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Win a Copy of Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts

Last winter I was very eager to read Joe Hill's debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, even before the author was a guest blogger for — and yes, even before I learned he is Stephen King's son. The premise was just so deliciously perfect: an "aging death-metal rock god" buys a ghost on eBay. Mayhem ensues.

It sounded like a fun thrill-ride, the sort of novel that really could be, to quote the publisher's copy, "a masterwork brimming with relentless thrills and acid terror."

I started my advanced copy the instant it arrived, and stopped about halfway through. I confess, I was neither scared nor thrilled by the book. I've read accolades from the likes of Scott Smith and Neil Gaiman, not to mention fawning reviews from the press, and yet... it just didn't work for me. Hey, it happens. I'll spare you the spoiler warning and just note that by the time the plot hit the road, my suspension of disbelief was fully revoked.

Now, however, I find myself reconsidering that earlier position and thinking about rereading Heart-Shaped Box.

No, I'm not giving in to peer pressure or doubting my own opinion. But after reading 20th Century Ghosts, the upcoming collection of Joe Hill's short stories, I find myself utterly spellbound by the author. Maybe there was something I just didn't "get" about Box that I'll pick up a second time through.

Regardless of how my revisitation goes, I have no doubt that 20th Century Ghosts will make my Top Five list of the year's best books.

Originally published in the U.K. two years ago by PS Publishing, this is the first U.S. edition of Ghosts — and a genuine treat for fans of... well, here I'm at a loss. While Hill has the blood of Stephen King coursing through his veins, anyone expecting Night Shift Redux will be gravely disappointed. Hill's work hews much closer to the stories of Neil Gaiman — but here, too, comparison fails me.

I'm left with no recourse but to declare Joe Hill a genuine original.

The stories in 20th Century Ghosts contain many tropes that will be familiar to readers of horror and dark fantasy — ghosts, vampires, giant insects, cannibalistic maniacs with knives — and yet, there is an X-factor that marks each story as truly unique and startlingly original.

Perhaps Hill himself best describes his approach, in this excerpt from the opening tale, "Best New Horror."

[Eddie Caroll] didn't finish most of the stories he started anymore, couldn't bear to. He felt weak at the thought of reading another story about vampires having sex with other vampires. He tried to struggle through Lovecraft pastiches, but at the first painfully serious reference to the Elder Gods, he felt some important part of him going numb inside, the way a foot or hand will go to sleep when the circulation is cut off. He feared the part of him being numbed was his soul.

At the end of this passage, I wanted to stand up and cheer. Gaiman once described horror as an ingredient rather than a meal, and I couldn't agree more: as an ingredient, it's pungent and powerful and somewhat addicting. But too many bad chefs have tried to turn it into an entire seven-course feast, with wildly diminished results.

Later in the same story, Hill issues a stirring call to arms:

Although the ending was more John Carpenter than John Updike, Caroll hadn't come across anything like it in any of the horror magazines....It concerned itself with tortured family relationships, shitty jobs, the struggle for money. Carroll had forgotten what it was like to come across the bread of everyday life in a short story. Most horror fiction didn't bother with anything except rare bleeding meat.

Is this a mission statement? Prophecy? Or merely a sly allusion to Hill's own approach to a genre that must have seemed overly familiar to him since... well, birth?

If this is, indeed, the rationale for Hill's work, based on the results witnessed herein, he has succeeded beautifully. Whatever horrors Hill explores (sometimes with a palpable, macabre glee that must live in his genes) are tempered by a recognizable, often staggering humanity that far too many horror writers completely ignore (and, I submit, many mainstream fiction writers aim for and completely miss).

Fans of vampire lore will be heartened to learn that "Abraham's Boys" is a pseudo-sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, depicting the offspring of vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing. What Hill does with this story, however, is so wholly unexpected and bracingly distinctive that it will surprise even the most dedicated Stoker fan, and delight readers who cannot bear to sit through yet another tired vampire tale.

