Thursday, August 24, 2023

New John Connolly & a booksigning event!!!

Hi everyone!  Here is life going on in spite of nonsense -- on Sept 19, John Connolly's new book, The Land of Lost Things, is being released in the US.  Having already gobbled up my advance copy, I can tell you it is wonderful, dark and magical, whether or not you've read its predecessor in that universe, The Book of Lost Things.

While that date is exciting enough, please sit down, because next comes a book signing!  We are lucky enough that John reached out to us for this, and we are still a little speechless that we can make it happen.  We will be partnering with the soon-to-be-open Novel Book Bar down at the end of our block for this event.  It is going to be a tremendously convivial and magical evening.  

Novel will not yet be full-service, but you will get a sneak peek at their beautiful interior, and you can take advantage of this event to get a taste of things to come on our block.

WHAT: The Land of Lost Things by John Connolly - author talk and book signing

WHERE: Novel Book Bar, 643 Congress St, Portland ME 04101

WHEN: Friday Oct 6, 2023 at 6:00pm

EVENT PAGE:   Registration for the event via showing interest on Facebook is not required, but will help us get a headcount, and you will see any event updates.  :)

John will give a short talk (20-25 minutes), and if you haven't seen him speak in person you are in for a treat!  Afterwards he will take any audience questions, then sign your books.  It is going to be a delightful evening!

More on the new book:

The Land of Lost Things by John Connolly
ON SALE: SEPTEMBER 19, 2023 - you can preorder your copy here: 

After 17 years, #1 internationally bestselling author John Connolly finally returns to the upside-down fairy tale world of his critically acclaimed novel The Book of Lost Things for a wonderfully dark yet moving book about loss, parenthood, and the place of books and stories in our lives.

“Twice upon a time—for that is how some stories should continue…”

Thus John Connolly begins his astonishingly original adventure set in a strange and magical universe. In The Land of Lost Things, the prolific, award-winning author again brilliantly blurs the boundaries of fantasy and reality while celebrating the redemptive power of the written word.

Phoebe, an eight-year-old girl, lies in a coma following a car accident. She is a body without a spirit, a stolen child. Ceres, her mother, can only sit by her bedside and read aloud to her the fairy stories she adores in the hope they might summon her back to this world. But it is so very hard to be patient, to
keep faith, to believe.

Now an old house on the hospital grounds, a property connected to a book written by a vanished author, is calling to Ceres, inviting her to open its door and enter a land colored by the memories of her childhood and the folklore she has shared with her precious daughter. In this familiar yet frightening place, Ceres will encounter friends and foes, witches and dryads, giants and mandrakes. But as she struggles to make sense of this landscape and decipher its hidden messages, old enemies are watching, and waiting.

Is this just a terrifying dream, or a way for Ceres to recover her daughter? And what sacrifices will a mother make in order to be reunited with her child? The only way to find out is by getting lost in another triumphantly fantastical novel from John Connolly.


“A moving fable, brilliantly imagined, about the agony of loss and the pain of young adulthood.”
–The Times (London)

“Enchanting, engrossing, and enlightening.” –The Sun-Sentinel, Florida

“Peculiar and perverse and humane.” –The Irish Times 

About the Author: 

If you haven't already had me yammer on about how awesome he is, read on.  

John Connolly is the internationally bestselling author of 30+ books, including The Book of Lost Things, the Charlie Parker series of mystery novels, the supernatural collections Nocturnes and Night Music, and the Samuel Johnson trilogy for young readers. His books have won literary honors such as the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony awards, and a CWA Dagger. 

Formerly a journalist with The Irish Times, he studied English at Trinity College, Dublin, journalism at Dublin City University, and is currently pursuing his PhD at University College Cork. 

He divides his time between his birthplace of Dublin, Ireland, and his home in Portland, Maine, the setting for many of his books. He is also the host of the long-running radio show ABC to XTC on RTE Gold, in which he returns to the music of his youth. For more information, visit

Thursday, August 10, 2023

IMPORTANT notice re: special orders, website & bookbuying

Okay, 2nd try after the post draft dumped.  :P

First of all, thank you all for your help in getting the cooling system installed here in the shop.  It took months, and much hoop-jumping, and back-and-forth between myself, the contractor, the landlord, and the City of Portland, but it finally happened!  Thank you all for helping that become a reality.  What a relief!  Please stop in when you can, and enjoy the cool comfort of a non-humid, refreshing shop.

But of course nothing stands still, and unexpected things happen.  I have to go in for some major surgery before the end of August, so that is going to mean a few things will temporarily change.  After my initial recovery period, there will be another month or so when I cannot lift anything substantial.  Irony of ironies, for someone who spends all day, every day, lifting boxes and stacks of books.  :(  So that will be going on until mid-October.  With that in mind:

1)  Bookbuying/trading (which is currently limited and only done by appointment) will be put on hold until at least late October.

2)  The website will remain open so you can see what we carry for new items before coming in, but there will be a hiatus in processing orders, so we recommend you simply call or come into the shop if you would normally do a pickup order.  We will not be pulling/shipping orders on a normal timeframe until after Sept 15.  This means any mail orders placed on the website after Aug 19th will be shipped after that date.

3)  Special orders are on hold effective immediately.  We will resume taking special orders after mid-September.  We recommend buying through our link at if you'd like to help out while avoiding giving money to Amazon!

Please do continue to come into the shop to support us - there is no shortage of amazing and wonderful books to peruse.  Our hours remain the same (closed Mon, open Tues-Sat 11:00-5:00, and Sun 12:00-4:00).  

All your support will be hugely helpful.  It's been an expensive and painful summer.  I haven't had a vacation since 2019, and I'm certainly not getting one this year.

Thank you in advance for your understanding as we hit the pause button on a few things!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

(207)TERROR #2: We're back! ...with WOLFEN

Here's another foray into horror fiction by me and Dennis.  Last time we tried a conversational approach, interspersing each other's observations about Rick Hautala's Night Stone, and that went pretty well.  

