Meet Joe Hill

By Dinah Cardin – Originally published at Art Throb

So, there I was. Practically alone in a room with Stephen King’s son. We booksellers at Salem’s Cornerstone Books had made Joe Hill comfortable. We gave him a cup of tea and stacks of clean hardcover editions of his latest highly acclaimed book “Horns” to sign, as well as purchased books with sticky notes containing the personal and often spooky messages his fans wanted inscribed.

An employee went on her break, the store cleared and it was just us.

The author was feeling bad about canceling his highly publicized appearance the day before due to his being “volcanically ill,” as he put it on his blog. There were waiting fans who had driven as far as Pennsylvania. They had come in with their own Joe Hill books tucked under their arms and with memories of him as a 10-year-old in the 1982 film “Creepshow,” written by his father, where he played a boy being punished for reading horror comics. And now here he was in one of his favorite places – an independent bookstore, in a city known for the spooky and the magical.

This is the son of one of the world’s best-selling authors. Stephen King, the king of horror and writer of a memoir on the craft of writing. And yet, like his dad, the 37-year-old writer was so unassuming — jeans, untucked shirt, unfashionable glasses and the impossibly straight dark hair of his father.

Not only did he grow up in the 70s and 80s as one of the most rich and famous kids in Maine and now was building a huge fan base as a horror writer in his own right, he was just so…nice. A woman called from Oklahoma City to buy seven new copies of his book for her stay-at-home-mom book club. He took the phone right out of my hand and said “Hi Lisa, it’s Joe.” After their conversation, it took a full three minutes for her jackpot like screaming to subside.

For years, Joseph Hillstrom King tried to be Joe Hill. The name, he says, comes from a Joan Baez song…”I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night.” His dad and mom, the writer Tabitha King, are just “big liberals from the 60s,” he said. He eventually failed, however, at concealing the relationship with his famous father — something my brother has known for several years since he, a published horror writer, is deeply immersed in that genre and, of course, worships Stephen King.

I sat across from the writer and watched him doodle devil horns on the clean title pages and pressed him to talk about growing up in Bangor. He loved the size of it, not too big or small, but “just right.” If someone walked into the well-known deli, Hill said, and asked boldly where Stephen King lives, the guy behind the counter would ask, “Who wants to know?”

He became a writer, he said, partly because he had two great role models. “At a pretty young age, I knew what I wanted to do because I realized I could be by myself and play make believe all day. My parents did it and their friends did it. This is something people do. It’s work like any other work.”

He did not start out in the horror genre.

“My initial response was to run away from it,” he said.

After college he wrote short fiction, but steered clear of the scary stuff. He got rejection letters. Although editors liked his writing style, they claimed the subject matter wasn’t exciting. All fiction is fantasy, he said, noting that Phillip Roth’s New Jersey is his own perception of the place, just as much a fantasy as Alice’s Wonderland.

As soon as he wrote a story called “Pop Art” that was pure fantasy, about an inflatable young boy, it sold quickly. Suspense is the one thing that will keep people from putting a book down, he said.

“To push suspense to the limit is horror.”

Signed copies of Joe Hill’s books are available at Cornerstone Books in Salem.


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