Joe Hill on NOS4A2's reality-bending horror and his appearance in Denver tomorrow

Categories: Books

Honestly, the scene that hit me the hardest so far was a scene where a father of a young child gets the worst of a confrontation with Manx. As a father myself, it kind of put me in that space of imagining my kid having to grow up without me.

And maybe having seen you die! Every parent's nightmare is outliving their children, and by the same token, not much better, is your children seeing you suffer and die. No one wants to put their kids through that. It's interesting that you should bring up that particular character and scene, because a lot of the book is about the boogeyman in the closet and under the bed is scary, but not as scary as being a parent. Being a parent, every day is a new opportunity to terrify yourself and every day is a fresh chance to screw it all up. Having been a parent for a while, I wanted to write about that. I wanted to write about how scary it can be to be a mother.

I think a lot of mothers are really badly written. There's a tendency to make moms in stories all wise, eternally patient and utterly focused on their children. They have no inner life whatsoever, they're just there to bake muffins and tuck the kid in. And I don't think that really describes a lot of real mothers, who often times have lives of their own and interests of their own. Sometimes they don't get enough sleep and it's hard to be patient. Your kid does something reckless and nearly kills themselves and you get angry and scared. I think being a mother is a really tough job, and I wanted to write about a woman who is wrestling with what a difficult job that is, and who also had more to her than just being a mom -- also had her own ambitions and and hopes and dreams and fears and regrets.

It's not just mothers, either. With women characters in general, it seems like so many of them are written poorly.

Oh god, it's true! Especially in genre fiction, too. There are some people trying to do better. I credit Neil Gaiman for really changing the conversation, for really changing the attitudes of how female characters are written in genre fiction. He came along with his Sandman comic in the 1990s and then later in his novels, and he presented a really wide range of interesting female leads. Characters that were very funny and rich and layered, with interesting histories. He put a lot of other people to shame.

As far as you writing the character of Vic McQueen, did you draw on real women from your life?

No, some people do write from what they know, and in some ways I do that. I definitely think, that when I was growing up, when I was thirteen or fourteen and other kids had posters on their walls of athletes and movie stars and stuff, all the posters on my wall were pulled out of Fangoria magazine, which is a horror magazine dedicated to splatter f/x guys. Those were my heroes, so in a way I do write what I know. Horror fiction and dark fantasy come to me very naturally. But when I'm writing about characters, when I'm focusing on my characters, a lot of times I want to step out of my comfort zone and explore characters who maybe don't see the world like me, who maybe have had different kind of lives and experiences. Then the experience of writing the story becomes a kind of detective story. Not a "whodunnit" but a "who are they," and I like that. I like gradually uncovering a character, not knowing who they are when I start and letting them reveal themselves by their choices and their dialogue. That's the best part of the job, really.

You've mentioned in interviews that you start with a hook but that will only take you so far, and then you have to have good characters.

Yeah, absolutely. One of the guiding lights of my generation, one of the great creators of my generation is Joss Whedon. I'm a big admirer of his but I've only seen like two episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer; the TV show that made his reputation is not really how I know him. I know him from his work in comic books and from Firefly and from The Avengers. I think the thing that Joss Whedon recognized and has exploited is people want to love a character and then see those characters have great moments. To be forced in a box and have to punch their way out. To be confronted with their worst fears and to have their fondest hopes snatched away from them. He's really great at that. He's really great at finding these characters that you just want to spend time with every week, or as much as possible, and see them experience everything. I think that's the job, to create those characters and then give them their chance to be recognized as hero, coward or clown.

People talk a lot about giving the reader what they want, but I'm also a big believer in what Joss Whedon says about the job is actually to identify what the audience wants and then to never give it to them. To seriously deny it as much as possible. The example I use -- and if you've read other interviews, you've probably heard me mention it in at least one of them -- is people always wanted to know if Mulder and Scully were going to hop into bed together. It seems to me, The X-Files as a series was exciting and dynamic right up to the Rolling Stone cover where they were in bed together. At that moment, it ended. It was clear Mulder and Scully loved each other and people really wanted to see them form up as a couple. And the moment that creative desire was satisfied, the moment that happened, all the underlying power of the show evaporated.

I do think that you also have to recognize that stories require an ending. It may not be the ending that the audience wants sometimes, but you can't just play out the string endlessly.


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Tattered Cover LoDo

1628 16th St., Denver, CO

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