[you can read post #1 here if you missed it:]

This time Dennis wanted to try a different approach, wherein we got together and discussed our book face-to-face instead of typing back and forth.  Obviously this is always a more enjoyable experience for us.  Dennis promised he would take notes and type them up later.

He got this far:


Apparently after tasting the Murder Hornet I ordered (my fave cocktail at LFK, which is right across Longfellow Square from the shop) it obliterated all of Dennis's original plans for the evening, and he gave up on taking notes at that point.  Ah well!  Of course we don't let such things stop us, and we have put together a post for you regardless.

NOTE:  You won't know this from reading the text below, but Dennis's document formatting defaults to Dutch spelling, so my experience in editing this document was tremendously surreal, because most words showed up with the little red underlining that denotes typos... and every time I tried to type something like "to the" it automatically changed it to "tot he" which at first I thought was making everything dead, but no, that would be in German -- instead it was trying to make me say "See you!" in Dutch (which I guess also works if you're dead? 😂).  Word nerds unite!!!


The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber

discussed by Dennis Seine with sidenotes and afternotes by Michelle Souliere

First things first. Nine times out of ten, folks misspell this author’s last name: instead of Strieber, they go for Streiber. Then, it becomes impossible to find his books at your local library. Chaos ensues. The horror community comes crashing down. So let’s keep it Strieber.

I was reading a bit about this fascinating guy this morning. His newest book came out in 2017, and is called The Afterlife Revolution. Why bring this up? Because he co-wrote with his wife Anne. Who died in 2015. 

So in case you were wondering if Strieber (not Streiber) has backed down from his claims in his 1987 nonfiction bestseller Communion, think again. In these fruitful times for conspiracy theorists, Strieber is letting his freak flag fly and is up to his ears in Roswell, crop circles, JFK assassination plots, telepathic communication (see above), and more of these gloriously weird ideas.

The text-heavy original paperback
Now, this wasn’t always the case. In 1978 his debut novel The Wolfen was published. And it was a hit. The book got made into a movie with the same name in 1981, starring Albert Finney.

These Wolfen are not werewolves. They are descendants from canine species and have lived secretly alongside the human race for centuries, including in New York City, where the book takes place:

No pack knew how these cities came about, but man inhabited them, keeping for himself the warmth they produced in winter, and the dryness that was not affected even by the most violent rain. While the sky poured water or snow, man sat comfortably in the cities. How these things grew and why man possessed them, nobody could say.”

They feed on people, but pick out the ones nobody misses: Outcasts and drug addicts, living in ghettos and alongside the train tracks. It is as classic a picture of New York City in the seventies and eighties as you can imagine. The city is dirty, crime abounds, homeless people are walking the dark, rainy streets of Manhattan, full of trash. The place is heaven for Wolfen.

Another early paperback edition!
Until things go wrong. Strieber does not mess around here. In the opening chapters a gruesome murder takes place. Two cops are attacked and don’t even have time to fire their guns. They are partially eaten. The tracks surrounding the bodies are odd and appear dog-like, plus there is unexplainable fur on the wounds.

Obviously, the Chief of Police wants to avoid a mass panic and issues with the upcoming election. So the published story involves carbon monoxide poisoning and stray dogs. 

But the two police officers assigned to the case, the older George Nelson and his much younger female partner Becky Neff (a female cop in the New York City of the seventies? She must work twice as hard as her male colleagues to prove she belongs there. SPOILER ALERT: she does.), aren’t buying it and follow the leads. They approach several experts and slowly discover there are other sentient beings walking the streets of the city than just prostitutes, dirty cops and other undesirables. In the process, they almost develop some feelings for each other, but that storyline more or less bleeds out.

Suntup ed w/Francois Vaillancourt art!

Does this sound like your basic American Werewolf story? Sure, to a certain extent. But Strieber makes a few decisions that lift up this book to great heights.

First of all, he switches off the storytelling perspective between the officers investigating the case and the actual Wolfen. And it’s not even corny. It makes for a much more interesting background to the ‘villains’ in the novel.

Secondly, Strieber goes for functional gore. Gore for gore’s sake can be a bit lazy. Here, it works, for instance when the Wolfen are digging out the brains of one of their victims to get rid of all memories of their discovery:

[p180 in 1988 Avon edition]

So, the little old man was contaminated by the other two, the two who knew. […] The man’s hands fluttered up before his face and his bowels let loose.  That was all that happened.  Then they were on him, pulling and tearing, ripping full of rage, spitting the bloody bits out, angry that the two important ones had been missed, angry that this one also dared to confront them with his evil knowledge.  They had cracked open the head and plunged their claws into the brains, plunged and torn to utterly and completely destroy the filthy knowledge.

Thirdly, the book does not waste any time and goes into fifth gear straight away. This is a full-blown pageturner, a cop thriller that uses genre conventions that work, adds a few dimensions, subverts some of the reader’s expectations, and turns it into a rather short book that packs a punch. It works its way into a terrifying and a bit of a sudden apotheosis, which leaves open all sorts of possibilities for sequels that unfortunately never came.


When Wolfen dumps the reader right into the action without any warm-up it’s a real jumpstart, and a heavy application of police procedural as the focus for the storytelling really threw me (Michelle) when I read it – at least at first. 

Michelle's copy, a 1988 reprint.

The way the story expands through history almost effortlessly as the reader continues on is deftly done.  As more and more of the voice of the Wolfen is introduced, the perception of their culture and a fascination (almost sympathy) with their survival is fed, word by word, as you learn more about these very “other” characters.  Like a vulpine Hansel and Gretel, the Wolfen strew breadcrumbs for you to follow them into the maw of their story.


I also noticed (once I got over its presence in a horror novel) that using a police procedural focus in the storytelling allowed a very solid framework on which to hang some truly outrageous story elements.  Because of how Strieber tells this story via both its police officers and academic characters with their rigid worldview, by the end of the book you find yourself nodding along, accepting a deluge of fantastic concepts because you know, somewhere in the morass of NYPD and institutional paperwork, it is all on record somewhere. 

