Grady Hendrix is the author of Horrorstor, about a haunted Scandinavian furniture superstore, which was named one of the best books of 2014 by NPR and has been translated into fourteen languages. His latest novel, My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is Beaches meets The Exorcist set in the ’80s. He has written about the confederate flag for Playboy, religious aardvarks for the Village Voice, and Jackie Chan’s haircut for Variety. His latest offering Paperbacks From Hell is available from Quirk books now.
So Grady, we understand that you are a fan of the horror genre what with ‘Horrorstor’, ‘My Best Friends Exorcism’ and your latest offering ‘Paperbacks from Hell’ – what first attracted you to the genre and also what made you want to write horror?
In terms of primal trauma, when I was six years old I got obsessed with a book about witches and folklore I found in this house we rented, but the only stories in it were really grotesque bloody ones about torturing witches and ghosts returning from the grave hellbent on revenge. That probably warped me at an early age, but to be honest I never set out to write horror. I really only wanted to write stories about the world I see around me. Marketing departments are the ones who told me it was horror.
Your most recent book ‘Paperbacks from Hell’, which is being released by Quirk Books in September, delves into the world of the 70’s – 80’s horror fiction. Do you have a favourite horror book from this time period and why?
Ken Greenhall’s Elizabeth is probably the closest horror fiction has come to resurrecting the quiet, precise, chilly voice of Shirley Jackson. Unfortunately, Greenhall published it as a paperback original, under his mother’s maiden name (Jessica Hamilton), and it fell out of print pretty fast. Fortunately, Valancourt recently re-released it and I encourage everyone to pick it up and stick it in their eyeholes.
Anyone who follows your work would be able to tell that you are a huge fan of the retro horror, your paperback copy of ‘My Best Friends Exorcism’ is by far one of the most beautiful covers to be released this year. What in your opinion are your favourite covers from ‘Paperbacks from Hell’ and why?
There are so many great covers, ranging from the Nazi leprechauns of THE LITTLE PEOPLE to the evil green and red Yuletide hellspawn of THE CHRISTMAS BABIES, but probably the greatest cover of them all is for Shaun Hutson’s SPAWN from Leisure, a cover painted by an unknown artist. Truly, infant menace has never had a beadier or more blood-chilling stare.
I have a bother-in-law who works for Ikea and he tells me that on regular occasions he finds copies of your book ‘Horrorstor’ left around the shop. Do you have much dialogue with the designers to get your covers looking so relevant and artistically striking?
The nice thing about being with a smaller publisher like Quirk is that you get to have a lot of back and forth about design. Andie Reid designed HORRORSTÖR and she did an amazing job. From the cover photo featuring a teeny tiny diorama of an IKEA living room all the way to the order forms and Jodlöp schematic, she rocked it all the way.
I am a huge fan of the 70’s & 80’s horror paperback and in particular creature features, what was the driving influence behind releasing your in-depth catalogue ‘Paperbacks from Hell’?
Mainly my editor calling and asking if I wanted to do it. I’ve been writing about these books on Tor for years and he was a fan of my write-ups and thought it was worth doing a whole book of them. But also, I don’t think these books should be forgotten. I mean, there are two books about jellyfish invading England, and five about crabs doing the same thing.
Those who forget the enemies of our past are doomed to be eaten by them.
So let’s talk about my ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’. The thing that really blew me away was the reality of the friendship between Abby and Gretchen. My girlfriend read this book after me – on my recommendation – and she couldn’t believe a man had written it. As a male author writing about complex female relationships, how did you get inside their heads and go about laying the groundwork to make it feel real?
I wrote an entire first draft of MY BEST FRIEND’S EXORCISM and my wife read it and told me it was hot garbage. I was regurgitating other people’s memories of the Eighties and high school, I was copying John Hughes and Judi Bloom. I sat down for about three weeks with all my old letters and diaries and photos and immersed myself in them, and eventually the real memories came.
In terms of writing from the point of view of two young women instead of a POV that matched my genitals, it was honestly just all about treating them like real people, which wasn’t hard. Abby and Gretchen are my heroes.
