Behind the Scenes at Bookery Manchester: Joe Hill

As the resident writer of  Bookery Manchester, it was my duty when Mr. Joe Hill came through our humble neck of the woods to sit down with the man behind the fear and get to the nitty gritty.


Snap Shot On Joe Hill

Joe Hill is a New York Times bestselling author of six books (Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, Fireman, NOS4A2, 20th Century Ghosts, and Strange Weather) and an award-winning graphic novel series, Locke & Key. Joe was first published in 1997 with his short story “The Lady Rests” and gained notoriety from there. Hill quickly took to fame with his modernist-gothic-romantic genre medley, he plunges into horror while circumventing social issues in an elegant dance which beautifully counters the frightening themes and motifs he addresses. Hill is the winner of numerous awards, including:

●   "20th Century Ghosts" (Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection)

●   "Best New Horror" (Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story)

●   "Heart-Shaped Box" (International Thriller Writers Inc. award for Best First Novel)

●   "Locke & Key" (Eisner Award for Best Writer - 2011)

No award is able to overshadow Hill’s ability to make us recoil and lean in closer, to make us fear but also think, but most importantly, to make us feel in a time where feelings are fading and digitally dominated.


The Interview

Jared Interviewing Joe Hill

Jared: I read an interview where you said they first character you had to create was, Joe Hill. You seems to write primarily from the third-person, is there any correlation between these two ideas?

Joe: You know, the writer Bernard Malamud said, roughly, “The first and most challenging creation for a writer is actually himself (or herself.)” They say it takes ten years to make it or 10,000 words, less if you have natural talent, more if you need work on fundamentals and what-have-you. I can only imagine it took me more than 10,000. Right? You are inventing your voice, you are discovering how you address the world. First person abandons this, you have to address the world as your character might see it, you adopt their world views and opinions. I default to third-person because it allows me to tell the story in my own voice, a voice I have spent years refining and honing.

Jared: You said a little bit after your reading that, to be a good writer, you need to be an even better reader. It leads to the larger point/question of singular narratives, especially in a time when singular narratives are being weaponized. How do you navigate the tricky world of labels to create characters who do justice to the images they are abutting?

Joe: With any good character, you know, I think you are trying to rip the label off. Labels can form an initial image, but it is never the whole story. The story, “Snapshot” in Strange Weather follows a man as he watches a woman he cares about lose her memories. I can take Alzheimer's and turn it into a character. You can point your finger and say, ‘Here is the bad guy.’ But a good character should be a mystery. I mean, my favorite characters fascinate and intrigue me, even as I write them. Take Jude from Heart-Shaped Box. I initially thought he would exist for only a few pages. Lo and behold, he turned out to be a cockroach. As hard as I might STAMP and STOMP he simply wouldn’t die. The process of exploration is 95% of the fun for me. That is why so many thrillers leave me cold. They have the peril, they have the, the “thrill”, but if the danger, the risk, if it is happening to characters we don’t care about, what is the point?

Jared: I follow you on Twitter, I see you are quite political there.

Joe: Actually, I have been taking time away from Twitter and social media as a whole. It felt to me almost like a substance addiction. I would go onto Twitter and it would make me feel bad; my response? More Twitter. It got to the point I found myself in an argument with someone online, some stranger from who knows where, about something or other. Probably guns. And I said to myself, ‘You know? This isn’t my job.’ I don’t get paid to get in arguments online. I am a writer. I tell stories, this is how my voice is accessible to the world. Social media has a way of disconnecting in the opposite way books bring us together. Man, on Twitter, I find my voice and my opinions are adding to the din of opinion. Opinion is necessary, but it can’t hold a candle to fact, especially when it comes to politics and discussions surrounding it. On social media we want to answer, answer, answer. In writing, I find myself asking questions, not offering answers. You go into a story (when reading and writing) to learn and not to teach.

Jared: Do you find your politics entering your writing?

Joe: Yeah, again, in the piece “Snapshot” I am looking at the tragic loss of memory to Alzheimer’s, but I also examine the idea of selfies and living in the moment, the idea of offloading our memories to our phones. I heard in a podcast in the early 2000’s, in a poll done in Britain, British males aged twenty-two to twenty-four knew the least about geography. You know, they couldn’t even name the capital of France, even though it was right over the water. The most interesting thing, however, was when they were asked why they knew so little they said, ‘If I need to know something, I will just Google it.’ What a frightening glimpse of the future. Book stores, these are the real social hubs, these are the places, you know, the places where we connect, where we exchange thoughts and ideas. These are the places which house the future of interaction.

Joe Hill with some of the awesome Bookery staff members

Author: Jared is the Staff Writer for The Bookery and a student going for his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.