I met Grady a few years ago when I stumbled across a short story he did on the site Strange Horizons called “The Bright and Shining Parasites of Guiyu“. I don’t NORMALLY* write to authors to tell them I liked a story they did, but I sent a quick email to Grady letting him know how much I enjoyed the story. Anyway, it was two years ago, I don’t remember everything about the experience, except that Grady wrote back and then when his book came out, Satan Loves You, he let me know. The premise of that book is fantastic.
I started reading it, but I’d just BARELY had my son. He was maybe a month old at the time and I was hypersensitive to everything. So in the first few pages of Satan Loves You, where the story is being set up, a bunch of people are in an airport and a baby gets killed. So I stopped reading, because that scene literally wrenched my guts out. Literally. They were everywhere. No, OK, I should have used virtually instead of literally.
In any case, maybe someday when I’m feeling tougher in my guts, I’ll be able to finish the book. It’s just one of those things. Sometimes a person is just too sensitive. Having a kid does that to you. It’s true.
So then Grady’s next book came out, Occupy Space (oh, and I should mention I’ve kept up with his short stories too). He let me know and I got it and read it. No dying babies in this one, I’m happy to say. Nope. None. Just a lot of great and memorable characters. The book is only about a hundred pages, and it reads rather quickly because the writing is sharp and concise. Grady’s the kind of writer who doesn’t tolerate a lot of fat in his work. He trims it down nicely to the most succinct wording while managing to still have gripping prose.
Occupy Space is the story of a failed, drunken astronaut shedding his self-loathing and failures long enough to bring an economically challenged town together in order to build a rocket. But why build a rocket? Um, to rescue a former member of the town (who has been a successful astronaut) from a now defunct space station. Duh. Anyway, it’s a fantastic read. I loved it.
I could truly go on and on about how great it is. But that would be all me, wouldn’t it? So what I did, is, I got Grady to do an interview for my blog. I’ve never done a single interview for my blog, except for those ultra boring me-interviews, and no one even likes them.
You will absolutely adore this interview with Grady. And if you read Occupy Space (you should. Right now. Go buy it. Read it) and then read this interview, I’m sure you’ll really want to meet him. You’ll have to add Grady Hendrix to your list of people-I-want-to-have-lunch-with-because-they’re-so-damn-interesting.
Right then, enough about me. Here’s a bit of Grady for your reading pleasure:
Me: I read in another interview that you wanted to write about building something, because America used to be a place where we built things. Why did you pick a rocket as the thing to build, aside from it being hugely daunting?
Grady: We need a space program, and if the government isn’t going to give us one, then we need to build one for ourselves. The space program was the closest thing we ever had to a national religion. It was born in sin (read: Nazi rocket scientists), but it let us dream about a future where the service industry wasn’t our only destination. It was the biggest ambition our country ever had (once we gave up on conquering the world back in the 19th century), and we need something to aspire to that isn’t just about making money. But there’s also a more practical reason. The tools we have shape how we approach the world. For example, if all you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. One of the biggest tools America has is its military-industrial complex. We can’t wish it away because it’s too big and too lucrative, but we also can’t wage wars all the time. So why not apply it to the one peacetime program it has always excelled at: space? It’s a way to use it to its full potential, but keep it off the streets and out of trouble.
Me: There are some excellent examples of the “hive mind” in the story. My husband frequents Reddit and talks about how the “hive mind” can solve anything. In your opinion, after writing about it and presumably doing loads of research, would it be possible for a group of laypeople to build a viable rocket using the resources Walter’s team uses?
Grady: Not only is it possible, it’s happening. Check out Copenhagen Suborbitals (Walter refers to them in Occupy Space as “EU-worshipping, socialized-medicine-loving homosexuals in leather pants building a manned rocket in their spare time” and you can see them in all their beardy glory here: http://www.copenhagensuborbitals.com/). I sped up the timeline, and I think the ability to get enough liquid nitrogen to get into low earth orbit, as well as the legal obstacles, will keep it from actually happening, but this is something people can do. And a big shout-out to Reddit. There are some smart people out there who don’t have the jobs they deserve and their big old brains are burning holes in their pockets. I found a lot of them on r/space.
Me: I believe I read somewhere that you’re from South Carolina, but I can’t find the source. Why did you pick Melville, South Carolina?
Grady: I was born and raised in Charleston, SC. My parents are both from SC, their parents are from SC, their parents are from SC, and I think my original ancestors floated over to South Carolina on a barrel of potatoes two hundred years ago. And I hate it. I mean, who really loves the place where they grew up? I left when I was 18 and never went back, but over the years I’ve become fascinated by it and I go back a lot now. I get SC in a way that I don’t “get” New York. I can wrap my head around it and it’s so fabulously corrupt (even our governor’s private chef just got fired for ripping off the state), so incredibly strange, and so much fun that I’m probably going to be writing about it forever. What other state do you know of that has a black separatist Yoruba nation located inside its borders?
