King of the Hill

For a guy who says he doesn’t want people to know that Stephen King is his Dad, Joe Hill is making sure everybody knows it.  From Publisher’s Weekly to yesterdays Los Angeles Times,  he seems to be coming out everywhere as King’s s0n to promote his new book "Heart-Shaped Box." Publisher’s Weekly wrote:

Joe Hill, whose debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, will be published by William Morrow in February 2007, is so intent on not trading on his father’s fame that he years ago stopped using his given name, Joseph Hillstrom King. And before setting up an interview with the author, Morrow publicist Seale Ballenger warned, "Joe really doesn’t want to talk about his relationship with Stephen King."

Fair enough. But in the battle to win attention for an emerging writer, it’s pretty hard to resist using such a potent weapon. So when Ballenger sent PW an e-mail stressing the importance of reviewing Hill’s book, he wrote, "This is a huge book for us (two-book deal and he is Stephen King’s son)."

Now he’s talking about it in interview after interview. The LA Times wrote:

Hill, 34, took on his secret identity to test his writing skills and marketability without having to trade on the family name.

"I really wanted to allow myself to rise and fall on my own merits," he said.

Apparently, that’s changed. But I don’t blame him or his publisher. Finding a promoteable angle for an author and his book is tough…so why shouldn’t he use the fact that he’s following in his Dad’s famous footsteps to get some attention? More power to him. What I find disingenuous, however, is that he keeps trying to maintain the notion that he’s not doing it…even while he’s doing it, over and over.

11 thoughts on “King of the Hill”

  1. “What I find disingenuous, however, is that he keeps trying to maintain the notion that he’s not doing it…even while he’s doing it, over and over.”
    Well, it seems to work for politicians, no?

  2. I’m obviously not a writer so I don’t know the entire process or what Joe Hill did to get to this point in his career but perhaps it is the point of origin of when he didn’t use his famous dad’s name that is in question. (can there be a point of origin for a negative?) Did he not use it when he initially sold the book to a publisher therefore he sold it THEN on his own merits and that is what they are referring to? Or is it when, as I assume this is in reference, to sell it to the public and then quickly selling out on the famous name? How could Marketing pass up such a huge selling point? Should he shoot himself in the foot for integrity sake or help himself with that extra boost no one else can claim? Do we even care that much? Hooray for another author getting his stuff out there for others to read.
    However, I must point out, I haven’t read it yet and I don’t know if I’ll get to any time soon — so much to read too little time, etc., etc.
    PK the Bookeemonster

  3. In Maine, we knew dad before he was famous, working in the UMaine library. It’s a small town success story, and I don’t see how it couldn’t help his son’s story about a haunted suit owned by a rock star. Dad also plays in an author band. Where do they get these ideas?

  4. My understanding is that Hill acquired his agent without using his real last name. He also had quite a number of novels rejected before he made his first sale. It was not until he made his sale that he made public who his dad was.
    More importantly, I read his novel and I think he’s a major talent.

  5. It’s been several months, but I don’t believe that Morrow’s publicity department made any mention of the King connection when they sent out the book for review. But by that point everyone knew anyway, so it was moot.
    If I recall correctly, Morrow bought the book without knowing of the connection. What I don’t know is if their subsequent decision to give the book a major promotional push was ignorant of it. (I suspect not.)
    I reviewed the book on assignment (and, as far as I know, the book was chosen for review because of the connection), and clearly made mention of the relationship in my article.
    I found the book to be worthy in its own right, but not deserving of the hype it received (absent the King connection). It would have been a far smaller book without that hook.

  6. This is just a transparent charade. Absent massive promotion, who’d buy a novel from Joe Hill? But Joe-I’m Stephen King’s Son-Hill? Now, that’s a different matter. It would have served him better to just stick with his given name and suffer the inevitable charges of nepotism. He’s inviting them now anyway.

  7. Hill is in a can’t-win situation. I think he did make a concerted effort not to capitalize on his father’s success when he first started publishing his short fiction. But once he hit the jackpot with Morrow, he really had no choice but to acknowledge his family situation. Denying he’s King’s son would make him seem like an ass, especially when the physical resemblance is unmistakeable.
    I reviewed “Heart-Shaped Box” for the San Francisco Chronicle partly because I knew he was King’s kid. But I had become interested in his work months earlier, when I read an in-depth interview with him in Locus that DIDN’T mention his parents.
    I think it’s fair to him to say, “I really don’t want to talk about my father.” He shouldn’t be held responsible for what his publicist says.

  8. As someone who thinks she’s up on the biz, and reads a lot, I did not know until this morning (that’s March 26) of Hill’s parentage. I don’t read the Chron I don’t read the LA Times, no longer read Locus. it was not news in Seattle. I din’t read pr stuff that coes with review books. It’s not on the flap copy. It’s not on his website – which i just checked. I did not know and wonder if i’m so unaware, so out of it despite thinking I was “in it” that I’m the only person who didn’t know. I suppose it’s disingenuous but not to me since had I not read Shaz Wheeler’s comments on this week’s, I probably would have blissfully gone on wondering who the guy was til I saw Laura referring to this post. Is it truly common knowledge and i’m living under a rock? I admit I WAS for months planning a convention but that’s over and I thought I was back in the world.
    The book’s impressing the hell out of me though, so far.

  9. I’m also reminded of some of the promotional stuff for Jesse Kellerman and Carol Higgins Clark.
    At least the paperback of _Sunstroke_ only mentions the family connection in a couple of review blurbs, and not the cover or the bio.

  10. I’ve met Joe Hill and I know his first publisher, who bought his story collection without any idea of the family connection. Hill didn’t raise it, but nor did he deny it when it was finally put to him.
    Now, of course, it’s the question that every interviewer wants to ask and every reviewer has to mention.


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