"20th Century Ghost" is as heartbreaking a story as I've read. It will penetrate straight to the heart of film lovers and fans of the supernatural — and if you qualify for both, as I do, it will be pure ecstasy. The next time someone complains that an emotionally honest story can't be written in the so-called "horror genre," I'll show her this one and watch her mind change before my eyes.

Or "Pop Art," which is almost indescribably offbeat and magnificently devastating.

"The Cape" takes the tropes of the classic superhero origin story and spins them in a direction that is genuinely affecting — and leads to one of the most truly shocking endings I've read in ages.

Hill puts his own delicious spin on the serial killer genre in "The Black Phone," nicely taking the piss out of those overly romanticized psychos who have littered crime fiction since a guy named Harris introduced a guy named Hannibal.

There is a real danger in overhyping a book before it's been published. My enthusiasm for Scott Smith's The Ruins led to some strong responses from those who weren't as taken with the book as I was (and am). To each their own, of course, and I make no guarantees that you'll be as taken with the book as I was.

But, if I may borrow from the TV pitchman: I'm so confident you'll love 20th Century Ghosts that I'm GIVING IT AWAY.

Well, to one of you.

Just post a comment below (minimum two sentences in length) by 12:00 noon PST Friday, October 5th, 2007.

Make sure to use your actual email address (readers to the blog won't see it, but I will), and only enter once (duplicate email addresses won't count). I'll randomly select one winner to receive their own advanced copy of the book.

And be sure to let me know what you think.

Even if you don't win, take heart in the fact that you'll be able to pick up your own copy of 20th Century Ghosts when the book is published on October 1st. So there's plenty of time to get your blood chilled before Halloween...

÷ ÷ ÷

Chris Bolton co-created the all-ages webcomic Smash, which will soon be published by Candlewick Press, and created the comedy series Wage Slaves. His short story "The Red Room" was published in Portland Noir from Akashic Books.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Portland Noir (Akashic Noir)
    Used Trade Paper $9.95
  2. Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel
    Used Hardcover $8.50
  3. 20th Century Ghosts
    Used Hardcover $10.95
  4. Night Shift
    Used Mass Market $4.95
  5. Dracula (Penguin Classics)
    Used Trade Paper $6.50
  6. The Ruins
    Used Mass Market $2.50

64 Responses to "Win a Copy of Joe Hill’s 20th Century Ghosts"

    daniel September 24th, 2007 at 3:23 pm

    The best of genre fiction has never been about what it's about. Phillip K. Dick wasn't writing about the future. Stephen King wasn't writing about scary things. Raymond Chandler wasn't writing about investigations. Like Hitchcock said about waiting for the thing, and how it's the waiting and not the thing.

    If Joe Hill has learned the truth of ingridients and meals, then he may be well worth reading.

    Bill Peschel September 24th, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    I've resisted Joe thus far, partly because I've got too d----ed many books to read, but I like that you've dropped HSB and am reconsidering picking it up -- I did the same with Terry Pratchett.

    Lynda Tysdal September 25th, 2007 at 7:39 am

    I wish I could explain what it was about Heart Shaped Box that hit me so hard -- some of my friends weren't scared or moved by it either. I told them "either you get it or you don't, maybe you should try again later". So I'm glad you're going to try it again.

    I'm looking forward to 20th Century Ghosts in the same way that I look forward to the release of a new Stephen King book, and hope that Joe Hill will be as prolific as his father.

    Stretch Your P*nis September 25th, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Get free Viagra online!

    Just kidding. I want Joe Hill's book. Please???

    Jeanette Brody September 25th, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Two. Sentences.


    Mark Peterson September 25th, 2007 at 3:44 pm

    Seems like it would be real easy for the son of Steven King to get published, so I'm curious to see if he lives up to the hype. Tall order.

