March 19, 2007

A writer with a writer parent does it right.

RLC notes my complaint about Rebecca Walker and points out another article in the Sunday Times, which I missed:
Here's a really nice article about a famous writer's son who achieved literary success on his own, practicing his craft for years, suffering the rejections that come with the territory, even changing his name in order not to use it for advantage -- because he understood that it would hurt him as a writer to do so. I admire this young man, and I'm eager to read his book.
The first linked article is about Joe Hill, who hid his identity as the son of Stephen King until after his book "Heart-Shaped Box" was published and received great reviews. Give credit to Joe and to Stephen too.

But who's to say what people do from force of character and what they do out of inherited personality traits?
Like his father, Hill married young, has three kids and lives in an isolated part of New England. Also like his father, he shows his manuscripts to his wife. “A lot of people marry their moms,” he said. “I kind of married my dad. I’ll go from the manuscript I gave her and the manuscript I gave him and go back and forth, and it’s the same comments.” (Hill’s wife, Leanora, and King are so in sync that she reads King’s drafts too.)

Hill is even more protective of his privacy than his father was for much of his career. (King didn’t have Google Maps and other online search devices to contend with.) Though Hill’s fallback demeanor is congenital niceness, he wouldn’t even consider an interview in his hometown and cut off any questions about his children. Hill is certainly no stranger to aggressive fans. When he was 12, he found a six-pack-toting ex-convict at the front door. “I just got out of Thomaston Prison,” Hill remembered the man saying, “and I just wanted to tell you that your dad’s books are the only things that kept me from killing someone in there.” Here, Hill made a sound effect to suggest that at that moment his head exploded, cartoon-style. “My memory is that my dad went outside and had a beer with the guy.” But, he added, “there have been people who have broken into the house. You get into a little bit of a defensive crouch.”

Hill did concede this much: He lives in a remote part of New Hampshire, not Maine, where he grew up. And he works at home. In his office, Hill keeps files full of letters that mark his long literary apprenticeship. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. He could have had it another way.


Mark the Pundit said...

If I remember correctly, Colin Hanks (Tom's son) did a similar thing when he auditioned for Orange County. He used an alias because he did not want the producers to know who he was - he wanted to get the part on his own merit. And it worked, and I thought he did a good job in that role, although it wasn't anything that required an Oscar-winning performance.

PeterP said...

The fruits of the Joycean loins are to be found on many a strange tree.

"Call me Sheymice." - It's a deathly givingway.

MadisonMan said...

Given this article, I have to ask why you linked to Christopher's blog back when he blogged. It held him back! Parents are always responsible for things that go wrong. The period of frosty silence from my teen told me so just this weekend!

It is interesting to consider how Joe's life would have evolved if his genestock were known. How much of writing is inborn talent, and how much is learned through privation?

Maxine Weiss said...

Thom Steinbeck and David Updike.

Writing is different than movies. Parents can't bequeath that to their kids, because nobody reads in the first place.

Although if Thom and David did a gossipy tell-all....I don't even think that would be note-worthy, since everybody knows everything already, or could imagine....

I bet Christopher knows where all the bodies are buried.

Be nice to him, Ann. Keep him well-stocked. Well supplied. A new car etc...

Otherwise, your all your secrets will be revealed.

I always figured that was why he discontinued.

Didn't want to inadvertently reveal too much.

Peace, Maxine

Jon said...

wow the parallels get even stranger. Stephen King once shed his own name and published under a pseudonym (Richard Bachman) to see if he could replicate his success or if he had been floating on reputation

Joan said...

Do you think if I wrote a politely-worded letter to Joe's wife, telling her that her father-in-law has been in pressing need of a ruthless editor for many years now, it would do any good?

I used to love King's work before he started writing like he was paid by the word. Haven't read Hill's book, and doubt I will; I spend too much time online to read many books, so it would have to be really extraordinary to even make it into my "maybe" list. But I wish him every success nonetheless.

Maxine Weiss said...

BOTTOM LINE: It's not about nepotism; it's about race.

Rebecca Walker is Angry Young Black Woman, therefore she's gotta a job, no matter who her parents are.

Richard Lawrence Cohen is a middle-aged white man, and not the right gender, or ethnically interesting enough for the publishing industry.

And, you know I'm right.

As a matter of fact, we can trace the downfall of publishing, print media, and literary fiction, in the rise of women in that field.

Why aren't more men writing literary fiction?

Why has the door slammed shut on men in the publishing industry, with respect to literary fiction?

Richard Lawrence Cohen is too scared to talk about those issues.

Unless Walker turns out to be a conservative Republican.....she's got a brilliant future. It's chic to be a black woman these days, with or without famous parents.

Peace, Maxine

Revenant said...

I had no idea that Hill was King's son. Neat.

Nowgirl said...

I have been following the public musings of both Walkers as well as King pere and fils for some time and find them enormously interesting. Both Walker and King parents found enormous fame after choosing to have children and it altered their children's lives as well as their own. Is Alice Walker, despite the themes of generosity and redemption in her work, somehow enormously selfish when it came/comes to parenting her daughter? Did King's years of alcoholism, on the other hand, leave his relationships with his children relatively unimpaired?

I read Rebecca Walker mostly out of interest in what happens to a person with her background (Jewish dad, African-American bisexual mom, both rich and famous.) What kind of perspective does such a person develop? I'm not put off by the fact that it includes a fair amount of navel-gazing - of course it does! It seems as though fame and success freed Alice Walker to put herself first - her novels have become progressively, and sadly, less interesting as she's come more untethered from the rest of the human race. Will Rebecca be able to take herself more lightly? Will the two ever relate as family again? It's a good story!

Joe Hill's book, on the other hand, is actually great fun whether or not you know who he is - much tighter than his dad's recent bestseller Lisey's Story. Lovely to watch a child advance in a parent's territory with such grace. (It's obvious that Joe's protagonist, like Joe, has fully incorporated the Laws By Which Horror Works into his thinking. He doesn't waste any time dithering about whether it's Really Happening but cuts right to the fun stuff like you wish all horror protagonists could. You can really sense Joe standing on Stephen's shoulders as a writer, even as he maintains his distance with his pseudonym.)

George M. Spencer said...


Did the reporter actually see all those rejection letters?

It's also easy to imagine the author/agent/publisher (and even a ghost writer/editor) getting together to rake in the big bucks. Children of the famous have marquee value.

I also recall Anne Rice's son making a big splash.
One of Al Gore's daughter's is also a novelist, or at least she has her name on a novel. And, of course, there's Margaret Truman.