A descendant of horror fiction royalty, Joe Hill is a best-selling author of novels, short stories, comic books and graphic novels. His latest book, Strange Weather, brings together four stories of strangeness and surreality that are bound to chill to the bone. With an international book-tour underway, we caught up with him ahead of his appearance at Waterstones to chat about his influences, creative process, and the book itself.
Firstly, could you tell us a bit about your new book Strange Weather?
Strange Weather collects four short novels under one roof. The first, Snapshot, is about a dangerous man with a camera that can steal memories. Loaded, the second, explores America’s new favorite televised sport, the weekly mass shooting. Then there’s Aloft, which tells the story of a man who goes on his first skydiving trip (jumping out of a plane to impress a girl, of course), and who winds up stranded, like Robinson Crusoe, on an island of impossibly solid cloud, ten thousand feet above the earth. The book closes with Rain, which is a climate change story... it wonders what would happen if the climate changed, and suddenly clouds began to rain nails instead of water.
I love a good, thrilling, single sitting read, and that was really the goal here: to shape four stories that were all killer, no filler.
The stories in this collection continue the surreal, magical realist theme that runs through some of your other books. What draws you to this style of writing?
When I was twenty-four, I read an essay by my idol, Bernard Malamud, titled Why Fantasy? Basically, he said since all writing is make-believe, the tools of fantasy, of wonder, were as valid as the tools of naturalism or realism. And fantasy can offer some very powerful metaphors. Ghosts, for example, are always about the way the past casts a shadow on the present. And of course it does. Anyone who’s familiar with the fight over Confederate Statues in the States can see the way the past is never gone. As William Faulkner said, it isn’t even past. So that one essay freed me up to be weird, and I’ve never stopped.
Who would you say your main influences are in your writing?
For an American, I have some flagrantly British influences! I was a teen during the great days of the British Invasion in comic books. Up until about 1990, comics were mostly power fantasies for horny thirteen-year-old boys. Then writers from the U.K. like Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Jamie Delano swept in to show us how great the art form could really be... that it could be as rich, as textured, as thrilling, as insightful, and as moving as any other form of literature. I never recovered. Those Brit-Lit comics of the 90s taught me how to write, and inevitably I wound up writing my own comic, Locke & Key.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline?
That comic I mentioned, Locke & Key, did pretty well for itself when it went out in the world. I created it with my soul brother, Gabriel Rodriguez, who is one of the greatest artists in the field; the two of us poured our hearts into it for seven years and it will always be one of the happiest work experiences of my life. Now it’s being filmed as a TV series for Hulu. They’re shooting at this very moment in Nova Scotia. They asked if I would write some of the scripts, so I penned the first two episodes, and worked on the third. I’m planning to keep my hand in throughout the first two seasons... if we’re lucky enough to get two seasons. Let’s see if we even get one. That said, I’m hopeful.
Do you have any advice for our readers who may want to get into writing?
Writing is more like a zen practice than a job. I sit down every morning to get my 1500 words. I start around 9:30 and don’t eat lunch until I’m done, which might be noon, and might be as late as two in the afternoon. I don’t get too high and I don’t get too low. Writing a novel is like trying to walk across the United States. You just aren’t going to go too far in any one day. Even writing a short story is like trying to walk — what? The length of Hadrian’s Wall? But I love my writing time, because it clears my mind, and reminds me of my best self. Which is also part of what you’re supposed to get out of meditation. So do it for pleasure, and to be a full person, and don’t get too tied into the possible results (publication, book tours, etc.). Worry about that stuff when you have to.
Joe’s latest book Strange Weather can be purchased from most high-street retailers, and Joe himself can be found on Twitter @joe_hill.
Stranger Things Have Happened — an Evening with Joe Hill event review
It’s not often you find yourself in the same room as a titan of horror literature. Even stranger is when said titan turns out to be immediately disarming, personable, likeable and funny — consider me naïve, but I still hold the childish assumption that all horror writers should act like Vincent Price and dress like Marilyn Manson.
Despite this, Hill takes to the stage with relative modesty and poise and, in spite of some technical wobbles involving a screeching clip-on mic, instantly has the crowd’s attention. A brief reading from Snapshot (the first of the four “short novels” featured in Strange Weather) introduces us to Hill’s own brand of horror, a world in which the mundane is quickly transformed into something suspicious and eerie. Then begins the Q&A, in which Hill tackles subjects ranging from his creative process to the epidemic of gun violence that is sweeping his homeland. It is quite rare for a person to discuss gun crime, suicide rates, and racial tension without coming across as ‘preachy’, but Hill somehow manages it with seemingly little effort.
Then comes the audience participation, in which the most interesting and engaging questions posed by the audience are awarded with an umbrella (for all the strange weather — geddit?). Here Hill talks about his upbringing as the son of lit legends Stephen and Tabitha King, the influences to his own fiction, and his well-documented love of comic books.
Equal parts chilling and charming, Hill’s latest book seems all-but-guaranteed to fill the shelves of horror lovers this Christmas.