never been asked that before. Now we have another.
J.K. Rowling: Well, I'd have to say no, because there is always... there are magical component in the potion, not just the ingredients. So, at some point they will have to use a wand. I've been asked what would happen if a Muggle picked up a magic wand in my world, and the answer would probably be something accidental... possibly quite violent. Because wands, in my world, is merely a vehicle, a vessel for what lies inside the person. There is a very close relationship -- as you know -- between the wand that each wizard uses and themselves. In fact, we'll find out more about that in book 7 (crowd applauds).
For a muggle you need the ability, in other words, to make these things work properly but you're right and I think that's an interesting point. Potions seems, on the face of it, to be the most Muggle-friendly subject. But there does come a point in which you need do more than stir. Thank you, good question.
Unknown (2): First I just want to say happy belated birthday!
J.K. Rowling: Oh thank you!
J.K. Rowling: (mischeviously) Snape!
Unknown (2): Uh huh (crowd applauds and screams) -- had a sort of redemptive quality about him, and I was wondering if there was any chance that Draco Malfoy might redeem himself?
J.K. Rowling: Oh you girls and Draco Malfoy (she shakes her head, crowd applauds). You've got to get past this.
J.K. Rowling: Well, I believe that almost anyone can redeem themselves... However, in some cases, as we know from reality -- if a psychologist were ever able to get Voldemort in a room, pin him down and take his wand away, I think he would be classified as a psychopath (crowd laughs). So there are people, for whom, whatever you're going to callit -- personality disorder or an illness -- for whom redemption is not possible. They're rare.
So I'd say my characters, in the main, yes, there's the possibility for redemption for all of them. Draco, I think -- in Harry's view is that even given unlimited time would not have killed -- I'm assuming you all have read book 6 by now (crowd laughs) -- because I don't want to deprive some kid who's got five pages to go (they've been in a coma all this time) -- Harry believes that Draco would not have murdered the person in question. What that means for Draco's future? We'll just have to wait and see.
Samantha: In the wizarding world there are many wandmakers, Ollivander's being the one we're most familiar with. How come Ollivander chose the three magical cores for the wands he makes to be phoenix feather, unicorn hair, and dragon heartstring? And how come he decided that these are the three most powerful cores as opposed to others such as veela hair?
J.K. Rowling: Good question. Well, it is true that there are several wandmakers and in my notes about Harry I have many different cores for wands. Essentially I decided Ollivanders was going to use my three favorites. So Ollivander has decided that those are the three most powerful substances. Other wandmakers might choose things that are particular to their country, because countries as you know in my world have their own particular indigenous magical species. So Veela hair was kind of obvious for Fleur's wand. But um, yeah, good question. I've never had that one before (crowd applauds).
J.K. Rowling: How do I know when to stop?
Todd: How do you know when to stop, yeah?
J.K. Rowling: Well I think some of the reviews of Phoenix suggest that I didn't know when to stop, ha ha! (crowd laughs). Well, I decided, you know, sixteen years ago (or thereabouts) where I was going. And I will say, I'm quite a long way into writing book seven now. And there's a lot still to explain. I hadn't really realized... There's still a lot to find, to sort out, and I'll probably leave some loose ends hanging that you'll be able to say, "Oh, well, in book eight, she'll explain why" (crowd screams approval). "You mentioned the toad!" That's NOT significant, by the way, just to save myself 500 letters! "You mentioned the toad!"
Yes, but I do know where I'm going, I really do know where I'm going. I'm really going to miss writing Harry Potter; I will miss it fiendishly. "[Book] twenty-seven? Any thoughts on twenty-seven? (crowd laughs). No, I've plotted it out, and I think you'd start to see that I've run out of plot if I go past this (crowd applauds).
Stephen King: We'd like to take a few more questions and I'd like you to welcome the moderator who's going to [unintelligible] her name is Soledad O'Brien.
Soledad O'Brien: Amazing, amazing evening. I'd like to get some more questions from the audience. Get some answers from our authors tonight. First, thank you to each and every person who submitted a question to the authors. We received more than 1,000 in all. From those many, we could only select 12 and we have invited the lucky dozen to sit right up here close to the stage and up close to the microphone. You already met 4 of t -- 5 of them a moment ago. We want to hear now what the other 8 are eager to ask of Steven King, John Irving, and J.K. Rowling. So let's begin with our questions.
Anna: Hi. My question is for Stephen King. What scares you? (crowd laughs)
Stephen King: How about standing in front of 6,000 people? (Crowd laughs) And checking to make sure that you've zipped your fly. Everything scares me so I just try to turn it around. That's the best I can do, I mean. Elevators -- they talk about power blackouts in New York and I get in an elevator and I think, "Oh my god!" Everyone thinks, "Oh it must be wonderful you have this imagination and then it turns around and bites you." So yeah, everything (crowd applauds).
