30 Oct 2009

A most triumphant literary discovery

I have never had a problem with letting people know who my two favourite authors are. I don't bother to be cool and cite two of the world's most prolific and popular horror writers - Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I love their rambling, easy language, their ability to put you into the scene without having to think about the words they're using, their humour, their pop culture references and their musical imperatives - I fell in love with Dean Koontz after he had Christopher Snow addicted to Chris Isaak in Fear Nothing and Stephen King introduced me to Creedance Clearwater and Dylan.

Good horror writing isn't about blood, sex, gore and stupid women who run upstairs when they should go out the front door. Good horror is about blood, sex, goosebumps, heart beats and that feeling that someone, or something, is watching you from the darkest corner of the room. Horror is about mystery, and the thrill of finding out what the creepy thing in the shadows is and how you can stop it hurting you and your loved ones. King and Koontz's heroes are clever guys with a sense of humour and good taste in food and music, who understand the loyalty and secret intelligence of dogs. Their much-adored wives are strong, smart and can handle a butcher's knife or a shotgun if the needs arises (and it frequently does) and their villains are terrifying on a tap-into-your-primal-fear level. They know about 4am, the sound of a train in the distance and the creaking noises in the old house that might not just be the wind. Here are two men who GET it.

So, unlike certain celebrity actresses who believe everyone wants to emulate their lifestyle, I feel no desire to prove myself to be creatively superior by listing my preferred authors as a string of literary award-winning novelists with prose that you need to wade through like treacle. (I saw The English Patient nine times. I read the book once. And it took longer than those nine times combined. And I still prefer Aliens.). Nor do I want to cling to the ranks of the post-modern feminist by name-dropping Tolstoy or Dostoevsky (I can't even spell Dostoevsky, I had to look it up). I've read Austen, the Brontes and Dickens, I've ploughed through Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke (science fiction is written for men, women are just not interested in that much detail, trust me on this), I've buzzed through Clive Cussler, James Patterson and John Grisham, I even tried out Minette Walters once (just once). I have never tried to read what is commonly referred to as 'chick-lit' as I know I'll hate it. Nothing with that many pastels on the cover could hold my attention, as there's definitely not going to be ghosts, rock music or hot vampires in it. Vampires don't do pastels. Not even ones who drive shiny silver Volvos.

But I digress, this post is about an author I discovered last year. I was shopping on my own and realised I didn't have a book with me to prevent Nigel-No-Mates stares while I ate my lunch. So I popped into the first charity shop I found (best source of £1 novels and you never know what you might find) and spotted a promising black paperback with a creepy moth and a razorblade on a chain on the front. The blurb on the back was tempting, aHeart-Shaped Box modern ghost story about an aging rockstar haunted by the malevolent spirit of the departed grandfather of a former groupie, and there was a quote from Stephen King about just how good this debut novel was. So hey, I trust ol' Stevo, and it was £1.50, so I grabbed it. The book in question was 'Heart-Shaped Box' by some guy named Joe Hill, who I'd never heard of. Now, the more knowledgeable among you are already chuckling, but stick with me.

The book was great. It was beyond great. It was fantastic. It was easy to read, it was funny, it was full of rock music references (how could it not be, its protagonist was an Alice Cooper style rocker) and it moved along at a rip-roaring pace. Our hero was sexy, funny, clever and he drove a Mustang. His latest groupie was smart and savvy and didn't take any of his crap. It was scary, spooky, creepy and all those other good icky words that describe the feeling you get when the hairs on the back of your neck go up. And amongst the in-jokes relating to music heroes, he won my eternal loyalty when he mentioned My Chemical Romance as 'sweet and young, but decided he quite liked them'.

I was barely two chapters in when I chuckled to myself that this chap Hill, who was roughly my age, must have grown up on a steady diet of Stephen King and Koontz, just like I did, he had a similar conversational style, flow, pace. Some months later I went to his website, joehillfiction.com and discovered another book of short stories and a rather entertaining blog. So long as he kept writing, Joe Hill was about to join my top five writers list. I started following him on Twitter (@joe_hill), secretly excited that I - me! - had discovered this fantastic new writer that no-one else had heard of! I even sent him a Tweet once about Airbourne, an Aussie AC/DC-style rock band, when he was looking for some new music.

Then, in retaliation to the hype around Wolfram Alpha, he requested a bunch of questions from his Twitter followers, with the promise that the best questions would be posted on his website with his replies, and even if they were incorrect, they would at least be entertaining. And sure enough, they were. But halfway down the list, in between 'What was in the briefcase?' and 'Who made who?' was this question: 'If it were possible, which of your father's novels do you wish you had written?' A father who writes? Writes enough novels to be worthy of a mention by his son's fans? Who then, as they say in hippity-hop circles, is the Daddy?

Off to Wikipedia went I, wondering who could be the father of this fantastic new writer who I, like Captain Cook before me, had discovered. My brilliant secret, shared with only a select few, this wonderful story that promised so much more in the same vein (no pun intended). And there, in all the linked-up goodness that is Wikipedia, was my answer. Joe Hill's father is... Stephen King.

I have to say I nearly passed out in my triumph. I had picked up a book on the basis of its cover art, blurb and a line of praise from my favourite author and I had loved it. I hadn't been led down the media-driven super highway and read it just because he was related to the writer I admired above all others. It was untainted by hype and 'If you love Stephen King you will love this!!!' recommendations from Amazon. I had enjoyed this book knowing nothing about the author, with no expectations and no preconceptions. And it had been brilliant. I haven't been this excited about finding an author since my best friend bought me a copy of Poppy Z Brite's 'Lost Souls' (Poppy is also on Twitter @docbrite) and my excitement was pure, genuine and ALL MINE. Joe's next novel is out in February next year, it's called 'Horns', it's about the devil and I can't wait. I now have a third favourite writer.


Phillip said...

Really enjoy reading your blog! Looking forward to more posts, shame I don't enjoy horror novels or films. If I want to scare myself I just look at my bank statements, it has the same effects you describe above but takes no time at all leaving me plenty of time for mindless escapism :)

Miss Blue said...

LOL! I know what you mean about the bank statements, a definite Marlon Brando 'the horror..' moment ;) Thanks for the comments and the link, kind sir, much appreciated :)