Grady Hendrix does a job. His job is called "writing" which means that he is completely irrelevant and can be killed and turned into food at any time. He is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival, but he is not responsible for the bad parts of it. He is also not Asian. For years he was a regular film critic for the New York Sun but then it went out of business. He has written for Playboy Magazine, Slate, The Village Voice, theNew York Post, Film Comment, and Variety before Variety fired him for writing about Asians. Variety does not like Asians.
He writes fiction, also called "lies," and he writes non-fiction, which people sometimes mistakenly pay him for. There is a science fiction book calledOccupy Space that he is the author of, and also a fantasy book called Satan Loves You which he wrote as well. Along with his BFF from high school, Katie Crouch, he is the co-author of the YA series, The Magnolia League. With Ryan Dunlavey he was co-authored the Li'l Classix series, which are cartoon degradations of classic literature, and with his wife, and Ryan, he wrote Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, the first graphic novel cookbook in America. His fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Pseudopod, and the anthology, The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination.
He is very, very beautiful, but if you ever meet him, please do not let this make you uncomfortable. He does not judge.
The New Yorker once ran a short profile of him, and this means that when the time comes and they are lining people up for the Space Arks he will be guaranteed a seat ahead of you.
Hello Grady, how are things with you?
I am currently warm and dry, in no physical pain, fully hydrated, and seated comfortably.
Please forgive this rather personal question. I’m fascinated by the entomology of names, is Grady Hendrix your real name and if it is what is the history behind it?
It is my real name, and it represents a total failure of the imagination. I have the exact same name as my dad, and he was named after my grandmother’s favorite radio DJ during the Great Depression.
Reading around some of your previous interviews I sense that you don’t always take them too seriously. Are we going to see some of silly behaviour here?
Let’s get the simple generic getting to know you questions out of the way. What are your three favourite films, three favourite books, and three favourite albums? My favourites change depending on my mood, so this is a snapshot of my current obsessions that could change at any moment:
The Beast With Five Fingers and Other Stories (W.F. Harvey) - I’ll take Harvey over Poe and Lovecraft in terms of great supernatural short story writers. Most of his stories are in the 2,000 - 3,000 word range, but they encompass everything from terrifying ghost chickens, to a club for fictional murder victims, to bad housekeepers who arrange the deaths of their own children to guilt their employers into not firing them. I don’t know why he’s been mostly forgotten, but his stuff is absolutely great.
The Unrest-Cure and Other Stories (Saki) - he’s included in every tedious collection of short fiction, so I came out of high school hating Saki, but I recently got this book as a gift and he’s now up there with P.G. Wodehouse in my Hall of Excitement. Anyone who manages to write a story about a quiet afternoon in the countryside that’s disrupted when a gang of Boy Scouts are employed to murder all the Jews in the surrounding area, and have it be this offensively hilarious, is operating on a higher plane.
Dead White (Alan Ryan) - this is the kind of book that’s inspirationally disappointing. Published in the 80’s, it’s about a small upstate town in New York that gets hit by a blizzard. As the roads become impassable, a circus train pulls into town and disgorges…a horde of murderous zombie clowns crazed for revenge. Sounds amazing, but the result is complete tedium, which just goes to show that even the most foolproof concept can still get screwed up by human execution.
Return of the Living Dead (1985) - punk rock, bad jobs, split dogs, German morticians, rabid weasels, and Ronald Reagan nukes St. Louis. It’s everything you need to know about the Eighties.
Love on Delivery (1994) - one of the best times I’ve ever had in a movie theater was watching Stephen Chow’s comedy about a delivery boy who becomes a kung fu hero while wearing a Garfield mask in the cavernous, decaying Music Palace theater (RIP).
To Be Or Not To Be (1942) - was driving across the country back in the 90’s I holed up in a Nashville motel room to sweat out the flu for 36 hours. I missed the opening credits when this came on TV, and instead thought that I was hallucinating what might be the funniest movie ever made. Have never rewatched it, but remain committed to my original opinion.
