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    Contributors | September 15, 2015

    Mary Karr: IMG Memoir Tutorials with Mary Karr, Lena Dunham, and Gary Shteyngart

    Editor's note: It's been 20 years since the groundbreaking memoir The Liars' Club sent Mary Karr into the literary spotlight with its phenomenal... Continue »
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Horns Cover



Author Q & A

Q: Ignatius Perrish is a devil, but he's also the hero of Horns. Was it difficult to write a hero who pushes an old lady down a hill in a wheelchair — and make it so the reader could empathize with what Iggy did?

A: Now that you mention it, I guess shoving an old lady in a wheelchair down a hill and into a fence isn't really the sort of behavior that screams "hero." But at least she walks away. Some of the other people who cross Ig don't.

For some probably aberrant reason, I like to build stories around characters who at first seem unsympathetic, and then see if I can't lure the reader into loving them anyway. And it's hard to find anyone more unsympathetic than the devil. He's who we blame for everything bad in the world: wars, disease, cell phones, talk radio. So I thought, okay, he'd be a challenge.

Q: Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, "Talk of the devil, and his horns appear." Had you ever heard that? Is the statement apt in light of Ig's experiences in Horns?

A: The story is really about a guy who has spent his whole life trying to do the right thing, trying to be one of the good guys, praying for the best and coloring in the lines. And then one day everything that matters to him is torn away from him. He loses the person he loves most in the world; he loses his friends; the trust of his family; he loses his reputation, his place in the small town of Gideon, New Hampshire; his whole sense of purpose and self. He's demonized by everyone who knows him, by his whole community, for a sex-murder that he didn't commit. So yeah, in a sense, the village of Gideon talks of the devil, and then his horns appear. More to the point, though, Ig comes to feel that all his work to be good was a waste of his energy. He doesn't want to suffer like a saint anymore. He's had a taste of hell, and now he wants to share. He's ready to be a devil even before he sprouts horns.

Q: Music plays a significant role throughout Horns. Not only are Ig's brother and father talented musicians, but Ig himself has a passion and love for listening to music. As well, it should be noted, Jude Coyne, the hero of your previous novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was a rock musician. How does music influence your writing?

A: It used to be that I couldn't work without it, although in the last few years I've found I have to turn it off when I'm writing dialogue, so I can properly hear the voices in my head. (By the way, the most beautiful thing about being a writer is that I can admit I hear imaginary voices, and people smile at how creative I am, instead of giving each other frightened looks and calling the men in white suits... which would probably be the more reasonable response.)

The first part of Horns is basically a blues: Ig went to the doctor, he went to the priest, he went to his mama, but he couldn't get any peace. Another part of the book is about the inner life of a small-town sociopath, and was supposed to play like one of the cuts off of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. I've always looked to music to help me nail the proper emotional content of a scene. Or maybe it's more right to say that some emotions are radioactive, and the right song can give me a pair of tongs to pick them up and look them over.

Every story I've ever written collected a certain set of songs around them. I'll listen to them over and over until the story is done, and then sometimes I'll never listen to them again; or at the very least I'll retire them for a while. I was listening to a lot of KISS while I worked on Horns. I didn't think about why. It just felt right. But at some point it came to me that KISS is defined by a harmless, comic-book loving Jewish boy from New York who put on greasepaint and black leather and reinvented himself as a rock-and-roll devil. So maybe that's why I listened to "Heaven's on Fire" about eight-thousand times while writing Horns.

Q: Writers often base fictional characters on real people in their lives. Did you have a real-life inspiration for the character in Horns? Is there one character in the book to whom you relate more than the others? Why?

A: Every novelist draws on his or her personal history for material, and you're stuck inside the hermetically sealed capsule of your own head. No one else's perceptions are entirely available to you. But I tend to use characters to try and explore beliefs I may not have myself, and to feel emotions I maybe don't often feel. For example, Heart-Shaped Box was about an angry rock star with a crippling case of survivor's guilt. The closest I've ever been to a rock star was the mosh pit at a Pearl Jam concert. When I create a character, it's not thinly veiled reportage or memoir; it's invention.

That said, the true villain of Horns is a smooth-tongued sociopath, and I built his life story and his impulses around a set of characteristics criminologists refer to as the MacDonald Triad. Basically the triad is bedwetting, viciousness to animals, and a compulsion to want to set fires or blow things up. I learned about them while reading about Dennis Rader, the Bind-Torture-Kill serial murderer, and right away I felt like these traits also had to figure into my bad guy's psychology. So there's one place where the story was informed by real life.

