A Review of Horns by Joe Hill

Cover of "Horns: A Novel"

Cover of Horns: A Novel

From the book description:

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache, and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

With the release of NOS4A2, also by Joe Hill, I thought I’d review his previous novel, Horns, which I read before I started reading The Last Death of Tev Chrisini by Jennifer Bresnick.

No spoilers. I promise.

From the opening paragraph Horns hooked me and wouldn’t let go. It’s a book you won’t want to put down, so catch up on sleep before you begin.

Joe has a writing style that most authors would envy. Engaging. Suspenseful. He builds from one mystery to the next while interweaving the past and present to address each mystery in its own due time.

What may draw people to the story, and keep them plugged in, is what the horns symbolize–the inner devil in us all. The theme is explored throughout the book with the people Ignatius meets. Combine insights into the dark side every one of us has with brilliant writing, and you have a classic page-turner.

At times you’ll want to throttle the protagonist, Ignatius Perrish. Other times you’ll find yourself rooting for him. He evolves. He changes throughout the story. The Ignatius you see on page one is far different from the one you see at the end.

I found Joe Hill through the Amazon best seller list. For those of you who don’t know, he is Stephen King’s son, but don’t let that color your view of him one way or another. He is his own writer. He is a great story-teller. Just read a sample of Horns and see what you think.

Make no mistake though. Horns is a horror novel. There are gruesome death scenes. Thrills. Sex. But it’s all integral to the story and not used as a lure to keep you reading.

I give Horns 4 out of 5 stars. Why? Well, to reach 5 stars in the field in which I place Horns the novel would have to be as good as The Talisman or It or The Shining.

He’s not there yet, but I have no doubt Joe Hill will reach the same level with subsequent novels.

I will read his other books, Locke and Key and Heart Shaped Box. NOS4A2 is on my list. If you are a fan of horror or thrillers, Horns should be on your list.


Journey to the UCLA Medical Center

Last week I had a doctor appointment at UCLA Medical Center. You should know that UCLA is 60-70 miles from Palmdale. I’ve been to UCLA dozens of times. Conor was born there. I could close my eyes and drive the way were it not for other cars.

Still, being me, I spaced out and drove down I-5 instead of I-405. The wrong way. What followed was an adventure in navigating Los Angeles traffic on a Friday afternoon while I tried (in vain) to make my appointment in time. Along the way I saw beautiful houses. Slums. And figured out the rest of my novel.

Official Flag of the City of Palmdale, California

Official Flag of the City of Palmdale, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I chose to have my primary physician at UCLA instead of Palmdale, because I’ve found that the doctors who can’t make it in LA, come to Palmdale. Sure, there might be a few good doctors in Palmdale, but I have yet to find them. I have a great doctor at UCLA. She’s progressive. Takes the time to listen to what I have to say. Engages me. Gets to the root of any problem I might have. My appointments with her are a conversation and nothing like a traditional medical appointment.

I left Palmdale at 12:50 for a 2:15 appointment. Cutting it close already. The choice route is to take I-405 to the Wilshire Boulevard exit. I was by myself, as Alefiya and I thought Conor could use a nap. So, who better to talk to on the journey than myself? And what was the subject? My novel. I have written over 110,ooo words and there were mysteries yet to solve, questions that were bugging me. While I talked my way through the rest of the story I drove straight past the I-405 branch off point. Now what was I going to do? I pulled out my trusty Windows Phone, clicked on maps–all while driving 75 mph–and figured out an alternate path, using 101 West.

The time was now 1:45.

California Interstate 405

California Interstate 405 (Photo credit: Mark Luethi)

Anyone who lives in Los Angeles will cringe at the thought of taking 101 West on a Friday afternoon. I tried to take the exit for 101, but somehow ended up on 138 East to Pasadena. I saw the traffic going west on 101 and shook my head. There was no way I would make my 2:15 appointment. Still, I wanted to try. I was already in Los Angeles. The worst they could do at UCLA was turn me away. I took the third exit I came across, parked at a Vonns (Safeway to people in Washington and Texas) and re-mapped. I found a side route that would avoid 101 and take me through Beverly Hills. Not bad. Always great scenery to see.

