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    Original Essays | July 14, 2015

    Joshua Mohr: IMG Your Imagination, Your Fingerprint

    When I was in grad school, a teacher told our workshop that if a published novel is 300 pages, the writer had to generate 1,200 along the way. I... Continue »
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      All This Life

      Joshua Mohr 9781593766030

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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 3 comments:

Shaher, January 12, 2015 (view all comments by Shaher)
Horns is a book that will make you fall in love with reading again. I couldn't put the book down, and had to finish it. You can sense the freshness in every line, and the writing is smooth and flawless. The author (Joe Hill) easily weaves back and forth from the present to the past. Each chapter is flawless as he weaves or threads the story back and forth until the last and final chapter. It's also a book that makes you think after you finish it in terms of how we see, interpret, and act in a relationship (ours and others). It also makes us look at our values especially our religious values, and forces or requires us to rethink what our beliefs are versus what faith is in general. I cannot say enough about this book. If he keeps writing in this style, he'll be just as successful as his dad, Stephen King, yes, Stephen King is his dad, which I didn't know until I did some research on the author. Joe Hill alludes to Carrie, and Derry in the book, but it's not about Stephen King, it's about a great author who really knows how to tell a story, and draw in the reader in to his circle or mind frame. You will not regret reading this book, and will immediately recommend it to others. So, take the plunge and enjoy the ride with Joe Hill's Horns.
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Michael McLaughlin, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Michael McLaughlin)
Awesome book, I like reading Stephen King, but his son, Joe Hill, dare I say as good? This is a remarkable love story that even a man could love. It has all you want in a suspense filled drama, a must read.
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rbreznay, September 2, 2011 (view all comments by rbreznay)
What would you do if you woke up one morning and found horns sprouting from your forehead? And if those horns gave you a new ability? Tune in and find out in this excellent novel.
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Product Details

A Novel
Hill, Joe
Morrow, Bradford
William Morrow Paperbacks
Horror - General
Popular Fiction-Contemporary Thrillers
Mystery & Detective - General
Otto Penzler book;supernatural;disappearance;murder;mystery;psychics;New York;gh
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
A" &amp;#8212;<I>Cleveland Plain Dealer </I><BR><B
8 x 5.31 x 0.75 in 0.64 lb

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Horns Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 416 pages Harper Paperbacks - English 9780061147968 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" by , "Hornsis a pitchfork-packing, prodigal son's take on religion...But the real meat of the story dissects man's relationship with good and evil wihtout sacrificing a bit of suspense...Hornsis a mesmerizing page-turner."
"Review" by , "On the strength of two masterly thrillers — 2007's Heart Shaped-Box and his newest Horns — Hill has emerged as one of America's finest horror writers."
"Review" by , "Fire and brimstone have rarely looked so good."
"Review" by , "No one working in horror today is more adept than Hill ...His writing is both merciless and compassionate, driving hard toward the painful truth in every story while holding fast to the desires of his protagonist."
"Review" by , "A tight and well-plotted murder mystery, as well as a thoughtful meditation on good and evil....Horns establishes Hill as one of the most clever and talented writers working in the genre."
"Review" by , "Horns should bring even more fans to Joe Hill . . . he has his own style, and it is very accessible as well as fast-moving. . . . Horns is a fast-paced, fascinating murder mystery/love story with a dash of the devil himself to spice things up."
"Review" by , "Hill's one incredibly talented writer with a wicked sense of humor and a master's control of pacing."
"Synopsis" by , In rural upstate New York, a disturbing vision of a hanged girl leads diviner Cassandra Brooks and her family into peril, and conjures ghosts from her own haunted childhood. At once a journey of self-discovery and an unorthodox murder mystery, this is a tale of the fantastic and a family chronicle told by an extraordinary woman.
"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."
"Synopsis" by , "[A] splendidly written mystery . . . a compelling story.
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