    Brockman September 25th, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Mark -- For your information, even Hill's publisher didn't know about his father until *after* he'd gotten Heart Shaped Box published. Hill didn't coast on his father's famous name (even though he could have), he got where he did by his own skills. And from the sound of it, he's earned his success.

    Bolton, I want my copy. Pronto!

    chris faatz September 26th, 2007 at 10:03 am

    Hey, I loved Box. Good for you, Mr Bolton, for giving him a second chance. I can't wait for the stories!

    Liberty September 26th, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    I heart(shaped box) Joe Hill. I'll arm wrestle you for a copy.

    Stone October 1st, 2007 at 8:41 pm

    HSB was one of those books I thought about reading and then forgot before I got to the shelf. I promise - put this one in my hot little hands and I'll read them both.

    April October 3rd, 2007 at 1:07 am

    As a fan of Stephen Kings work, I definitely want a chance to read his son's book. Count me in for sure!

    Michael Muehlhauser October 3rd, 2007 at 2:41 am

    It's been a lomg time since I've read this type of materisl because it has become so "edgy" it lost it's edge. This sounds interesting enough to pick up and actually read.

    Theresa N. October 3rd, 2007 at 3:09 am

    Please sign me up for Joe Hill's book.
    Wonder why he choose the name Joe Hill? Does a question count as a sentence? I'm out of here.

    JUDY COX October 3rd, 2007 at 3:17 am

    I am sorry to say that I have not read any of your books, but 20th Century Ghosts and Heart Shaped Box sounds like I should have. I also was not aware you were Stephen King's son!

    Jason October 3rd, 2007 at 3:48 am

    I think the thing that diluted HSB for me was knowing that Hill was King's son; it's hard to judge this book by its author with such a lineage knocking about in your head. I think there may have been more dread if there was more background presented first (and no I won't spoil anything) about Coyne and why he is the way he is in the story. Without a stronger background, it is hard to care about Coyne...even if he is being terrorized, I was thinking, "so what"

    I would love to read 20th Century Ghosts though...I am begging you for a copy.

    Ann October 3rd, 2007 at 4:00 am

    Vampires having sex with vampires? I do hope this book has more to it than that. I am looking forward to seeing if it really does (and hoping so)!

    Michael Carter October 3rd, 2007 at 6:16 am

    Time has a way of sorting genre fiction and lasting literature. It looks as if Dick made the cut. Maybe Joe Hill will.
    I've always meant to read his books, perhaps this is the chanch.

    Tim October 3rd, 2007 at 6:26 am

    Friends keep telling me I need to read this guy. And I so seriously would if I had a free copy. Seriously.

    Scott October 3rd, 2007 at 6:38 am

    I didn't LOVE Heart-Shaped Box but I did think it was quite good. I'd certainly be interested in reading something else by the author.

    Melissa Lawson October 3rd, 2007 at 7:08 am

    "Heart-Shaped Box" and "20th Century Ghosts" both appeal to me greatly! As soon as they come out in paperback I'm going to snatch them up so fast everyone's head will spin around like Linda Blair's. I'm am an ARC collector and I'd love to add "Ghosts" to my collection.

    Prune October 3rd, 2007 at 8:04 am

    This must be my lucky day! I've been chosen secret shopper of the month, I've won the Nigerian lottery, over two dozen people have crushes on me, and now I have a chance to win a copy of Joe Hill's new book!

    Happy, happy, joy, joy!

    Vicki Hancock October 3rd, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Wow. That is kind of cool finding out he is Stephen King's son. I would have never known and now will definitely be looking for the books. Let me win it and that would be a good place to start, lol.

    Heather Bush October 3rd, 2007 at 12:07 pm

    been a great fan of his father - I probably will investigate this further

    Virginia Dunkelbarger October 3rd, 2007 at 5:34 pm

    I welcomed King's books at first- but after Tommyknockers- I stopped reading him. He was just too gory for me. Perhaps Joe Hill recognized there is an audience for mystique and a few shivers and a challenge to the mind of all mystery readers that would like his works. I would love to have his book- to see what he offers. (I am 80 and have lots of time to read)!