For Los Angeles natives, the route was Riverside to Moorpark and then south along Beverly Glen. Little did I know that I would pass near Warner Bros. Studio, Universal Studios, go north of Studio City, and see many of the iconic landmarks with which one associates Los Angeles.

What I did not count on, or foresee, was seeing such a great contrast in neighborhoods. Within a mile of each other were some of the poorest and richest houses I have ever seen. I saw terraced estates reminiscent of the Italian countryside and slums that could have been part of a third world country, but were here, in one of the most wealth-ridden cities in the U.S., and near one of the best universities on the west coast, UCLA.

I drove as if I belonged on the roads in Beverly Hills, in my dirt covered, grey Subaru Legacy. One hand on the wheel, the other tapping the map for updates on distance to the next turn. People were kind to me. Let me merge when I realized I was in a turn only lane. By 2:15 I’d given up on being on time and just hoped they would let me see a doctor, even if not my own.

The drive down Beverly Glen is curvy. I felt like I was in one of those driving arcade games, zooming through a city, but at only 45 mph (35 was the speed limit). Still, with one hand on the wheel, it was probably for the best.

At 2:40 I hit the west side of the UCLA campus.

English: The new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Ce...

English: The new UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center, from the south-west looking across Westwood Bl. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I took a right onto Le Conte, and I knew where I was. I crossed Westwood Village, took a right onto Gayley and pulled into the parking lot of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. I hurried into the internal medicine building, ran up four flights of stairs, and checked in at 2:45. They told me I might not see my doctor, but I would see someone.

I was relieved. I’ll spare you what I did while I waited. They called me back to see the doctor at 3:45, and lucky for me, I got to see my doctor.

Now, why was I here? For a checkup. But I also wanted to fill my doctor in on my diet. The best way to describe what I’ve done is to call it a form of the Paleo diet. About 50% of my calories are from healthy fats–grass-fed butter, coconut oil and MCT oil, 25% come from vegetables, usually celery, carrots and cucumber, and the last 25% comes from grass-fed beef. Many of my friends will be shocked to learn that I have all but given up soda (I grant myself one a week). And I avoid wheat. If one wants to know why you should cut wheat out of your diet, read the book Wheat Belly.

Wheat Belly

Wheat Belly (Photo credit: Earthworm)

As a result of these changes, I can keep my carbs to less than 100g a day. I do this for five days a week and then let myself eat more carbs on the weekend. I’m not perfect. Some days I eat more than 100g in carbs, and sometimes I have wheat, but I do my best to avoid it.

The ultimate result of these changes in my diet? I’ve gone from 198 lbs to 181 lbs in the span of two months. I’ve lost over 5% body fat and gained muscle definition. I HAVE NOT exercised once. I go on evening walks, pulling the kids in the wagon, but that’s the extent of my physical activity. I DO NOT count calories even though I do watch my calorie ratios. At 6’1″ I was not overweight to begin with, but I always felt I could lose 10 lbs, and I always had trouble, even with swimming and limited running and counting calories. At the height my exercising and calorie counting I never got below 193 lbs.

Now, not only do I feel better, but my TEETH are happy. I had the best visit to the dentist I have ever had. Not one cavity or hint of a cavity or decay.

But, I was hesitant to share my diet change with my doctor. I mean, 50% of my calories come from FAT yet I am burning fat. I do not watch my total calorie intake and do not exercise and I am losing weight. I wrote down EVERYTHING I am doing–my daily routine, what I eat, what vitamins I take. I went point by point through the list with my doctor. And you know what? She did not bat an eye. She said, “so the weight loss is intentional?”

I said, “Yes. But I’ve lost lots of fat, too.”

You see, I was still trying to give her ammunition. I wanted her to poke holes in what I had done. Do you know what she said?

“Of course, with what you are doing, eating a high fat/low carb diet, you lose fat.”

She had no concerns about what I was doing. Said I was healthy.

By the way, I had over 200g of carbs that day. For tests I had to drink a fair amount of juice, and since I’d already blown past the carbs for the day, I gave myself a Dr. Pepper. Very sad to report that the Dr. Pepper tasted fake. Like a diet soda. The last three Dr. Peppers have tasted that way to me. I may be over them for good.

