Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on Tor.com featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!
Today we’re joined by writer and journalist Grady Hendrix, who heads up The Great Stephen King Reread and Under the Dome recaps, plus co-writes the Summer of Sleaze pulp fiction reread here on Tor.com. A former film critic for the New York Sun, Grady has also written for Slate, the Village Voice, Time Out New York, Playboy, and Variety.
Grady’s latest novel, Horrorstör, is traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting—available September 23rd from Quirk Books. While researching the novel, Grady learned some weird Ikea facts, which he happily shares with us below!
Please relate one fact about yourself that has never appeared anywhere else in print or on the Internet.
I once spent some time in jail down in South Carolina. I arrived there on Elvis’s birthday and the only thing on the cell block’s single TV that no one could turn off were Elvis movies. The food was terrible. After forcing me to play cards, the other inmates invited me to stop playing cards because I was so bad that someone wanted to stab me. But mostly everyone was pretty nice.
Do you have a favorite unknown author?
W.F. Harvey is America’s unknown master of the short story, like Ray Bradbury crossed with Robert Bloch. His stories clock in around 3,000 or 4,000 words and they range from “August Heat” an 1800 word encounter between two artists that trafficks in the gawping insanity of Poe, to “The Beast With Five Fingers” about a crawling, killer hand that moves from goofy to gruesome in just under 10,000 words. There are trifles like “The Habeus Corpus Club” about the social gatherings of the ghosts of murder victims from famous works of fiction, and heavy duty stunners like “Mrs. Ormerod” about a lazy housekeeper, about to be fired, who arranges for her employer to accidentally run over her son so that she can use his guilt to keep her job.
Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?
Researching Horrorstör I learned that Ikea is full of strangeness. One of the first products they sold was udder balm. There are several stores in the Southwestern United States that carry a traditional line of furniture to appeal to the region that Ikea won’t allow to be sold in any other store. Only 15% of people who enter Ikea leave without buying anything. If you get lost in an Ikea, turn around. Most doors that provide short cuts between departments are located so you can’t see them if you’re facing forward. And the childish side of me loves the fact that the official Ikea museum in Älmhult has an area devoted to failed product names such as the Anis, the Dick, the Fanny, the Bracken (which means vomiting in Dutch), and Gutvik children’s beds, which sounds a bit too much like “good fuck” in German.
What was your gateway to SF/Fantasy, as a child or young adult?
When I was six we lived in London for a year. We swapped houses with this guy: he got our place in South Carolina, we got his enormous rambling Victorian pile in Dulwich, complete with a photographer who lived in the attic and a very nice hippie lady who lived in the basement and grew “herbs” out back. Next door to us lived the Hales who had built an empire importing snails into England.
The house had a massive library with shelves that stretched to the ceiling and way up high, at the very top, was a black bound volume that I think was called Witchcraft, Folklore, and the Supernatural. It was full of etchings of young girls getting their hands tied to the clappers of bells which were then rung and rung until they were dead, witches being drowned, St. George getting mauled by the dragon, photos of ectoplasm oozing out of medium’s orifices, gargoyles, Bigfoot, tortures of the Spanish Inquisition, and rotten cadavers locked in gibbets. I was small and agile, like a hairless monkey, and I’d scramble up those shelves and pull down this Satanic volume and pore over it. When I thought I heard someone coming, I’d scramble up and put it back. No one had told me I couldn’t read it, but it was so unsavory I instinctively knew that this book was not meant for me. And I loved it.
What is your favorite short story?
You can keep your “Yellow Wallpapers” and your “Lotterys.” For me, it’s “The Theater” by Bentley Little. I don’t really like Bentley Little’s fiction, but this short story nestled deep inside the folds of my brain and I’ll never be able to scrub it out. Feeling like a pastiche of Ramsey Campbell, it’s about people who find an abandoned theater for yams and squashes next to an old bookstore, and they become obsessed with it. They dress the little vegetables up, they put them in seats, they make tiny wigs for them, then they take their clothes off and lie down and put the squashes and yams all over their bodies. It’s a cold, clammy story that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever but I read it once and I’ll never forget it.
If you could choose your own personal theme music to play every time you enter a room, what would you pick?
The “Theme From Rocky” and my entrance would happen in three stages:
Stage 1—total darkness. Music swells. Who is coming into this room?
Stage 2—backlight on me in a shiny cape and trunks, smoke machine billowing, the occasional laser flickers. Music swells.
Stage 3—full lights up, Rocky theme explodes, run around the room, sweat flying off my brow, throwing candy into the crowd, kissing babies, shaking hands, throwing babies into the crowd, shaking candy. I’m ready if you are.
Describe your favorite place to write.
All my life, I wanted a secret headquarters. There I would solve crimes like the Three Investigators. I would have a trophy room like Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. I would have henchmen and a monorail like the volcano in You Only Live Twice. Now I live the dream and have my very own office where I write. I don’t solve crimes, have a monorail, or a trophy room but I do have unlimited access to adorable panda videos and clown porn, depending on my mood.
Name your three favorite fictional villains of all time.
Doctor Doom—he talks about himself in the third person. He lives in Castle Doom in the town of Doomstadt, near Doom Falls. His zoo contains dinosaurs. He is consumed with an obsessive hatred for is college roommate. He is constantly putting look-a-like robots in charge of his kingdom while he goes out and acts like an international jerkwad, then, inevitably, he comes back to find that the robot has gone bonkers and must be destroyed. Once, he tried to change his luck by putting a small, brainwashed boy in charge of Doomstadt and that didn’t work out too well, either. His favorite holiday is Doom’s Day. You know what day it falls on? Whatever day he feels like. What exactly is he a doctor of? I like to think he secretly has his doctorate in Art Therapy.
Anthony Wong Chau-sang in any movie—Hong Kong’s greatest character actor is like the Swiss Army knife of delicious bad guys. In Erotic Ghost Story 2 he’s a demon who dresses like a member of the KISS army and flies. In John Woo’s Hard Boiled he’s Johnny, a man whose wardrobe consists solely of eye-searing 90’s suits. In The Heroic Trio he’s a mute martial arts monster who eats his own severed fingers. He’s a normal guy transformed into a homicidal maniac seeking vengeance on all taxi drivers because he had a bad cab ride in Taxi Hunter. In the Young & Dangerous series he’s the legendary Tai Fei, who spends five films demonstrating different ways to pick his nose. In Ebola Syndrome he plays a serial killer who is a carrier of the ebola virus who spreads it to the customers in his restaurant by having sex with mounds of raw ground beef. And in Jiang Hu—The Triad Zone he plays the mythical General Kwan, God of War, who is unlucky in love and confused by remote controls. Truly, Anthony Wong contains multitudes.
Your Mom—seriously, I’ve been reading the stories and they are CHILLING. What is going on over there? She seems so nice, and then she gets her hooks into you and she starts asking personal questions. When you’re at your weakest she starts showing the embarrassing pictures of you as a baby, and then suddenly, before you know it, she’s feasting on your freshly-killed corpse and then there’s a new bed of day lillies in her garden. I can’t even.
Having finally established communication with a distant alien species, what’s the first thing that we should tell them about Earth/humans?
We do not taste good at all.