Grady Hendrix on Paperbacks from Hell and Why Horror Is a Women’s Genre

Originally published on Bookish.com, an editorially independent division of NetGalley.

Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör and My Best Friend’s Exorcism, is a die-hard horror fan. He writes, reads, and researches the genre and is an expert on its history. His new book, Paperbacks from Hell—about the paperback horror boom in the ’70s and ’80s—is a blood-splattered love letter to horror. It’s a tome to be found on the coffee table in any horror fan’s home, brimming with hundreds of full-color cover illustrations from books that influenced both the publishing and film industries. Just in time for Halloween, we talked to Hendrix about the state of horror today, Stephen King brainwashing, and why horror is a women’s genre.

Bookish: You clearly have a place in your heart for even the campiest horror novels from the ’70s and ’80s. What is it about these books that draws you in?

Grady Hendrix: These books were designed to be sold in drugstores and bus stations, pharmacy spinner racks and in newsstands, even. They’re designed to hook your attention. Either because they’re about hordes of killer cats, or they’re really lurid and full of sex and violence, or because they just make sure that something incredible or unbelievable is happening on every page. I like them because they’re not boring. But also because they’re from a different tradition.

This isn’t how books get written or published anymore and so the rules are totally different. Three-act structure—it doesn’t exist in some of these books. These books will kill their protagonist halfway through. Nowadays everyone’s used to jump scares, everyone’s used to found footage, everyone’s used to Thomas Ligotti and H. P. Lovecraft and all of those stylistic tics. The only mandate for those horror paperbacks is not to bore the readers. It’s a completely different tradition that comes more out of pulp than it does out of horror.

Bookish: How many paperback originals from the ’70s and ’80s did you actually read in the course of writing this book?

GH: The last time I did a count, it was 326. I could read two a day no problem. It’s what I was doing—I was on the couch all day reading books. Four a day was pushing it. There were a couple of days I did six and those were the days that would wipe me out the next day.

What helped is that I was reading by subgenre. I was reading animal attack books all at once. I was reading all the insect attack books all at once. So I knew what the set pieces were. I got a feel for the structure. Medical thrillers are really, really highly structured in a way that haunted house books are not. Animal attack books, if they’re from England, are structured in a really different way than if they’re from the U.S. Once I got a feel for that structure and where the genre’s signposts were, I could go a lot faster.

Bookish: Is there a book you feature that you think is underrated and would recommend readers pick up?

GH: Oh hundreds. Anything by Ken Greenhall. Elizabeth Engstrom’s books. Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer. If you’re going for pulpy fun, there’s a couple hundred of these books that I think work really great. If you’re going for serious why-have-we-forgotten-this-author authors, there are dozens. And a lot of them are women. I don’t think V.C. Andrews gets the respect she deserves.

So many of these authors were great. I wouldn’t have been able to write my book if the books had all been just campy. I found tons of books that were truly either deeply entertaining or truly fantastically well-written. There was a lot to admire here. I mean there’s goofy stuff too and part of my job is to inform and give context. The other part is to entertain. I wanted to do both.

Bookish: You divide the book into sections such as Creepy Kids, Real Estate Nightmares, and Splatterpunks. Were there any subgenres that didn’t make the cut?

GH: Oh sure. Nazis. There’s a ton of books about Nazis: Nazi werewolves, Nazi vampires, Nazi health resorts, haunted Nazi tanks. None of the Nazi stuff made the book. There’s also a whole category of books written by celebrities—like E. Howard Hunt, the Watergate conspirator, and Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford’s daughter. There are also a whole bunch of government intrigue paperbacks like Graham Masterton’s The Condor, and there’s another one called The Hell Candidate. And there are a lot of categories that I just didn’t have enough time to get to in a way I thought was fair. Like the YA stuff. Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine. I didn’t have time to delve into it more simply because I own a small number of those books and they go for a lot of money these days. There’s a huge nostalgia value.

Bookish: In your gothic horror section, you say that horror is a women’s genre. Can you explain what you meant?