The ending to ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’ is pretty ‘bittersweet’. Did you always have that in mind as something the story was working towards or did it organically evolve? Were you influenced by writers like Tolkien, who arguably wrote one of the most iconic bittersweet endings of all time?
There’s no Tolkien influence, but I’m always interested in what happens after “The End”. We leave THE EXORCIST with Regan and her mom saying bye bye to the priest and they look so happy and like everything’s okay, and I always wanted to say, “Don’t get too comfortable. Just a few days ago you smeared your mother’s face in your bloody Satanic crotch.” I mean, they’ve got an awkward breakfast ahead of them.
There are some real moments of horror in ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’. One scene particularly sticks out in my mind (and will probably be burned there for all eternity). Do you see yourself as a horror writer first and foremost, or as something else?
I’m a writer and that means I want to have an impact on my readers. I want to make them laugh, cry, and throw up. Probably in about that order.
I feel like there is a lot of healthy ambiguity in ‘My Best Friend’s Exorcism’. You can take Abby and Gretchen’s relationship as deep Frodo-Samwise level friendship, or maybe as the inkling of something more, forbidden due to the time period it’s set. And it seemed to me you can take the supernatural elements one way or the other too… In your heart, do you feel one way or the other?
I don’t want to sway readers in any direction. But trust me, I lived with Abby and Gretchen for a full year. I know what Abby wore to her wedding, I know where Gretchen got her MFA. If there’s a possibility there, I’ve considered it.
Many people might not realise that you were a journalist before turning your hand to fiction writing, do you feel your grounding in this field has helped you as a fiction writer?
Absolutely! Journalism taught me to write fast and on deadline. My first draft is usually terrible, so it’s very healthy to get it out of my system as quickly as possible so I can start making it good.
What’s the strangest thing you have had to report on?
I once played World of Warcraft for 30 straight days to make myself addicted, and I also spent a bunch of time at a machine gun convention in Knob Creek, KY where the flamethrower teams would come out at night and set the range on fire with napalm. Believe it or not, there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in the mindset between Warcraft fans and machine gun collectors.
We read an interesting article (The New Yorker) about your love of Horror films and your particular passion for the ‘J-Horror’ and you involvement in the ‘Asian Film Festival’ – why do you think J-Horror is so original and hard-hitting?
I think the time of J-horror, and almost every Asian horror movie, has passed. At the time the imagery felt so new and the filmmakers played their scares straight with no ironic chaser, but nowadays the market has been glutted and Westerners (and a lot of folks in Japan) have zero interest in horror movies because the field is burned out.
With regards to ‘J-Horror’ how do you feel about the butchery of these with big budget American remakes, and do you feel any of these remakes are improvements or close to the originals in their execution?
Like everything, there’s the good and the bad. I actually thought the DARK WATER and RING remakes weren’t bad, and I always wished that American filmmakers would go even deeper. Let’s see Hollywood give us some black magic or hopping vampire flicks.
Who would you say have been your biggest influences in your writing and why?
Elmore Leonard once wrote, “Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.” That’s burned into my brain like a cattle brand.
What are you currently reading?
A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY and a bunch of classic AD&D modules like The Temple of Elemental Evil. It’s a winning combination.
What books or authors would you recommend?
Go to whatever paperback exchange, swap shop, or used bookstore you have near you and pick up anything by Ken Greenhal (aka Jessica Hamilton). Look for Joan Samson’s THE AUCTIONEER. Find Bari Woods’s THE TRIBE. See if they have a copy of Elizabeth Engstrom’s WHEN DARKNESS LOVES US. There are so many great books out there that we’ve forgotten.
Are you currently working on anything new?
I’m just wrapping up a book about a metal band that accidentally sold their souls to Satan back in the 90s.
What scares you?
Being broke. This means I live in a constant state of barely-suppressed panic.
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Read our review of Paperbacks From Hell here…
Read our Review of My Best Friend’s Exorcism here…
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