The other very effective tactic used by Strieber as he invades our brain is a look-back realization.  Ferguson is driven to research the potential of folkloric links left behind by the Wolfen.  Mid-research, he finds himself leaping out of a chair as a special collections librarian turns the page of an ancient book for his inspection.  The image on the page triggers a flashback to what he thought had been a childhood nightmare.

[p149] His mind was racing now as he remembered an incident that had occurred when he was no more than six or seven.  […]  He was asleep in his ground-floor bedroom.  Something awakened him.  Moonlight was streaming in the open window.  And a monstrous animal was leaning in, poking its muzzle toward him, the face clear in the moonlight.  He had screamed and the thing had disappeared in a flash.  Nightmare, they said.  And here it was staring at him again, the face of the werewolf.

This is an incredible moment, and the reader feels as startled as Ferguson himself.  It adds a surreal gravitas, a reality to the situation that ties the current tension to a childhood nightmare, and links it all to a centuries-old lineage of lupine horror, following humans from the dark forests to the shadow of their graves.

In closing:  Is this a perfect novel?  Heck no.  But it is a fun read, with a lot of interesting ideas worked into it.  And when you consider it's Strieber's debut, it's a heckin' strong start.  Definitely worth sitting down with - entertaining and a fast read!

Saturday, March 25, 2023

(207)TERROR #1: Michelle & Dennis talk horror!

Those of you who know me, also know I read omnivorously.  However, the horror genre is my favorite go-to.  I cannot quit it!

My friend Dennis is the same way about horror, and he suggested we start doing blog posts about some of our reading.  So here we are!  I initially called this feature "Horror DM" because it's Dennis and Michelle, and because we are DM-ing you on horror's behalf to let you know what's going on in some of these crazy books.  But Dennis was skeptical 😂 so we brainstormed and now it's (207)TERROR because alliteration always wins.

Our inaugural post is about a Maine horror favorite, Rick Hautala.  Enjoy!


Night Stone by Rick Hautala

As discussed by Dennis Seine and Michelle Souliere

Dennis:  Rick Hautala is from Maine. Or he was from Maine; sadly, he passed away in 2013.  And because it was exactly a decade ago he died, fellow author and friend Christopher Golden organized an online read-along of Hautala’s most famous work: Night Stone, of which more than a million copies were sold (that blew my mind). And that impressive number is not just because it is one of the first paperbacks with a hologram on its cover. This atmospheric novel leaves a lasting impression. It’s hard to shake.


Michelle:  Having read a bunch of Rick’s books in the past, I was long overdue to dive back into his bibliography, and what better place to jump back in than Night Stone!  Big thanks to author Christopher Golden for instigating what will hopefully be an annual revisitation with Rick during February, the month of his birthday.  Rumor has it that next year’s selection is likely to be another iconic Maine horror classic, Little Brothers, long rated a favorite of fans who read it back in the 1980s, if you want to get a head start.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, dazzled as I was by the fabulously spooky laser hologram cover (earlier printings have a confusing note inside the cover, referring to Zebra’s line of romance novels, which in the context of this book is hilarious). 

However, once I settled in, the story alternated between comfort and unease.  Comfort, because Rick captured the weirdly in-between summer world of southern Maine, quasi-rural and butting up against the seasonal tourist trade, old, with its century-old history already being forgotten, but still nowhere near as ancient as the history lurking unknown beneath its surface.  Unease, because from the start there are personal tensions at play, even before you push past them to the true dread at the heart of the story.

Night Stone’s kickoff point is the overriding tension generated by moving several states away from where the family was living (Rhode Island to Maine), and the weirdness of living in an old family homestead that everyone else in the family refuses to live in (renting it out to a steady procession of unknown renters instead).

Dennis:  In the book we follow Don, his wife Jan and their daughter Beth as they move into their new, rural home in southern Maine. Don is a handy fellow who is going to teach at the local high school once the summer break is over.  During his vacation, he works on the endless list of chores that need to happen. The dilapidated family home is old and spooky, and needs some TLC.

Meanwhile daughter Beth, I’m not sure how old she is but I am guessing about twelve, finds a creepy doll that she gets completely obsessed with and/or possessed by. Always a great sign! And Jan is looking for work. She used to make her money as a realtor back in Rhode Island, where they lived before relocating to the sticks. Turns out the need for realtors in this part of the state is lacking, so she decides to try her luck at a local restaurant as a waitress.

Michelle:  I was immediately struck by the first weird about-face in the story – when previously successful Jan can’t immediately break the ice of the local realty market to get hired by a firm, she instead on a whim applies at a greasy spoon with rude tourist customers and an equally greasy I’m-gonna-get-in-your-pants owner.  That seems …reasonable?  Maybe she’s just a masochist at heart.

Meanwhile, Don throws himself into hard labor, rolling around in an attic full of itchy pink fiberglass insulation on the hottest days of the year.  And when that’s done, he enjoys digging trenches for a change of pace.

Clearly demonstrating her masochistic nature yet again, Jan sees that Don is having far too much fun giving himself heat exhaustion, and decides to break ground on a garden for herself, even though it’s far too late in the season to grow anything in Maine.  Wait, maybe it’s not masochism.  Maybe she’s just not that smart?  Also she makes Don do some of the work for her.  Wait, so maybe she is smart?


Swanky hologram cover in action!

Dennis:  While digging around in the garden, Don finds a severed hand, possibly Native American. He becomes absolutely obsessed with not just the hand, but the enormous stone slab he discovers in the yard. This displeases Jan. Actually, everything the somewhat eccentric Don does seems to displease Jan. This does not discourage Don, who calls in a few academic experts to help him. But his main sidekick is a neighbor with a Native American heritage, Billy, who helps him dig up the colossal stone. Great idea, Don! Go dig up an ancient burial ground! 

Michelle:  Meanwhile, young preteen daughter Beth is exhibiting weird behavior (even beyond her obsession with the tiny decrepit homunculus she’s carting around) which her parents are either a) completely oblivious to, or b) choose to pretend hasn’t happened.  In an unrelated plot twist, Beth really, really, really wants a horse, so Don finally wears down Jan into letting her keep a horse in the small barn beside the house.  They find a lovely dark young mare named Dobbin and buy her, and Beth promptly renames her Goblin.  NOTHING CREEPILY PORTENTIOUS ABOUT THAT AT ALL.  Nope.