GH: Everyone thinks horror and they think Stephen King. That’s brainwashing. The earliest horror novel that people still read is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. And there are two great horror novels of the 20th century—The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and Beloved by Toni Morrison. There’s just not an argument to be made for another book by anyone to rank up there with those two. Another great haunted house novel of the latter half of the 20th century is Anne Rivers Siddons’ The House Next Door. Plus you’ve got V.C. Andrews, Anne Rice… The main proponents of the ghost story in the 19th century were women writers. One of the most famous short horror stories of all time, without which no anthology is complete, is Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

This has really been a women’s genre for a long, long time. Men are late to the party and get all the attention, as seems to be the way of the world.

Bookish: This book is brimming with hundreds of beautifully printed, full-color pictures of old book covers. Does one cover stand out as your favorite? Which is the scariest of the bunch?

GH: The stuff that’s scary is usually pretty understated. I’ve always thought the original paperback cover of William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist—that blurred photo of a young woman-is kind of creepy. But… I can’t really pick my favorite out of all the mutant children out there.

I got to know a lot of these artists too. I developed a huge amount of respect for what they did. People like Jill Bauman, Stephanie and Mark Gerber, Lisa Falkenstern, and Rowena Morrill— they’re just amazing artists who had the misfortune to be making some of their best efforts in an industry which was designed to be disposable. Illustration has never been as respected as fine art. It’s always been viewed as commercial. And it’s true, it is commercial. But it doesn’t change the fact that it’s rare that an artist can fake their work. They put everything they’ve got into it.

Bookish: In your epilogue, you write “the lesson horror teaches us is that everything dies.” What do you think caused the end of the horror boom?

GH: It was a bunch of things. Publishing was changing. The big publishers were gobbling up the little guys. Everything was consolidating. Some people, like Jill Bauman, say they put the end right on the Gulf & Western acquisition of publishing companies. And other people, like Jeff Conner, who was the publisher of Scream/Press (which did limited edition, really beautiful books), say that it was the beginning of the Reagan ’80s when public libraries were getting less funding and had to watch their budget more. There were definitely changes in distribution too. The mass market paperback went out of style in the ’90s and was replaced by the trade paperback.

On the other hand, Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs became huge and that coincided with the whole Splatterpunk boom in the mid ’80s. And so you had more and more books being written where a lot of editors would feel like “the more gore in this, the better! That’s what readers really want! That’s what’s popular right now!” There were more books getting produced more cheaply by fewer publishers with fewer channels of distribution. And it was a real recipe for a bubble.

Bookish: Has horror recovered? What is the state of the genre today?

GH: When I told people I was writing Horrorstör, I could see the light die in their eyes. But when I said it was about a haunted IKEA, people would say, “Oh that’s really funny,” and they’d want to talk about it. Horror still has the connotation that it’s cheap, it’s gory, and it’s misogynistic. And that really just comes from the tail-end of the boom. The hangover from the bubble bursting still exists.

However, there are also a ton of books that are coming out now, that either are or are not marketed as horror, that do really well. You’ve got stuff marketed as horror like Victor LaValle’s The Changeling or The Ballad of Black Tom. Or works by John Langan and Paul Tremblay. And then you’ve got stuff that’s marketed as literary fiction like Hari Kunzru’s White Tears, which is a straight-up horror novel about a ghost, but it’s marketed as literary fiction because Kunzru is marketed as literary fiction. I would argue that Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad is a horror novel in some sense—or uses a lot of elements from horror.

And then you’ve also got thrillers, which have become the horror of the day. I think Gillian Flynn writes horror. Dark Places is about a satanic murder of a family years ago and someone trying to solve what happened on that night. It’s part mystery, but its roots are in the Satanic Panic. You’ve got all these domestic thrillers that come out too, like a woman bumps her head and wakes up 39 years later and can’t remember her life. Those are gothics right out of the ’60s. They’ve got a little more thriller added to them but it’s a domestic thriller where the nexus of fear is inside the home and the possible monster is the husband. Except traditional gothics pull from the romance tradition in the ’60s and modern gothics are pulling from the thriller tradition.

Bookish: So would you say bookstores and publishers categorize books as horror only if there’s a supernatural element? Or is horror more of a sensibility?