    Chris Edison October 3rd, 2007 at 7:22 pm

    "Heart Shaped Box" looks intriguing, but I can't usually get through horror novels without having terrible nightmares that awaken me and, by extension, my husband. Ghost stories sound a bit more my speed – and I'd love to sample more of Joe Hill's work, but without as many nightmares.

    My husband thanks you.

    Merryl Donn October 3rd, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Horror has become too tame. Does Joe Hill spice it up again? I can't wait to find out!

    Anna Paradox October 3rd, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    I'm intrigued. However, I'm not the least bit surprised that there can be humanity in horror. The best writers always tell the truth in their way. Don't you think the mainstream/genre wars are a little tired?

    Garrett Fitzgerald October 4th, 2007 at 6:26 am

    I had previously heard that King's son (sons?) was a published author, but I didn't feel the urge to seek it out -- until just now. The quote above about how _not_ to do horror makes me want to find out how he thinks you _should_ do it.

    I've been a fan of his dad's since my wife-to-be made me read _Misery_. I was subscribing to _The Plant_ -- too bad that didn't work out, as I wanted to find out what was going to happen! :-) (Diane Duane is also doing a write-a-chapter-at-a-time-as-people-pay-for-it experiment -- hope it works out better for her than The Plant did for King.)

    Larry Fire October 5th, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Joe Hill is an extraordinary writer and his last book, Hear Shaped Box was exceptional. I have read some short stories from 20th Century Ghosts in some literary journals and I am looking forward to those stories that I have not read yet. I sure it will be a great Halloween read!!!

    Jamie Johnson October 5th, 2007 at 11:32 am

    Hey, great words on Hill! I have recently been reading everything King and discovered Joe Hill. I read Heart Shaped Box as a novelty since he was King's son, but was quickly drawin in and wanting more. I really enjoyed the work and now plan to read everything he writes in the future if he can keep up this level of originality! Great work!


    Joan Woods October 5th, 2007 at 1:41 pm

    I discovered a new author by visiting your website. This is the first I had heard of Joe Hill. Heart - Shaped Box sounds like a great book.

    Dana Jean October 5th, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    I want Virginia Dunkelbarger to win. She's eighty years old and her last name is Dunkelbarger for crying out loud--give her the book.

    No. I have no clue who Virginia Dunkelbarger is. I just read everybody's entries and I would pick her.

    Terry Kaye October 6th, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    Joe Hill is going to be be big, like his dad, and Clive Barker (my fav), and since i've already started my collection, I need a copy of Ghosts, please. my luck hasn't been good recently and it would be so cool for this to be the begining of good things to come again. thanks

    Billie Zahurak October 7th, 2007 at 2:00 pm

    My reading group chose Heart Shaped Box as it's October read when none of us knew it was King's son who wrote it. The member who chose it said she had read in a review that someone said it was the scariest book they'd ever read. I won't go that far, but I will say that HSB was original and amazing. It hit me, as well. I can't wait to read more of "Hill's" work.

    Dana Jean October 8th, 2007 at 7:52 am

    So? Who won the book?

    Bolton October 8th, 2007 at 11:03 am

    I'm pleased to announce that the winner of the advanced reader's copy of 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill is...


    [look around slowly]

    [dramatic music — this is just like Top Chef!]


    Congratulations to Vicki, and thanks to everyone for entering. If you get your copy of 20th Century Ghosts, be sure to leave a comment and let us know what you think!

    Dana Jean October 8th, 2007 at 12:36 pm

    Well, congratulations Vicki. Enjoy the book. But, Hancock just doesn't hold a candle to Dunkelbarger. ;-)

    Robin October 8th, 2007 at 12:50 pm

    I was hesitant to read Heart Shaped Box and was pleasantly surprised to find that he is not merely a copycat of his father's writing but a true artist unto himself. I will definitely read 20th Century Ghosts whether or not I win it here. Thanx!

