A new book, Strange Weather, collects four novellas from Joe Hill - son of the legendary Stephen King.
Now a New York Times bestselling author himself, Hill spoke with Ben Thorp about where he gets ideas for stories and how he navigates the politics of writing.
Ben: I want to start with because these are four novellas, and you talk in the afterward about the format of the novella, will you talk about why you chose this for telling these four stories?
Hill: Strange Weather, the new book, is this collection of lean and mean short novels. There’s one called “Snapshot” about a man with a camera that can steal memories. There’s another story “Loaded” which is about a nation awash in gun violence. I really think that stories of suspense and weird tales live at that length. A lot of the very best and scariest stories are right about one hundred pages. I’m thinking about The Strange Tale of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Woman in Black. All stories that have the velocity of short fiction but the depth of characterization that you find in a novel. That seems to work perfectly for weird tales.
Ben: I’m wondering if you can talk about where you come up with the ideas that help serve as a jumping off point for these stories?
Hill: I wish after 13 years of being published I wish I had a better answer for where the ideas come from. I don’t really know. “Aloft”, my story about the guy who winds up stranded on a cloud, that’s simple. I was on a flight across the country and I looked out the window and I had the idea for the story. But the other ones I don’t really know, you know? I don’t know why your subconscious coughs this stuff up. I just think I’m a very experienced, very practiced daydreamer.
Ben: I’m wondering if we can move to “Loaded”. Which feels, especially right now, inherently political. It’s hard not to feel like it’s not a commentary about a lot of things that are happening in this country right now. Can you talk about the impetus and what got you into writing this story?
Hill: Well the impetus for “Loaded” was pretty simple it was Sandy Hook. But we are in this moment, this national moment when the country has been awash in senseless gun violence and mass shootings from Las Vegas to Orlando, Florida. At some point, we’re going to have to figure out if we like what we’re living with. If we want things to stay the same if we’ve accepted that a certain number of children are going to be blown away every year or if we want to do something about it. All that said though, the story is not a political argument and I don’t write stories to politically preach, and when I wrote “Loaded” partially I wrote it because I had these arguments online. You’ve probably had them too, everyone has had them. I had these arguments online about my beliefs, what I support, what I don’t support. At a certain point, I was arguing with someone about guns in America and I thought “this is stupid, this isn’t what I do.” I don’t get paid to argue with people online, I get paid to write stories. And I use those stories to try and figure things out. The story is not me preaching at people, it’s me trying to understand things.
Ben: I’m wondering... In the afterword you mention fact-checking this story with Lieutenant Myke Cole, who is formerly of the Coast Guard. What is it like to talk through these things and go back and forth over a story like this?
Hill: Well, I think it’s important to get it right. I mean I cared about getting the stuff right about guns because I knew if I got it wrong guns rights advocates would say “he doesn’t know anything about guns, he didn’t do his homework.” But more importantly, the lead character in this story is a single black mother who is also a local small town journalist. In some ways, I thought about that more carefully and worked on that more than I did the gun stuff. Because I do think if you’re a white male you can write about a black woman, you can have a character. And if you’re a black woman you can write about white characters. We use art to literally put ourselves in different skins, in different sexualities, in different places. But that said you better do a good job. The proof is in the pudding. If you don’t do your homework, if you don’t get some facts down, people will be hurt. People will be offended and bummed out. Whereas if you reflect something that’s true about people's experiences they feel honored and appreciated and grateful and say “this guy got it right.” So it was important to get that part of the story right.
Ben: Thank you for taking the time and coming down to talk with me.
Hill: I had a blast this was great.
Joe Hill, the author of Strange Weather, was at the Traverse City Opera House this week as part of the National Writer Series.