Do people still listen to albums? I have favorite songs, but albums are strange animals that hide in the woods. Right now, I’ve got on repeat:
“We Built This City” (Starship) - repeatedly cited as one of the worst songs of the Eighties by online content-generating twerps who get paid in children’s tears, it’s actually a moving, upbeat elegy for the tireless forces of gentrification that grind joy into jobs.
“Take Me Home” (Phil Collins) - say what you want about Phil, he’s got the world-weary, pain-wracked voice that gets the job done. Also, how cool is it that at the height of his fame he wanted to write a song from the point-of-view of a lonely institutionalized psychiatric patient?
“Give Me Democracy or Give Me Death” (RFLX) - intense DJ mash-up of Italian poliziotteschi movie soundtracks, it’s about 50 minutes of pure intensity leavened with just the right amount of DIY Dirty Harry fascism.
What is it about True Grit that really appeals to you?
True Grit should replace The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as the great American novel, and that’s not up for debate. Huckleberry Finn talks about the America we wish we were, but True Grit is about the America that actually exists. It’s all about how this country has no more room for the people who built it, and that’s a good thing. It’s also very funny. And short! 215 pages versus Huckleberry Finn’s 366. I declare a winner!
And which version of the film is your favourite? Or are they two separate entities?
I’ve only ever watched about ten minutes of each film before throwing them across the room but I hated the John Wayne version less, I guess. The problem is that the book’s hilariously stilted language exists because the events are being related by the narrator looking back on her life and the over-formality of her vocabulary is her (poor) attempt to clean up the messy story of what really happened. Taking that language and sticking it in the mouths of the characters as if they actually spoke like that anyplace but in Mattie’s memory is such a deep misunderstanding of the book that it makes me suspect the filmmakers never actually read it, or if they did read it they did so with all the care of a gorilla crushing a kitten’s skull.
And did you ever remember the name of that book on Witchcraft that beguiled you as a kid living in London?
I didn’t, sorry.
I believe we are about the same age, and like myself you had a fascination with Choose Your Own Adventure Books as a kid. What was it about these books that so captured your imagination?
The choices really didn’t thrill me, but what I loved was that the series was a never-ending dispensary of all the pulp tropes possible, condensed into the pulpiest packaging available. This was back in the mists of time when YA wasn’t a thing so the fact that one series of books could give me fantasy, science fiction, horror, ninjas, sharks, gothics, adventure, espionage, murder mysteries, and super-intelligent monkeys plotting to destabilize the world economic system blew my tiny little mind.
What were your favourite books? Mine were the Lone Wolf series, and that one about a time travelling space cop, who had a cool plasma blaster, I can’t remember what that was called.
I was an Edward Packard guy, all the way. The Mystery of Chimney Rock, Your Code Name is Jonah, and Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey were my poison. The only R.A. Montgomery I really loved was The Lost Jewels of Nabooti.
These sort of books have fallen by the wayside somewhat, why do you think that is?
We have games now. That’s the direction those books were moving in. They were just a larval stage between non-interactive entertainment and completely interactive entertainment.
In a previous interview I fascinated by this quote from you
“I’ve always felt closer to the people I hate than the people I love, and I spent far more time and energy on them”
Some would say that’s an odd outlook on life, however it is one that I can fully relate to. Why do you think that some of us seem to spend so such of our time being obsessed with people who really shouldn't even enter our thoughts?
The people I love I speak to on a regular basis, or have sex with, or enjoy sharing meals with. But the people I hate are objects of endless fascination. How did they get to be so stupid and ugly? What are their disgusting homes like? How filthy are their couches? How rarely do they change their underwear? I could think about movie critics all day long.
Before we go on and talk about your writing, can we talk about your role as one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival? Why did you set this festival up?