Unknown (3): Hi. Well my question is for John Irving. I was wondering what inspired you to write The Fourth Hand? I thought it was a very unusual story.
John Irving: Well, The Fourth Hand is different from my other novels because, it's short (crowd laughs). And because it was actually my wife's ideas. We were watching the news one night -- it was pretty late -- and there was a story about the first successful hand transplant surgery. And my wife, Janet said, "If you died and you left your hand to give to somebody, I'd like to go visit it" (crowd laughs).
To be honest, if it hadn't been so late at night I would have told her to call Steve (crowd laughs). It seemed like more his kind of thing than mine, you know. I was appalled. I said, "What an awful thought." And she went back to sleep and I was up all night (crowd laughs).
My stories often begin with a one-hit proposition. And by the morning, I'd decided that the widow will decide that this man could have her late husband's hand. And that she had an agenda beyond the hand. Umm, she's been trying to have a baby and she and her husband failed. So she tells the guy that needs the hand, give me a baby, I'll give you the hand. And what he gets with the hand is a life with her.
Umm, I feel very close to that question there and that book right now just by chance because I've just finished the first draft of the screenplay -- the adaptation for that novel. So I'm back into that story deeply. So that was the inspiration. That the visitation rights that the widow had on the hand, "You can have the hand, but only if I can come and see it" (crowd laughs). I thought the premise for that arrangement would lead to a lot of trouble. (crowd applauds).
Unknown (4): As one of the first authors to become famous during the internet age, how has online communication and fan interaction influenced your experience as a writer compared to authors of the past?
J.K. Rowling: You really have to resist, when you're struggling for ideas,
to go onto Amazon and read your bad reviews. It's kind of masochistic.
You scroll down past all the people who say nice things about you till
you see one star. So you completely have to resist that.
For a long time I never looked. People used to say to me, "Do you ever look at the fan sites or see what people have said online?" I was truthful; I said I didn't.
Then one bored afternoon, I googled "Harry Potter." Oh... my... God. I had NO idea. The shipping wars? (crowd screams). For people who are over 18 who may not know about this -- because I certainly didn't -- it's like cyber gang warfare. People who wanted Harry and Hermione to end up together (crowd screams) ... they're still out there! Get over it! And other people who wanted Hermione and Ron (crowd screams). And there are very weird couplings as well, but we will not go anywhere near there.
Crowd Member: Harry/Voldemort!
J.K. Rowling: Yeah, exactly. So I would imagine that Jane Austen had a little less feedback on that topic (crowd laughs). Overall, I think it's an exciting thing for readers being able to share -- cyber book groups. It's an interesting, exciting thing -- if used wisely (crowd laughs and applauds).
Unknown (5): My question is for Stephen King. How do you come up with such great stories without being truly demented?
Stephen King: Demented stories. Well, I sold my soul to the devil (crowd laughs). There's no answer to that question. I mean bang, there it is. I was walking around the other day -- literally I go for a walk, and I didn't take a book because if you get bored -- boredom is like a spell. I'm walking along and I'm talking to myself. Well what if this woman goes to a meeting and she sees this woman she sees when she was a lot younger and she looks the same, the same age she was like twenty years ago only now she's really fat and she looks really ugly but the same age. And I thought, "whoa" (crowd laughs). What has she been doing to keep herself this way. And I said, I wanna write this. Not because I know, because I wanna find out (crowd laughs and applauds). We've gotta keep moving so I'll finish up.
To me, a story is like a red thread that goes across the floor and into a mouse hole. And you take the thread and you pull it, and you pull it and pull it and pull it and you see how much red thread you get. If you get it all, you win. You get a story and the prize isn't the money, it's the story, okay? Anybody who thinks the prize is the money, you're wrong (crowd laughs).
What goes through my head is this: My wife came home yesterday from a meeting and she was pale and she said, "I saw Anna, and she looks just the same as she did twenty years and she's gotten so big." And I think, "that's the thread, that's the thread." That's all (crowd applauds).
Unknown (6): My question is for John Irving. If you had the chance to rewrite any of your books, which one would you want to rewrite now?
John Irving: Well I'm such a compulsive rewriter, I think honestly 3/4 of my life as a writer is revision. I can't imagine that after I've done so many revisions -- I can't imagine going back and rewriting a book of mine. I might consider having never written it in the first place but uh -- (crowd laughs) -- I don't fault anything I've written for lack of revision. I might find other things wrong with it. In my last novel, which was my 11th and longest, and when I had finished it, I decided it should be a third person novel instead of a first person novel (crowd laughs). I have to tell you this. I write a first draft very quickly, and then I slow down. I never try to speed up the process of revising something. I write by hand, with a typewriter. You can only write so fast when you write longhand or with a typewriter. I guess what I'm saying is, I love rewriting, writing I'm not so crazy about. First drafts, they make me nervous. But rewriting I'm not. Rewriting I could do forever (crowd applauds).
