Nurturing That Nature

I spent a bit of this past week reading a newly published collection of shorter fiction titled FULL THROTTLE written by an author named Joe Hill. You may or may not know that Hill is one of the sons of authors Stephen and Tabitha King. It is a very generous volume with stories — his second, in addition to several novels — that stand smartly in the horror genre while dipping a toe or two into the fantasy, romance, mystery, and thriller genres as well. Hill, as it happens, is a magnificent author whose work has been or is being adapted to video for cable networks and streaming services. He is so good, in fact, that I believe that the stories in FULL THROTTLE may well mark a turning point of sorts that leads to the point where King will eventually become known as Joe Hill’s father instead of Hill being known as Stephen King’s son. Who becomes more famous than who, however, is not really the question that brings me here today. 

Hill begins the festivities in FULL THROTTLE with an introduction titled “Who’s Your Daddy?” where he discusses growing up in a house where a child has a parent who is very, very good at what they do — who is a household name in other households besides their own — and what occurs when the child decides to make their mark in the same endeavor. “Who’s Your Daddy?” is a good sixteen pages long and rambles wonderfully in the manner of the best conversations. Hill along the way kind of/sort of answers the unspoken question of whether nature or nurture is responsible for his success. My take on what Hill says is that he is not a great writer because his parents were and are great writers so that he thus acquired his abilities by osmosis. No. If you read the lines and in between them Hill acknowledges that he is able to do what he does at the level he has accomplished because Stephen and Tabitha King are terrific parents. 

Hill describes a bunch of things that formed the constellation of life in casa de King. Two of the many which stood out are that 1) Dad read to him, every night; 2) his folks rode through his difficult years with him; and 3) his parents supported his career choices every step of the way. Think about having Stephen King reading to you every night, as opposed to the reverse — you reading Stephen King — which many of us experienced. #2? Yes, those of us who grew from kids to parents have experienced both ends of that. Not all of us become great writers, however. Or necessarily great anythings. And #3? Maybe that is the biggie. It’s not just that Mr. and Mrs. King understood where their son wanted to go. They tossed him the keys to a car with a full tank of gas and let him know they had his six. That might be the most important element of all.

That brings us to the tip of the real key to Hill’s success. His parents couldn’t give him his talent, but supported his choices and let him make his own mistakes. What Hill also describes is writing, from the time that he could hold a pencil properly and knew what to do with the business end (jab it into someone’s eye, of course! EEEEEEEEEEEE!) (just kidding. I mean it is Joe Hill, after all). He mentions trying, unsuccessfully, to write in the style of The New Yorker, and composing three novels which were just never meant to be published. Hill also discusses his decision to adopt a pen name so that he wouldn’t get published because of who he is as opposed to what he is. Yes, some doors opened a little more quickly once his identity was revealed. Those same doors would have shut very quickly — heck, they would have slammed shut — if he did not have the goods, Hill wrote, wrote, and wrote some more before he ever had a word of his writing see the light of day. In addition to the books, movies, and television adaptations, Hill even has his own comic imprint coming very quickly from DC Comics, which doesn’t hand those things out like Frosty coupons at Halloween just because of who his (or anyone’s daddy is. No, Hill got there the same way his dad did, which was to sit and write every day and night — sometimes into the night — until he got close to where he wanted to be, and then he wrote some more. There is a theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to get really good at something. Maybe that is true, and maybe it’s something to remember when you feel in the middle of winter like you’re a monkey at a typewriter, hoping to randomly strike the keys and come up with Macbeth. In Hill’s case, his folks helped him out by giving him the tools he needed and staying out of his way by turns, according to what he needed. 

That’s his story and I’m sticking to it. What say you? Which do you think has had a greater role in helping you get where you are, or where you are going? Nature or nurture? If I don’t reply immediately it will be because I am out buying my granddaughter art supplies. Have a great day, and thanks for being here. 


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About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

22 thoughts on “Nurturing That Nature

  1. Given I didn’t even think about becoming a writer until I was in my 50s, I can’t say my parents specifically nurtured the craft. I always had a love of reading, which they did nurture, but I think they’d have freaked if I’d said I want to be a writer. Or laughed, and said, “if it makes you happy” but goals for women back then were predominantly “Get married, raise a family.” You went to college, but it was to have skills “to fall back on” until you were married, or if — God forbid — you did get married but it didn’t work out.
    I can remember my dad, when I turned 21, saying, “When your mother was your age, you were born. Are you dating?”

  2. Thanks for sharing, Terry. I think that we are in the same generation and I remember those days well. At least your folks did nurture a love of reading. Some don’t, unfortunately.