I used to go to the Music Palace (see above) all the time, and when it was put on the market in 2000, myself and four other folks realized that while fancy-pants film festivals would continue to bring over the latest movies by Zhang Yimou and Kore-edas, no one would bring over the really fun stuff that we were addicted to, the Jackie Chans, the Stephen Chows, the Kinji Fukasakus. None of us had any experience (I don’t think any of us had even been to a film festival at that point) but we threw our money in a pot and just started screening movies, relying on our exquisite good looks and impeccable taste to attract an audience. And New Yorkers voted with their wallets, declaring the five of us the most handsome and sexually potent film festival programmers in the world
I hate these sort of questions but hey ho, if you could make an ensemble film with any living or dead star of Asian films who would be in your cast?
I think being the ringmaster of a Chinese movie studio staffed entirely by a stable of reanimated corpses would be very strange. I imagine they’d constantly lurch into my office, sit their mouldering hulks down in the interview chair and moan, “Me make 64 good movie for you, master. Please, can Bruce Lee die now? Please, let Bruce Lee die…*sob*…*choke*…”
In an era where the vast majority of Hollywood films feel like derivative knock offs, why is that the Asian film market, continues to make excellent, original and highly entertaining films?
Mostly because we’re only seeing the best movies from several different entertainment industries. If you just grab the cream of Thailand’s, Korea’s, China’s, Hong Kong’s, Taiwan’s, Indonesia’s, Japan’s, and India’s film industries it’s easy to hold up 20 or 30 movies that are better than what Hollywood turned out in a single year. Trust me, you haven’t had to wade through the mudslide of horrible rom coms from Thailand, or crap horror movies from Korea, or terrible TV show adaptations from Japan.
As it is coming to the end of the year, what have been your personal favourite films to come out of Asia this year?
I haven’t seen enough to have an opinion yet, unfortunately.
You have been able to interview some great actors for the festivals, which has been your dream come true interview? (Click here to see some of Grady’s interviews on You Tube)
Unfortunately, all I feel about those interviews are regrets for questions I didn’t get to ask, or places where I didn’t push hard enough, or times when actors wriggled out of talking about something tricky. They’ve all been fun to do, but I have nothing but regrets about the way I conducted each and every one of them.
Sorry for this question, but are you not aware of the fashion rule that middle aged white men should never wear pale suits?
Rules are for cowards.
You have written for some prestigious publications such as Playboy Magazine, Slate, The Village Voice, the New York Post, Film Comment, and Variety. Do you think that your time writing for these publications helped you in to hone your fiction writing skills?
They taught me that you have to hit your word count, meet your deadline, entertain your readers, make life pleasant for your editors, and get your facts right.
Your articles for Playboy magazine must be the most well-read of yours as everyone knows we only ever buy it for the articles. Were you given a contributors copy, or did you have to make a trip to a shady magazine store for a copy?
I had to buy my copies at the local magazine store, who all thought I was an old man for buying such tame pornography.
Who were your centrefolds?
I don’t remember! It was a long time ago.
Is it really true that Variety doesn’t like Asians?
They certainly spent many years pretending that their entertainment industries weren’t worth covering.
You write in a number of different genres and mediums, do you subscribe to theory that there really isn’t any genres and it is all just fiction?
I’m kind of helpless in that I write the way I write. It’s such a pain in the ass for me to actually come up with a story that I want to spend the time and energy writing that by the time I have ahold of something I can’t worry too much about what genre it falls into. This is seriously unprofessional and counterproductive, but I can’t seem to find a way around it.
At what point in the development of a story do you decide on what the finished product will be? Do you set out from the beginning to write a Science Fiction story or fantasy story? Or do you let the initial germ of an idea propagate for a while?
I write quickly, so I often have to force continuous word vomit until I get to the end of the first draft, then I beat the entire mess brutally with the editing stick. But until I’ve written it, I have no clue as to what it’s going to be. Again, seriously unprofessional
As well as writing on your own you also collaborate with Katie Crouch on the young adult series The Magnolia League. How rewarding do you find working with others?
