By LINDY RYAN
If you read horror, then you should be reading Grady Hendrix. From fiction to nonfiction, Grady brings one of the sharpest voices to the genre—along with a special talent for penning tales that horrify and humor in equal measure, always bubbling over with nostalgia. His newest novel, HOW TO SELL A HAUNTED HOUSE, released this month from Berkley and “takes on the haunted house in a thrilling new novel that explores the way your past—and your family—can haunt you like nothing else.”
Rue Morgue recently had the opportunity to sit down with Grady to talk more about HOW TO SELL A HAUNTED HOUSE, the intersection of horror and humor, haunted houses, and our complicated relationships with creepy childhood toys.
LR: You’ve covered everything from vampires to demonic possession to hellgate DIY furniture shops in your novels (and more). What inspired you to tackle puppets?
GH: To me this is less of a killer puppet book and more of a haunted house book, but I totally get that the second killer puppets appear onstage they pretty much reduce everyone to a gibbering wreck and take over the show. The reason I wanted to inflict them on people is that ghost stories and haunted house books are about the things we leave behind when we die, both physical and emotional. And I was thinking about that task we’re all going to have to do one day: clean out the house of a dead loved one, and deal with all the things they left behind, from their clothes to their collection of Hummel figurines. That got me thinking about our complicated relationship with inanimate objects, especially our stuffed animals that we loved so much as kids, and from there it was a short leap to killer puppets.
LR: Are you haunted by any childhood toys, or any nostalgic objects you find particularly personally disturbing?
GH: My wife’s childhood stuffed friend is named Snocchio and he’s still with us. He served as a model for Pupkin in the book, although Snocchio is much nicer and less murdery. Snocchio just kind of appeared in my wife’s crib when she was 2, and he’s been with her ever since, and I’ll confess that the first time I met him I definitely had a fight or flight response. But now that I’m used to him I’ve grown to appreciate what he brings to the table. He’s very much enjoying his moment of stardom, too.
LR: Familial drama and past trauma provide emotional subtext that amplifies the horror your characters experience in HAUNTED HOUSE, but true to form, there’s a level amount of humor and camp in the story—so very Grady Hendrix! How do you think these elements (humor, horror, and emotion) work together to draw readers in?
GH: My job is to keep readers turning the page, so I’ll use anything I’ve got at my disposal, whether it’s an emotional hook, a joke, suspense, or something disgusting and horrible. That said, humor and horror are joined at the hip. You can’t have one without the other. I can’t think of a single good horror movie that isn’t funny on some level. Alien is as grim as it gets, but the filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of the Harry Dean Stanton/Yaphet Kotto double act. The Blair Witch Project has a really funny opening 20 minutes that sends up documentary filmmakers, and The Thing has one of the funniest lines in movie history that absolutely brings the house down every time it screens. I’m not sure we should talk about humor and horror like they’re two separate things anymore?
LR: Scary clowns and possess dolls are quintessential horror tropes, but you’ve made them your own by injecting real opportunities for empathy for the villainous Pupkin and many of the other puppets in this household’s collection. I’d love to know more about your thought process on this, and what inspired you to reimagine scary dolls (and even the not-so-scary dolls, but dear god the squirrels) in this way.
GR: We all have very complicated relationships with inanimate objects. We praise our cars, we curse at our laptops, we step on a stuffed animal and automatically say “sorry!” We all grew up with stuffed animals or blankets or something that served as a comfort and a friend when we were little kids. And yet these objects get outgrown, they break, they get replaced, and that all brings up a bunch of weird feelings for us. Something about these things hits us on a very vulnerable emotional level.
At the same time, we all automatically feel queasy at the first mention of a scary doll, yet we surround ourselves with Funkos and action figures and dog toys shaped like people and bobble head dolls. We invite the possible architects of our own destruction right into our workspaces and living rooms. Dolls are, after all, the only inanimate objects that can make eye contact, so they already exist in this weird space where we know they aren’t alive, but are we really sure about that?
HOW TO SELL A HAUNTED HOUSE is available now from a variety of sellers listed on Hendrix’s website.