Q: One of Ig's special "talents" in the book is that he is able to know other people's deepest secrets. Which of these secret truths was the most fun to write? Was there a truth that was shocking to you as the author?

A: Ig has all the powers of the devil, and that means he always knows people's ugliest secrets and dirtiest temptations. One of the great challenges of the book was to make all those secrets fresh and interesting, which wasn't always easy. There are just so few interesting ways to sin. There's only seven on the list of mortal no-no's — that's a pretty short list.

I don't know that any one of them stood out as being particularly fun to write. But as I went along through the book, I began to feel people were humanized by their failings, their self-made disasters. Some of them anyway. I think most people are basically good, and sin most grievously against themselves.

I can't answer the second question without dropping an enormous spoiler. I'll just say that there was one hidden truth that very much took me by surprise. It concerns someone close to Ig, and comes at the end of Part One, and I had no idea that this character had such a terrible secret to confess until the moment he coughed it up. For a writer, those are the kinds of moments you live for, and which only come a few times in the course of a story… when a character does something absolutely true and yet absolutely unexpected and unplanned.

Q: The "Tree House of the Mind" is an elusive and magical place that could represent many different things to different people. Where did the idea of the Tree House of the Mind come from? What does it mean to you?

A: Every important scene in the book happens twice. The first time to explore innocence; the second time to examine experience. Ig visits the Tree House of the Mind twice, a place of enormous power, where if you ask you will receive. Just be careful what you ask for. The first time he arrives at the tree, he's the best he will ever be, young and in love. And to me, that first scene in the Tree House of the Mind is that moment everyone has, or imagines they had, when they can look back and feel like they were still clean and full of promise. It's a moment of genuine peace, the last moment, before grown-up life comes surging in and you begin to compromise and screw up and lie to yourself. No one gets to stay in the Garden of Eden forever. Sooner or later the seraphim kicks your ass out and deadbolts the gate behind you.

As for where I got the idea for the Tree House of the Mind, I kind of lifted it from Genesis. It's the Tree of Good and Evil. I can't tell you how it wound up in Gideon, New Hampshire, however. I'm a novelist, not a horticulturalist.

Q: What do you hope that readers will take away from Horns?

A: There's an old 19th-century American woodcut of the devil that I had on my computer the whole time I was working on Horns — he's dancing on his little goaty hooves, with his head thrown back in laughter. At some point about midway through the first draft, it finally hit me that he's laughing at us for pointing the finger at him... for trying to put the blame on him for the trouble we made. The devil is a cop out. We're bad enough without him.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 14 comments:

tabula-rasa, January 26, 2011 (view all comments by tabula-rasa)
A spectacular work.
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Pastry Chef, January 13, 2011 (view all comments by Pastry Chef)
The snarky stream-of-consciousness comments the main character hears when he confronts his "loved" ones (family) and friends are hilarious.

Some fresh points of view and unexpected twists and turns in the story are vastly entertaining.

And I like that I got a copy, signed by Joe Hill, "Demonically yours".
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(1 of 1 readers found this comment helpful)
michelleshawa, January 10, 2011 (view all comments by michelleshawa)
I loved this book so much! I was so excited to see it on a few of the top 5 lists; after it came out, I didn't hear much about it again. I wish it wouldn't have been labeled a horror novel, I didn't find it particularly scary, and don't think most would. But it was a beautiful novel, funny, a love story, a good-vs-evil plotline...I never wanted it to end. I still think about Ig and Merrin sometimes, and cannot wait to forget enough of the book to re-read it :)
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Product Details

A Novel
Hill, Joe
Becker, Robin
Bradford, Barbara Taylor
Herman, Arthur
William Morrow
Horror - General
Horror fiction
Great britain
General Fiction
Romance - Contemporary
Popular Fiction-Contemporary Thrillers
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9 x 6 x 1.21 in 19.6 oz

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Horror » General
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z

Horns Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$11.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages William Morrow & Company - English 9780061147951 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

After reading Joe Hill's newest novel, Horns, I am vastly relieved: there is a successor to Stephen King. I've spent a few traumatizing moments wondering what I'd do should there not ever be another King novel or short story. Well, as long as his son continues to produce stories like Horns, I'll relax. Hill's characters are as interesting and deeply drawn as King's and his storytelling skills make the reader hungry for each new revelation in the tale.