I love working with other people. Katie and I actually had the best working relationship of anyone I’ve ever collaborated with. We’d have drinks and talk on the phone a lot, then we’d split up chapters and each of us would go hog wild. It was a blast.
Katie is your BFF from high school, and you have also written with your wife, have these collaborations ever tested your relationships with them? I’d hate to think that a silly argument with your wife over a small detail in the book resulted in your dinner ending up in the dog?
My wife and I fight all the time when we write together, but we fight all the time anyways, so that’s hardly different. Writing with other people is really fun, but while doing a Magnolia League book and the Dirt Candy cookbook at the same time I wrote two self-published books of my own (Satan Loves You and Occupy Space) just to keep my sanity. There is a point where you feel like you want something that’s all yours and it can be as weird as you want it to be and you don’t have to explain chihuahuas in a wrestling ring to anyone else.
Talking of dinner your collaboration with your wife really intrigues me, a graphic novel cook book. Could you tell us about Dirt Candy: A Cookbook? What was the genesis of the book?
Money. We were being offered a lot of money to write a cookbook because my wife’s restaurant was super-hot. But neither of us wanted to write yet another largely decorative cookbook that never sold many copies and we definitely didn’t want to do what other authors had done before. So we were having a fight about it, and one of us said, “We may as well do something really stupid, like write a comic book cookbook.” And then we stopped fighting and it was all, “You’re a genius.” “No, YOU’RE a genius!” It’s in its fourth printing, which is great when you consider that our publisher gave us zero marketing support.
I’m sorry to say that at the time of writing this interview I’ve only read what Amazon’s look inside allows me, but I have to say I loved what I read. (I have bought a copy and look forward to reading the rest of it) I particularly enjoyed the bit about the Yelp review. Which leads me to the question – reviews how much heed you take of them.
I don’t often read them. After a book comes out, I read the first few reviews to make sure that it’s generally hitting the vicinity of the target I was aiming at, but then I figure someone else will tell me if the internet has decided that I am a racist panda-violator and there is a witch hunt going on for me.
The book also seems to poke fun at a particular breed of vegetarians, and if I have done my research properly you are a vegetarian yourself, do you ever wish that this breed of vegetarians would just shut up?
But then what would we write about?
I would just like to touch base on Satan Loves You. In some ways this books shares a common heritage with Horrorstor in that it deals with disgruntled employees. It just so happens that the disgruntled employee here is Satan himself. . Did you use this book as a form of therapy for the feelings you were having in your own job at the time?
People are always trying to think of the scariest thing ever, you know, being abducted by a serial killer who wants to eat you piece by piece while keeping you alive, or having a five meter tapeworm exit your stomach via your mouth. But the fact is, the worst thing of all is often our jobs. I had a long string of hellish office jobs, and they almost broke me. I still have nightmares where I’m stuck doing them forever, never coming home, never getting a break, just an endless parade of boring conference calls, project update emails that I have to respond to, mind-numbing meetings obsessing over meaningless details... I’ve only ever worked two retail jobs, fortunately, and I have nothing but respect for the retail warriors who go out there every day and deal with customer, after customer, after customer, every single one of them their own special snowflake of unreasonable demands and urgent needs, every single one of them their own individual Hell on two legs.
Satan is one of the most written about and easily identifiable characters in fiction. How did you go about ensuring that your version of Satan had a unique feel to him?
For about a year I sold cleaning chemicals in Hong Kong and there was a guy who sat in the back of the office who’d been there for years. All day long he sat there, almost totally motionless, hoping that no one would notice him. When someone would bring him something to do he would look up at them silently, and his eyes would fill with tears, and they’d leave and he’d sit there, looking down at this paperwork on his desk that he now had to deal with, shoulders slumped. After a few minutes, he would lean back in his chair, face turned up to the ceiling, close his eyes, and let out a sigh of such total despair it was like his soul was evaporating through his mouth. Then he’d pick up a pen and start to fill out the report like a lifer in Alcatraz digging an escape tunnel through solid granite with a plastic spoon. When I was ready to write the Satan parts in Satan Loves You, I just kept his image in my mind.