  3. My parents neither encouraged nor discouraged writing. They did however make sure I had a lot of books from a young age, starting with those oversize hardcover fairy-tale books you got when you were really young, then books I think were called ‘big little books’ where there were drawings in the upper right hand corner of the page and if you flipped through them fast you could watch the animation as the pages flew (we don’t need no stinking tech for that stuff. 😎

    And then when I began writing and got occasional recognition in school or whatever, there was no fanfare–no compliments and no derision. That was just me doing my thing. The idea of doing it for a living never came up, for everything was very practical when I was growing up. You took sensible jobs and got sensible education. But I had plenty of books to read and plenty of time to read them. 😎

    If I were a parent, I’d want to give compliments and encouragement to a child who was writing. I don’t mean “trophy for everything” style, but really let them know I was encouraging them in their pursuits. I do believe my parents were proud of me, but when they neither encourage nor discourage, there’s a part of you that wonders what they’re really thinking. Why leave it in doubt? Show you’re proud of them.

  4. Uh, oh, BK. Now you’ve got me started. I loved those Big Little Books. I read your post and then checked eBay to see if there were any for sale. There are all sorts of them available and some are relatively inexpensive. Just what I need. I also called an antique dealer to ask him to keep an eye out.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. What we can hope for when experiencing something like that (or hearing about it) is to break the chain. You are right. A demonstration of pride, encouragement, and/or appreciation goes a long way. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. Thanks for the post. Brought back some great memories. Good luck on the art supplies. 🙂

    My claim to fame is being a middle child. It seemed I always had to work harder at being noticed as a child. But I’m not famous…yet. Nor is that why I write. I have three self-published books, none of which are novels, but I’m inordinately proud of them. My present WIP is my first novel. My editor and I are working very hard to shine it up for release next year.

    Nurture did have an influence, however. My mother gave me a love for reading and encouraged me to read on my own from the time I could figure out how to hold the book right side up. I’ll always be grateful for that. Reading anything and everything from about age five (*gulp*, that’s sixty years) is what developed the nature. So, I believe nurture and nature work together.

    My dad was never much of a reader, but he was the parent who gave me wings and told me I could do anything I wanted, if I wanted it badly enough. So, when my children were small, I made up stories for them on the fly, at dinner, while we walked, while in the car on the way to school.

    And here I am today, learning the craft I first loved before I started school. It’s a wonderful life.

    • Thanks, Deb. And good luck with that career. I know all about reading for sixty years, and then a couple. If it gets old then you’re reading the wrong books.

      Re: making up stories…my younger daughter when was three or four got onto a jag about a place called Z Street where all of these things happened. One day I said, “Let’s go to Z Street. Tell me where it is.” We all piled in the car and she gave us directions Waze style. Z Street turned out to be behind a shopping center at a Kroger loading dock and dead-ended into a dumpster. Who’d a thought?

  6. I’m from the old American South, home of storytelling around the dining table and anywhere else people congregate. My dad was an excellent raconteur who wrote human interest pieces and humor for the local paper. I, however, am the only family member who writes fiction. Maybe that’s because, as a small and quiet girl, who couldn’t get a word out because Dad and the brothers wouldn’t shut up, I had to write to express myself. My siblings’ kids enjoyed my made-up-on-the-spot bedtime stories. (Want a unicorn, volcanoes exploding strawberry shortcake, and a friendly dragon in tonight’s story? You got it!) Sadly or perhaps financially happy, none of the siblings’ kids have any interest to writing fiction.

    Short answer to your question. Both nature and nurture. And, with the success of Hill’s career, I think it’s high time the obligatory description of “Stephen King’s son” is no longer used.

    • Thanks for sharing, Marilynn. And yes, you can’t beat the American South for stories for any number of reasons, whether it be folklore or modern fiction.

  7. If you had posed the same question two months ago, I might have answered differently. Without going into detail publicly, I’ve learned firsthand that nature can be way more powerful than nurture. Mind-blowing, really. So, even though Hill grew up in a loving, supportive environment, I bet writing was in his blood. Not the inherent ability of how-to write, but rather, an inferno of passion that lit the fuse for him to dig in and study the craft.

