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Stephen Chbosky On Fear, Faith And The Love Of Stephen King

Courtesy of Stephen Chbosky
Grand Central Publishing
Pittsburgh native Stephen Chbosky considers himself more screenwriter than author, he says, and that his latest work "Imaginary Friend" is an homage to a long-time hero, Stephen King.

On today's program: Pittsburgh native and author Stephen Chbosky talks about his latest release ahead of a trip home; an expert weighs in on which Democratic hopefuls have the best plans to address climate change; how the PA Turnpike laid the groundwork for today's interstate highway system; and activists are putting pressure on a coke plant in Erie.

Stephen Chbosky returns to his Western Pennsylvania roots
(00:00 — 12:25) 

Stephen Chbosky’s debut novel “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” has become a coming-of-age classic since its publication two decades ago. The book chronicles the high school experience of its protagonist, Charlie, through a series of letters he writes to an unspecified “friend.”

But Chbosky says—despite the novel’s resounding success—he never considered books his primary artistic focus.

“When I wrote ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ and published it back in 1999, I—very sadly, in hindsight—considered it something of a fluke,” he recalls. “Because I considered myself a 'movie' guy.”

Chbosky says the process of adapting and directing the 2012 film version of “Perks” made him fall back in love with book writing. The result of that rekindling is a second novel released this week, “Imaginary Friend.”

At more than 700 pages, it is a much lengthier read than “Perks.” The book is a departure thematically too; the vibe is more Stephen King than J.D. Salinger.

“'The Perks Of Being a Wallflower’ came from my love of the coming-of-age novel. And there are many I love and cite as influences,” Chbosky says. “For the second one, I could've written something like a ‘Perks,’ but I felt I'd already done that, so I wanted to return to literary horror, which is something of a first love.”

“Imaginary Friend” follows Kate Reese, a single mother fleeing an abusive relationship, and Christopher, Kate’s 7-year-old son. They settle in a small western Pennsylvania community (the fictional town of Mill Grove, Pa.) and begin to establish a new normal. But when Christopher goes missing only to emerge from the local woods six days later seemingly unharmed, things start to get a lot more weird.

Stephen Chbosky spoke with The Confluence’s Christopher Ayers about fear, faith and his love of Stephen King. He also discusses why he loves writing about his native Western Pennsylvania.

Chbosky will be in Pittsburgh on Monday as part of the Pittsburgh Arts & Lectures "New & Noted" series. Tickets are $10.

What to know about 2020 candidates' climate plans
(13:50 — 17:50) 

Scientists say climate change poses immense risks to the U.S. and other countries. Do the Democrats running for president have any new ideas on how to address it?

The Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier spoke to Leah Stokes, assistant professor of environmental politics at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She shares what she's learned since reading the plans proposed by all the 2020 Democratic hopefuls and watching CNN's entire 7-hour climate town hall.

The history behind the concrete connector of the commonwealth
(17:51 — 22:21) 

Once called the “World’s Greatest Highway,” the Pennsylvania Turnpike helped lay the foundation for what would become the federal interstate highway system. For WESA's Good Question! series, Katie Blackley explores the markers on the turnpike and what they mean in relation to Pittsburgh.

The fight isn't over for Hold Erie Coke Accountable
(22:24 — 29:04) 

Along the shore of Lake Erie in northwest Pennsylvania, a plant takes coal and turns it into a key ingredient for steel manufacturing. But the facility has a long history of air quality violations, and state regulators have denied its permit to operate. The company appealed.

Now, as PA Post’s Ed Mahon reports for StateImpact Pennsylvania, a small group of activists are working to make sure the plant either complies with environmental regulations or is shut down for good.

Pittsburgh Lesbian & Gay Film Society presents Reel Q films tonight 
(29:08 — 38:58) 

Now in its 34th year, the Reel Q International Film Festival is back with 10 days of feature films and shorts from filmmakers around the world. Executive director TJ Murphy says the 25 feature-length and 60 short films come from local, national and international producers telling stories with and about the LGBT community.

The festival, expanded from just three days last year, kicks off Thursday at Row House Cinema in Lawrenceville. Murphy says that while it's important to center these voices by and for the community, he'd also welcome a broader Pittsburgh film festival so groups like Reel Q and others can present to audiences they otherwise wouldn’t have access to.

Find the full lineup here.

90.5 WESA's Kristofer Stubbs contributed to this program.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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