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Joe Hill

Joe Hill

“There’s print, there are audiobooks, there are graphic novels. I think that people have been able to enjoy stories more and more on their own terms.”

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Talking with Joe Hill

It’s easy to understand why writing comes easily for thriller and horror author Joe Hill--it is, after all, the family business. (Hill is the second child of Stephen and Tabitha King.) Writing was a normal part of life for him, as were audiobooks. Back when the audiobook industry was just gathering steam, before the great availability and variety we enjoy today, the King family would simply make their own. “My whole family loved them,” Hill recalls. “We’d play big, elaborate card games--hearts or poker or whatever--and whoever was the ultimate loser in those games would have to read a book on tape for the winner.”

His early education in the “sound” of his writing has left a lasting impression on his work. Hill is one of those careful writers whose pen is tuned to the listener’s ear--he jokes about “fretting over the combination of four sentences for half a morning.” This attention to narrative timing is crucial to Hill’s writing, and he believes he has learned a lot about it from working on his current project, the LOCKE & KEY comic series. “I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned from comics and apply it to [my own] novels and short stories.” This is particularly helpful for audio, as well, Hill believes. “When you listen to a book on audio, you can hear when a writer has a sense of timing.”

Timing is especially important in both Hill’s short story collection, 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS, and his intense, mesmerizing novel, HEART-SHAPED BOX, a 2008 Audie Award winner. “I don’t know if it’s self-indulgent,” Hill confides, “but I actually did listen to Heart-Shaped Box the whole way through. I thought Stephen Lang had a pitch-perfect reading of it.” So excited was Hill about Lang’s reading of his novel that no one else would do for his novella project with Stephen King and Richard Matheson, ROAD RAGE. “I wanted Lang because I felt like, on the basis of what he’d done with HEART-SHAPED BOX, he could really deliver with this story.”

As a fan of audiobooks, it’s no wonder that Hill is very positive and excited about the future of modern storytelling. “Some people are constantly worried about the death of the novel,” Hill says, “but I actually think that storytelling has never been healthier.” Why? Because Hill believes that the story is not simply contained in the printed word. “There’s print, there are audiobooks, there are graphic novels--all of which bridge the gap between print and film and television. I think that people have been able to enjoy stories more and more on their own terms.” Moreover, Hill readily dismisses the claim that listening to a book on audio isn’t the same as reading it. “I think it’s sort of an absurd point of view to suggest, for example, that blind people could never have the experience of literature. It’s utterly foolish.”

What’s on his radar for the next project? He won’t give the title of his novel-in-the-works (it’s a self-confessed superstition), but he assures us that it will contain “a certain amount of devilry.”--Allison Adams

© AudioFile 2009, Portland, Maine

Photo © Shane Leonard

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