Horns is the story of Iggy Perrish, who stands accused of the heinous murder of his high-school sweetheart. After a night of heavy drinking on the anniversary of her death, Iggy wakes up with some unusual abilities and a pair of horns sprouting from his head. Using his new "powers," he goes on a journey of vengeance, uncovering the truth about the murder while revealing more about the people around him than he ever wanted to know.

"Staff Pick" by ,

Horns is the story of Ig Perrish, who wakes up after a night of debauchery to find himself saddled with a pair of horns. It's a fantastic, genre-busting hybrid that twists and turns like a thriller, but has the character development and nuanced dialogue of literary fiction. Horns is so good, I wish I could read it again for the first time.

"Staff Pick" by ,

I expected to like this book as a guilty pleasure. I was hungry for a fast-paced read, something that would effortlessly draw me in, but wouldn't require a lot of heavy thinking. I was so wrong: Horns is highly literary, in addition to all the other qualities I was craving. Joe Hill managed to create a world so ugly, terrifying, and heartbreakingly beautiful that I desperately didn't want to leave.

"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "In bestseller Hill's compulsively readable supernatural thriller, his second after Heart-Shaped Box, dissolute Ignatius Perrish wakes up one morning to find a pair of satanic horns sprouting from his forehead. To the residents of Gideon, N.H., this grotesque disfigurement only confirms their suspicions that Ig raped and murdered his girlfriend, Merrin Williams, a crime for which he was held but soon released for lack of evidence. Ig is also now privy to the deepest, and often darkest, private thoughts of anyone he touches. Once Ig discovers through this uncanny sensitivity the true killer's identity, he schemes to reveal the culprit's guilt through natural means. Toggling between past and present, and incidents that range from the supernaturally surreal to the brutally realistic, Hill spins a story that's both morbidly amusing and emotionally resonant. The explanations for Ig's weird travails won't satisfy every reader, but few will dispute that Hill has negotiated the sophomore slump. 6-city author tour. (Mar.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "This second novel opens as 26-year-old Ignatius W. Perrish, "Ig" to his friends, wakes up with a homicidal hangover, dim notions of what he did the night before and a pair of demonic horns sprouting from his receding hairline. None of this strikes Ig as entirely inappropriate because it is the first anniversary of the brutal rape and murder of his sweetheart, Merrin Williams." (read the entire Oregonian review)
"Review" by , "Mr. Hill writes with such palpable enthusiasm that he has no trouble hooking readers....[He] is able to combine intrigue, editorializing, impassioned romance and even fiery theological debate in one well-told story."
"Review" by , "Hill has written a novel that is all his. Highly recommended, particularly for fans of Clive Barker and Christopher Moore."
"Review" by , "Hill has emerged as one of America's finest horror writers....That empathy with the Devil — taking a despicable character and slowly bringing us around to his side — is the sort of thing Hill does best. It's also what's missing from so much of the girl-meets-vampire gruel that dominates the genre these days."
"Review" by , "Horns isn't a perfect novel, but it's devilishly good....Hill is a terrific writer with a great imagination. He has a special talent for taking us and his characters to very weird places."
"Review" by , "Hill proves again that he is running on his own steam....The wise guys point out that the literature of horror fantasy tends to be both romantic and conservative. Normalcy is idealized and so precious that its violation is the essence of horror. Joe Hill's sweet, fanged demonology takes us there."
"Review" by , "Horns is more confident and unexpected [than Heart-shaped Box), taking risks in chronology and perspective....Hill's willingness to run with a supernatural concept without falling into predictable patterns keeps what could've been a simple revenge story from becoming stale. (Grade: A-)"
"Review" by , "Richly allusive, Horns references not only classical mythology, but Biblical texts, pre-Christian folklore, and such rock 'n' roll legends as Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels....Though [Hill] never lets us ignore the sound of cracking bones and the smell of rotting offal endemic to horror, he explores large swathes of metaphysical territory, too."
"Synopsis" by , The New York Times-bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box — "a major player in 21st-century fantastic fiction" (Washington Post) — returns with a relentless new supernatural thriller.
"Synopsis" by , Joe Hill's critically acclaimed, New York Times bestselling, Bram Stoker Award-winning debut chiller, Heart-Shaped Box, heralded the arrival of new royalty onto the dark fantasy scene. With Horns, he polishes his well-deserved crown. A twisted, terrifying new novel of psychological and supernatural suspense, Horns is a devilishly original triumph for the Ray Bradbury Fellowship recipient whose story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, was also honored with a Bram Stoker Award—and whose emotionally powerful and macabre work has been praised by the New York Times as, "wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty…a Valentine from hell."
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