    Billie October 8th, 2007 at 12:58 pm

    I thouroughly enjoyed Joe's first novel.
    Looking forward to many more.

    tim kilgore October 8th, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    I really enjoyed Heart Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghost is just up my ally. I have read all of his fathers and mothers works and beleive this family was blessed with spinning yarns!!!

    Nancy October 8th, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    Joe Hill's beauty is that his characters go straight to the heart and stay there, despite their best efforts to be dislodged. This being the case, I will eagerly read each of his works, enjoy being neighborly with his characters and both bless them and curse them when the book is done. Rock on, Joe.

    Susan October 8th, 2007 at 2:26 pm

    After reading Heart Shaped Box, I have been waiting to hear from more of Joe Hill. I can hardly wait to get my copy of 20th Century Ghosts.

    Barbwire32967 October 8th, 2007 at 2:46 pm

    I have "Joe Hill"strom King's Book Heart-Shaped Box signed by him & also 20th century Ghosts signed as well & love them as much as I have always loved his father's work. I also managed to get hand-signed photos of him also. The books are amazing & hard to put down once you have started reading them. I want his book as I have the Mammoth Book of Horror which has 20th Century Ghost in it & the story itself is signed by him. I even had a strange dream about Maine that would have made a great novel & of course it was at night..... His father's work has always amazed & pleased me & left me sitting on the edge of my seat, so thank goodness/badness that we have another great generation of books coming from Mr. Joe Hill as well! I look forward to your next creation/work of art!

    Tracey Byram October 8th, 2007 at 3:12 pm

    I read The Heart-Shaped Box as soon as it came out. Great book. VERY good story and writing style.I lok forward to being a longtime fan of Joe Hill. I'm already a longtime fan of Stephen King.

    Gail Adkins October 8th, 2007 at 3:29 pm

    I love this guy. Heart Shaped Box was a wonderful book and I can't wait to read the newest he has to offer.

    Gracie Cabrera October 8th, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I loved Heart Shaped Box and look forward to more great books by Steve Hill in the future. He is truly the "Son of the King".

    Betsy Williams October 8th, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I loved Heart Shaped Box and hated for it to end. Few authors have that gift,Stephen King is one of them and obviously his son has inherited his story telling gifts. Can't wait for his next book!

    Linda Lampkin October 8th, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    I have to say upfront that I really wanted to meet Joe Hill because of his Dad. I stole my sister's copy of "Carrie" when I was about 10 and was a slave to the master since then. But about seven months ago a friend invited me to a Joe Hill "meet and greet". Of course I thought he would be a good writer, going to college for it and because of both of his parents. I was given a copy of "The Heart Shaped Box" to read while my friend went for frozen coffee. It took about two chapters and I was hooked. Once again I felt the Hitchcock-like grab. The feeling of falling and not knowing that you tripped. Without giving away the ending, I felt sure I knew the ending right up till the end. The twist and turns made you feel as if you were in the car and traveling the "roads of discovery" with the main characters. And last but not least, meeting Joe was just as much of a thrill as if I had met his Dad or Mom. He was quirky and weird and needed a hair cut. But he made me a devotee, and just to add to the strangness of this e-mail, I am a Kindergarten Librarian with a bit of the dark side in me and most of what I read!!! Can't wait to read Joe's new one!!!!

    Nichole October 8th, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    It has been a long while since I read a "scary" book, and I was pleased with Heart Shaped Box. I look forward to 20th CG.

    Ann Taylor October 8th, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Being a huge fan of Stephen King, how could I not be a fan of his son? HSB was the BEST! Looking forward to the next book with great anticipation.

    Gem October 8th, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    Before my reversal of fortunes I bought books. I have everything Stephen King wrote in hardcover, all the dark tower books, waiting patiently for the next one... (sigh) Lisey's story was the highlight of my summer. (in paper back, a birthday gift.) I turned my grandkids onto King and If Joe Hill is as good as his dad, and why wouldn't he be? My grandkids will be reading him long after I'm gone.