Which finally brings us to your latest book, the excellent Horrorstor. This really is one of the most original concepts for a ghost story I have had the pleasure of reading in a long while. Which came first the story or the concept?
I was actually trying to sell a different haunted house book to Quirk (my publisher) and they rejected it. But they did it very nicely, and I was talking to the editor, Jason Rekulak, on the phone and we were talking about how he’d always wanted to do an updated haunted house story, and so did I, but that mine hadn’t done it for him. We were talking about haunted big box stores, because that’s really where people spend a lot of time today so of course ghosts would too, and then he mentioned Ikea, and both of us sat straight up and lightning shot through the phone. The rest of it was just a bunch of typing and emails.
How much input did you have into the final design of the book? In my review of the book I likened it to Kramer’s Coffee Table book of coffee tables, I hope you liked that reference as I really did think it was a stroke of genius on that level of genius.
We wound up feeding off of each other. Jason had a the idea that Horrorstör should look like an IKEA catalogue, but then it snowballed from there. We talked about doing furniture illustrations at the start of each chapter, then I wrote the descriptions and made them get progressively darker. Because of the layout of those illustrations we wound up having some blank pages here and there so I asked if I could write something for them, they said sure, so I would write employee evaluation reports, or diary entries, then they would do a killer piece of design for them, then the designer came up with the idea of doing a map in the inside front cover, and I asked about doing a map of the haunted store on the back cover, and it kept going and going and going. The further I pushed it, the further they pushed it, and vice versa.
You did a lot of research for the book with employees of Ikea, how shocking was some of the details that came up during this? In particular with regards almost devout religious leanings towards Orsk that the assistant store manager feels in the book towards his employer?
What shocked me the most was how much most people at IKEA liked their jobs. Even people who complained went out of their way to tell me IKEA treated them better than any other retail job they’d ever had. In terms of what’s called “IKEA culture” while that might smack some people as kind of cultish, it really does seem to exist and it seems to matter. Think about it this way: there are 18 IKEA in the UK and 3,370 Tesco’s. Yet, IKEA is a brand that stands for something in the minds of almost as many people as Tesco does. I’m a cynic, so I thought that the IKEA cultural commitment to things like “fairness” was a bunch of corporate doublespeak except for the fact that IKEA just raised their starting wages in the US to way, way above minimum wage. They took a big financial hit on that, but did it because it was part of their “culture.” So I have to give credit where it’s due.
The book is a perfect mix of supernatural terror and humour, were you ever concerned about maintaining a believable balance between the two?
It’s such a relief to hear that! The thing I’m happiest about in the entire book is that readers made the jump from the funnier front half to the scarier back half. I was really, really worried about that transition. Sometimes people like their entertainment to be one thing or the other, but I’m a huge fan of books and movies that make radical tonal shifts, and I knew that getting readers to jump from one tonal ice floe to another in mid-ocean would be the biggest challenge. Fortunately, only a tiny handful of them didn’t make the leap successfully and were eaten by Leopard seals. They’re in a better place now.
And were you ever concerned about how you target an audience for the book?
I find book marketing very, very confusing. I get pumped up and excited about books, and that makes me want to talk about them, laugh at them, rip them apart, stain their pages with tears, pass them on to other people, and fling them off balconies. But I’ve discovered that it’s hard to find other passionate readers who view reading books as a gloves-off leap into a mosh pit full of words where every last ounce of joy has to be licked off each and every single page. So I left the marketing up to Quirk, my publisher, who did a great job of it.
The book also pokes fun at all those ghost hunting shows that are so popular on television. I’ve never really watched, why are they so popular when they have never ever found a real ghost?