And did I mention…?  Ever since they’ve moved into the house, Don has been having vivid, unsettling dreams which involve him repeating over and over to himself in shock, “No!  Not blood!”  But why would you tell anyone about that?  Don shrugs and goes on with his hard labor days.

And all these things just make up the start.  There are plenty of incidents, omens, and warnings to ignore (yes, ignore – why would you pay attention to a direct warning?) peppering the story as it gears up to its bloody, explosive ending.  And yes, don’t worry – there are plenty of moments in which to scream at the page, “WHY are you DOING that?!!  Are you a FOOL???”

Dennis:  Is the book a homerun? It wasn’t to me. But I had a great time reading it, even though Hautala or the editors at Zebra books could’ve easily shaved off 200 pages of this 600 page clunker. The characters are as vivid as they are flat: Don is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and Jan is, well, kind of an asshole, to be honest. Plus there are a few scenes with a voyeur that seem completely pointless.

The mood is key here, though. While reading this bona fide page turner, it was hard to stop or to think about anything else. From page one there is an impending sense of doom that runs throughout the book. This meticulous and steady buildup of the events was phenomenally spooky. And the claustrophobic ending? Absolutely terrifying.

Michelle:  As part of the celebration of Rick via a group read of Night Stone, Christopher Golden also arranged to host a Zoom gathering at the end of the February, in which we all got a chance to sift through the detritus of this book from back to front.

During the discussion, some repeated themes were brought up, such as severed hands, and a particularly shocking dream image (Don had a lot of dreams!) which reappears later in the real world.  After listening to us muse over these patterns for a bit, Christopher spoke up and illuminated something for us.  Rick had told him that these barbed, stick-to-your-brain elements of the story came from one of his own dreams.  In the dream, he had encountered a horrifying corpse, strung up and with its hand severed, decayed and unavoidable.  The corpse, swinging from its noose, turned to reveal its face to him, something pouring out of its mouth as it did so.  Write what you know!  Yikes.

So yes, as Dennis says – while the story is a bit of a hot mess, and overall not subtle, there are elements in it that have a cumulative, increasingly creepy effect on the reader, and linger long after one puts the book down.  I also really enjoyed the way Rick wove his Finnish heritage and bits of the Finnish language throughout the book, creating some of the spookiest bits.

All in all, it’s a perfect example of the best of the “Paperbacks from Hell” phenomena.  Weird, entrancing cover art, lots of bizarre story elements, lots of chances to yell in outrage at the characters, and lots of fun. 


If you'd like to read more about Rick, here is a post I did shortly after his death in 2013.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Ghosts Both Loud and Quiet - an interview with Grady Hendrix

On January 22, 2023, I was able to chat to Grady Hendrix about his new book, How to Sell a Haunted House while he was en route to his performance in Savannah, GA.  Don’t worry, I think we did really well avoiding any spoilers!!!


GH: Do you want to dive in?


MS:  Yeah, let’s do this!  I guess we could start with a little check-in, because How to Sell a Haunted House came out just a week ago.  How’s it going so far?


GH:  Pretty chaotic!  I’ve been on the road, doing shows, and I’ll be out here for about two more weeks, doing shows all through Florida, and Texas, and up into Chicago and then Massachusetts.  I’m on my way to Savannah right now to do one this afternoon in a brewery.  I’m driving past a bunch of Jesus billboards right this minute.  Yeah, it’s going great. 


It’s weird, because this is a book my editor and I really thought was going to be sort of a miss.  So it’s been nice to see people respond to it.  It was a really, really hard book to land.  There were three radically different versions of this book before I got to the one that’s the current version.  My editor and I had a pretty frank conversation.  Both [of us] felt like it’s a really weird book, it’s a really personal book, and we really felt that – you know, it would be okay, but we’d do better next time.  That’s what you’ve got to do, right?  We were pretty prepared to write it off. 


The response has been really nice.  And it’s really nice to see people get invested in a book this weird.


MS:  From my own experience reading it, yeah, it’s a lot.  It came out great!

How did the book start?  What was the little germ that kicked it off and seeded it?


GH:  It was definitely Covid.  My mom had a couple of health scares, and I was down in South Carolina, staying with her for a while in 2020.  I think Covid really made a lot of us hyper-aware of our parents’ mortality.  I was standing out in the garage, looking for something, and she has all this junk out there.  There were all these garbage bags full of fabric scraps that she keeps saying she’s going to make a quilt out of, for the last … twelve years?  Longer than that.  And she’s never going to make a quilt.  She’s never made a quilt in her life. 


I was just realizing, I’m going to have to sort through it all, and throw it out when she dies.  What do you do with all this stuff?  There’s the easy stuff, when someone dies, and you’re cleaning out their house.  There’s stuff that’s clearly garbage, and stuff that’s clearly family heirlooms, but … there’s a lot of stuff that falls into a gray area.  There are clothes, there’s shoes, collections they have that you’re not very interested in, and don’t have much value. 


It just got me thinking about the weird kind of relationship we all have with inanimate objects.  We talk to our cars, and we beg our phones not to crash, and we surround ourselves with dolls.  With Funkos, and action figures, and… beanie babies!  Our kids have dolls, and our dogs have dolls.  It made me really realize that we all have this strange relationship with inanimate objects, that I hadn’t really seen many people write about. 


And I wanted to write about family, because that was a challenge.  I hadn’t really written about a family with siblings, and family stories are usually ghost stories -- are in general haunted house stories. 


All those pieces started adding up.  And that was where things started rolling. 


MS:  In your own life, do you have any particular doll or toy experiences from your own past that kind of drove Louise and Mark’s experiences in the book?


GH:  Oh sure, sure!  I really had a lot of stuffed animals as a kid, who I was very concerned with.  You want to make sure they’re comfortable, and not bored, and have something to do when you go to school, and things like that.  Pupkin is definitely inspired by my wife’s childhood stuffed animal Snocchio, who’s this guy who has been with her since she was probably two years old.  No one’s quite sure where he came from, he kind of just showed up one day in her crib, probably a gift?  He’s pretty terrifying, but he’s also – he’s a cool guy, he just takes a little getting used to.


