It’s no secret we’re fans of author Grady Hendrix here at Cinepunx. We’ve done an interview, a podcast episode, another interview, and a book review over the last two years. He’s a nice guy to talk to, and the things he does — from books like Horrorstör and We Sold Our Souls, to the Hong Kong-A-Thon, to co-writing the film Mohawk with Ted Geoghegan — seem like he’s pitching ideas straight from the depths of fevered genre imaginations. Thus, when it became apparent that some of the books featured in his overview of horror paperbacks through the decades, Paperbacks from Hell, would be getting reprints through Valancourt Books, we knew we had to hop on the phone to talk to Hendrix about it.
We ended up talking about Christopher Pike novels for ten minutes, too, so be forewarned.
Where do you go to find your books – do you go looking for the kind of material you covered in Paperbacks from Hell the book, as well as the newsletter?
Of course! Originally, I wrote the book because I was going to all of these paperback swap shops and used book stores; not the upscale ones, but kind of the middle-market ones. You know, the ones that have tons of romance and stuff. They just had these shelves and shelves and shelves of these authors I’d never heard of. These books, were they good? Were they bad? I just had no clue.
So, mostly, where I got to get stuff is wherever I travel to do the [live] shows or book stores or anything like that, I try to find those kind of book stores. They’re all rapidly getting displaced by Half Price Books, which is kind of a bummer, because some of them have good selections, some of them don’t, but most of their stuff starts in the ’90s, and if they have any stuff from the ’70s or ’80s, the prices are usually ridiculously high.
But, also, I order stuff from sellers. There are some sellers on eBay and Facebook, so if I’m looking for a particular title, there are folks like Evans Light, who does a store on Facebook, or ABE Books, y’know? Sometimes, if you really need to read something, because it’s sort of an essential title and you can’t find it anywhere, you have to bite the bullet and pay the ridiculous $30 charge on ABE.
I’ve found that hitting small towns and their thrift stores or things like that result in some unusual and excellent finds.
It’s funny, because there are all kinds of those weird sorts of places that have a bunch of these. There was a great one in Springfield, Missouri, when I did a show there. I would’ve spent thousands and cleaned that place out. There was just stacks of books piled up on the floor, really. There was a rainstorm that night and they lost everything.
Up by Sunapee in Maine, there’s a bunch of small used book stores, sort of on this trail. It’s like a 13-mile loop that you can drive to, and they all support each other. They don’t have great horror sections, but they have great sci-fi sections, and one of them had a great YA section, so you find different, weird things in different, weird places. You come across the most amazing stuff.
Like, the one in Missouri: I didn’t realize Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter, had written a paperback horror novel in the ’80s about an evil mother. E. Howard Hunt, the convicted Watergate conspirator? I didn’t know he was writing horror paperbacks until I stumbled across some in a store in providence, Rhode Island, and I’ve looking for them ever since. They often advertise them with a blurb across the front: “By Convicted Watergate Co-Conspirator, E. Howard Hunt!”
You just stumble across all kinds of amazing stuff, just browsing these shelves. It’s much more fun than ordering online.
Speaking of YA novels, and especially because the Paperbacks from Hell newsletter is doing a series on Christopher Pike at the moment, did you read any of those books when they first came out, or is this new territory for you?
I was in university when those books started coming out; ’85, ’86. The really early ones like Chain Letter and Slumber Party and Weekend, even then I was like 14 or 15. They just weren’t on my radar. I was reading Stephen King and Clive Barker and stuff like that. I guess King, mostly. I just sort of missed the Christopher Pike boat, so this is the first time I’ve ever read his stuff.
Reading them as an actual adult, without the nostalgic lens to tint things, what’s been your reaction to YA horror as a genre?
It’s interesting, because I almost don’t consider Christopher Pike YA. I think YA, in the way that we think about it, sort of started in ’97 with Harry Potter & the Sorceror’s Stone. After that, there was a huge explosion, but before then, it was called YA, but it was really more of “teen” fiction. There was less of it. I think there were 5,000 or 6,000 titles publishes every year, and post-Harry Potter, there’s like, 30,000 or more.
It was so much more of a grab bag [then], and it had so many more weird corners, and so, Christopher Pike — I’m really loving his stuff. His characters are interesting. They’re all written as adults, basically. All his teenagers are adults. They’re all really hard-boiled. They’re like 16 year-olds being, “Oh, that was my past, I don’t talk about what happened,” as if they’re 45 year-old alcoholics in a film noir.
Then, all the girls are all like, femme fatales, right out of The Maltese Falcon or something, and everyone is fucking and they’re all getting drunk all the time and doing cocaine and tying each other up. The girls are horny all the time. The guys are horny all the time. They play charades a lot, which is a little weird. There seems to be a real emphasis on charades.
But, the thing I love about them is that adults just don’t exist. The few that do show up just pop up randomly, here and there, and don’t really have too much to do with the story. In these books, these teenagers are killers or they’re psychopaths or they’re stalkers or they’re space vampires or cyborgs from the future made of monkey sperm or ancient Greek goddesses that have been reincarnated to kill their enemies in an eternal cycle of vengeance. They’re anything.
The teenagers are everything and everyone. The adults are irrelevant, and usually quite sad. So, I think that they’re really great.
As you and Will Errickson have talked about these books in Paperbacks from Hell and on Too Much Horror Fiction, there’s been a real bump in the prices of these books on the secondhand market.
Yeah, I know. We both feel pretty guilty about that. I mean, I don’t really collect these books; I like them. I want people to read them, and Will feels the same way. I own a lot of these books, because it’s hard to find them, and you can’t get them on loan from the library, but we want people to read them.
That’s one of the reasons we’re doing the thing with Valancourt and bringing some of these back into print, with the original covers, where possible, and introductions we interview the authors for, to give them some context. We want people to read this stuff. We don’t want people to pay $400 for a copy of Voice of the Clown.
The inaugural volume in Valancourt’s Paperbacks from Hell reissue series, Gregory A. Douglas’s The Nest, goes on sale today, April 2, with one new volume per month thereafter.