| Memphis Commercial Appeal
Blade. Buffy. Van Helsing.
Even after a couple of centuries of books, comics, movies and TV shows, the roll call of celebrity vampire hunters remains exclusive.
Grady Hendrix just might change that. The rising horror writer’s latest novel, “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” which made a surprise debut on The New York Times best-seller list in April, suggests neglected suburban housewives may have what it takes to drive pointed stakes through the undead chests of those who slake their thirst on human blood.
After all, aren’t wives and mothers already experienced at dealing with the cold hearts of distracted husbands, the bloodsucking instincts of salespeople at the mall, and the unholy nocturnal habits of wayward teenagers?
“Moms are no strangers to gore and violence and human bodies,” said the Charleston, South Carolina-born-and-raised Hendrix, 47, in a phone interview from his home in New York. “As much as we think of them as big-haired, soft-hearted sweetie-pies, they are up to their elbows in human excrement and blood.
“Babies, injured kids, household pets dying, taking care of elderly relatives… Good God, the first interaction they have with their children is giving birth to them.”
Hendrix — whose previous funny-but-scary novels from Quirk Books include “Horrorstör,” set inside, essentially, a haunted IKEA; “We Sold Our Souls,” which literalizes the old we-sold-our-souls-for-rock-and-roll conceit; and the self-explanatory “My Best Friend’s Exorcism” — is the Halloween-month-appropriate guest for the next edition of the “virtual book club” hosted by the bookstore, Novel.
Set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14, the event — a Zoom-style version of the in-person meet-and-greets Novel hosted, pre-pandemic — will include a question-and-answer session along with a talk by Hendrix about the history of vampires, on the page and beyond.
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Hendrix’s bona fides — or bone-a-fides — as an exhumer of horror history are well established. His best-known work might be “Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction,” a lavishly and gruesomely illustrated guide to the Stephen King-adjacent pulp-lit horror boom that dominated book racks with embossed covers showcasing skeletal hands and possessed dolls and titles that proclaimed “The Nest” and “The Succubus.” (The tome inspired a Hendrix-curated “Paperbacks from Hell” reissue series from Valancourt Books that so far is up to 13 titles.)
In preparation for that labor of lurid love, “I read 326 books in a 10-month period,” said Hendrix, who described the process as “grueling,” which seems about like describing Godzilla as “newt-like.”
For “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires,” set in the 1990s, Hendrix turned to his childhood for inspiration.
“My mom’s book club just celebrated its 42nd anniversary, so they’ve been in my life since I was born, just about,” he said. “Growing up, I had a lot of contempt for them. They were loud, they took over the house, I didn’t think the books they were reading were interesting…
“But as I got older, I came to look at them as human beings, and realized they really dealt with a lot of things that I didn’t have the emotional equipment to handle. And they kept it quiet because one of the things you do when you’re a parent is you protect your kids from dangers, physical and emotional.
“Especially in publishing, people often speak very dismissively of ‘book club ladies,’ like it’s a soft-headed demographic that sits around only reading beach books. But most book clubs I know read a huge variety of stuff — Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Churchill biographies. And what the hell is wrong with making books a central part of your social life?”
Hendrix said his publishers worried that sunlight wasn’t the only exposure deadly to vampires: He said the book company was concerned that Bram Stoker, Anne Rice, Stephenie Meyer and the rest of the Drac pack already had squeezed all the blood from the undead turnip.
Headed to the screen
The success of “Southern Book Club,” however, slew the skeptics. In fact, Hendrix said, Amazon is working to turn the book into a series, and it’s easy to imagine, say, Sandra Bullock as the novel’s Patricia Campbell, with the likes of Helen Mirren, Octavia Spencer and Kathy Bates in support.
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Hendrix — who said he studied “16th- and 17th-century heretical cults” as a religious philosophy major at New York University — pointed out that the major book tour originally scheduled for “Southern Book Club” was canceled and rejiggered in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering that the vampire myth perhaps began as a way to explain the spread of plague (something that wipes out families members, one by one, and can’t be stopped even when doors and windows are locked), Hendrix already had been thinking about infection a lot — and thinking about how often the popularity of vampires coincides with the spread of real-life infectious disease, from tuberculosis in the era of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” to AIDS when Anne Rice was writing about “The Vampire Lestat.”
“It’s one of those coincidences that happens when you write horror that makes you think, ‘Am I writing this book or is it writing me?’ “
Novel welcomes: Grady Hendrix
A “virtual book club” event with the author of “The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires.”
6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 14.
Registration is free. Visit novelmemphis.com or eventbrite.com to register.