I always feel like Toy Story, the movies that deal with this, really let Andy off a bit too easy.  The toys have an obligation to him, but he doesn’t seem to have any obligation to the toys.  And that’s sort of what drives The Velveteen Rabbit, and why I always found that such a horrifying book.  These animals so want to serve this kid, and the kid seems to care less.  I always thought that was such a crazy unequal relationship.  The dynamic is so warped.


MS:  In How to Sell a Haunted House, it really struck me when Louise talks about how her stuffed animals were an early teaching tool for how to care for and love other people.


GH:  I think it’s really an interesting thing that kids surrounded by things that seem animate, right?  Stuffed animals!  Yet they are enormously, immediately empathetic towards them.  They recognize that these are smaller creatures than them, that they have a responsibility towards.  I think that’s enormously kind.  It taps into a real kindness from kids that you don’t see sometimes when people get older.  “These are smaller, and weaker than me, and I need to take care of them, I need to explain things to them.  I need to make sure they’re comfortable, and all that kind of stuff” -- which I think is enormously empathetic, and seems to occur naturally with kids.


MS:  And it’s an organic process that you might not necessarily immediately feel with your siblings, your younger siblings, because you have to do that with them.  That’s a duty put upon you, but with the stuffed animals, it’s totally voluntary.


GH:  Right!  And also I think with a lot of kids, maybe not every kid, there’s also a lot of projection there.  You’ll interact with your stuffed animals and they’ll interact back with you and tell you things and talk to you about things, but you kind of create their point of view in your head.


MS:  It’s a really interesting little dialogue.  I have that with the books in the shop too.  [laughs]  I talk to them sometimes.


GH:  That’s what I’m saying.  We all, even as adults, have these relationships with inanimate objects.  I was talking to someone who was telling me that they didn’t.  And I was like, “Yeah, but if you step on one of your kids’ stuffed animals, do you just not say anything?” and she goes, “Oh no, well I say ‘Sorry,’” so exactly.  You know?


MS:  At the start of How to Sell a Haunted House, some sort of very mundane, but creepy house moments occur.  You talked about your mom having some house scares [NOTE:  I thought he had said “house scares” earlier, but he in fact said “health scares,” ha!], and stuff like that. 


Are there moments where you’ve experienced stuff that make you wonder if something’s going on?  Because How to Sell a Haunted House rides a tandem track between all these toys and puppets, and also the house, and what that means, the haunted house.


GH:  Absolutely.  It’s not even stuff that made me wonder.  I think everyone, to some extent, has experienced that feeling of being in the house where you grew up, and it’s the afternoon, and maybe you’re home from school early, or you come home and no one’s there, and … this feeling of just… unease.  You know? 


You’re all alone in that house, it’s afternoon, it’s getting towards evening, and the house – you know, you definitely don’t feel like all the rooms are empty.  You definitely feel like the house is listening, and paying attention to you.  I think that’s a really common experience.  My parents were divorced and my mom worked, and so I’d come home and be alone until evening.  My sisters were all older than me, and were moved off to college, and living on their own. 


There’d be times I’d just leave the house and sit in the front yard and wait for someone to come home because it got overwhelming.  And I would be surprised to meet someone who hadn’t had that experience.


MS:  You’re a youngest child, yeah?


GH:  Yeah.


MS:  I think my youngest brother also had a similar experience, which we, the older kids, didn’t have, because the house was always full.  That gives it a very different feel. 


Do you remember any particular moments that sent you out into the front yard?


GH:  Oh sure!  You’d hear things fall over in the attic… we definitely had squirrels up there, but…  so you’d hear that.  Or it would just become overwhelming.  The feeling of unease.  Because I think it’s really hard to be anywhere by yourself as a human being, and not start to populate it.  Whether it’s hiking, or when you’re in the woods on your own, or you’re in a house by yourself.  Anything.  We just start to insert sentience into our surroundings.  So for me it would hit a point where I just couldn’t handle it any more, I would just have to get out of there.


MS:  That shows a lot of wisdom, too, though.  Knowing your limits.  [laughs]


GH:  Exactly.  And my limits were pretty low.


MS:  [laughs more]  Which is ironic considering the stuff you write!


GH:  At the same time, though, this is one of the things that stands me in good stead – I feel like the job of a writer is to pay attention to what’s going on around you and what’s happening, and I think that feeling of unease probably stems from paying too much attention to the house around you.


MS:  When I read your books, I generally have to take breaks, because it gets to be too much, you know?  Not unlike you having to get out of your house!  And so I have to put it down.  But with How to Sell a Haunted House, I got my review copy so close to when we were initially scheduled to do this interview that my breaks – instead of being a few days, or a few weeks, or a few months -- the breaks got shortened into an hour or less.  I really had to jam it in there, really push through it, and the whole thing that kept me going was “I know at the end of Grady’s books he always pulls it all together, and it’s oooookay!”  I mean -- it’s horrifying, but it’s okay.  You know.  So I’m going to keep going, and I’m going to trust that he’s going to do it again!  And that was got me through it, and once again it was totally worth it!  Because you really do – you push your readers to a real breaking point right along with your characters sometimes.  


You said that you, as a writer, need to pay attention to the world around you, and I think you have, very keenly, and all of that is embedded in the book in a way that’s so real, that it absolutely cannot be denied.  You know?


GH:  Thank you!  I really appreciate that.


MS:  Returning to writing – what is your process like?  I know it’s long.  I also know you posted about your Wall of Crazy which I hadn’t known about before, so – could you talk a little bit about what your process is like, now that you’re through writing How to Sell a Haunted House?


GH:  I write a lot of drafts.  And generally I’ll have a first draft, and I’ll have a lot of stuff I want to get in there, a lot of set pieces, a lot of moments.  And generally that kind of overwhelms it.  So I’ll kind of drag myself through that last third, and then I’ll put it aside a little bit.  Then I’ll go back and do another draft.  Really what it becomes is getting rid of all this stuff I think is so cool.  And focusing more and more on the characters.  And really narrowing down on them. 