How do you know? From what I understand, ghosts tend to murder everyone who succeeds in capturing them on film, so the best ghost hunters are actually all dead and we’re stuck watching the amateurs. There are, apparently, dozens and dozens of tapes floating around LA from successful ghost hunting shows that never got past more than one or two episodes before total supernatural massacre ensued.
I love the idea of a haunted furniture store, I’ve always found them to be peculiarly haunting and sterile place, sort of idealised look at what your life could be like if you had more money. Was this a feeling that you tapped into while writing the book?
To some extent, yes. But the biggest thing I tapped into was the fear of getting lost. From Shirley Jackson’s Haunting of Hill House, to the myth of the minotaur, to The Blair Witch Project, fear of getting lost is one of the biggest fears in supernatural stories. And Ikea is the one place on earth that’s designed to get you lost on purpose. So it felt like a natural fit. On top of that, there’s good old automatonaphobia, the fear of dolls, or mannequins, or anything that looks like it’s alive but actually isn’t. IKEA is full of bedrooms no one’s ever going to sleep in, kitchens where no one will ever cook a meal, dining rooms where no one will ever raise a toast. They’re designed to look like living spaces, but they’re not for living people. So there’s that same eerie feel you get looking at them that you get when you look into the staring, glass eyes of a taxidermied ballerina.
Some might see the book as an attack on these places, have you had any feedback from anyone in Ikea?
I haven’t. I’m sort of nervous, actually. If anyone from Ikea is reading this, I’d love to hear from you.
And on that note have you ever been tempted to do some gonzo marketing of your book and dropping a few copies of it into the piles of Ikea catalogues you get in the shops?
That would take more courage than I currently possess.
It’s looking as though this is going to be your break out book, now that it is out in the wild how happy would you be if this is the book that you are remembered for?
I’d just be thrilled to be remembered. Usually people forget me a few seconds after I leave a room, and they’re often surprised to see evidence that I was there at all. “Who drank these beers?” “Why is there a third dirty glass in the sink?” “We were saving that cake! Where did it go?”
Did I read somewhere that it is being optioned for a film adaptation?
Gail Berman, who used to be the head of FOX bought Horrorstör and is planning to turn it into a television series. She’s the woman who hired Joss Whedon and told him that his movie, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, might make a good television programme, so I’ve got a lot of confidence in what they’re doing.
Who would be your ideal cast?
Except for Go, they’re all way too old, but…
Amy - Abbi Jacobson from Broad City
Basil - Donald Glover from Community
Matt - AJ Bowen who is genius in A Horrible Way to Die
Trinity - Go Ah-Sung from Snowpiercer
Ruth Anne - the legendary Dolly Parton
So what’s next for you?
Quirk was so happy with Horrorstör that we signed a two-book deal back in October and I’m doing this interview on a break from writing my next book. All I can say about it is that it’s set in the 1980’s, it takes place in high school, and it’s a cross between Beaches and The Exorcist.
Thank you for taking the time the time to do this interview, do you have any final words of wisdom for the readers?
I read this last week in a pamphlet on doing exorcisms in the home, but I think it can apply to almost any situation:
“When performing a deliverance, the exorcist must be careful to avoid touching any areas of the demoniac that might open the door to lust.”
It's a classic old-fashioned haunted house story - set in a big box Swedish furniture superstore. Designed like a retail catalogue, Horrorstor offers a creepy read with mass appeal-perfect for Halloween tables! Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring wardrobes, shattered Bracken glassware, and vandalized Liripip sofabeds-clearly, someone or something is up to no good. To unravel the mystery, five young employees volunteer for a long dusk-til-dawn shift-and they encounter horrors that defy imagination. Along the way, author Grady Hendrix infuses sly social commentary on the nature of work in the new 21st century economy. A traditional haunted house story in a contemporary setting (and full of contemporary fears), Horrorstor comes conveniently packaged in the form of a retail catalogue, complete with illustrations of ready-to-assemble furniture and other, more sinister accessories.