  8. Once again TKZ has added to my must-read/checkout list~ 😀

    Nature/nurture – tomato/t’mater~ my folks raised me to read, read, read – Mom still recommends things and sometimes just gifts me with things she’s read and thinks (usually correctly), that I’ll enjoy as well. Pop, on the other hand, was a scribbler – both in penmanship and wordsmithing, writing poetry, a couple of novels, a screenplay or two, and a few magazine/newspaper articles all while introducing me to Ogden Nash, Robert W. Service, and Tom Lehrer . Like him, I’ve got a day-job, and I’m limitedly published, but prolificly preoccupied with putting pen to paper (sometimes even illegibly).

    • Thank you, George, for your kind words and for sharing your own experiences with regard to your parents. My mom’s tastes in literature differed markedly from mine but she made sure that I got to the library two or three times a week when I was a little one. My dad would not have known who Tom Lehrer was if he had fallen over him. I, of course, exposed my kids to Lehrer, an experience which has wonderfully warped their collective sense of humor to this day. Thanks again.

  9. My parents were very supportive of my love for reading. Neither of my parents was educated in the book sense. Both left school early to take care of their siblings after the early deaths of their parents. We didn’t have much money but the one thing they didn’t skimp on was my love for reading. I learned to read very early, I think my older brother taught me to read and I was reading fluently by the age of 3 or 4. I remember going to the library once a week then across the street to the post office where I would get my book(s) from the Weekly Reader Children’s Book Club. I was so excited to get that in the mail because at that young age I was receiving my own mail and that I could read the book by myself. I don’t know for a fact how supportive they would have been about my writing since they passed away by the time I was 12, but I suspect they would have encouraged it. It is very sad that more parents don’t support their children’s

    • Rebecca, thanks for sharing your childhood memories. Your parents sound as if they were very special. I’m reminded of Erasmus, who, according to some translators, said, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes.” I agree with you re: parents supporting their children’s dreams. That’s a duty. Thanks for the reminder.

  10. Good evening, Joe.

    Sorry to be answering your questions so late this evening. I would answer your question with nurture. My parents encouraged reading from a young age, a made books available, limiting TV time so we would read. My mother pushed for training in the arts, at least music. But no encouragement to write.

    But as for nature, I definitely didn’t get that. It seemed I always had to do things wrong at least three times before learning how it was supposed to be done. And I guess I did inherit a stubbornness that has made me pursue the craft of writing and kept me trying to improve.

    I hope the art supplies made for some fun projects with your granddaughter. Maybe, someday she’ll design a book cover for you.

    Thanks for your post.

    • Good evening, Steve! It isn’t late because here at TKZ we. never. close. I like your story about your parents limiting television time in favor of reading. They must have foreseen cable and Netflix!

      I think you’re being modest about having to do something at least three times before learning how it was supposed to be done. But I’ll never tell. Thanks as always for stopping by, Steve!

  11. My mother took me to the library before I started first grade. She had taught herself how to read with “True Confession” stories after quitting school in the fourth grade to help her sister care for her older brothers. They kept the family together after the deaths of my grandparents.

    No one in my family has ever been a writer until I came along. But we were readers! Really enjoyed this post, Joe. And agree that Joe Hill doesn’t need the son of Stephen King title.

    • Patricia, thanks for sharing that story about your mom. My grandmother, who went on to found an extremely successful business, learned how to read with CONFIDENTIAL magazine, which was always around her house. And good for you and the Bradley family. Most families don’t have ANY authors! Thanks again.

  12. My story is much the same as the others. First came the love of reading encouraged by parents who were avid readers. My folks supported my writing. They both actually read my books! I knew when I missed the mark. My dad would say, “Well, that was entertaining.” Then it was back to writing to improve the next endeavor. He did the same with my art. Honest feed back with some encouragement thrown in.

    I agree with Sue, I am not sure if we are endowed with talent from birth, or if it develops from our passion to succeed with some encouragement added along the way. Some seem to have a natural talent that is easier to develop.

    Again, a very interesting topic and discussion! Thanks, Joe.

  13. Thank you for your kind comments and for sharing, Cecilia. You are fortunate that your parents were able to read your published work. “Well, that was entertaining…” I am howling. Damn with faint praise, as Alexander Pope phrased it. I’m sure that your dad and mom were also your #1 cheerleaders as your talent developed. Great story.

  14. I was thrilled to learn about Joe Hill. I also agree with a comment above that he does not need to lean on the son of Stephen King title.

    • Thanks, Mary! One thing…Joe Hill actually took great pains to disguise his familial relationship with Stephen King when he started writing. The news slipped out as news does but he was fairly well established as an author before it became more or less common knowledge. Interestingly enough I continue to run into readers who are surprised to learn that Hill is King’s son. I should also note that I still run into people who tell me that they have never heard of Stephen King. Interesting…

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