And then I always have a big wall ahead of me [the aforementioned Wall of Crazy] that has a lot of visual reference on it.  Some of it is images that have stuck with me, and some won’t even be for that particular book.  There’s an image of a kid wearing an old man mask, walking up a flight of stairs, and I’ve had that up since… probably My Best Friend’s Exorcism.  No – We Sold Our Souls.  I think that went up when I was writing We Sold Our Souls.  In about 2016, 2017.  And that image is really part of the impetus for How to Sell a Haunted House.  So its moment has come around. 


But the big thing with the wall is visual reference.  Because I find it really, really hard to see things in my head without visual reference.


I’ll go to the neighborhood where something’s set, and take a lot of pictures.  I just really need to see it.  And that gets harder.  Because I burn through a lot of the locations that live largest in my head.  The ones that are most familiar, I’ve done.  You know?  Mount Pleasant in the 80s, Mount Pleasant in the 90s.  LA.  Places I’ve been, that I really see clearly.  I’ve done ‘em!  So this one, Mark and Louise’s house is actually my aunt’s house from growing up, which is always where we had family events, and the house I like a lot.  So that loomed pretty large. 


There’s just so much reference.  Especially with a family story.  A family story is all backstory.  So I have the family mapped out, probably from the time Nancy, the mom, is 7 or 8 years old, all the way through, year by year, all the way through the book’s beginning.  That’s this massive, almost 30,000 word document.  But in doing that I needed a lot of visual reference for the 60s and 70s and the 90s, especially.  What were people wearing?  What was her hair going to be like?  So that’s a big part of it, just visualizing what I’m seeing inside my head.  Because it’s very easy to get abstract, and that’s kind of death.  You know?  To sort of like think that, “Oh, well the house had a bunch of trees in the front yard.”  Well, what’s a bunch?  3?  2?  1?  11?  “She was short.”  Well how short was she?  5’1”?  Was she 4’10”?  Is she 5’3”?  I find getting those specific details really helps ground me.


MS: And it’s not – one of the great things about your books is you don’t beat people over the head with the descriptions.  It’s just there.  It’s embedded.


GH:  It doesn’t necessarily have to be on the page, do you know what I mean?  But I need to be seeing it really, really clearly. 


One of my big influences from a writing point of view is Elmore Leonard.  And there are a couple other writers, like Charles Willeford is one, George V. Higgins is another, Ed McBain’s a little bit of one, in the sense that they really pare things down to the absolute minimum.  It’s more work to write the minimum. 


MS:  [laughs]  It is!  And people don’t realize that.


So, you mentioned writing multiple drafts.  Do you start from scratch for each one?  Or are you re-writing?


GH:  It’s writing, and re-writing.  The start of the book, that first chapter, that really didn’t appear until Draft 3.  Probably?  And so yeah, I’m always rewriting, but trying to add things, and drill down on them a little more, and really take out what doesn’t matter.  But with How to Sell a Haunted House, the last third of this book changed radically.  The first one took place in Vermont, the second one took place in upstate South Carolina, the third one took place in Charleston again, but it was way out on the highway, in sort of a funpark. 

  Returning to your Wall of Crazy, I notice it has a lot of food on it for this one?


GH:  Yeah.  Yeah.


MS:  My friend Sharon that I’m doing a mystery fiction blog with, she’s super food-obsessed, and she wanted to know if there were any of those recipes or food-related things – if there was a recipe you wanted to share that tied closely to the book.


GH:  No, not really.  I mean, those were all … me trying to get my head around 90s food. For me, the way into Nancy, the mom, and her character, was really the fact that she was a very enthusiastic but very baaad cook.  And that’s always a Southern tragedy, because if you’re a mom in the South, you’re expected to not only cook, but to love it.  And to cook a certain kind of food.  I think there’s a lot of pressure on people, on moms, for that.  So that was why the Wall of Crazy was so food-focused.  This idea of – she’s cookin’ and cookin’ and looking up new recipes, and getting exotic, and experimenting, and treating it like this creative outlet, and the family is just dreading eeeeverything she produces, because it’s awful.  Those recipes were more like, “Let me get in that headspace.” I would feel like I was causing a health hazard to share any of them.

  With the exception of maybe My Best Friend’s Exorcism, your covers don’t generally follow the Paperbacks from Hell model, but have you noticed because of reading all of those crazy novels from the 70s and 80s, especially horror novels – have the Paperbacks from Hell influenced your own writing?


GH:  Yeah, I guess they have, in two ways.  One is – and mostly they’re examples of what not to do – but the big thing I’ve realized is just how many of those books, especially when you get to certain publishers like Pinnacle or Zebra, how much those books were padded, and how much the cover was designed to sell the book, but often had little to do with the interior.  And you realize that so violates the contract with the reader.  And you realize that some of these books really get wild, in terms of what happens, but without being emotionally engaged with the characters. 


They were all in an arms race, how to be bigger and more over-the-top and more extreme, but they left behind the reader.  And since not much happens, in terms of scale, in How to Sell a Haunted House -- there’s not a big body count -- but I found if you get readers really emotionally invested in the characters, then even the small things feel big, because they feel big to the characters. 


I will say the positive thing I got from the Paperbacks from Hell, is that there are some writers like Elizabeth Engstrom, or Michael McDowell, who are really, really good stylists.  They really helped teach me what I can get away with, and that’s always good to see.


MS:  I was reading your little writeup you did on Tor about the book and about ghosts.  [Note:  You can read the article here:] I assume you’re always looking at ghost stories, in your work, as you’re researching.  Do you have a favorite little tiny ghost story tidbit, a detail from a ghost story that is your favorite thing? 


GH:  One of the things I love is Sir Walter Scott.  It was April in 1625, and he was out riding in Highgate.  It had snowed, and he suddenly had this insight that freezing could preserve meat, and keep it from rotting.  So he found a chicken and chopped off its head, and plucked it, and packed it with snow, to show that the ice could preserve meat over a course of several days.  And in the process of doing that he got pneumonia and died! 


