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KPBS Midday Edition Segments

Joe Hill On His New Book ‘NOS4A2’

 September 4, 2019 at 8:46 AM PDT

Speaker 1: 00:00 Horror author Joe Hills characters came to life earlier this summer in a new supernatural horror TV show. The series is based on Hill's bestselling novel Nosferatu, which premiered on AMC in June. It's about a secret community of people who have unusual occult power powers. In 2013 hill spoke with KPBS arts reporter, Beth OCHA, Amando and San Diego. Shortly after the novels release. I want to ask you about the title of your book, but since I'm someone who tends to sit behind cars baffled by their license plates, Speaker 2: 00:31 you'd introduced the title. Yeah. The title of the new book is n o s four 82, which is the vanity license plate on the bad guys automobile. And if you sound it out, it spells Nosferatu, which is the German word for vampire. So in this case, was this a title that came to you first and then the story or did the story come first? The title came to me fairly early on. Uh, the book is full of wordplay and puzzles and I wanted the title to represent that in some way. I wanted the title to force the reader to stop and sort of scratch their heads and say, what the heck is that? And I think readers kind of enjoy that sort of thing. Alright. You've hinted a little bit as to what the story's about. So why don't you give us a little thumbnail of what this novels about? Speaker 2: 01:16 Yeah. Nosferatu or an o s 42 is a about a wicked man with a car that runs on human souls instead of gasoline. This man, Charlie Manx has survived for over a century by taking his passengers, usually children on long drives. And in the course of these drives, he drained something essential from them, some essential life force. And when he's done with them, there is nothing left except Haight and teeth. And he takes those kids who are now monstrous and drops them in this horrible amusement park called Christmas land. So that's the villain of the story. And he is ease. Use that energy from them, that the car sucks out of them to keep himself young. And he's opposed by a woman named Victoria McQueen who has an unlikely impossible right of her own to try and Bonneville motorcycle, which can warp reality. Charlie Manx uses his ride to destroy lives. Speaker 2: 02:14 Victoria McQueen uses her powerful ride to save lives and the two of them find themselves in opposition across 25 years and thousands of miles. You grow up also with comics and there's a tradition of horror and comics. How did comic books influence you at all in terms of how you viewed horror and your interest in that? Comics are largely known as a medium that explores the adventures of men in tights and capes. But when I was a kid, I didn't really read those comics. The comics I read were the ones being written by Neil Gaiman and he, you know, his groundbreaking series Sandman and Alan Moore, who had had a remarkable run on a horror series called swamp thing, about a pile of talking moss. And also my father had a hardcover collection of tales from the crypt, the notorious comic from the fifties, uh, about the crypt keeper and, um, the old witch. Speaker 2: 03:03 And it was an anthology series, uh, telling various stories of the grotesque and the horrifying, it was wonderful. Just, it was absolutely, absolutely captured. You know, my 13 year old imagination comics originally in the 30s and forties and 50s they always, superheroes were always popular, but I think in their early days it's fair to say that they were just as well known as a place to read stories of crime, suspense and horror. What happened in the late fifties was the congressional hearings on juvenile delinquency led to a connection in the popular mind between the horror comics and little boys acting out. And as a result, the comics code was invented and comics were cleaned up. And I think that that was a great disaster. And the reputation of the comic book industry to This Day has not really fully recovered. This is an issue which is pretty personal to me because I write an ongoing comic series called lock and key lock and key is the story of a 250 year old new England mansion filled with impossible magical keys. Speaker 2: 04:08 Each key has a separate power and there's one key that no one should ever use, uh, called the Omega Key. And naturally there's a Beastie that wants to get his hands on it. You are can horror, which is a genre that is sometimes maligned, sometimes not taken seriously. But what do you think makes for good horror? Horror is that sensation that comes over you when you found a character, you really care about someone who seems emotionally satisfying and interesting. Someone with a history, someone with regrets, someone who is a little bit of a puzzle to solve a character you're invested in. And you see that character for us to struggle with, the worst faced with terrifying darkness and you feel empathy for them. And that's a very humane emotion. And you know, when horror fails, it's because it never asks you to feel that emotion. Instead, it asks you to sympathize with Freddy Krueger or the guys running the hostel. Speaker 2: 05:04 Um, the diabolical killer and saw who put people in these sort of ridiculous razor. Why are most traps just to watch them get sliced up? And A, I don't like to root for the bad guys. I like to root for the good guys. You have a famous father, Stephen King. I wanted to ask you, recently, we just saw David Cronenberg son just made a film, Brandon Cronenberg man antiviral, you see a family connection, but you don't sense that this is a son working in his father's shadow and there's a bit of that with you that you've kind of ended up in a similar genre or the same genre as your father. There's like a family gene going on there, but very distinct and different styles. And I was just wondering what kind of an influence did your dad have and did you feel it in some way you were destined to work in this genre? Speaker 2: 05:50 No, I mean for a long time I was scared of my dad's influence and wanted desperately to carve out my own identity. And one of the things I did when I was in college was I did some thinking about my last name and finally decided to drop it for professional purposes. So instead of being Joseph King, I became Joe Hill and I submitted all my work anonymously. My first breakthrough story was a short story called pop art about the friendship between a juvenile delinquent and an inflatable boy named Arthur Roth. A artist made a plastic and weigh six ounces and if he sat in a sharpened pencil would kill him and I had so much fun writing that story and then I sent it out and the third place I sent it to bought it. As soon as I started to write stories of dark fantasy, it was like the key turning in the ignition and the car came to life and suddenly I was moving. Speaker 2: 06:40 Do you think to be a good horror writer you need to in some way, shape or form embrace the darkness? I think that, I don't know if this is precisely answering your question, but I'll tell you what. We read nonfiction to resolve questions that have concrete answers. We read fiction to address questions that don't have concrete answers. For example, what happens to us when we die? Another question that we ask ourselves is, what will it be like when I finally have to face my own death? What would it be like to have to face a bad death? Most of us are probably not going to be devoured by Hannibal Lecter, but some of us will be devoured by cancer. And I think that we go to fiction because fiction is a safe playground to explore. Questions that are scary, facing monsters facing the inevitability of our own death is scary, but in the safe playground of fiction, when instead of cancer, it's Hannibal Lecter. We can have some fun with it and maybe at the same time we can learn something about how we want to be when we have to face our own dark moments. In that sense, I think fiction can be rehearsal for the harder passages in life and and so on that way. I think it, you know, fiction is one of our more positive inventions. Speaker 1: 07:52 That was KPBS arts reporter Beth huck Amando speaking with horror author Joe Hill, his novel Nosferatu has been adapted into a new TV series on AMC.

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Horror writer Joe Hill's new novel, "NOS4A2," came out April 30. Listen to his full interview with KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando.
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