Grady Hendrix, author of the recently translated into greek and published by Oxy Publications “Horrorstör”, answers Nyctophilia’s editors questions about his work and his thoughts on horror literature in general.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to talk with you!
Horrorstör was just recently translated into Greek and, no doubt, it’s one of the most clever novels we’ve read. How did the idea, or inspiration if you’d like, come for such an original novel?
I’d been wanting to write an updated haunted house book for a while because there are so many fascinating aspects of hauntings that never make it into fiction. My editor at Quirk, Jason Rekulak, had rejected a previous novel of mine, but he liked my writing and we got to talking and I was telling him the theory that houses are haunted because that’s where all the people are. He started talking about how everyone is at big box retail these days and it would be fun to do a haunted store book, and then we both said, “IKEA!” I mean, where else occupies the kind of mental space in our culture that IKEA does? What other store says “home” in quite the same way?
What’s most fascinating about Horrorstör is the fact that it is designed as a product catalogue. Was that an idea you had from the start or was it something you came up with along the way?
The format was all Jason. He had the idea of doing it to look like an IKEA catalogue and then we sort of fed off each other. The designer, Andie Reid, would say she wanted to have furniture ads between chapters. I would say, why don’t we name each chapter after a piece of furniture, then Jason would say why don’t they get creepier as they go, and it sort of moved on from there. We all egged each other on to go further and further. I had spent years writing marketing copy as a freelance writer so weaving catalog pages into the story of a haunted store full of unspeakable furniture was a blast. There’s something about the encouraging but emotionless tone of marketing-speak that already sounds soulless and evil.
I can’t help but ask, how difficult was it -or not, maybe- to find a publisher for a novel that is somehow different from the classic norms of literature?
Fortunately, I had a contract by the time I started working.
Besides horror, Horrorstör also has a dark comedy / black humor element which is used -as we personally understood while reading the book- to criticize aspects of the modern way of life. What do you have to say to those who continue to believe that horror, as a genre, lacks the possibility of delivering literature that has a strong social conscience?
More than science fiction, or fantasy, or even crime fiction, horror has always been about the everyday world around us, with all its issues of class, race, and gender. Besides that, horror is the only genre that embraces death, which is the one thing all of us, regardless of race or nationality, have in common. For so many other genres, death is the end of the story, but for horror it is only the beginning.
Are there any hidden details from your everyday life or experiences hidden in the story? Would you like to share them with us?
My job as a writer is to cannibalize my life and turn it into books and with Horrorstör I wrote about the jobs I had. I’ve had a lot of terrible jobs. I sold nuts in an open air market in the middle of winter, I sold cheap imitation jewelry to people over the phone, I answered the phone at accounting offices, I transcribed sporting events for subtitle companies, I sold industrial cleaning chemicals to hotels. I worked for three months in an enormous room full of files from a company that leased billboards which had just bought another company that leased billboards. One company used a 5 digit filing system, the other used a 7 digit filing system. One by one, I took each file and added two digits to its file number then made sure the new number was entered correctly in the computer. I worked in a room filled with so many boxes of files you could barely walk and it took me three months, working five days a week. They tried to hire other people to help me but they all quit after a few days because it was too boring.
As a reader, which are the books you run back to from time to time?
I’m always re-reading Shirley Jackson, Michael McDowell, and Charles Dickens.
What would you describe as the most difficult obstacle while writing Horrorstör?
I had worked for a parapsychological research organization for a few years, so I was very well-aquainted with the details of “real” ghosts and reports of hauntings and apparitions. Usually they are quite boring: you feel someone touch your shoulder and when you turn around no one’s there, you hear your name called from an empty room, you see someone who isn’t supposed to be there walk past you in the kitchen. In my early drafts of Horrorstör I tried to make the hauntings like the ones in real life. My editor quickly pointed out that was very boring. Fictional ghosts do more things. “Real” ghosts just sort of hang around.
What are your thoughts on contemporary American horror literature? What differentiates it from the past, what are its main goals nowadays and what are the biggest risks it has to face?
I don’t read much contemporary horror, actually. Most of what I read is for work and it’s usually much older, but the best publishing news in the past 50 years, in horror but also across all the genres, is that nowadays non-white, non-male, and non-straight authors get books deals, in part, for the very qualities that would have gotten them shut out in the cold a few years ago. Beyond the moral argument for embracing more diverse authors, it’s all about getting new stories. If I want to hear what an old white dude has to say, I’ll talk to myself. If I want to hear what a Blackfoot werewolf story sounds like, what a trans body horror story sounds like, or what an East Asian haunted house story sounds like, all I have to do these days is pick up a horror novel.
In your opinion, what do you think readers who don’t read horror are missing out from? What would you describe as the most fascinating aspect of reading horror?
Everyone gets something different from what they read. If you don’t want to read horror, that’s okay with me.
Which is the best advice you have to give to aspiring horror authors – and of course, which is the worst advice they should avoid at all cost?
Slow down. People write too fast, and they wind up taking short cuts. Take the time to remember what something really feels like and how you really react to different situations. Don’t say that something is “horrifying” or you feel “horrified.” Describe what the feeling is so the reader can decide how they feel. Using a word like “happy”, “sad”, or “scared” is telling the reader what to feel. You need to make them feel it.
As for advice to be avoided at all cost? Anything that comes out of my mouth. I am just trying to get you to fail so I have less competition.
Would you like to share with us some of your plans for your next novel?
It’s set in January, 2021 and it’s about brothers and sisters and evil puppets and it’s called How To Sell a Haunted House. It’s out in Summer, 2022.
Grady Hendrix is the author of the novels Horrorstör, about a haunted IKEA, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, which is like Beaches meets The Exorcist, only it’s set in the Eighties. He’s also the author of We Sold Our Souls, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, and the upcoming (July 13!) Final Girl Support Group!
He’s also the jerk behind the Stoker award-winning Paperbacks from Hell, a history of the 70’s and 80’s horror paperback boom, which contains more information about Nazi leprechauns, killer babies, and evil cats than you probably need.
And he’s the screenwriter behind Mohawk, which is probably the only horror movie about the War of 1812 and Satanic Panic.
You can listen to free, amazing, and did I mention free podcasts of his fiction on Pseudopod. He also does a podcast called Super Scary Haunted Homeschool.
If you’re not already sick of him, you can learn all his secrets at his website.
Interview questions by Nyctophilia’s editors, George Trigkas and Elaine Rigas. Cover photo by Albert Mitchell, edited by Elaine Rigas. The interview was translated into greek by Nyctophilia’s editor Maria Liakatou and can be read HERE.