If you are interested in the diet, I’d read a few blogs. A great one is written by Chris Kresser, a nutritionist. A good community to explore is the Bulletproof Exec. I hate the name, but the diet is explained rather well on his website. I do not follow his diet all that closely. The Bulletproof guy is big on mycotoxins. I’m aware of them and avoid food with mycotoxins, if it’s convenient, but I haven’t gone so far as to rid all of my food of mycotoxins.

My next fitness goal is more muscle definition, a leaner build, but I do not want to spend lots of time on weights or at the gym. That’s why I’ve started the Body by Science program, where you work out the five main muscle groups once a week for no more than 12 minutes. You work the muscles to failure, do the reps as slow as you can. I’ve just started. When I have results, or have spent more time on the program, I will report on my gains.

Cover of "Body by Science: A Research Bas...

Cover via Amazon

On the way home I had to contend with the 5pm Friday traffic heading out of Los Angeles. I sat there a while. Talked to myself some more. Figured out the rest of my novel. I already knew how the story would end, but I was concerned about the path to the end. Now I know the path. That evening I put down all of thoughts. Now I have to write.

Being a Stay at Home Dad

Today I depart from writing about my upcoming novel and talk about how I’d like to be a stay at home dad.

If my manager ever reads this, and I doubt he will, perhaps he’d be surprised to hear me say that I prefer to be at home with my children. I work at the Lockheed Martin Skunkworks. The Legendary Skunkworks. Stealth came about here. We are amazing at integrating technology. Even better, I am part of a group within the Skunkworks that identifies and develops cutting edge technology.

The Skunk Works logo as seen on one of Lockhee...

The Skunk Works logo as seen on one of Lockheed Martin’s hangars. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Why would I want to leave?

Simple. I miss spending time with my children. When I was writing my PhD thesis I stayed at home from the lab and took care of our daughter during the day while Alefiya worked. Back then, Isabella took one or two long naps a day, during which I wrote my thesis. When Isabella was awake we played together. Hung out. She was just learning to crawl and I created obstacle courses in the living room for her. I built Lego towers that she then tore apart. We had fun together.

Now, I work full time. During the week I am gone the majority of my children’s waking hours and am with them only in the evening. And we all know how toddlers and babies are in the evening. It’s their witching hour. Plus, I lament that I haven’t had the chance to spend the same amount of quality time with Conor as I did with Isabella.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great job. I realize I am lucky to have a job in our economic environment. At times I am frustrated by the bureaucratic nonsense at Lockheed, but the company is good to me.

What I would like is more of a work-life balance. Alefiya is a very good nurse. Has her MSN. She has loads more career experience. She’s good at what she does. More importantly, she loved her job at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. But, we want to have one parent at home with the kids. We are fortunate that we are able to do that, but we’d like to split the time at home more, but because I am in a field that seems to have no concept of part time, and since health insurance is tied to employment, I am the one that works full time.

Like I said, we’d much rather split the hours. I would work half the week. Alefiya would work the other half of the week. She would like to resume her career as a nurse educator, but unfortunately we live in a world that is not set up to support families.

Research has proven that children with caring, involved dads have higher IQs, more confidence, and do better in school, but as a society we do not look long term. Imagine how much better the world would be if family and friends (community) were the center of life, and not jobs. Now, I’m not saying that I can’t be caring and involved with a full time job, but already I am missing out on preschool activities, field trips and playground time. Just imagine what I will miss in the long term.

I realize that each person needs their own space. Own time. Any parent knows that you will go crazy if you can’t get away from time to time. The job and career can serve as a distraction, but they shouldn’t be the focus, unless a person chooses so, and even then the person should not be rewarded for making that choice.

What I find interesting is that the one job that adds the most value to society, caring for children, is looked down upon in the professional sense. Oh, people will say that staying at home and caring for children is hard work. Noble work, but do we truly value what stay at home parents do? There’s perception. And then there’s reality. Even taking into account the work I did for my PhD and the work I do at Lockheed, I never work harder than when I stay at home and care for my children. The difference is the personal reward. In the spare, quiet moments when you see your child learn, or do something magical, that’s when you realize the enormity of what you are doing. How beautiful they are. That’s when you know all of the hard work is worth it.

