For many authors, a book tour can be a staid blur of towns and stores.
As is evident from his blog at joehillfiction.com, author Joe Hill has been having a good time out on the road, despite his initial misgivings. (Hill makes a 6 p.m. stop Wednesday at Borders in his hometown of Bangor.)
“I was really dreading it in a lot of ways,” said Hill from a tour stop in Portland, Ore. “Writers spend so much time at home, locked away in a room by themselves, that they feel vulnerable on the road. But once this got under way, it’s been a blast.”
A tour highlight so far was Hill’s stop in Pittsburgh, where he spent an afternoon at the Monroeville Mall, the set for George Romero’s original “Dawn of the Dead.” Let’s call that “the severed hand incident.”
“There was a zombie museum at the mall, and I bought a severed hand,” Hill recalled. “I put the hand in my mouth and got down on all fours. A security guard came around the corner, saw me and got bug-eyed. My tour rep said, ‘I bet he’s never seen anything like that before.’ I replied, ‘I bet he’s seen it once a month.’ ”
Hill is on tour promoting his second novel, “Horns.”
Earlier in his career, Hill, 37, had earned awards and critical acclaim for his short-story collection “20th Century Ghosts” (2005) and first novel “Heart-Shaped Box” (2007).
“Before ‘Heart-Shaped Box,’ I was a failed novelist and a successful writer of short fiction and comic books,” he said. “People then responded to [‘Heart-Shaped Box’], not my name. No one knew anything about me.”
After that novel, it was revealed that Hill was actually Joseph Hillstrom King, elder son of authors Stephen and Tabitha King. (Brother Owen also is a writer, while sister Naomi is a minister.)
“I felt the psychological pressure to follow up ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ well, because it was my first book as Stephen and Tabitha King’s son,” Hill said.
“Horns” tells the tale the Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, the second, lesser son of a well-to-do New Hampshire family. His father is a renowned jazz trumpeter, while his older brother, Terry, also a trumpeter, has a network talk show.
It’s been a rough year for Ig. His longtime girlfriend, Merrin Williams, was raped and murdered, and everyone, including his family, assumes that the innocent Ig did it, although he was never charged with the crime.
Then one morning, after a drunken evening, Ig wakes up to discover that he’s grown horns. He also finds out that people now feel compelled to tell him their darkest secrets. Since leading an upstanding life hasn’t worked out for him, Ig decides to become the devil he now resembles, all the while trying to solve Merrin’s murder.
“Ig is basically a good and likable guy, and that has gotten him nowhere,” Hill said. “So he decides to give the devil his due. But he’s not good at being bad.”
“Horns” posits deep questions while still being an enjoyable read at the surface.
“Why does evil happen to all kinds of people?,” Hill pondered. “Why does a benevolent God allow horrible things to happen? In fiction, people want to approach questions they wouldn’t think about in everyday life. It’s like those protective suits at a nuclear plant: it’s a way to handle dangerous materials safely.”
Hill sees his role as an author to be twofold: “Of course, I want to write a real page-turner. But it has to be about something, to ask some interesting questions.”
Both “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Horns” are rife with music. (He takes about half of “Horns” to set up a Mitch Ryder reference.) So what role does music play in his creative process?
“I’ll put on some heavy metal, as a way of revving up the subconscious mind to get some pages written,” Hill said. “I turn the music off when I’m writing dialogue, so I can hear the voices in my head.”
Hill, who lives in New Hampshire. Is looking forward to getting back to Bangor, but added, “When I’m in New England, every bookstore is a hometown bookstore, and I’m talking in front of a hometown crowd.”
Hill has lived in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts, so New England is Hill’s comfort zone, and the setting for most of his stories.
“I know New England,” he said. “I know how the people think, and how they live their lives. If I can bring forth the convincing details, people will follow me along to the more fantastic stuff.”