Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Porky, The King, and Me - A Perilous Conception

When I was a young boy, I had a crippling stutter. My mother used to tell me, well, all right, the King of England stutters too. My reaction was along the lines of "fat lot of good that does me, when I have to go out tomorrow and listen to people finish my sentences, or worse, tell me, 'Spit it out. Just spit it out!'" And then, there were the omnipresent flocks of mocking birds: "What's the m-m-matter, L-L-L-Larry? C-c-can't you t-t-talk? You s-s-s-sound like P-P-P-Porky P-P-P-Pig."

So the movie, "The King's Speech," was a revelation for me, an intense two hours of slam-dunk empathy. King George VI's childhood stuttering history and mine were carbon copies, and when that poor guy grew up, he had to get behind a microphone and talk to millions of people by radio, sometimes while staring at hundreds of anxious faces in a live audience. Talk about blood running cold. My fingers were like ice.

But I got to apply a lesson from the King and Mr. Logue, his speech therapist. Last Thursday, I gave a talk to a group about my ragtime mysteries, and afterward, someone asked what my next book was going to be. "It's about an overly-ambitious obstetrician in 1977, racing to become the first physician to develop a baby by in vitro fertilization," I said. "But there are complications that lead to blackmail and murder."

Then someone asked me the title. My whole body tensed. "A P-p...A P-p-p-" I said, and froze.

The woman's face twisted into concern. How the hell could I have been so stupid, putting a word beginning with a hard P into my title? Now I was going to have to try to spit that out for months of promotional appearances.

Then I thought of the King, giving his critical speech at the conclusion of the movie, and Mr. Logue, like an orchestra conductor, coaching him along. "Slip in an 'ah' and ride it through," Logue whispered, as the King approached a stumbling block. My throat relaxed. "Ahp-erilous Conception," I said.

The woman's eyes widened. "A Perilous Conception" - that sounds intriguing."

Logue's face beamed pleasure. The King smiled.

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