Ask yourself this question. Which impresses you more? And be honest with yourself. Don’t tell yourself what you should say.

“I am a research scientist at the Skunkworks.”

“I am a stay at home dad.”

There’s what should impress you and what does.

My Writing Process

Outside of writing my PhD thesis I told myself many reasons why I just couldn’t start The Worlds Within. Of course, I was procrastinating. I was lazy. But really I didn’t know how to start. Years ago I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. In that book he talks about his writing process. He just throws characters into a problem situation and sees how they figure it out.

No outline.

Other writers put together an outline. Considering how mammoth I saw The Worlds Within in my mind I thought I needed an outline. I wrote an enormous amount of lore for The Nyre Lands. And then I tried to write an outline.

Know that much of this happened six years ago and I only started writing the novel last summer. What happened?

The outline killed the story for me.

Finally, last summer, I decided to just write. I had my character, Aedinn Finn. I knew him well. I put him in the room in Kol Uthera and waited to see what he would do. And that’s how The Worlds Within began.

All of the back story I wrote helped. For any novel based on a completely different world I feel that a certain amount of back story is mandatory. At least for me.

How about the actual writing process? Well, at first I sat in front of the computer and just typed, but soon I found that I typed too fast for my self correction process to keep up. At work, during lunch breaks, I started to write in a notebook. To my surprise I found that I preferred writing by hand. Handwriting slows me down. Allows the self correction process to assert itself.

I then transcribe the handwriting to the computer, another step that allows for correction.

And that’s the process. Here’s a picture of my handwriting in a journal. Alefiya asks me how I can read my handwriting. Well, I wrote it, didn’t I? Still, sometimes I have to squint and rotate the page to figure out what I wrote.

My scribble

Rough sketch of the land under The Four Mountains, aka Panthea of Old

I drew this sketch over twelve years ago, around the same time as The Nyre Lands map.

Biggleswade can be seen in the west, the swamp Clao Bog, Runin (the Long River), which spans the entire length of Panthea, Runhoin, the second city built under the mountains, Glonbog, a swamp city, and of course, Horun, far to the east, near the source of the Runin.

The Fauns say that Horun fell first to the taint, while the spores that carried the taint must have come from the caves near Coslad, south of Biggleswade, and Amonlad, south of Runhoin.

Map of the land under The Four Mountains--SmallerOne day I will re-draw this map, or have someone with more artistic skill undertake the task for me.

When characters are as real as life

In The Worlds Within there is an ancient Jaunter named Janus Riberin. I hope to have a picture drawn of him some day. He carries a gnarled wooden staff laden with runes earned over millennia. Overrobes, deep blue and velvet, cover him from shoulder to toe, and for reasons known only to him, he wears a monocle over his right eye.

I’ve known Janus for over twelve years. He sat in the chair near my bed one evening and said, “You have a very interesting overpart.”

I had no idea what he was saying, but so began the story that today is The Worlds Within. I didn’t know when my protagonist, Aedinn Finn, would meet Janus, but during a recent morning of writing Janus decided that it was time to meet Finn. When that happened I put down my pen. Finn had been seeking out Janus throughout the story. You see, Janus could answer many of the questions Finn had. For the entire length of the novel Finn had wanted to meet Janus.

But when he finally did, Finn, like me, lost his voice. I put down my pen and did not write the scene for two days. There was Janus. Finally. Finally we could talk. But I didn’t know what to say.

When I felt ready to ask questions. When Finn felt ready to ask questions, the conversation lasted several pages. Not all of the conversation will end up in the book, because afterwards I realized that I had Finn asking questions for me.

Talking to Janus was an odd experience. He’s a fictional character, but I’d built him up in my mind for over ten years to the point where he was as real as any person.

Map of The Nyre Lands

Throughout the writing of the first half of The Worlds Within I refused to re-draw the map of The Nyre Lands that I thought I had lost. For sure I will find it, I thought. Sure enough, I was going through a stack of stories I wrote in the late 1990s and for some reason there was the map.


Also stacked with the map were my first musings on Faerie lore written long before I read the book Faeries by Brian Foud and Alan Lee. Once edited I will be adding those to the lore section under The Worlds Within and The Nyre Lands.