As a reader: As a modern take on a ghost story, Heart-Shaped Box succeeds brilliantly. The way the ghost interacts with the world of the living was completely convincing and, at times, quite creepy.
The story was very fast-pased and so completely unique I had no idea what to expect as I made my way. The characters were very well thought out and developed and deeply flawed and identifiable.
As a writer: Whenever I read anything I pay extra attention to the language used. I think this has to do with my day job as a systems administrator -- I like the nuts and bolts, the "how's this work?" aspect of everything around us, and I've found that language can be studied in the same way. I pay attention to how a writer uses their words, how they structure their sentences to achive this or that kind of feeling.
In Heart-Shaped Box, however, despite my attention to it, I found the language very hard to focus on. It's like Hill's prose is so transparent it's not even there. I've read in various lists of writing tips and such that a writer doesn't want his writing to sound like writing, that whenever the reader is taken away from the story so he or she can pay attention to the prose (even if its because its good), then the writer has failed.
I've tried to follow that advice in my own work; yet I've never actually read anyone that succeeds at it as well as Hill. His prose is so polished, so precise and perfect, that even when I tried to focus on his language I couldn't. It was nuts.
Hill once posted his drafting process on his blog. To say the least, his process is thorough, and his extreme attention to detail is more than apparent in Heart-Shaped Box.
I've only put a single short story through the rigors of true revision. I won't go into what I did here, because its long and probably a tale for another time, but suffice to say that I did it poorly. In fact, the time I got interviewed I warned of the dangers of over revision.
So, if there's anything I got out of Heart-Shaped Box, it's Joe Hill's revision process. I got to learn about how an author edits his own work thanks to the magic of the internets, then I saw the results of that editing process and was totally blown away.