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Grady Hendrix

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Fiction and Excerpts [3]

We Sold Our Souls

, || In this hard-rocking, spine-tingling supernatural thriller, the washed-up guitarist of a ‘90s heavy metal band embarks on an epic road-trip across America and deep into the web of a sinister conspiracy.

Murder Books 101: The Rise of True Crime, From Highbrow to Cash Cow

Conventional wisdom claims that true crime writing wallowed in the gutter, dirty and disreputable, until Truman Capote lifted it out of its own filth and washed it clean with the sweat of his literary gift. Earlier efforts are dismissed as crude attempts at what Capote would accomplish with grace and skill. Those were the rough drafts, but Capote’s 1966 In Cold Blood is the masterpiece.

The fact is, the financial triumph of Capote’s In Cold Blood (and the film version the following year) had as much to do with literary achievement as the fact that Capote was a white man who belonged to the right clubs and subscribed to the right magazines. His achievement transformed the marketplace, making true crime respectable in the same way that Maus and Watchmen turned comic books into “graphic novels” in 1986. Capote’s book allowed people to camouflage their morbid fascination with murder and mayhem beneath the seal of literature. In the old days, ministers gave their blessing to true crime to make it acceptable. Now, it was The New Yorker.

In Cold Blood changed how true crime was read, not how it was written. Most of what Capote did, other writers were already doing.

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Murder Books 101: The Origins of True Crime

You can’t talk about murder books without talking about true crime. Books and movies about real life murders take up a large slice of our pop culture food pyramid, and we live in a world where actors regularly win awards for playing real-life criminals and murderers, so any murmurs that exploiting actual crimes and actual victims for profit is somehow distasteful feels like closing the barn door long after the horse has left the premises. There have been true crime podcasts, books, TV series, movies, magazines, radio shows, and even board games. No one feels any shame about it, and why should they? Chatting about murder victims is a great bonding experience! Want to start a conversation? Just ask me if I listen to “My Favorite Murder.”

Most true crime entertainment gets consumed for pure thrills, but we’re all uncomfortable with things being fun, so ask why we love our true crime and you’ll get lots of guff about “educating oneself,” “fascination with the dark side,” and “to learn how to spot danger signs” because everything has to have some nutritional value or we feel guilty. As it turns out, this blend of defensiveness with a hunger for sensationalism all seems to have started in Germany a long, long time ago…

[Read more]

Murder Books 101: Profiling the Profilers

Silence of the Lambs changed everything. Thomas Harris’ book became a blockbuster in 1988 and then its movie adaptation swept the Oscars in 1991… and suddenly Hannibal Lecter was a joke on The Simpsons and everyone was talking about chianti and fava beans. Lecter was a maroon-eyed, six-fingered fancypants who humblebragged that he drew his photorealistic sketch of the Duomo from memory the first time he meets Clarice Starling. Essentially, he has ESP and mind control, turning people into serial killers or getting them to commit suicide simply by talking to them, capable of identifying and pricing perfumes, purses, and shoes within seconds, like the world’s greatest contestant on The Price Is Right. After Lecter, a drifter with a knife seemed downright basic.

So serial killers acquired superpowers. Patricia Cornwell’s Temple Gault is a super-hacker karate expert who likes military uniforms. Rex Miller’s “Chaingang” Bunkowski is a 400-pound ninja who can turn invisible by regulating his breathing and heart rate, is immune to poison ivy, and travels everywhere with adorable puppies tucked into his pockets. Their death traps and super plots became so ornate a Bond villain would blush. How could we catch these supervillains who lurked in our bushes and our sheds? How could we stop these hyper-intelligent, enormously talented, essentially superpowered lunatics who wanted to kill our women? We needed superheroes.

Fortunately, Thomas Harris provided those, too.

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Murder Books 101: Serial Killer POVs From Poe to Big Gurl

Serial killer narration is the hot sauce on the tuna casserole of a murder book. What would Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon (1981) be without the talking William Blake painting that keeps yelling at poor Francis Dolarhyde to pump iron and get jacked so women can’t threaten to snip off his penis with scissors anymore? Psycho (1959) stays firmly in third person limited point-of-view but its twist wouldn’t work if chapters didn’t keep dumping us into Norman Bates’ head while he has perfectly reasonable conversations with “Mother.” By the final chapter her voice has eaten his away like acid, a genuinely chilling end that works far better than Hitchcock’s closing square-up.

