GRADY HENDRIX INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by J.R.R.R. Hardison
I love horror and comedy and I've always been fascinated by the mechanics of combining the two. I also really enjoy talking with other authors about their work. That's why I was thrilled to be able to interview horror comedy master, Grady Hendrix, author of the books Horrorstör, My Best Friend's Exorcism and Paperbacks From Hell.
J.R.R.R. Hardison: At first glance, it doesn't seem like horror and comedy would go well together – one's supposed to scare the pants off you and the other is supposed to make you pee them in uncontrollable laughter. And yet it's hard to deny the magnetic appeal of movies like Evil Dead 2, Shawn of the Dead and Tucker and Dale versus Evil, or of books by authors like Christopher Moore, David Wong and yourself. You've been doing this for a while now. Do you have any insight into why comedy works so well with horror?
Grady Hendrix: To me, the only thing I want is to have an impact on my readers. I want them to physically feel my books. I want them to be grossed out, or scared, or laugh, or cry. So I'm always going for the physical reaction. Also, I think horror is a really stylized genre with a lot of uptight rules, so when you introduce mundane reality it becomes funny because we're not used to it. Serial killers are supposed to be taken ultra-seriously, but in real life they're just ridiculous creeps with terminally poor social skills. Ghosts are supposed to be scary but honestly, don't they have anything better to do than hang around and moan? Unpacking these tropes and cliches becomes a lot of fun because you can show all the silliness that's accumulated around them, while also searching out the dark core that made them work in the first place.
JH: How do you think about the balance of horror and humor as you approach your writing and are there particular kinds of humor that you think lend themselves best to horror or that you lean on heavily in your work?
GH: To be honest, it's not something I'm aware of. I was caught totally off-guard when people told me they found Horrorstör or My Best Friend's Exorcism funny. To me, I was just trying to write realistic books, so maybe that juxtaposition of underwhelming reality and ultra-dramatic horror strikes sparks? I honestly don't know. It would be like asking me if my arteries are clogged - you're going to have to consult a trained professional who can cut me open and take a look.
JH: Would you say that you are more of an analytical or intuitive writer? Do you map out your work and the meaning you are trying to convey before you start writing, do you just dive in, or is it a combination of both? (And do you use the same approach for the humor in your work? I ask this question because I'm analytical in my approach to story, but I "find" a lot of the humor as I write, rather than mapping it all out in advance.)
GH: I'm probably the same way – half-and-half. I do a ton of research, so when I'm writing a book I've got calendars on the walls of my office for the time it's happening, I'm looking at the weather, the TV schedules, I've got piles of magazines from the weeks it takes place if it's set in the past. I map out all my characters – favorite outfits, where they go to school, what kind of music they like; I even make them mixed tapes. But then I try to forget all that when I actually write and just keep things as realistic and grounded as possible.
JH: What are some of the comedic horror stories (in any medium) that have influenced or inspired you the most in your writing, or can you recount any horrifically funny images or scenes from fiction (or reality, I guess) that have really impacted you?
GH: To me, the greatest horror movie of all time, and one of the top ten movies of all time on my very personal and ever-shifting list, is Return of the Living Dead. Everyone thinks of it as a comedy, but I find it filled with existential dread and a real sense of doom. Nothing says the '80s more to me than a bunch of punks killing time by breaking into a cemetery and getting murdered because they wanted to have a good time.
JH: Can you tell me a bit about your latest book, what inspired the project, or what you were trying to say with it?
GH: Paperbacks from Hell came out on 9/19 and it's a mutant growth that has its fleshy roots in my interest in really obscure horror novels of the '70s and '80s. I read these things like popcorn and write about them for Tor, so when Quirk asked if I wanted to write a book about them, I jumped on the chance like a zombie tackling a particularly plump and slow-moving toddler. Figuring out the structure was really hard, but I worked with Will Errickson of the Too Much Horror Fiction blog and we figured out a way to show the history of this horror paperback boom that exploded in the wake of the runaway success of Thomas Tryon's The Other, Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby, and William Peter Blatty's The Exorcist, and how it died in the early '90s after Silence of the Lambs effectively slit the genre's throat and left horror fiction's carcass to molder in a ditch for decades.
JH: Thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions!
GH: You're very welcome.
HorrorTalk would like to thank Jim and Grady for taking the time to provide us with this exclusive conversation. Make sure to pick up their latest books by clicking the links below!
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