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Author Joe Hill brings ‘Strange Weather’ to WV Book Festival

By BILL LYNCH

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Joe Hill never mentioned his father when he talked about publishing his latest book, “Strange Weather,” a collection of four novellas.

The horror and fantasy writer’s father, the prolific novelist Stephen King, has published three collections of short novels — “Different Seasons,” “Four Past Midnight” and “Full Dark, No Stars.”

“Strange Weather” comes almost 10 years after Hill’s first novel, “Heart-Shaped Box,” but the 45-year-old isn’t trying to follow his father down the same spooky path.

He said he just likes short fiction.

Hill, who appears Saturday at the West Virginia Book Festival in the Charleston Civic Center, said, “I’m of a mind that novellas are an unusually satisfying experience for readers and arguably the most satisfying literary form.”

With a novella, he said, you get the depth of character you find in a novel, but the pace of action that comes with a short story: it’s the best of both worlds.

“And you can feel like you can polish off a novella in just a single sitting or in just a couple of sittings,” he said.

Some of the best-known writers in the English language wrote novellas and short fiction. Hill named a few of his favorites, including Henry James (“The Turn of the Screw”), Joseph Conrad (“Heart of Darkness”) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the Sherlock Holmes series).

“When you think of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ or ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles,’ those are very lean, mean reads,” he said.

There’s a certain amount of efficiency to novellas. Many larger books, Hill said, are really just a collection of novellas woven or stitched together and usually unified by a theme or idea.

“Strange Weather” is loosely tied together by what Hill called “strange meteorology” and some idea of “climate turning against us,” though that doesn’t always mean actual weather.

He wrote the first novella “Snapshot” while on a book tour for “NOS4A2,” a horror novel about a mother trying to save her son from a demented driver of an ancient car with supernatural properties who kidnaps children and takes them to “Christmasland.”

“I didn’t have a laptop,” he said. “What I had was a couple of notebooks and a place mat from a ‘50s-themed diner.”

Hill still has the place mat around his house someplace, though he wasn’t entirely sure where.

After he finished “Snapshot,” he said he put the novella aside without really thinking too much about what to do with it.

A year or so later, after he finished his last novel, “The Fireman,” about a fiery plague infecting much of the country, Hill said he found himself confronted with some blank pages.

“I wrote ‘The Fireman’ longhand, over four and a half notebooks,” he said. “And I just hated leaving all that paper alone.”

So, he began what became “Aloft,” thinking it might just be a 20-page short story. Instead, it blossomed into a 100-page novella about a very strange skydiving accident.

After that, Hill said he figured he was putting together a book of short novels.

He’s kind of thinking the form may be making a comeback. For much of the 20th century, novellas were almost a novelty.

“It’s been hard figuring out how to sell them, I think.”

The stories were too long for magazines that published short stories, but too short to published as something that could stand on its own.

“But things have changed,” Hill said.

Shorter books are doing better with readers, particularly with e-book readers.

Want to go?

Joe Hill at the West Virginia Book Festival

WHEN: 11:30 a.m. (doors open at 10:30 a.m.) Saturday, October 28

WHERE: Charleston Civic Center Little Theater

TICKETS: Free admission

INFO: wvbookfestival.org

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