It’s almost impossible to read a murder book anymore that doesn’t include cuckoo chapters from the psychopath’s POV because they’re just so much fun to write. “Watch this!” writers say as they go full Method. “I’m going to totally channel the voice of a man who pretends to use a wheelchair but is really murdering children while dressed as a nurse in order to transcend gender and become immortal. I’m an artist! I can do anything!” But to do anything, there needed to be decades of work by writers as varied as Shirley Jackson and Richard Wright before someone could give us a serial killer book with Elvis wearing a chihuahua inside his pants.

[Read more]

Murder Books 101: Gender Wars

My new novel, The Final Girl Support Group, comes out on July 13 and it made me think long and hard about murder books. Since we started telling stories, a disproportionate number of them seem to be about killing each other, a trend which got refined to its essence in slasher movies and serial killer books. Murder Books 101 is a place where we can talk about the tics, tropes, and habits of humanity’s favorite literary genre.

Every now and then, a book changes everything. The Exorcist was one example, Jaws was another, and in 1988 it was Silence of the Lambs. Its game-changer status got solidified a few years later when Jonathan Demme’s film adaptation swept the 1991 Academy Awards, taking home the big five (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay) and Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter became a pop culture icon.

The movie is so familiar that there’s no need to recap it, but let me give a brief description for any newborn infants who might be reading. Silence of the Lambs is about an FBI agent hunting a serial killer with the assistance of another serial killer. The helpful serial killer is played by Anthony Hopkins. The bad serial killer is played by Ted Levine. The helpful serial killer eats his victims and murders numerous police officers over the course of the movie. The bad serial killer skins his victims and doesn’t murder anyone during the movie, however, we can tell he’s bad because he wants to be a woman. During the initial release, the filmmakers waved away criticism from LGBT groups by saying that the bad serial killer wasn’t gay or trans, he was just confused. Everyone seemed to buy it at the time, probably because we’d been conditioned by the fact that for decades the easiest way to spot the serial killer in murder movies was by looking for the character who wore a dress.

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Murder Books 101: How To Survive a Slasher

My new novel, The Final Girl Support Group, comes out on July 13 and it made me think long and hard about murder books. Since we started telling stories, a disproportionate number of them seem to be about killing each other, a trend which got refined to its essence in slasher movies and serial killer books. Murder Books 101 is a place where we can talk about the tics, tropes, and habits of humanity’s favorite literary genre.

A slasher movie is a motion picture in which a group of people are murdered one by one until the last one left, known as the final girl, defeats or escapes the killer. Unless you’re in The Dorm That Dripped Blood (1982), where the killer stuffs the final girl into an incinerator at the end and the camera lingers on the plume of human smoke rising into the night sky. Slasher movies started in 1974 with the release of Black Christmas and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre—although you could follow their lineage all the way back to 1932’s 13 Women, in which Myrna Loy uses astrology to murder the sorority sisters who publicly exposed her biracial background. Halloween (1978) established the essential slasher template, but it was the release of Friday the 13th (1980) that kicked the genre into overdrive.

[How do we survive this world of carnage? By following a few simple rules.]

A Sequel That Matches the Original: Reading Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep

STEPHEN KING: I am going to write a book.

PUBLISHER: Hooray!

STEPHEN KING: It will be a sequel to The Shining, and Carrie will be in it.

PUBLISHER: But HawtRoland1208 already did that on KingFanFictionForum.net.

STEPHEN KING: It will have vampires.

PUBLISHER: Vampires are sexy.

STEPHEN KING: My vampires will be old and drive R/Vs and torture children to death.

PUBLISHER: You look tired. Are you tired? Maybe you should skip the book and take a beach vacation instead.

[Read more]

The Terrible Occult Detectives of the Victorian Era

In the wake of Sherlock Holmes’s massive success the world was so overrun by lady detectives, French detectives, Canadian lumberjack detectives, sexy gypsy detectives, priest detectives, and doctor detectives that there was a shortage of things to detect. Why not ghosts?

And thus was spawned the occult detective who detected ghost pigs, ghost monkeys, ghost ponies, ghost dogs, ghost cats and, for some strange reason, mummies. Lots and lots of mummies. Besides sporting ostentatiously grown-up names that sound like they were randomly generated by small boys wearing thick glasses (Dr. Silence, Mr. Perseus, Moris Klaw, Simon Iff, Xavier Wycherly) these occult detectives all had one thing in common: they were completely terrible at detecting.

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The Genius of John Bellairs’s The House With A Clock In Its Walls

There’s a particular kind of nostalgia that smells like burning autumn leaves on an overcast day. It sounds like a static-filled radio station playing Brylcreem advertisements in the other room. It feels like a scratchy wool blanket. It looks like a wood-paneled library stuffed with leather-bound books.

