Crack open an author’s skull (preferably after drugging them first) and you’ll find a simmering stew of influences floating around in there like a horrible soup. It’s not pretty, but these are the things that shaped me as I grew up and wound up rendering me virtually unemployable, incapable of doing anything except sitting at a desk and typing about imaginary people doing made up things.
NUCLEAR WAR — I grew up in the Eighties, totally and completely convinced that I would most likely die in a nuclear firestorm before I reached legal drinking age. It didn’t help that my dad took every opportunity to tell me that the Soviet Union had 50 missiles aimed at our hometown at all times and we were on their list of Top Ten First Strike Targets. I don’t know why he told me this, because it wasn’t true. In fact, I wonder if he even believed it. Nevertheless, I was eight years old and I believed it with every inch of my tiny body, and so I lived with the utter conviction that I’d be dead before I turned 21. It didn’t help that I watched every single nuclear war movie I could get my hands on, from The Day Afer, to When the Wind Blows, to Special Buleltin and, in particular, Threads which always left me shaking, sick, and convinced that at any minute the end was going to come and we’d all wind up trading dead rats for sex.
THE HOSPITAL — my dad was a doctor and my sisters and I spent our summers working at his office. I don’t know if it was lugging racks of baked bunny lungs to the lab, or the day I saw three people without noses, or the tour we got of the gross anatomy lab full of partially dissected cadavers, or the medical textbooks full of horrible skin diseases I’d page through in his office while waiting for him to wrap up for the day, but something about those industrial green corridors covered in heavy duty linoleum tile and populated with the sick, injured, and dying really stuck with me for the rest of my life.
ZOMBIES — I saw too many zombie movies at a far too young age. The first one I remember was Dawn of the Dead, which I rented for a birthday party when I was 12, followed by Day of the Dead, then Night of the Living Dead, which led to Return of the Living Dead, which a friend’s mom loved so much she drove us all to see. Even today, when I’m stressed, I have recurring nightmares in which legions of the undead chase me down, corner me, and tear me apart while I’m still alive.
LIBRARIES — Growing up in Charleston, SC, my map of the world was basically that map in Time Bandits, except instead of showing time portals that led to ancient Crete, it showed wormholes that led between libraries. There was the downtown library, wrapped in pink marble, shaped like a castle, and lit by twitchy fluorescents. There was the College of Charleston library, as sterile as an operating theater, totally devoid of students, with an ice cold basement full of back issues of the Tulane Drama Review, American Theater, and the Village Voice. If I wanted to look at pictures of naked women, gruesome birth defects, or burn victims I’d sneak into the Medical University Library. And then there was the Library Society, which was guarded by a locked rear door that buzzed to let you in, as if you were going into some kind of illegal fight club. Inside, there were shadowy stacks leading off into dusty dimness, crowded with rotting books that nobody ever read. There was always one librarian on duty, but she couldn’t do anything for you if you got cornered in one of the dark corners of the library by the whispering ghosts who I’m convinced lingered there.
Grady Hendrix lives in New York. He is the author of Horrorstör, a novel about a haunted IKEA store, which is being turned into a series by Gail Berman (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), and Josh Schwartz (Gossip Girl). Previously a journalist, he is also a co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival. For more, visit his website, and follow him on Twitter and Goodreads.