A Novelist in the Family

In my last post, I mentioned that I had abandoned Stephen King’s latest novel, Lisey’s Story, for a debut novel, The Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill.

I received this comment from Robin in Texas:

“Patrick, did you know that Joe Hill is Stephen Kings son? I saw him on [Good Morning America] last week. How funny that you set aside a book by the father and chose, perhaps unknowingly, to read one written by his son.”

I did miss the interview: I’m a Today man, myself. But I do think it’s ironic, and I immediately began wondering why I didn’t know that Hill is King’s son. I immediately looked at Joe Hill’s website. I couldn’t find any mention of the famous father there. Then I looked in the next-most obvious place: the book jacket from the novel:

“A multiple award winner for his short fiction, author Joe Hill immediately vaults into the top echelon of dark fantasists with a blood-chilling roller-coaster ride of a novel, a masterwork brimming with relentless thrill and acid terror.”Joe Hill is the author of the acclaimed story collection 20th Century Ghosts. He lives in New England.”

Even John Scalzi’s recent author interview with Hill makes no mention of Stephen King.

So now maybe the question is no longer, “Why didn’t I know,” but now, “How could I have known?”

That leads me to another question: if you’re a debut novelist and your father happens to be one of the most popular novelists in the world, would you hide that fact? Would you assume from the start that everyone already knew? Do you think it would come up in conversation, at least in the first interviews you did? Wouldn’t you make mention of it on your website? And wouldn’t you think your publisher would be sure to mention it as a selling point in terms of one writer’s work being influenced by such a prolific one?

Not that it wouldn’t cause pressure for the debut novelist. But I would think that pressure would always be there, anyway, even if the world didn’t know who the father happened to be.

I just find it odd that it seems the fact is being either ignored or hidden.

By the way, I am enjoying Heart-Shaped Box so far. I don’t think I’ll be setting it aside because of a lot of inside, meaningless lingo.


  1. Patrick, I’ve been intending to get back to this site to find out if you knew about Joe Hill being the son of Stephen King. Of course I knew you would research it thoroughly and not just take my word for it. Since you’re in the news business I just assumed you would go to the abcnews website and check it out. So…If you haven’t already, you can go here: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=2875056&page=1 to see the interview to which I was referring.

    Robin in Texas

  2. Paul, Like Shelly, I also checked sources other than Wikipedia. That particular source is an easy one to quote, and unlike some periodical sources online, not one that disappears after a short time.

    Most recently, the latest Books-A-Million newsletter mentioned it in passing during a short review of Heart-Shaped Box.

    I wouldn’t have mentioned it without checking several sources first because the fact that Hill’s site doesn’t mention it was a major red flag for me.

  3. Paul, I checked the info in 4 sources. As a librarian, I know to check sources. I think the obvious change in Hill’s name from his given name as per Wikipedia, which is actually as likely to be accurate as nearly any other site other than one using original documentation, is a giveaway in this case. Plus, I’d heard about them being father and son previously.

    Which is not to say the info is 100 per cent accurate, but it is in many online sources. In fact, one of the most likely to be accurate has the info, too.

    Here’s the biography page from Stephen King’s official website. The info on his kids is down a bit and requires some scrolling.

  4. Although I do not consider Wikipedia to be all that authoritative a source, I am inclined to accept the information presented in this case. It seems that Joe Hill is not only not standing in the shadow of his father, he is a celebrated author in his own write (sorry for the Lennon pun, there). According to his wikipedia entry, he has won several awards for his books.

  5. I would think the son wants to avoid the shadow of his father and not have his work compared with dad’s. To find the truth, you don’t research Joe Hill. You look up King.

    Of course, Anne Rice’s son Christopher isn’t as shy about his parentage, and Jesse Kellerman seems fine with people knowing his parents are Faye and Jonathan Kellerman.

  6. It leads me to a different question. Is he really Stephen King’s son?

    You quoted Robin as saying, “…Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son,” and, “I saw him on [Good Morning America] last week.” Those two statements appear to be connected by proximity, which might lead one to believe they are connected by context, but that may not necessarily be the case. Did you ask Robin if they discussed that in the interview she saw?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.