Written by Jon Williams
|Photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, USA CC BY-SA 2.0|
When you see a photo of writer Joe Hill, it’s easy to note the resemblance he bears to another novelist famous in the horror genre. It’s no secret now that Stephen King is Joe’s father, but that wasn’t always the case. When he was starting out, Joe wanted to make sure any success he achieved was on the merits of his work rather than as a result of a famous name, particularly as he knew his work would be in a similar orbit, genre-wise. Therefore, he dropped the last name of “King” and shortened his middle name (Hillstrom) to create his pseudonym.
A fact like that can only remain a secret for so long, though (a fact King learned himself with his own pen name, Richard Bachman). The news of Hill’s parentage broke around the same time his first novel was published in 2007. That novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is a seriously creepy story of aging rock star Judas Coyne, who buys a dead man’s suit—and the ghost that comes with it—over the Internet. The novel won both the Locus and Bram Stoker Awards for Best First Novel, proving definitively that Hill’s work was capable of standing on its own under any name he chose.
His second novel came three years later, in 2010. Horns is a haunting, tragic love story of a young man accused of his girlfriend’s murder, and the bizarre transformation his rage brings upon him. It has since been adapted into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe as the man in question, Ignatius Perrish. Hill’s third novel, and most widely acclaimed so far, NOS4A2 (a vanity plate spelling of Nosferatu) came out in 2013, about a woman desperate to save her son from the clutches of a soul vampire.
While these gaps between books may seem abnormally long for a popular novelist, the multitalented Hill is far from idle during those times. Starting in 2008, he teamed up with artist Gabriel Rodriguez for Locke & Key, a dark fantasy comics series revolving around an old house and the mysterious, powerful keys that open the doors there. The last issue was published in 2013, and in 2015, it was adapted into a full-cast audio drama, and recently it was announced that a second attempt will be made to develop it into a television series as well. In 2013-14, Hill wrote the comics miniseries Wraith, which ties into NOS4A2 but also works as a standalone. Additionally, his short story “The Cape” was adapted into a comic by Jason Ciaramella.
And now comes Hill’s fourth novel, The Fireman, published earlier this week. In it, the world has been decimated by a spore that causes people’s skin to break out in markings known as Dragonscale…until they eventually spontaneously combust. Into this world steps a man known as the Fireman, who has learned not only to manage the condition, but to use it. With this novel, Hill fully embraces his heritage, calling to mind the post-apocalyptic world his dad brought to the page in The Stand. Of course, that’s not to suggest that he’s rejected that heritage before—the two of them have fun with it, and have actually collaborated. Throttle is a tribute to classic horror writer Richard Matheson, while In the Tall Grass is an original novella the two wrote together.
The Fireman has drawn rave reviews, and will no doubt be one of the hits of the summer. Make sure you have plenty of copies for your patrons, as well as his past work for those who have yet to discover this relatively new talent.