To this day, people believe that at Highgate they’ve seen the ghost of a plucked headless chicken running around, roosting in trees and dropping down on people.  It was seen in WWII, some of the air wardens would chase it, thinking it was an escaped chicken they could catch and eat.  The last report of it was in the 70s, but I love the idea of this ghost chicken without a head, clucking its way through Highgate.


MS:  I do too!  [laughing]  And Highgate is like a high-strangeness nexus.  Isn’t there the Highgate Vampire and all that other stuff there?  So there’s much more serious stories at Highgate.  And that’s a beautiful complement to them!


I know your family has teachers in it, and you’ve obviously grown up reading from a young age.  How did you wind up starting to read as a kid?  Did you have any favorite early books that you started with?


GH:  My family were big readers.  All of them.  Even my dad, who only reads hardcover non-fiction about World War II.  He is always reading.  And that probably comes from his family.  He grew up pretty poor in upstate South Carolina in the country.  But his mom was a schoolteacher, and so reading was always a big deal in that family, and education.  And my mom’s family – she was a big reader from the time she was a kid.


So for my family, from the time we were all kids, you always had a book with you, and you weren’t allowed to be bored.  If you’re waiting in the doctor’s office, you’re expected to be reading.  If it’s a long car trip, you’ve got a book.  To this day, my sisters and I don’t go anywhere without taking a book, because you might wind up in line, and then you’ll read! 


As a kid, magazines were fine, newspapers were fine, comic books were fine, books that were kind of age-inappropriate – as long as it was reading.  My parents were pretty permissive.  I mean, I wasn’t allowed to see R-rated movies, and we didn’t get cable until very late, but books, they really didn’t care. 


I remember there were a couple of books when I was really little – Robert the Rose Horse was one that I was huge on, I’d read that once a week, sit in the library and read it.  That was really a big one.  Library trips were a big, big deal.  I was big on knights as a kid, so I read lots of books about knights, and I also had a thing about underwater.  I loved underwater.  So if a book was a picture book that had stuff underwater, I was all in.  There was a pirate book that had an underwater bit in it that I would read over and over. 

The real big one for me happened because my dad worked in England in Guy’s Hospital for about a year and a half when I was 6 turning 7, so we lived in Dulwich, sort of south London, during that time.  And we rented a house from these folks, and this was in the 70s, so this was very brown corduroy damp London.  And the library at this house had this big, black fake leather book, and it took me forever to figure out what it was.  I only learned it a few years ago.  It was the Reader’s Digest book called Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. 


I never want to see it again, because I’m not sure it would live up to my memory of it. 


As a kid, I was fascinated by it.  It was heavily illustrated, it was full of really gritty gothic kinds of legends, and it made England make a lot of sense to me.  There were pictures of witches being hung, and people in gibbets, and I remember really vividly a woman who had her hands tied to the clapper of a big bell, and it was being rung.  All this stuff!  And I knew that I shouldn’t be reading it, but I would take it and hide it and read it every chance I got. 


It just really made England make sense.  Because my parents were really into the whole, “Okay, it’s the weekend, we’re going to drive to this country home, or this circle of stones, or this church.”  We were always doing these cultural things.  Reading the book, it was like, “Oh, this cultural home?  It had priests’ holes, where Catholic priests would hide, and then the agents of the queen would drag them out and torture them to death.”  Or this circle of standing stones where druids would go.  It just made the country seem not the gray, rainy place I was looking at, but this place that had all of this amazing bloodshed and history. 


And you know, it’s funny.  I’m not sure there’s such a thing as an inappropriate book for a kid, honestly.  Unless it’s hardcore porn.  I just feel like – I mean, I read so much stuff that I’m not sure I’d be allowed to read if I was a kid today.  None of it did me any harm.  Even the stuff that upset me.  Learning how to deal with the upset was important.


MS:  Digesting it, and learning what to do with it.  Yeah it’s true.  I was constantly being told I was reading inappropriate stuff, because I was reading at grade levels way higher than I should have been, so I was constantly invading parts of the library which had very serious or saucy material that I shouldn’t have been touching, so I would get redirected constantly.  My references to that are probably a reflection of that constant pushback.


GH:  It’s funny.  People talk about how boys don’t read, they give up reading around 12, or whenever they get heavily involved with videogames, that seems to be the time.


MS:  It used to be sports.


GH:  Yeah.  And I used to read so much adult sexually explicit material when I was 13, 14, and really violent stuff.  I was really big on men’s adventure fiction, military fiction.  And really intense stuff.  But that’s what I wanted at 14, and 13, and 12.  I wanted that stuff!  I wanted to read something more adult.  And honestly, I really am not sure any of it did me any harm.  I mean even the super-upsetting stuff.  We used to have those big bound volumes of Life Magazine photography.  I was reading those from the time I was 8 or 9, and my dad was really into WWII, so he had the Time-Life series of WWII, which has a whole volume dedicated to the Holocaust.  So I was seeing pictures of concentration camps and the picture of the girl with the napalm, and things like that by the time I was 9 or 8. 


They were upsetting, but they were also – I don’t know – they made me feel like there was a larger world out there, where serious real things happened, that maybe I couldn’t process yet.  I was fascinated by the images but I didn’t want to know more about them.  When I got older, I did.  But it was the idea that there were things out there that weren’t quite okay yet.


MS:  I think that’s a very good point.  I remember I would go through phases where I would be really into stuff like that, and then I would step away from it and refuse to look at anything like that for a while, and then I’d be curious again.  I think it also gives kids a sense of – I don’t know – choice, and agency.  At this point in your life, you can choose whether you want to look at this stuff.  As an adult, you might not have that choice any more.  It’s a rare moment in life.


GH:  I think you’re right about the sense of agency – I mean, there was stuff I read that was wildly inappropriate, and I would recite the plot to my mom and dad, and it would be really violent, or sexually explicit, because I had an adult library card from a young age.  I’d be reading stuff like science fiction that was really raunchy sometimes, and they would just talk it through.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to mention that to my parents, and have them react in a way that made me think I’d somehow done something wrong.  That would have been weird, I would have really shut down. 


