If I told you that one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read was about an evil ice-box, you’d probably be skeptical. But that’s just the case with Hoad’s Grim by Jack Kincaid. However, it would be more accurate to say that it’s one of the best horror novels I’ve ever heard, because it’s currently only available as a free podcast, which you can find here. The serialization of the novel began back in September, and if all goes according to plan, will wrap up in February. The first seventeen chapters are currently available.
I sat down with Jack to talk about the stories and inspirations behind Hoad’s Grim, and about his decision to produce the novel as a podcast.
Start us off by talking a bit about the plot of Hoad’s Grimwhat’s it about?
Hoad’s Grim takes place in a small town, as nearly all my books do. The story revolves around a junk freezer, an old upright from the ’50s, not that you would know it was there because it’s invisible most of the time. If you do see it, you might live, but probably not to tell of it. It’s uncannily hard to remember. It can become just as invisible in your mind and memory. The freezer is possessed by an evil presence, demons which have taken the shape of fictional creatures created by the previous owner, a writer named Ed Hoad, who disappeared with his family in the 1950s and is believed to have murdered them. Because these demons took the form of these mind-meddling, carnivorous creatures from Ed Hoad’s book, The Gibgoblins, they exist by the same rules and came to be in Ed Hoad’s freezer because of the nature of his relationship with it, his negative associations with it. Up on a hill overlooking town, in an area where strange things happen and people periodically go missing without a trace, the Hoad house is no longer there, having burned down many years ago, but the freezer remains on the plot where the house used to be, at the end of a dead-end drive where two houses remain. The house closest to the Hoad plot is one of many rental properties owned by a man who employs a crew to handle all that needs to be done, such as maintenance. The tenant complains from time to time about an unsightly freezer out in the weeds of the Hoad plot and the man on the crew most often called to remove it is Chad Hyman, who swears that he has hauled it away many times only for it to reappear, at least when he remembers anything about it. Most of the time, he doesn’t. His work partner disappears, the tenant of the house dies under strange circumstances, and Chad has more eerie encounters with the freezer, which he comes to believe is somehow connected. He stubbornly finds ways to keep it in memory so he can learn the nature of it, all while the evil presence that inhabits it “infests” other objects within proximity, and wields influence as well as posing a deadly danger over all who come near it, including the new tenants of the house, the Dudleys.
Plainly put, the story engine of Hoad’s Grim is an evil upright freezer.
What prompted you to write a story about an evil ice-box?
The same thing that prompts me to write any story. An alignment of some of the junk flying around in my head occurs, a fusion takes place, and from this comes an offspring, one with voices that are gentle at first, only whispering, and build to shouting as it gains strength and grows until it is impossible to ignore. Sometimes this happens over the course of years, sometimes months, days, or even hours. Each one is different. It then becomes a resident in my head, with all the noisy others, until I can give it release by way of writing.
The first piece of Hoad’s Grim came to be one winter during which I chopped a lot of wood with an ax and a sledgehammer. Aside from needing the wood for the fireplace, I found the act therapeutic. It turned out to be creatively fertile in addition, as a character was conceived. He formed and started to talk. My connection to him was the strongest when wielding the sledgehammer, rather than the ax. His name is Chad Hyman, who became a main protagonist of Hoad’s Grim. At the time, however, there was only him. There was no setting or story to go with him, not yet.
Other pieces followed from such observations as an elderly lady leaving scraps out for animals and from my environment at the time, internally and externally.
I lived in a house on a hill with a view down into a valley in 2004. That year, our refrigerator went kaput and we bought a new one. The old one waited on the shoulder of the driveway to be taken away for longer than anticipated. I could see it from the window of my ground level office, or the room that I used as my office at the time.
Some years later I upgraded my office furniture to what it is nowheavy, solid, bulky, a banker’s desk with an equally cumbersome credenzabut back then my office was more portable. I moved it around the house often, desperately trying (in vain) to keep my working environment fresh and compensate for the negative energy dragging me down. I had recently finished two books, one of which was a double-length, cursed, thorn-in-my-side monstrosity that I had a very troubled on-again-off-again relationship with since 2001, and because the act of writing had become grueling, I felt some relief but little accomplishment. It was just two more books added to a pile that I doubted would see the printed page, that vehicle which would in theory carry the cargo to whom it was meant: readers, people. The point of telling stories is to tell them to people and I doubted this was going to happen on any level I deemed acceptable. For the first time in my life, I no longer wanted to be a writer. I wanted to quit. I wanted to stop doing it, viewing it in the same light as a self-destructive drug addiction that took more from my life than it gave and had rendered me its slave. The frustration of not being able to stop is relevant to the emotional environment in which Hoad’s Grim was born. I began to methodically dissect myself in the hope of mapping out my own wiring so I could figure out how to rip out those that powered the “wrong” things. I soon realized how mysterious and subconscious my method was. Moreover, I became bitterly aware of how trapped I was by it, not only by things on the inside but on the outside too. Stories and characters bridge exploitable associations to physical things, such as a certain kind of liquor, coffee, cigar, a simple physical ritual (such as the motion of cracking my neck a certain way), and physical objects, which when handled or studied strengthen the signal, so to speak. These associations were everywhere, infesting so many possessions and things around me that it was impossible to escape. Take it all away, replace them with new things, and the new things would soon be infested too with sparks of inspiration (that come, they always come, like it or not). I was resigned that there was no way out and I am what I am, but yet my mind kept working at the problem.
