Joe Hill is never satisfied, but he’s happy to have his second novel out of the way.

The best-selling author of ”Heart-Shaped Box” delivers with ”Horns,” a supernatural notion he played with for 10 years before finally putting it on paper in a way he found rewarding.

The son of horror master Stephen King, Hill wrote in the afterword of ”Horns”: ”There was a point at which I came to feel that this book itself was the devil.”

But in an interview last week, Hill said, ”I’m really proud of it.”

”Horns” is the story of Ignatius Perrish, an unfortunate man who grows the complete facade of the devil and takes on satanic powers as he seeks revenge on his girlfriend’s murderer.

It is at times disturbing, curious, frightening and funny — and always suspenseful.

While Hill is very decidedly an author who ”doesn’t do messages,” there is more to take away from ”Horns” than just a good scare.

If there is one theme from Hill’s past novel and works of short fiction that plays out here, it is what can happen when people ”reinvent themselves,” even over revenge.

 

Q: I enjoy horror books, but the what-is-next in this actually made me sick to my stomach at times. Is that the reaction you were going for?

A: I wanted the beginning of the book, the first 100 pages, to play like a paranoid fantasy. This is the thing that (Alfred) Hitchcock always did and back in the day, when Hitchcock films came out, he was thought to be the director of horror films.

Now in the modern day, we see Hitchcock’s (work as) crime and suspense films. And the thing that Hitchcock did that was beautiful was he would create this situation, a paranoid fantasy, where not one of my friends is my friends, and all of my friends are working against me, or I have no friends, or nowhere to go.

So I guess if that’s the part that made you queasy, that’s not the reaction I was going for. I didn’t want to unsettle.

 

Q: It’s interesting you refer to the Hitchcock model, because halfway through it, I thought, ”This is a mystery.” Were you modeling it after Hitchcock films?

A: It isn’t exactly a mystery, even after the revelation of who done it. A perceptive reader can probably spot the killer and have a decent chance of being correct. I am a big believer that there is the most value in a work of suspense. That is what keeps people turning pages. I’m afraid we’re the most over-entertained culture in the world. My M.O. is always to crank the suspense engine as hard as I can, because otherwise people will put it down and move on to whatever is new on YouTube.

 

Q: It’s kind of a basic premise you work off of, someone becoming a devil, but it’s also really creepy. Do you know any works of fiction that had a person growing horns?

A: It is a little like (Franz) Kafka. But nothing comes right to mind. I think in Marvel Comics there was the Son of Satan, but that man was the son of Satan.

But I am a guy who thinks that maybe the devil needs to be in every story. You don’t have the story until the devil walks on stage. There always has to be one character who threatens to upset the order of things by pushing people toward temptation and revealing all these secrets.

 

Q: Why do you need that character in every story?

A: Because the devil character is about revealing secrets, unearthing whatever terrible dark things people are hiding. I also think a lot of fiction is about the darkness that lies under the surface of everyday life, things that people hide from themselves and other people.

A lot of people have dark thoughts and see terrible things happen, but go through everyday life pushing those things aside. Fiction is a way of tackling those things head on

One of the things the book aims at is if you knew the worst, could you still love a person and forgive them? If (the main character) Ig knew the worst, can he still care about them — as disturbing as what goes on in the book is, as you move toward the ending, it turns into a question, can he love and forgive? He made his share of mistakes and they’ve made theirs. Can he make peace with that?

 

Q: Like that scene were he goes to see (his dead girlfriend’s) dad, and they have an exchange?

A: There was a part there that I cut out where her father turns to Ig and asks, ”Are you a demon pretending to be human or a human pretending to be the devil?” And Ig says, ”I don’t know yet, but I think it’s still up to me.”

That sums up the whole basic idea of the book. He inherits all the powers of the devil. The worst and ugliest secrets are revealed to him, the worst and dirtiest temptations. But it’s his choice whether or not to be a human being and love and forget it.

The other thing about the book, I worked on it a long time and really set out to write a book about the devil. But the devil is a cop-out. Human beings are really bad enough without the idea that they’re misguided. Human beings make the devil look good.

 

Q: Your devil is a likeable character when you get to know him. Were you trying to make him one?

A: When you first meet him, you see the worst in him. That is one of my usual starting points. I don’t know what you can do with a happy protagonist, a peaceful protagonist who has everything. In the case of Ig, we sort of come in on him after he’s lost everything. As you learn more about him, he’s really a decent guy who sort of wandered into the worst situation and had it all ripped away from him.

 

Q: He’s also pretty funny. Did you have fun writing him?

A: There is a lot of black humor in the book. I think I know where that comes from. While I was working on the book, I had an image that I would look at, a 19th-century woodcut of the devil dancing on his goaty hooves with his head back laughing. That was the image of the devil, laughing at humanity. Ig finds humor even in the darkest things. He kind of wants to poke fun at it. He’s a jester, a trickster.

He finds a lot of freedom, a guy who’s colored in the lines. He’s a rule follower. I think there is a terrific freedom in tossing out the rules and he finds that Ig finds some freedom in being bad.

 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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