Author Joe Hill reads from latest best-seller, tells South Portland crowd ‘horror is based on empathy’

Posted May 11, 2013, at 6:17 p.m.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Lisa Tiger skipped her own college graduation and the opening of her art show to sit, front and center, before author Joe Hill as he read from his latest novel Saturday afternoon.

“This is more important,” Tiger said, clutching a copy of the best-seller “NOS4A2,” along with a bag full of Hill’s other books she hoped he would sign.

Tiger, 34, of Waterville, was one of about 100 fans — along with Hill’s father, prolific author Stephen King — who sat silently Saturday at Books-A-Million in South Portland, listening to Hill read from his new novel before answering more than a handful of questions from the audience.

Clad in jeans and canvas Converse sneakers, Hill — whose real name is Joseph Hillstrom King — made reference to his father only once, telling the audience, “My dad is also a writer. He’s done a couple of books, and I feel like if he keeps at it, he might have a future.”

Hill read the first chapter of “NOS4A2,” his third book after the New York Times best-selling “Heart-Shaped Box” and “Horns.”

“NOS4A2” tells the story of vampire Charlie Manx and Victoria “Vic” McQueen. Manx drives a Rolls-Royce, bearing the license plate “NOS4A2,” that Hill said “runs on souls instead of gasoline.” Vic drives a Triumph Bonneville motorcycle, and “uses her ride to save lives.”

Hill told the audience that he is driven by habit, including a daily to-do list that begins with writing 1,000 words, and includes reading one poem and reading one article in The New York Times. Then, he said, “I walk the dog and I take my Paxil.”

He also discussed the horror genre, telling the crowd, “Ultimately when horror works, it works not because it’s about splatter, not because you hook up a fire hose and spray your readers with as much blood as you can get onto them. It works because horror is based on empathy.”

“He’s a really cool character himself,” Donna Murphy of Bowdoin said of Hill. “He’s very humble, and not going on his father’s coattails. He’s just a really cool writer. It’s really dark, but it’s some really good reading.”

Tiger said King’s book “Heart-Shaped Box” is the first book that ever scared her.

“Stephen King doesn’t really scare me,” she said. Nodding at Hill, and dropping her voice to a whisper, she added, “I think he’s a better writer than his father.”