Meanwhile, I kept writing. I didn’t know how not to and at the same time, it had never been harder, which was an awful dynamic. I was forty thousand words or so into a new book and, given all the negative internal resistance, moving at an excruciatingly slow pace. I often stared out the office window beside me at a view that I had become desensitized to through familiarity, until there was something new out there, standing by the driveway: our old fridge, waiting to be taken away.
It looked strange out there in the weeds and with the trees behind it, offering slices of the view across the valley beyond. It drew my eyes more and more, conjuring up memories of old, rusty fridges I had seen on roadsides, the warnings given to me as a kid as to how children should stay away from such dangerous things, and horror stories about children who hadn’t, becoming trapped inside and suffocating. Now I wasn’t just staring at the fridge, but it at me and in my mind’s eye I saw, standing beside it, a blonde little girl with a teddy bear I recognized. I saw it when I was a teenager and it had haunted me ever since. Wet from rainwater and muddy, it had been lying on a child’s grave in a cemetery I often cut through.
I felt a story taking shape through my association with the fridge outside (yet another object infested by my hungry muses, my life-eating demons, oh yay) and a ghost of something peering over my shoulder, a man whose name dropped out of thin air:
The alignment of ideas completed several days after the fridge was taken away. By then, I had moved my office back into the basement, where I had an upright freezer that I never gave much thought to beyond using it to chill drinks quickly. During my breaks from writing, I would pass it on the way out to the garage where I would smoke, pace, talk to myself a lot, and where not so long ago, I would grab the ax and sledgehammer to get in some wood-chopping just outside on the pavement.
One evening, I looked out to the driveway where our old fridge had been and entertained the idea that even though I couldn’t see it, it was still there. The guys who came to collect it hadn’t seen it either. It was invisible, but there. If I walked up to that spot with the sledgehammer and swung, the hammer-head would smash into a solid barrier. When I imagined this, it wasn’t me doing the deed, however, but the owner of that hammer: Chad Hyman. That kept looping in my head as I went back into the basement, made my pit stop at the freezer from which I pulled a bottle of tea that I oddly wished was a bottle of whiskey, and before I reached my desk chair, the freezer and the invisible fridge outside fused in my head.
I shelved the book that I had been working on and with the much-needed enthusiasm that comes of fresh inspiration, I opened a fresh Word document and typed the words:
The cycles ended forever in November of 1956.
Why did you decide to release the book as a podcast?
The idea of releasing a book in audio form was planted in my head a few years ago by a friend named Matt Wallace, author of The Failed Cities Monologuesamong other worksand fearless defender of podcasters everywhere. I saw merit in his positions as to the worth and potential of it, even as I argued the points, not only because arguing is what stubborn bastards do but because I knew with my theatrical background that it was shockingly feasible to do and he was opening a door to a place that was outside my strict, all-about-the-published-page box of thinking about novels. I resisted it for a long while. I was coming from a place deeply rooted in the belief that the prose of adult fiction was meant to be “spoken” by the unique mental voices of each individual reader, at their own comfortable pace, and this was among the things that made the experience intimately theirs. Through this filter, the human imaginationbeing the beautiful and fabulously wide-ranging thing it isrenders action and dialogue as a movie in the mind. It also has its own casting agency to fill the parts, lending contrast, giving unique and accurate voices to characters. For example, a male narrator delivering the dialogue of a female character creates an absurd discrepancy in the experience, for me. These are matters of personal preference, as well as my own limitations. Honestly, I never cared for listening to authors read aloud. Even with a good speaker and good words to go with it, I’m not held for long. It becomes a drone and trails away from my mind which wanders to more interesting affairs. I bore easily. This is my shortcoming, not theirs, but it is a reality. I would have no interest in creating something … that wouldn’t otherwise interest me and hold me. Therefore, I didn’t believe this was something I could do, despite my strong appeal toward the idea of finally being able to tell a story to people without interference.
I considered releasing an electronic copy of a novel, even began an ill-fated serialization of one at an unstable time when I really shouldn’t have, but discarded the idea. I am rights conscious (rights paranoid, some might say); most who read books prefer not to do so on a computer screen; the net is so cluttered with novels by writers hoping to be the next big net-to-print success story that I feared another e-bookfree or notwould be lost in the noisy mess, regardless of its quality; and there was no easy way to broaden awareness of a thing so common as an e-book to a level I found meaningful. The net novel was out.
My attitude about the audio novel, however, changed when I thought about it not as a reading but a theatrical performance, a form of entertainment that we could make the most of. I had been chatting with Killer, aka James Keller, about the possibility by this time and knew that with our talents combined and just a few others onboard, we could cover the characters with little problem. It was the third person narrator I knew would be the tricky part for me, given how I work and think in general, and this was a major consideration when choosing what book from my bank we would do. Each one had pros and cons, including Hoad’s Grim which had a challenging diversity of characters and personalities (a pro because it demonstrates my range, a con because of the practical logistics). What ultimately sold me on Hoad’s Grim was the narrative presence was stronger in that book than in the other candidates. It looked like the path of least resistance, but it turned out to be very challenging. Very.
Check back tomorrow for part two of the interview, in which we discuss the production side of Hoad’s Grim, which is much more than your average, everyday audiobook.