Me: Tell me about glomping? I’d never heard of it till I read your story. The glomping moment was one of the funniest parts of Occupy Space.
Grady: A friend of mine was describing it to me. According to him, if you go to anime conventions it is very likely that it will happen to you. And weaponizing an overly-enthusiastic hug sounds awesome.
Me: Speaking of writing humor, do you find it difficult to do or does it come naturally? And do you have any tips for writing humor for aspiring writers?
Grady: I have tried and tried to write serious, but I just can’t manage it. My hard drive is full of very dark, very intense stories I spent years writing and they are all loathed by everyone who reads them. In college I even wrote a very, very serious play about AIDS that won an award. The play was performed once and the (small) audience spent the entire three hours peeing themselves with laughter. Afterwards, people came up and told me how funny they thought it was. I wanted to make a bold statement. Instead I made people laugh. I came to realize that that wasn’t entirely a bad thing. In terms of tips, I’ve only got one and it’s not even mine. John Waters once said “Good taste is the enemy of art.” Replace “art” with “comedy” and you’ve got the formula that works for me.
Me: Continuing the glomping thing, Volor is into LARPing. Have you done it yourself and if you haven’t, tell us how you decided to use it.
Grady: I haven’t, but I love LARPers and cosplay and gamers and anyone who has decided that mundane, everyday reality isn’t enough for them and that they’re going to hack it. I’ve been to Comic Con in New York and San Diego a few times and at first I found it really overwhelming and very threatening and extremely easy to mock. But then, a fter a few hours I realized that all of these people were there because they genuinely and passionately loved something. Some of them loved it so much that they wanted to proclaim their love out loud even at the risk of looking silly. And that’s an amazing and rare thing. Enthusiasm is so un-cool these days, passion is so “over” that when you find it you need to put it up on a pedestal and protect it.
Me: There are loads of modern concepts floating around in Occupy Space–the “hive mind” that the Internet makes possible, the shrinking of the U.S. space program, and the whole occupy movement, just to name a few. Did you set out to merge these things into one story or did it sort of just happen?
Grady: I started writing Occupy Space while the Occupy movement was going on in Zuccotti Park down near Wall Street. The economy was tanking, people were out in the street demanding a referendum on what kind of future we were going to have, and I wanted to engage with it on some level. I think this country lost its way and mortgaged its soul for cash when it gave up on the space program. I know I sound obsessive, but I think that the only way we’ll ever return to national sanity is to start sitting highly trained individuals on stacks of explosives and shooting them to the stars again.
Me: Walter is this kind of pathetic, washed up old man (I loved the way SAC John Richter describes him the first time he sees Walter–an elderly man) whose career was a flop. What made you decide to use a failed astronaut and not one who retired after a successful stint as an astronaut?
Grady: Pop culture celebrates winning, success, the celebrity 1%, the special magical child born once every thousand years who will save us all, but for every winning team, there’s a losing team. For every first place champion there’s someone who came in last. And the fact is, most of us are going to spend our lives failing, not winning. I know that for me personally, I’m far more acquainted with failure than success. When someone wins, they jump up and down and yell, “We’re number one! We’re number one!” and everyone loves them. I’m far more interested in the person who watches their dreams die on Saturday night and then has to drag themselves in to work on Monday morning. An Olympic athlete who wins is just doing what’s expected of them. An Olympic athlete who loses has something to say about life.
Me: As I was finishing Occupy Space, I thought it would make an excellent film. I’m sure you’ve thought about it. Do you feel like it would transition well into a film? What actor do you see playing Walter?
Grady: I hadn’t actually thought about that – right now I just want people to read it! But I love that crop of older male actors like Ed Harris and Fred Ward. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about movies is that they used to be about grown-ups. Watch any action movie from the 60’s, 70’s, or even the 80’s and you’re seeing middle-aged guys kicking ass. Now everyone is 23 years old with washboard abs. Remember when Walter Matthau was an action star in movies like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three… and Charley Varrick? Walter is all about that kind of rumpled masculinity. I’ll take a 45 year-old with a grizzled mug in my movies over a Botoxed gym rat any day.
More from Grady:
Satan Loves You
Messengers from the Stars Will Come to Help Us Overcome the Obstacles That Hold Us Back From Achieving Our True Potential
*And, well, that depends on how you define “normally.” I can count on one hand the writers I’ve written to. Two. No three. Two poets–Alberto Rios and Eleanor Lerman. And then Grady. What can I say? I’m just that way.