Inside IR: Meet Fiction Editor Joe Hiland

Clockwise from top left: Mark Twain, Ron Swanson, Sean Connery, Topper Hiland and Joe Hiland

It’s true, Fiction Editor Joe Hiland has discerning taste in literature, whisky, and canines, but he also has a soul. Despite his dry wit and carnivorous tendencies, Joe is a true Duke Silver: sensitive, compassionate, and as tender on the inside as a medium-rare steak. Read on to see for yourself.

JL: What is the last piece of writing that knocked the wind out of you?

JH: We usually think of writing knocking the wind out of us (or whatever image we want to use) when we read something for the first time, but it’s interesting when a familiar piece of writing knocks the wind out of you.  I recently had that experience with Bobbie Ann Mason’s story “Shiloh.”  I’ve read that story at least a dozen times, and I was rereading it the other day in preparation for a class I’m teaching.  I was taken aback by the precision of Mason’s language and the richness of even the simplest details in her story.  I’d forgotten the first line, and it caught me pleasantly off-guard during my reread:  “Leroy Moffitt’s wife, Norma Jean, is working on her pectorals.”   So much of what’s at stake in the story is encompassed in that simple opening line.

JL: What do you look for a good story to do?

Read more, after the jump!

JH: I expect a good story to haunt me, to drift unexpectedly into my thoughts days, weeks, even months after I read it.  For instance, in our most recent issue (34.1) we published a story by Robert Epstein called “Dessert at the Banquet.”  Most of the story is a lengthy description of an elaborate confectionary model of the city of Atlantis, and at one point the author describes the figure of a boy fishing from a dock in the city:  “Sugar was crystallizing on his line.  The dessert chef, an able artist, had even managed to suggest tautness in the line, as if the boy had just gotten a bite.”  Ever since reading this story, I can’t look at an ornate pastry or see someone fishing in a lake without the image of sugar crystallizing on the boy’s line popping into my head.  That’s the kind of haunting that I expect from a good story.

JL: What are some of your favorite literary journals (besides IR, of course)?

JH: I’m a big fan of One Story.  Their format is great.  I also like New Letters, Third Coast, Tin House, and I could go on.  There are too many good journals to name.  In fact, I think it would help everyone out if we just consolidated all of the literary journals in the country into one super journal.  We could call it The Super Journal Presented by Indiana Review.  But that doesn’t really roll off the tongue, so we could just call the super journal Indiana Review for short.

JL: What do you predict for the future of literary journals? The future of IR, specifically?

JH: Literary journals won’t die out, if that’s what you’re asking.  They’ll have to adapt to changes in technology and reading habits, certainly, but they’ll stick around as long as people want to read them, and as long as writers want to see their work published in them.  As far as the future of IR goes, two words:  super journal.

JL: What is your favorite thing about being an editor (so far)?

JH: My favorite thing about being an editor is sending out acceptance emails to our contributors.  Just this past week, I had the pleasure of accepting a story from a previously unpublished author who was thrilled that we wanted her work in IR.  It’s nice to be the bearer of good news.

JL: What is the most challenging thing about being an editor (so far)?

JH: The most challenging part of being an editor is sorting the good-but-not-good-enough stories from the good-and-potentially-great stories when I read through slush.  There are a lot of writers out there producing fine stories, but it’s often difficult to decide which stories are the real gems, the ones that will have staying power with readers.

JL: Who are some of your favorite established writers?

JH: I’ve been a fan of Michael Chabon for so long time that he seems too obvious as an answer.  I love satire when it’s done well, and I think Gary Shteyngart is perhaps the best American satirist since Vonnegut.  I’m also rather enamored with Haruki Murakami and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

JL: Who are your favorite up-and-coming writers?

JH: Two authors whose work I greatly admire, and who have recently appeared or will soon appear in IR, are L. Annette Binder and Alissa Nutting, respectively.  Their styles are very different, but both authors write stories that meet my above-mentioned criterion for a good story:  they haunt me, and moments or lines from their stories come back to me when I least expect.


JL: What are some of your favorite hobbies/things to do (unrelated to IR)?

JH: I spend a lot of time with my dog Topper.  We chase squirrels, chew on sticks.  And sometimes we do things he likes.

JL:  If your life had a theme song, what do you think it would be (and why)?

JH: My life does have a theme song:  AC/DC’s “For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).”  Because I firmly believe that those about to rock should be saluted.

JL: What is on your reading wish list right now?

JH: Telegraph Avenue, Chabon’s newest has been on my desk since it came out.  I’m itching to crack it open, but I want to wait until I have a solid day or two to devote to it.  I find that he’s a writer who’s work is best when read in large chunks.

JL:   How are you preparing for the apocalypse?

JH: Saluting those about to rock.  I figure they’ll probably be in charge, post-apocalypse.

JL: If you were acting in a movie about a writer’s life, which writer would that be?

JH: Assuming the producers hire a good makeup artist, I would make a great Mark Twain. They’d just need to get the mustache right.  Oh, and I’d probably need a voice coach to get his drawl down.  And also maybe an irreverence and wit coach.  But, yeah, I’d be a great Twain.

JL:  If there was a movie being made about your life, who would you cast to play the role of you?

JH: Daniel Craig as the young me, Sean Connery as the old me.


Sr. Fiction Editor Joe Hiland reads Raymond Carver’s “The Cabin,” first published in Indiana Review 6.1 (Winter 1983), to Jr. Fiction Editor Topper Hiland

This is the latest installment of Inside IR, a series of interviews with the good people here at Indiana Review. Visit us again in two weeks to learn a little more about what our Poetry Editor, Michael Mlekoday, has to say about poems, puns, and tater tot casserole.

One Response to “Inside IR: Meet Fiction Editor Joe Hiland”

  1. Gerry Walsh

    OK. You might like my story. I will get it to you. I entered it in a couple a contests. Any problems there that need to be sent up to legal?
    Live long and prosper.