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Grady Hendrix

Fiction and Excerpts [1]
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Fiction and Excerpts [1]

Horrorstör (Excerpt)

|| Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking. To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they'll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

The Great Stephen King Reread: Hearts in Atlantis

Stephen King wasn’t messing around. His new publisher was getting double barreled capital L literature from the Viscount of Vomit. First there was the high-blown gothic, Bag of Bones, then came the small and spiritual Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and now here was Hearts in Atlantis—a series of Linked Novellas. Could there be a literary form more twee and precious than Linked Novellas?

And these weren’t just any linked novellas, but linked novellas about the Sixties and the Vietnam War (which King missed due to his busted eardrums and flat feet) which is basically a core requirement to attain one’s Serious Man of Letters certificate. Scribner was so thrilled about what they received from their expensive new author that on the cover they simply wrote “New Fiction” rather than cluing readers in that this was either a novel told in parts, or Linked Novellas, or a collection of short stories. Hell, they probably didn’t even know themselves.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

Under the Dome: “Ejecta”

This week, John Elvis, the actor who plays Skater Ben on Under the Dome, did an AMA on Reddit and someone asked him to pitch the show. Mr. Elvis wrote, “Pitch: The Simpsons movie, except Stephen King thought of it 15 years before. The GOOD bald guy on Breaking Bad is now the BAD bald guy. The Redhead from Twilight isn’t weird, and the dude from Texas Chainsaw Massacre isn’t a weenie that dies right at the beginning. The same people that made LOST make this show too. plus STEPHEN KING!!!! Drops Mic

But let’s say that mic had a mass of about 12,000 metric tons, and it was dropped at a speed of 60,000 km/h. It would impact the ground with a kinetic energy of 500 kilotons, generating a bright flash, releasing a hot cloud of dusty gas, and throwing debris into the air in a wide radius around the impact crater. This debris is known as ejecta… and that’s also the title of tonight’s episode! So now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

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Under the Dome: “Caged”

Tonight’s episode of Under the Dome is brought to you by Prichard Farms Vienna Sausages: opening hearts, cell doors, and carotid arteries since 1963. At Prichard Farms, we make our smoked pig lips taste…mmmMMM…good! UtD used to have sponsors like Prius and Microsoft Tablets, but it looks like the show is finally running out of money and is resorting to sponsors like Prichard Farms to make ends meet.

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The Great Stephen King Reread: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Publishers have learned to be indulgent when their bestselling authors get bitten by the sports bug. In 2004, John Grisham published Bleachers and three years later he released his football novel, Playing for Pizza. In 1993, Tom Clancy became part-owner of the Baltimore Orioles. And in 1999, Stephen King suddenly decided that he wanted to publish a slim (for King) 244-page book called The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon.

At the time, Gordon was a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, and his new publisher, Scribner, probably decided that this was just a sports itch their new acquisition needed to scratch. “If books were babies, I’d call The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon the result of an unplanned pregnancy,” King said in a letter to the press, and Scribner decided to roll with it, eager to release anything from their new star, who definitely had some blockbusters in the pipeline once he got this Tom Gordon nonsense off his chest. Expecting something forgettable, instead they wound up publishing a small miracle.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

Under the Dome: “Alaska”

Hey, Everyone! Remember that load-bearing column from last week’s show? And how Junior said it wasn’t a load-bearing column and knocked it out? Turns out it was actually a load-bearing column after all and this week it collapses, proving that old Chekhov dictum: if you cut a load-bearing column in half with your reciprocating saw in Act I, then in Act III it has to collapse so that everyone can blame the alien sex lady anthropologist for it.

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The Great Stephen King Reread: Bag of Bones

What scares Stephen King? That question has been asked in hundreds of interviews and articles about the author, but the answer is easy. What scares Stephen King? Tom Clancy.

In early 1997, publishers Penguin and Putnam merged and suddenly Tom Clancy and Stephen King were under the same roof. Viking, a subsidiary of Penguin, had been King’s publisher since The Dead Zone, their relationship running to over 30 books, but King’s star had been slipping.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

Under the Dome: “Redux” and “The Kinship”

Episodes 3 and 4 of Under the Dome see the return of our old friend, Gibberish. After everyone crawls out of their pus-pods, dripping with goop, they discover they’ve been doped up with Oxytosin (Gibberish Word #1) and dreamed an entire year that doesn’t exist. Lopsided Lipped Marg Helgenberger, the fake FEMA therapist who is either an alien or a lesbian, turns to Dead Girl Melanie and says, “You had a job: lead the people to be cocooned so the egg could infuse them with the Life Force,” which might not even be English, then Melanie “died during the download” which isn’t a real thing either, and Lips sneers that she should have “cocooned you just like the others.”

The only person speaking actual English words that make sense is Fivehead Norrie who, upon observing that they’re all still trapped Under the Dome, sneers, “Oh yay. We’re still trapped inside this Hell Bubble.”

