Joe Hill — Writing Things

Joe Hill, the legendary offspring of the legendary Stephen King (and a damn good writer in his own right, I’m guessing his constant connection to his father must be irksome), came to the Tattered Cover to discuss his short story collection, Full Throttle, and writing in general.

With a friendly, comedic demeanor, and those classic glasses and beard, Hill spoke about his own experience in the publishing industry and read aloud an unpublished short story. The Q&A lasted an hour, followed by another hour of signatures and photos, but I was able to glean a few writerly advicey things.

Here they are:

Good ideas do not necessarily
translate into a good story.

Joe Hill cautioned that one-sentence ideas don’t necessarily make for a story. He mentioned that he was very good at making an elevator pitch, and yet “the better I got it the more I became convinced it’s completely unimportant.” Of course a good concept pulls people in. Nosferatu, for example, has a great pitch: “What if a guy had a car that ran on human souls instead of gasoline?” But, while Hill said he comes up with two or three ideas a week, “it takes me about a month to write a short story and it takes me about three years to write a novel.” The work isn’t coming up with the idea, but what the next four hundred pages will look like; and part of his second-guessing and insecurity regards whether the fundamental idea will be altered irreconcilably, or if the idea must guide the direction of the piece, or if the concept is harming instead of benefiting.

“I’m orderly on the outside,” Hill said. “But inside it’s total chaos.”

The most interesting characters
start as mysteries to the author.

When asked whether he’s a plotter or a panster, Joe Hill said he’s “definitely in the latter camp.” Outlines do not work for him precisely because the most “exciting part of writing a short story or novel is falling in love with a character and wanting to learn about them.” How could he predict in an outline how a character will interact or conflict with others? How he or she will deal with the crisis at hand? According to Joe Hill: “There’s stuff about them that I can’t see but I feel will be revealed if I put them under pressure. Plot is the instrument to create pressure that will force the truth from my lead characters. I can’t plot out a outline about what they’re going to do or how they will respond to trouble because I don’t know who they are yet. … What do they hate, what do they love, what are their daydreams? I can only find that stuff out by churning out a lot of material.”

Sometimes write scenes for the reader and sometimes write scenes for you.

For a four hundred page book, Joe Hill will write a seven hundred page draft. All of which is a quest to discover who his characters are, how they tick and tock and talk. So some of his scenes are written for readers; they’re “part of the journey” the reader is on. But some scenes are necessary only for Hill to know how his characters might respond to this situation or that squabble. Those ‘scenes for me’ get cut, of course, but they help Hill solve the mystery of his characters.

James Brandon — Writing Things

James Brandon, author of Ziggy, Stardust & Me, came to visit my library. In fact, we were his first official school visit.

Brandon spoke of his experience growing up as a gay teenager when homosexuality was considered a sin and aberration and not another sexual orientation among many. He showed us awkward photos from high school, complaining that “I didn’t know what to do with my hair.” Now, in plaid and jeans, with friendly glasses, a high forehead, and hair at a near-coiff, he’d definitely figured out what to do with it. But the point of his lecture was to “Believe in Yourself.”

Brandon also spoke about forgotten LBGT histoy, including the year when the DSM stopped listing homosexuality as a mental disease. On a slide he showed us how a Chicago newspaper described the event: “20,000,000 Gay People Cured!” We learned about the Gay Liberation Front and Doctor Anonymous and the barbaric treatments used to ‘cure queerness.’ And we learned how an author can connect his own intimate life experience with greater historical events.

Brandon also imparted some excellent advice for our audience’s creative writers:

  • Writing is creating real life characters. As an actor, I need to research how to embody a person. As a writer, I need to research how to embody twenty persons. One of the techniques I remember reading on the internet was to write fifty things a reader will never know about your character. I decided to go further and filled a spiral notebook for each character. Dialogue became easier because I knew about the secret conflicts my characters were dealing with.”
  • Research will unlock the greatest mysteries of your novel.”
  • “I needed to tell this story because I wasn’t seeing me out there. I wanted to write not by looking in but looking out.”
  • “It’s okay if your book takes a while. Writing my book took about 18 months to go from draft zero to draft one. Then I wrote about a hundred drafts before I turned in my manuscript to my agent, and she and I rewrote the book three more times (which took another two years) before submitting it to publishers.”
  • Most important, believe in yourself. And be you. We don’t need anything less than who you are. And your differences are your most beautiful you. We suffer without it.”

Evelyn

“I have a feeling,” she whispered to a decapitated paratrooper enthroned in his chute, “that you were like an upside down map.”

“And you weren’t made of sticks,” she told his member, which was suffering some pretty normal rigor mortis. She cocked her head as if judging the time from the sun, but you couldn’t see the sun right now. It was blocked.

She judged for a mo, checked her watch, then clamored up a B-52 stratofortress lying in a tilt. Evelyn climbed the wing casually, ignoring the billows smoking from heaters, engines, dead bodies. She danced over a guttural rotor blade slowly winding itself to a premature death, then looked at a man split in thirds.

We could have been, she fluttered. One happy swell before the wave.

Published — “Birdu Vanilla”

365 Tomorrow published my scifi microfiction “Birdu Vanilla.” The story is a reflection on senseless gaming but don’t confuse me for a ‘video games make you hurt people’ right-winger ignoring the rightful causes of gun violence. I’m more of a flightless bird who’s too fat to fly. You’ll notice the comments are more forgiving than my last piece on 365.

Justifiably so.

365 Tomorrows is an online journal that publishes speculative fiction every single fething day. The site is an excellent complement to your morning bowl of cereal and glass of Moloko Plus.

The Novel I wrote when I was Ten — “Old Endings”

Today we finish a hundred pages of literary abandon.

When I was ten, I wrote The Hero on Foot: The War of the Bowl. It was a fantasy travesty, an attempt at fascinating narrative by an immature writer that ended in drivel. You can start from the beginning by going here.

But we’re done. This is my last post on THOF:TWOFB (huh, not as catchy as LOTR) covering the final chapters.

Thank the gods there never was a sequel.


Chapter Eight

Our ‘hero on foot’ has come a long way. Javis has befriended wizards, slain knights with silly names like Sir Venice and Sir Treacle, been healed by a pontificating ogre, ordered a ‘hot squirt’ in a cathedral dedicated to cats, and tossed an urn into the face of his deadliest foe, then beheaded the guy.

But now Javis has to deal with something even stranger.

A fight between a demon and a zombie.

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The Novel I wrote when I was Ten — “The Only Fucking Battle in the War of the Bowl”

The Hero on Foot: The War of the Bowl is a trash book. Every page, every sentence, every word. Trash. And I can say that because I’m the book’s writer (in my defense, I wrote the abomination when I was ten). The manuscript is a compilation of every overused fantasy trope bound by poor syntax and grammar. Want to start at the beginning? Go here.

Today we will look at the only battle in the promised ‘war of the bowl.’ Spoiler. The battle is trash.


Chapter Six

A recap. Our hero is chilling in a cathedral. His mentor is hanging out in a cave. The villain is unconscious, carried around by his friends.

So basically nothing is happening.

But this chapter isn’t called “The Battle” for nothing.

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