Unknown (7): Hi. My question is for Stephen King. What is the most inopportune time that you have been struck with inspiration to write? (crowd laughs hysterically).
Stephen King: Next question (crowd laughs). I'm going to pass on that (crowd laughs again). Let's put it this way. Sooner or later, we all get an idea and we don't always have a pen to write it down with. You get it the way you want it (crowd laughs).
Soledad O'Brien: The next question is from Tracy Johnson from Pikesville, Maryland.
Stephen King: Go Pikesville.
Tracy Johnson: Hi, I'm Tracy Johnson from Pikesville, Maryland and my question is for John Irving. Pleased to meet you sir. I think you're awesome. When you write the stores are they more driven by plot or by characters? Your books are so memorable because of who these people are in the story. But do you write the characters and the way that they develop dictates what happens or do you know what you want to happen and you create the characters that make those actions happen?
John Irving: I'm the opposite of Stephen. If I see the red thread going into the mouse hole, I'm not touching that thing until I've inspected the mouse hole (crowd laughs).
I spend a year to 18 months making a street map of the novel. I need to know especially what happens at the end. But I don't need just what happens to the characters -- the principle characters -- I need the tone of voice that the novel is going to be in. I know much more about the end of the novel than I do about the beginning. I write the beginning last.
I wrote -- for example -- the last sentence of my most recent novel in January of last year. I wrote the first chapter in August of last year. That is extremely fast for me. To get from last sentence to first chapter in only that many months -- it's usually a year at least. So the answer is, I not only know what the story is before I start the novel, I know who the main characters are, I know who are significant to the story and who aren't. I know when they meet and where their paths may cross. Every little detail, no of course not but all the major and major minor differences -- I hope have a significant impact on you the reader. I have to know what's going to happen (crowd applauds).
Soledad O'Brien: Our last question of the evening comes from a father and daughter. It's a comment and then a question. Gregory and Catherine Bernstein from Sherman Oaks, California (crowd applauds).
Gregory Bernstein: My daughter has the question for J.K. Rowling. I have the comment. I can remember back in 1998, when my daughter was first learning how to read and becoming aware of the world around her, that the prevailing cultural phenomenon sweeping America and captivating its children were the Spice Girls and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (crowd laughs). Then Harry Potter came along, and a whole generation, including my daughter, learned to love reading, learned to love the characters you created, and learned to love imagination, and learned to appreciate great writing. In addition you handed her a tremendous role model in Hermione -- intelligence, studious (crowd applauds and screams), humane, and compassionate. So for all the great characters and role models you've created, and for all the love of reading you've encouraged and and for all of the imagination you've inspired, I and a whole bunch of other parents owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude, so as a parent, I just wanted to say thank you (massive cheering and applause).
Catherine Bernstein: When you started writing and faced rejection, did you ever think of giving up? And if you had, what do you think you'd be doing now? (Crowd laughs)
J.K. Rowling: Well, there was quite a lot of rejection, but it was squeezed into a relatively short period of time. So, I got an agent on my second attempt, which is pretty amazing, but then it was a couple of years before it was accepted a publisher. Maybe slightly less, but it was certainly a couple of years before it was fully accepted and I started writing it. And during that time, did I ever feel like giving up? No, truthfully, I didn't, because I really believed in the story, and I really loved the story.
Iris Murdoch, who is a British writer, now deceased, once said, "Writing a novel is a lot like getting married. You should never commit yourself until you can't believe your luck." And I really couldn't believe my luck having had this idea and I was determined to press on with it until the last publisher had rejected it, which, at one point, looked likely (crowd laughs). Would I have stopped writing? Definitely not. But if I'd never been published, you know, in the sixteen years between having the idea of Harry and now? I think I probably would have accepted that, after sixteen years...do we know of a writer who made it after sixteen years of rejection? There probably is one, but I think you'd have to have a lot of self belief after sixteen years. I'm sure I would still be writing, but I might have stopped sending the manuscript around. And what would I be doing? I'd be teaching. That's what I was doing (crowd applauds).
Soledad O'Brien: I want to thank all of you for your questions and of course thanks to everybody this evening for being apart of this incredible night. Thank you (crowd applauds and screams).
Stephen King: On behalf of my colleagues, I want to tell you that this was a magic night for us to be able to fill Radio City Music Hall on behalf of two wonderful charities. Not with guitars but with book readers (crowd screams and applauds). Thank you to all the presenters, thanks to John Irving, and thanks to Jo Rowling (crowd applauds loudly).
Photographs: The Leaky Cauldron Galleries.