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Under the Dome: “Move On” and “But I’m Not”

Like some hideous viral infection, Under the Dome drew to a messy yet terminal conclusion at the end of Season 2, but now it’s come raging back with a vengeance as Season 3 explodes out of television’s collective gullet, splattering its remaining viewers in the face with a steaming stew of undigested tropes from other shows, half-baked acting, and undercooked plotlines, like some kind of insane Linda Blair possessed by the demon of crummy Lost knock-offs.

I’d been in denial about the fact that I must recap this show as a condition of my prison work-release program, and now four episodes have gone by, and here you are again. It’s like you’re trapped under a dome and you can’t even see it. Or, as Fivehead Norrie says in Episode 2, “It’s like you’re trapped under a dome and you can’t even see it.”

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The Great Stephen King Reread: The Regulators

The title for The Regulators came to Stephen King first, the gimmick came second, the book came third, and like one of Roger Corman’s AIP productions, where the poster and title were developed long before anyone started writing a script, the results are 1% inspiration, 99% exasperation. This is the book version of Reptilicus or Muscle Beach Party—thin, undemanding entertainment that doesn’t add up to much. Normally, that’s fine, except King had just turned in one of his best-loved books, The Green Mile, and one of his most important books, Desperation.

The Regulators can’t hold a candle to either of these predecessors, and so it winds up feeling even thinner than it already is. King doesn’t help matters by turning the writing over to Richard Bachman, who should have stayed dead.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

The Great Stephen King Reread: Desperation

When you think about it, the whole thing makes sense. After all, the Bible is full of mutilation, torture, murder, sex crimes, and just plain old perversity. But the idea is an uncomfortable one. And yet, after reading Stephen King’s Desperation, you have to admit that one of the most profound Christian novels of the second half of the 20th century involves a crazed cop ranting about Jews and blowjobs, cougar vs. man combat, a live buzzard having its wings torn off, and a man ripping out his own tongue. Stephen King, everybody!

“The other thing that’s interested me ever since I was a kid was the idea that’s baldly articulated in Desperation, and that is that God is cruel,” King said in an interview with Salon, and there is cruelty galore in this book. There’s also a whole lot of God, from the opening line “Oh! Oh, Jesus! Gross!” to the final sentence which reads, “David put his head back against the seat, closed his eyes, and began to pray.” What changed between 1985, when King was hopped up on coke, writing “The Mist” with its shrill Christian lynch mob, and 1994 when he wrote Desperation with its no-nonsense God who’s a source of quiet strength? Looking at his bio it’s pretty obvious: he got sober. Because the God of Desperation is the God of AA.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

The Great Stephen King Reread: The Green Mile

In November, 1995, it was announced that Stephen King wouldn’t just release one book in 1996, he would release eight. Two were scheduled for the same day in September (Desperation and The Regulators) and six would be serialized installments of The Green Mile, released once a month in 100 page chapbooks by Signet from March through August. Comparisons to Charles Dickens abounded, booksellers worried about what would happen if people lost interest after the first volume (not to worry—at one point, all six books were simultaneously on the New York Times bestseller list), Pocket Books stole the idea for three of their VC Andrews series, John Saul swiped the idea for his Blackstone Chronicles, and the eventual 1999 movie adaptation remains the highest-grossing Stephen King adaptation of all time, earning nearly twice as much as the runner-up.

But even though it’s lumped in with his more critically-acclaimed realistic novels like “The Body,” Hearts in Atlantis, and Misery, The Green Mile is usually considered second-tier. It’s too sentimental, its symbolism is too on-the-nose, it’s got a Magical Negro at the center, and any way you slice it, a book set in 1932 featuring an intelligent mouse, an enormous kindly black man with magical powers, and a nice prison warden sounds like Stephen King doing Walt Disney. But reading this book again it felt much more hard-edged than I remembered. And that Magical Negro? Turns out he’s not so magical after all.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

The Great Stephen King Reread: Rose Madder

Welcome to Rose Madder or, The Book That Stephen King Keeps Throwing Under the Bus. “Sometimes I feel like a baseball player,” he said in an interview. “In that some books feel like singles and some books feel like doubles and every so often you get a Rose Madder.” Or how about, “I’ve had bad books. I think Rose Madder fits in that category, because it never really took off.” Fans generally name it as one of their least favorites, and it’s consistently coming in last on rankings of his novels.

What makes this book so bad that even its own creator doesn’t have anything nice to say about it? Why do we hate this book? And does that make us giant jerkwads, since King has frequently said that lots of people come up to him and say this is the book that gave them the courage to leave their abusive spouses?

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

The Great Stephen King Reread: Insomnia

There was a time when Stephen King didn’t write about ancient evils that threatened the universe. Sure, ‘Salem’s Lot was about a town full of vampires, but it was a small town, and yes, The Shining was about a haunted hotel, but it wasn’t a chain of them. The Stand was a big sprawling book about good and evil that rambled from Maine to Colorado, but it was balanced by Christine about a boy and his car, and Cujo about two families, a dog, and a car. Despite the presence of the Wendigo, Pet Sematary is essentially a domestic novel that takes place in two houses, a patch of woods, and a cemetery.