GH: It all depends on how you define horror. If the only thing that says something is horror is whether or not it’s supernatural, then you come up with a really limited definition. Frankenstein is not supernatural—Victor Frankenstein is a scientist. Henry James’ Turn of the Screw is designed to leave you in doubt whether there’s a supernatural element or not. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is about a woman going crazy. Same as Shirley Jackson’s We’ve Always Lived in the Castle. A lot of people use the supernatural thing to determine whether something’s horror or not. But is Cujo horror? Is MiseryChuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts” has no supernatural elements in it, yet I think anyone would be hard-pressed to read it and classify it as anything but horror.

Grady Hendrix’s first novel, Horrorstör, an illustrated story about a haunted IKEA, was named by NPR as one of the best books of 2014. He is also the author of My Best Friend’s Exorcism. A diehard horror fiction fan, he lives in New York City.

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Jeannette Walls on The Glass Castle Adaptation

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

In 2005, Jeannette Walls published The Glass Castle and welcomed the world into her unique family. With the film adaptation in theaters, Walls is on the road sharing her story and her thoughts on the cinematic version of her life. Bookish had the chance to listen to her speak at a stop in New York, and get her thoughts on the movie.

The path to adapting The Glass Castle has been a long but worthwhile one for Jeannette Walls. Her first attempt at writing her family history started in her 20s, but the memoir didn’t take shape until her husband entered the picture. “My husband pulled the truth out of me,” Walls confesses. “He thought I was exaggerating when I first told him about my childhood.”

The first draft took six weeks to write and five years to rewrite. Walls sought honesty and truth in those rewrites more than anything else. “If there’s something so horrible and painful you cannot imagine putting it down in words, that means you must, because it’s pivotal,” Walls says. “And then you confront [it.] You say, ‘Am I being honest? No. I need to go a little bit deeper.’”

Walls admits there were days when she’d cry under her desk after writing, but she still recommends it. “It was extremely cathartic… you have to be fearless about it… [and] once you write something, you kind of own it and it doesn’t affect you the same way… The trick is not pretending that you don’t have those issues. It’s kind of owning them.”

Once published, the book caught the attention of quite a few filmmakers, but none of the scripts seemed to truly capture what Walls’ childhood and family life had been like until Gil Netter, who produced Life of Pi, entered the picture. “I figured if he knew how to make a movie about a Bengal tiger and an orangutan in a boat, then he would know how to make a movie about my family,” Walls joked.

Netter brought on Destin Daniel Cretton to direct, and after watching Cretton’s Short Term 12, Walls knew that she could trust him with her own story. “It’s real easy to make fun of drunks and make fun of crazy homeless people and he was never going for the cheap shot.” Walls says of Cretton’s direction. “It was just brilliant from day one. He consulted with me on a regular basis.”

Walls was invited to the set multiple times, though seeing the final product still blew her away. “I had a bit of a meltdown watching it,” she says. “They didn’t gloss over the weird, ugly stuff, but they also didn’t ignore the joy… I was just so grateful to Destin and each of the actors for doing layered, nuanced storytelling.”

She hopes that the film affects viewers in the same way. After the publication of the memoir, Walls was often sought out by readers who were touched by her story and felt it connected to their own. This, she shares, is why she felt so compelled to write. “When one person tells a story, it opens up other people to tell stories and that, to me, is why we tell our stories. It’s for those emotional connections that [show] we’re not alone.”

As the conversation wound down, Walls shared the new insight the film had given her about her family and her relationship with them. She confessed that it allowed her to support herself in a way she hadn’t before. “One of the transformative things about watching this movie was seeing Brie Larson making these tough choices. I loved her and was, like, rooting for [her] in a way that I never loved or rooted for myself.”

The Glass Castle hit theaters on August 11, 2017.

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Conversation and Connection: Will Schwalbe on the Gifts Books Give Us

Originally published on Bookish.com, our sister company.

Will Schwalbe is a true literature lover if ever there was one. Books for Living, his latest, offers the reader a list of life-changing books. We caught up with Schwalbe this April at the Newburyport Literary Festival to talk about some of the titles he chose to feature, the necessity of letting people love the books they love, and, most importantly, to hear his surefire suggestions for how to get a reluctant reader to pick up a book.