MS:  That actually touches on something about this book, because there’s the terrifying things that happen, like I kind of want to ask you about “the Inside Out Man who lived in the trees” but I also don’t, because not knowing about him is somehow much scarier, I think.  But the real horror story beyond the puppets and the haunted house and the ghosts, is the horror of what families refuse to talk about, and how that is inherited generation by generation by the kids, and affects them, because of that choice not to talk about it.  It sounds like your family communicated with each other, which is wonderful.


GH:  Yes and no.  My family was very locked down.  My immediate family.  And when my parents got divorced, I was around 12 or 13 years old, and after that – that turned out to be a great thing, because that wrecked this illusion that we were this perfect family, which my family worked very, very hard to project.  Matching outfits, doing all this kind of stuff.  And after the divorce – and my youngest sister was probably 19 when my parents got divorced – since then, my sisters and I really have this sort of unspoken rule where we’ll talk about anything.  There is no such thing as a family secret.  Probably it’s an overcorrection in the other direction?  


Obviously you’re not going to say anything that’s going to embarrass or humiliate someone in public, but everyone has these issues.  These are all just human things.  They’re just life.  And to treat them as something that “shall not be spoken” I think just gives them too much weight.  So we’ll just talk about it all.  That’s something I was very conscious of from a young age.  And after growing up with, “Oh don’t talk about this subject or that subject,” to have that removed was so liberating. 


MS:  Out of all the things I can see in the shifts of the last several generations, I feel like the current span of the folks probably 50 down through 20s, is that hopefully there is a better culture for that now, where you do talk about all that stuff because the weight it carries when it’s not spoken about can heavily damage everybody.  Worse than the hurt and shock you might feel when you’re initially talking about it.


GH:  Well and it’s also a two-edged sword.  I’m writing a book right now about a home for unwed mothers, back in the 70s.  We have people in our family who were “sent away.”  On the one hand, that was a horrorshow.  On the other hand, they wouldn’t have gotten a fair shake if they’d stayed in their communities.  You stay home and you have a baby when you’re not married and you will be ostracized, and the rumors will ruin you.  So not talking about it was a bit of a mercy.  At the same time, you had someone mothering, giving birth to a child, that they then give away and never talk about again. 


There is no right or wrong there, they’re both wrong.  It’s a really weird thing.  I’ve definitely seen the older members in our family as they got older, both of them have passed away now, but when they were older sort of come to terms with that, and have that become something that they were comfortable talking about.  It really was amazing to see.  It was sort of like watching someone solve the problem of their life.  They just became very different people.  In a good way.


MS:  Yeah, it creates a sea change.  It’s like a tidal shift that affects everything as it runs into your future.


GH:  But at the same time, in 1962, how would you have gotten married if people knew you’d had some other man’s baby?  It would have been almost unthinkable, except for a few people.


MS:  At the time, that was how it had to be done.  That was the safest way to do it. 


For my very last question, and then I’ll let you [laughs] continue on your route to Savannah – As I was reading the book, I had moments where I was just like, “Oh my gosh, he’s putting me through the wringer, I can’t handle this, AAAHHHHH!!!” One of those points happened when I was reading the parts where the possibility of possession is examined, and I actually scribbled down on my scratchpad, half-angry, half-exasperated, half-genuinely-wondering, “Do you ever get possessed by your books as you’re writing them?”


GH:  Um, I wouldn’t say “possessed,” but when writing a book, you focus very intently on something entirely made up, and bunch of imaginary playmates, and you do that for 10 months, 12 months, 13, 14 months.  There does come a point where that, and the stakes of the book, seem a lot more real than the world around you.  The book becomes the lens you see the world through. 


It really does become this strange and difficult-to-describe process where there’s a back and forth between the book and your life.  When I wrote My Best Friend’s Exorcism about those high school friends who disappear, my best friend from high school out of the blue got in touch with me.  We hadn’t spoken in fifteen years, maybe longer? We see each other a lot now. 

We Sold Our Souls
, which is sort of the book about not giving up and keeping going, was really around the time I was thinking about quitting writing.  It was just not going well.   And that book, writing that book, really got me through that. 


Writing How to Sell a Haunted House got me through the pandemic.  I was away from my family, I missed them, and so I had an imaginary family I could spend time with and think about, and focus on.  My parents both had really serious health scares, and my siblings and I, as I was writing this book, hit a point in our lives where we had to sort of start figuring out, “What are we going to do when our parents die?”  Do we stay a family?  Do we stay in touch?  Do we … what do we do?  How does a family look after that? 


Every single one of these books has been such a part of my life that it would be very hard to give that up. 


MS:  Talk about a sea change, right?  Each one has an effect…

  Well you know, it’s funny.  I wrote These Fists Break Bricks with this guy Chris Poggiali.  It’s a non-fiction book about kung fu movies coming to America, and that’s very much a story about black martial arts and Latin martial arts and Asian martial arts in America, and what that meant in the 70s.  Chris and I were doing the most amount of writing on that book during the George Floyd protests.  So it was like we were back in the 70s and watching that history still moving around us. 


It’s such a huge part of my life now, I’d have a hard time giving it up.  These books are me.


MS:  Well I hope you never do, because after you write them, they become part of our lives, and we get to partake in that too, so … thank you!  Thank you for writing, and thank you for putting them out there and getting them into our hands.


GH:  Oh yeah!  Well I love it.


MS:  Thinking in terms of your new show, do you have any warnings or promises for the audience of your April talk here in Portland?


GH:  All I’ll say is that it’s going to change your life.  It will supercharge your selling abilities, and you will really, really come away from it knowing that if a situation arises, you will be fully capable of putting a haunted house on the market.


MS:  Hey, everyone should join us!  Grady will be coming back to Portland, Maine, to appear at SPACE Gallery the evening of Wednesday, April 26.  Keep your eye peeled for event info!  And meanwhile, if you haven't yet, you should grab a copy of How to Sell a Haunted House and read it for yourself!