This is the flavor of occult nostalgia conjured up by author John Bellairs and his illustrator, Edward Gorey, in their middle grade gothic New Zebedee books featuring low-key poker-playing wizards, portents of the apocalypse, gloomy weather, and some of the most complicated names this side of the list of ingredients on a packet of Twinkies.

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Five Devil-Worshiping Pulp Novels of the 1970s

Satan sure is a popular fellow! People are constantly praising him, praying to him, worrying about him, gossiping about him, cursing him, and sacrificing virgins to him. God’s pretty powerful, but Satan’s got cults, horror movies, the Smurfs, most children’s toys, and heavy metal music in his corner.

But how does Satan work? Where does he go? What does he do? Can he be washed with water or do you need a fast-evaporating alcohol-based spray to get the grime out from between his wings? All the following books have something to say about Satan and so I’m going to run through them quickly to make sure you get as much useful info as possible in the smallest amount of space.

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20 Years of Stephen King’s 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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We Sold Our Souls

In the 1990s, heavy metal band Dürt Würk was poised for breakout success—but then lead singer Terry Hunt embarked on a solo career and rocketed to stardom as Koffin, leaving his fellow bandmates to rot in obscurity.

Two decades later, former guitarist Kris Pulaski works as the night manager of a Best Western—she’s tired, broke, and unhappy. Everything changes when a shocking act of violence turns her life upside down, and she begins to suspect that Terry sabotaged more than just the band.

Kris hits the road, hoping to reunite with the rest of her bandmates and confront the man who ruined her life. It’s a journey that will take her from the Pennsylvania rust belt to a celebrity rehab center to a music festival from hell. A furious power ballad about never giving up, even in the face of overwhelming odds, Grady Hendrix’s We Sold Our Souls is an epic journey into the heart of a conspiracy-crazed, pill-popping, paranoid country that seems to have lost its very soul… where only a lone girl with a guitar can save us all. Available September 18th from Quirk Books.

[Read an Excerpt]

The Great Stephen King Reread Final Analysis

A lot of people make a lot of assumptions about Stephen King: he writes about writers too much; he sets all his stories in Maine; he writes horror. Now I’m giving you the tools you need to argue with anyone about any of these propositions. I read every single book published by Stephen King under his own name, so I leave out three of the Bachman books, books that are collaborations (no Talisman, no Sleeping Beauties, no Black House, no Gwendy’s Button Box), and I leave out the Dark Tower books (all eight of them). Also, I didn’t read Eyes of the Dragon because I forgot. So that means I didn’t read sixteen of his books.

Nevertheless, all told, I read 38 novels, 15 novellas, 111 short stories, and 5 poems by Stephen King. And here’s how they break down by the numbers.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

The Great Stephen King Reread: The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

This is it, the last book in The Great Stephen King Reread. I started back on October 18, 2012 planning to only read from the first decade of King’s output, but I picked back up again in October 2013 and read the next ten books, then stopped until 2015 when I read the next ten, and finally restarted in 2017 to finish off the whole body of King’s work, which brings us to now, exactly five years later.

I’d be lying if I said this reread hasn’t been a big deal to me. When I started, I was just about to sign a contract to write my first solo novel, Horrorstör. Five years later, I’ve got two novels on the shelves, a book of non-fiction, a finished movie (Mohawk), and another novel on the way. There have been ups, and a whole lot of downs, but Stephen King’s books have been with me every step of the way. This reread has been something I’ve hung onto during some dark days, but now that I’ve read everything King’s published on his own, under his own name (minus the Dark Tower books), it’s over. So let’s buckle down and do it one last time, digging into his latest short story collection, published on November 3, 2015, a collection not a lot of people liked.

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Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

The Great Stephen King Reread: Revival

According to the press release, Stephen King’s 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 if you haven’t yet, just go read it for yourself. You won’t be sorry. But for a longer discussion of where it fits into King’s Canon, let’s continue.

By the time Revival came out in 2014, Stephen King™ was one of pop culture’s biggest brand names, for better and for worse. Everyone had an opinion about his books, which existed in the shadow of The General Consensus. For all time, Cujo will be the one King doesn’t remember writing. It will have a major lapse of good taste at the end. The Tommyknockers will be a mess. The verdict has been rendered. The verdict is also wrong. Cujo is one of King’s most ambitious and literary novels. The “lapse” in It is actually the heart of the book. The Tommyknockers is a mess, but the kind of raving, rabies-infected mess that’s the closest King has ever come to channeling William S. Burroughs.

[Revival is hit hard by this problem…]

Series: The Great Stephen King Reread

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