Bookish: Let’s start off with your favorite question. What are you reading?

Will Schwalbe: At the moment, I’m reading Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, which is a marvelous literary novel that starts in Korea with a young woman who marries a Christian minister. Where I left off, they are heading off to Osaka, and I’m so excited to get back to it. It’s really tremendous.

I’ve read some wonderful books recently. I’ve loved Hourglass by Dani Shapiro. It’s a memoir of her marriage and it is the most frank memoir of an ongoing marriage that I’ve ever read. Another I finished recently was Setting Free the Kites by Alex George, which is set in Maine. It’s about the friendship of two boys. It’s a very original voice but in some ways reminded me of John Irving.

Bookish: The life-changing titles you list within Books for Living are diverse in terms of genre and publication date. Are there any you regret not including?

WS: I’m a big overwriter. It’s quite a slender volume, and I cut dozens of books and have tons of regrets. I would’ve loved to have written about Stoner by John Edward Williams, Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe, and Night by Elie Wiesel. I wrote chapters about all of these and more. I wrote about Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. But I had to whittle it down to these 26. I wanted 26 because, if someone chose to do so, I wanted to make it a year of reading—a book every two weeks for a year.

I had certain themes and genres that I wanted to cover because I really wanted to show that there are great things we learn from all different kinds of books. There are young adult, middle grade, and picture books. There are classics like The Odyssey. There are thrillers like The Girl on the Train and cookbooks like The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis. Everywhere I go I talk to people about the books that shaped their lives, and it’s such a wonderfully diverse group of titles. I wanted to reflect that. I didn’t want it to be a list of titles that had been anointed great books. I think a great book is a book that is great for you.

Bookish: E.B. White’s Stuart Little was one of your choices. Are there other authors who are considered to write primarily for children that you would suggest adults seek out?

WS: One of the middle grade books I loved writing about was R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. It’s the story of a boy with a facial deformity who is going to school for the first time. It has the most marvelous message, which is not just to choose kindness but choose to be more kind than necessary. I don’t know anybody who couldn’t gain from reading this. The characters are vivid, and it’s a wonderful, surprising story. A book for everybody.

I also have a chapter about a picture book, More, More, More, Said the Baby by Vera Williams. Picture books are so delightful for readers of all ages. If you revisit them as an adult when you’re not reading them to a child, you see the artistry that goes into the text and images. The great ones are really works of art.

Bookish: What is it about certain books that make people connect to them so intimately that they feel the compulsion to have others share that reading experience with them?

WS: There are two kinds of people in the world. One I call publishers and the other I call privaters. Publishers just want everyone to share their enthusiasm. Privaters like to keep their enthusiasms to themselves. If you are by nature a publisher, whether it’s a book, a movie, a food you had at a restaurant, or a part of the country, you want to share. Even among publishers, there are certain books that just demand to be shared. Those are the ones where you really want to talk about them with your friends. It’s not just that you want your friends to read them, but you want to talk about them.

For example, I write about A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. It’s an extraordinary read. It’s very powerful, and in many ways very upsetting. It’s one of the most beautiful books about friendship that I’ve ever read. So you want your friends to read it because it gives you such a powerful lens into friendship and a kind of language for discussing friendship. Some books speak very quietly to your soul, but some demand that you share them.

Bookish: Is it possible to love someone who doesn’t love your favorite book?

WS: Oh, yes, absolutely. I am a big believer that people absorb information in all different ways. Some people are auditory and music is their life. Some people are really primarily visual and can spend endless hours in art museums and love movies. Some people like stories and some don’t, some like to read and some don’t. I love book people. I’m delighted to find them. They are my tribe. I love to share books. Yet some of my favorite people not only haven’t read my favorites, they don’t really read at all, and that’s fine. I never want books to feel like a cudgel that you’ve got to beat people with for either not sharing your opinion or for not reading. That’s not the intent.

Bookish: Do you have any books that you loved when you were younger and went back to read when you were older and they didn’t hold up? Or maybe you loved the book for a different reason when reading it again?