    Crystal Bryant October 8th, 2007 at 9:11 pm

    I just finished Heart Shaped Box. I loved it. I have been a fan of his father for a while now and have alot of his books but when I heard about his son coming out with a book I knew it would be great as well. He has his father's writing skills. I hope he writes more and more books that are just as addictive as Heart Shaped Box was. Joe Hill Rocks!!!!!!!

    Sally October 9th, 2007 at 5:05 am

    I loved Heart-Shaped Box. I can't wait to read 20th Century Ghosts!

    Joanne October 9th, 2007 at 6:05 am

    When I first read about HSB, I was a bit concerned. I, being a life-long SK fan, had no idea Joe was cut from that man's loins and I disregarded the email alert I got about him. On my birthday, I was surprised by my husband when he presented me with a copy of HSB and with a grin on his face unmatched by any gift he had given me, said, " you know he's Stephen Kings son eh?" I had indeed, no knowledge that Joe Hill was SK's boy but after reading HSB, I can see some similarity in writing, but not enough to think that in any way, shape or form, has JH used his father to his advantage. I was blown away with the manner in which he wrote HSB. for a first novel, I thought it was pretty darn good! good enough to pass along to my friend, Who's reply when she was done, was a steedy " holy cow! that was awesome!" I'm enjoying it again for the second time and have come across things that i missed the first time. a great read on the second voyage and I'm sure that 2 years from now, when I read it again for the triple play, I will enjoy it the same!

    Tracy October 9th, 2007 at 6:15 am

    Reading 20th Century Ghosts was like receiving a huge box of Godiva chocolates for Christmas; not to be eaten at one sitting; rather to be enjoyed a bit at a time. "Best New Horror" was the best new story I've read in years and "The Black Phone" was my worst nightmare in print! I Loved It! I haven't finished the book yet for the simple fact that I don't want it to end - and for me that is the best compliment I could give a writer. I'm hoping for a new novel very soon - hint hint hint.

    Bev Fox October 9th, 2007 at 11:57 am

    I have been a big Stephen King fan for years. First heard of Heart Shaped Box through junk mail. It seemed like good reading. I loved it from the first word, and was amazed how the story sucked me in, like S.K. always did. At the time, I did not know he was the son. I enjoyed the book immensely. I would love to win a free copy of the new book. My sad story is I'm unemployed while taking care of home bound elderly mother. Times are hard with the economy and seems we are living paycheck to paycheck {like everyone else!} A good book is the only break I get to take my mind from the serious medical problems I am helping mother deal with. Plus, I still have two teenagers at home.
    H E L P ! Need I say more.

    Edie October 9th, 2007 at 7:00 pm

    I loved the Heart Shaped Box, And has drawn me in as his father has so many times. I look forward to each and every new book.
    And who would not want to win a the New Book,

    Vicki Hancock October 11th, 2007 at 10:18 am

    I received the book yesterday. Thanks so much!!!!!!!!!

    I have to say, it is a different kind of horror but I literally could not put the book down. That is saying a lot for me since I am a true crime reader and that is all I seem to buy anymore. It is a fascinating book!!!

    Melissa K. October 13th, 2007 at 6:40 am


    Antanida December 10th, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Thanks! gut text

    makyfleek January 6th, 2009 at 3:50 am

    What is bumburbia?

    Onoyko January 12th, 2009 at 7:13 am

    Good article. Many thanks to the author!

    EvakycatExcah January 16th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Where am I?
    Who am I?
    No more...

    Kneentlow March 14th, 2009 at 6:50 am

    You do not know as to issue the bought poster?
    We shall help to pick up design and color of a framework to the boughtpurchased poster.
    For manufacturing frameworks we use qualitative wooden, and plastic structures.

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