The Kings of Fiction

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2008

Owen King is stealing the show from his famous dad. Stephen King just sits onstage and grins.

It's Friday morning at the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium, where three members of the prose-possessed King family have come to read and talk with students from several District high schools. Up first was Owen's mother, Tabitha, author of eight published novels, which is eight more than her son has managed to date. (So far, he's published only short fiction.) Up last will be Owen's father, who has churned out upwards of 50 books since he broke through with "Carrie" in 1974. He measures sales by the bajillion and has made the family name synonymous with the horror genre.

Never mind.

It's Owen's moment now.

At some point in his childhood, the 31-year-old King explains to his young listeners -- gathered this day as part of the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools program -- he was reading a Fantastic Four comic and the question of superhero sex occurred to him. "I was looking at Mr. Fantastic and Invisible Woman and I was thinking, well, how does this, you know, how do they do it?"

This draws a bit of nervous laughter.

"Dirty-minded as I am," he says the question never left him. And when the Fantastic Four movie came out, with Jessica Alba, "it was even more on my mind."

Loud laughter and applause.

Next -- now listen carefully, all you would-be writers out there, to see how literature is made -- he became fascinated with a TV animal show called "Meerkat Manor."

"It's about these little sort of desert squirrels that live in Africa," he says. "And I was running on a treadmill one day and I thought to myself that, you know, there are all these animal superheroes but there's not a meerkat superhero." Before long he was writing a story about an ordinary guy named Wade who "gets possessed with all the powers of a meerkat, so he can climb walls and he's got little claws, but he's also weirdly cute."

He reads part of the story that resulted. It begins in Washington, where Wade has come to register his new powers with the government. Already they've cost him his relationship with his girlfriend, who can't deal with his furry alter ego. A grim old bureaucrat from Homeland Security takes him to a K Street steakhouse, where she uses her own super powers to make gin gimlets leap straight down her throat and persists in confusing meerkats with domestic felines.

"Don't worry. They know all about our kind here," she tells him. "You can order whatever you want. Friskies or whatever."

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