WS: There are books that I had the most marvelous experience with. I don’t know if they would hold up, and so I’m not going to test it. I loved Alistair Maclean, who wrote these incredibly, hairy-chested adventure stories: Guns of Navarone, Force 10 from Navarone, and Where Eagles Dare. They probably do hold up, but I have such incredibly vivid memories of devouring them that I don’t even want to reread them. I like those memories pure. If there was a book that I loved and I started to reread it and it wasn’t holding up, I would simply put it away. If I loved it, I don’t want to mess with that. Nor do I really want anyone else’s opinions of it. If I loved it and you didn’t, that’s great. Good for you. I don’t care. You’re not going to convince me to love it less.

On the flip side, there are books that really reveal themselves to you over time. That for me is especially true of reading poetry. There are poems that I’ve loved all my life. When I go back and read them, I love them more and more every time. There are also books where you know you’re going to love them, but it’s not the right time in your life for them. Everyone has always told me that I’ll love Anthony Trollope. I’m sure I will love Trollope but not yet.

Bookish: Do you have any tips for getting younger reluctant readers to pick up a book?

WS: Nothing made me read a book faster than my parents discouraging me from reading it. Fear of Flying came out, and they said, “This is too old for you.” So I thought, I’m reading it. Parents often ask me what to do if their child doesn’t like to read, and I’ll recommend that they buy a certain book, and I offer to write their child’s name in it and under that I write, “This is a book of which your parents won’t approve.”

Bookish: The End of Your Life Book Club touches me deeply for many reasons, but primarily because I am a mother who shares a love of reading with her son. What is a book you think that is perfect for a parent and child to read together?

WS: There are so many extraordinary books for a parent and child to read together. It’s really the experience of talking about it with the parent that is so special. I used to think books were the greatest gift you could ever give anyone, but I don’t think that anymore. I now think they are the second greatest gift, because the greatest gift is the conversation you have about a book that you love. I also think that there’s something extraordinary about parents who are reading what their children want them to read. There’s something really powerful about parents who follow their child’s instinct and interests and passions. Sometimes parents present their favorite books from their childhood to children, and it just may not speak to that child. Reading the the books that your kids love is a great thing.

I tell the story of a grandmother who was sad because she used to have these great conversations with her grandson and they became monosyllabic. At some point she asked him what he was reading, and he said The Hunger Games. So she read The Hunger Games, and then they had something to talk about. The amazing thing about The Hunger Games is, before you know it, you’re talking about the role of media in society, about war, about income inequality. There are some books out now that are amazingly powerful and that can give way to some important conversations.The Hate U Give is one that families should read together. Every family should read that book together. There is so much to talk about there, and it’s a marvelous book.

Now more than ever, we need to read. We need to read really diverse voices which are very different from our own experience, whatever that is and whoever we are. We should seek out writing by people who are very much unlike us and challenge our preconceptions.

Will Schwalbe has worked in publishing; digital media, as the founder and CEO of Cookstr.com; and as a journalist, writing for various publications, including The New York Times and the South China Morning Post. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller The End of Your Life Book Club and coauthor, with David Shipley, of Send: Why People Email So Badly and How to Do It Better.

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NetGalley Author Interview: Kate Moore

Watch our author video interview, “15 minutes with… Kate Moore,” now! Here, we discuss the different genres Moore writes in, her inspiration behind writing about this American scandal and what new project she’s working on. You don’t want to miss this interview brought to you by NetGalley, Meryl Moss Media and BookTrib.com.

The Radium Girls

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Pub Date: May 2, 2017
History, Nonfiction (Adult)
Published by Sourcebooks Non-Fiction

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The incredible true story of the women who fought America’s Undark danger

Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive ― until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.

But the factories that once offered golden opportunities are now ignoring all claims of the gruesome side effects, and the women’s cries of corruption. And as the fatal poison of the radium takes hold, the brave shining girls find themselves embroiled in one of the biggest scandals of America’s early 20th century, and in a groundbreaking battle for workers’ rights that will echo for centuries to come.

Written with a sparkling voice and breakneck pace, The Radium Girls fully illuminates the inspiring young women exposed to the “wonder” substance of radium, and their awe-inspiring strength in the face of almost impossible circumstances. Their courage and tenacity led to life-changing regulations, research into nuclear bombing, and ultimately saved hundreds of thousands of lives…

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