But at some point King decided to go big. Desperation, The Regulators, and Insomnia are books where King isn’t content to write about anything less than the fate of the universe, and I blame The Dark Tower for super-sizing his fiction.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

Evil Eighties: The Killer Kids of Somebody Come and Play

Kids: you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t kill ‘em. Whether it’s an unhappy baby that keeps you awake for days until your mind snaps, a demented infant that seems determined to drown you in its own poop, or a toddler who screeches a high-pitched wail until your face explodes, children are the ultimate evil.

In the 70’s and 80’s creepy kids became a mainstay of horror fiction, with one stepback cover of an evil child blurring into another on the racks. John Saul swung between putting kids in peril and making them evil, Ruby Jean Jensen was a one-woman evil baby machine, and Andrew Niederman gave us Brainchild, Child’s Play, Playmates, Teacher’s Pet, and Sister, Sister. Slogging it out down there in the trenches with them was Clare McNally, who wrote about 13 books between 1980 and 1997. Killer kids were an industry because, as Alain Robbe-Grillet once said, “What do little girls dream about? Knives and blood.”

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Evil Eighties: The Mysteries of Norah Lofts

In this series, Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks from the 1980s.

Historical romance novelist Norah Lofts wrote over fifty novels in her lifetime, working under her own name and the pseudonyms Juliet Astley and Peter Curtis. She wrote novels about Isabella of Spain, and Anne Boleyn, and Katherine of Aragon. She wrote a long series of interconnected novels about village life in the fictitious East Anglia town of Balidon. She wrote several novels that trace the lives and deaths of the inhabitants of some of England’s grand homes.

And, in 1982, she wrote The Claw about a living dead serial rapist who terrorizes an entire town, mutilating his victims with a massive iron claw.

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Evil Eighties: The Finicky Details of Linda Crockett Gray

In this series, Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks from the 1980s.

In Tangerine by Linda Crockett Gray, you haven’t reached page 34 before you reach this passage about a ring of porn kings who shoot specialty videotapes. Their latest commission is pricey because the fantasy they’re realizing involves a woman suffocating an 11-year-old boy to death with her breasts. Then she covers the boy in flowers and eats them off his dead body. The customer? A podiatrist in Utah who paid $2,000 for this masterpiece of cinema.

With sleaze this deep so early in a book, you kind of feel like you’ve won the lottery. Then you read the rest of this 344 page novel and you realize: no. Reading Linda Crockett Gray is like the lottery, only it’s the real one, where you always lose.

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Evil Eighties: The Creepy Nursery Rhymes of Elizabeth Engstrom

In this series, Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks from the 1980s.

Reading horror paperbacks from the 80s is like buying drugs off the street. You wind up with so many bags of oregano that you lose hope, and then, suddenly, you’re clutching the real deal and the top of your head is lifting off and you can’t remember your name, your address, or whether you’re biologically human.

But finding the real deal brings its own flavor of depression because it raises questions like, “Why isn’t this author better known?” and “What happened to their careers?” Which is exactly how I felt when I stumbled across Elizabeth Engstrom’s Black Ambrosia and When Darkness Loves Us and realized I had never heard of them, or their author, before. It made me want to scream to the heavens, “Who’s responsible this???

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Evil Eighties: The Paperback Horrors of Lisa Tuttle

Starting last Friday the 13th, Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are back to uncover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks from the 1980s.

Who is Lisa Tuttle and why is she such a pervert? We may never find an answer to that second question. After all, what drives an author to write some of the most psychologically harrowing, squick-inducing, “find your soft places and dig in with my fingernails” mass market paperbacks of the 1980s? Why does she seem to delight in our discomfort? But maybe the answer is easy.

Why is Lisa Tuttle so perverse? It might be because her books taste better that way.

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Exploring Age as the Reason No One Gets Out Alive. Stephen King’s Revival

According to the press release, the new Stephen King novel, Revival, features “the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written.” The Independent says it “practically screams ‘return to form’.” Critics say it’s a riff on Frankenstein, it’s King’s mad scientist book, it’s a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft. Stephen King books arrive in a cloud of advance hype with everyone, from his marketing department to his critics, telling us what each book is really about. But the joy of Revival lies in going in cold. So stop reading now, and just go read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry. But for a longer, spoilery discussion of where it fits into The King’s Canon, hit the jump.

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The Bloody Books of Halloween: Fatal Beauty and Small World

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör, and Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction are digging deep inside the Jack o’Lantern of Literature to discover the best (and worst) horror paperbacks. Are you strong enough to read THE BLOODY BOOKS OF HALLOWEEN???

During the horror boom of the 70s and 80s the aesthetic was fast, cheap, and out-of-control. Covers were lurid, titles were embossed in gold that dripped reflective ruby blood, back cover copy was pumped into delirious word poetry that oversold whatever was inside. High concept was king, and publishers were glutting the marketplace with product. Good writers towered over the landscape, but for every Ghost Story or Cujo there were a million B-books, churned out to plug publishing schedules with lurid thrills.

Some of these were from writers who were accomplished hacks, enthusiastically delivering schlock with gusto, while others were written by frustrated literary novelists who pinched their noses and couldn’t quite embrace the game. Today we’re talking about one of each: William Schoell and Tabitha King.

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