For about the last year, I've been hearing buzz about a new writer named Joe Hill in the dark fantasy/horror field. He's been getting awards nominations for his shorter work, and his new novel, Heart-Shaped Box, has gotten onto bestseller lists (and onto the book tables at CostCo, which is an even surer sign of success). I haven't read any of his work yet, but I've been wondering about this hot new writer with the same name as the famous union organizer.
Turns out "Joe Hill" is, sort of, a pen name.
Recent news has included articles on the forthcoming comics adapatation of Stephen King's Dark Tower saga. An excerpt:
King, 59, lives in Bangor, Maine, with his wife, Tabitha. He has three grown children: Oldest Naomi King is a Unitarian minister and is working on a nonfiction project; Joseph Hillstrom King recently wrote "Heart Shaped Box," under the pen name Joe Hill; and youngest son Owen King published a novella in 2005 entitled "We're All in this Together."I suppose this bit of information might have been mentioned before, but I hadn't encountered it until now.
The most likely reason a famous writer's son might decide to write under a pen name is to show that he can do it independent of his parent's celebrity. But in the case of Stephen King, if it were me in Joe Hill's position, I'd make the same decision for a different reason:
His monstrous bevy of fans, however, are unfazed by literary criticism. At the release of the first "Dark Tower" book, thousands poured into a conference room at the Comic-Con summit to hear him speak. After a lengthy standing ovation, they stood in awe, photographing King and repeating over and over, in a tone much too casual for someone they've never met: "You are a genius," and "You are my hero."I first saw Stephen King in 1981, at the World Fantasy Convention in Orlando, California. Now, WFC is a convention oriented towards professionals, so the majority of the attendees tend to be writers and editors themselves. People who, you'd think, would be pretty blase' about another writer, even one famous, sucessful, and at the top of the bestseller lists.
Not with Stephen King. Virtually every time King showed himself in public, he'd be surrounded by other WFC attendees holding out books for him to sign.
That is not a lifestyle I would like to live. I'd like to be a more productive writer, a more successful writer, a more widely-read writer.
But, man, I would not want that level of success, where fame and celebrity become dominant elements in one's life. And I wonder if Joe Hill didn't have some thoughts in that same direction when he chose his pen name.