Horrorstör (September 23, 2014, Quirk) is a classic old-fashioned haunted house story — set in a big box Swedish furniture superstore. Appropriately, the book itself is designed like an IKEA catalog. The cover is a 1/12th scaled furniture showroom designed by Christine Ferrara, who has a blog called Call of the Small, devoted to modern miniature design. Here's Christine's blog post about how she created the cover.
The interior illustrations are by Mike Rogalski. Here are a few samples:
And, oh, the novel was written by novelist and New York Asian Film Festival cofounder Grady Hendrix. Here's Quirk Book's interview with Grady about the novel.
What inspired you to set a classic haunted house story in a big-box furniture store?
The first spark was when my editor said he’d always wanted to read a haunted house book set in a furniture superstore. Then the idea caught fire when I realized that while houses are always haunted, because that’s where all the people are, more and more of us are spending more and more time at work. We’re pulling double shifts, clocking overtime, staying late, and when we’re not working we’re picking up something at the store, shopping for a new coffee table, browsing the kitchen department and coveting new countertops. The fact that stores like Orsk are full of endless aisles of bathroom displays, fully equipped kitchens, and fake bedrooms makes them feel like the mutant offspring of a house and a labyrinth. Add to that the idea that these stores don’t want shoppers to think of them as stores but as “third spaces” (not work, not home, but someplace else), where you can spend hours relaxing, sitting on the furniture, eating in the cafe, and just generally hanging out. Roll that all together and you’ve got the perfect setting for a haunted house.
Horrorstör takes place in Cleveland, Ohio, but you’re heavily involved in industries in Korea and Hong Kong. How might the plot have been different if the book was set in one of those locations?
I’m not sure it would be all that different. The nice thing about global companies like Orsk is that they export a similar experience to every country.
Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a retail catalog. Can you explain how you imagined the furniture featured in the book? Was there inspiration for each piece, and are you secretly or not so secretly a passionate furniture designer?
I’m an Ikea customer as much as the next person. My kitchen is full of Akurum cabinets with Harlig drawer fronts, Applad doors, Capita legs, and Lansa handles. I’ve got a Grundtal towel rail in my bathroom. I remember having zero money and sitting with my wife drooling over the Ikea catalog, imagining how much nicer we could make our apartment if we had a spare $300 or—dare we dream—$500. So coming up with the furniture in Horrorstör was like eating candy. Some of the pieces were things I want to own, like the Frånjk, which is basically my ideal dining room table. Others, like the Tossur treadmill desk, were things I wanted to make fun of. And all the “augmented” furniture that serves a correctional purpose—the Jodlöpp, the Ingalutt, the Kraanjk—are based on real devices used in 19th-century prisons.
Stores like Orsk sell mass-made furniture that fit identically in many people’s homes. What are your views on these types of companies that mass-manufacture furniture or other goods?
I think people feel deeply conflicted about this kind of thing. As a guy, I feel like I should have built my own house out of timber I cut myself, and that all my furniture should be passed down from my great-granddaddy or I should have painstakingly crafted it by hand, Little House on the Prairie style. However, this is 2014 and that’s not the world we live in anymore. Instead, I buy my furniture from a store, just like everyone else. So the fact that there’s furniture that’s relatively stylish, readily available, and ridiculously inexpensive is a triple win. Yet I still have that nagging feeling in the back of my mind: “This is too easy. This is too convenient. I should have done this myself.” It’s this irrational, unresolvable contradiction that sparks weird feelings about places like Orsk.
The characters in Horrorstör encounter many different fears, including drowning, torture, darkness, and rodents. Do you have any “irrational” fears of your own?
I’ve always been scared of the dark, which to me is the most rational fear possible. I mean, anything could be hiding in there.
How did being the co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival help you in writing Horrorstör?
Four of us started the NYAFF, and we had zero film festival experience. I’d never even been to a film festival. We were a UAW organizer, a Chase vice president, an electrical engineer, and an office manager for a nonprofit. But we loved Asian movies and we figured, “How hard could this be?” Each of us threw $1,000 in the pot and we learned how to run the festival through trial and error. Fourteen years later, we have a permanent home at Lincoln Center and regularly host guests like Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen. What I learned was that as long as you’re willing to bust your butt, and as long as you’re in it for the love, there’s no way you can go wrong. Trying to get rich, be famous, earn respect, all those are traps that’ll lead you astray. You have to keep your head on straight. So when it came time to start writing books, I realized that I had to love doing it and I had to be in it to tell the story, period, not for any other reason like vanity. One look at my author photo and it’s pretty obvious I’m not in it for the vanity.
Have you ever worked in retail? Was it a positive or negative experience?
I’ve been lucky. Most of my terrible jobs have been in offices, and while they’ve all been different flavors of Hell, nothing compares to the few times I’ve worked retail. Working retail felt like my head was exploding in slow motion, and kudos to anyone who can do it for a living. For me it was repetitive and grueling, the customers were insane, and the days felt endless. That’s why I have to write for a living—I’m hopeless at doing anything else.
A lot of people talk about how Hell is eternal torment, like being drowned in a lake of fire or getting flayed with a hot knife. No way. Hell is working, every day, no vacations, no breaks, no promotions. Just endless customers, eternal missing sizes, and the constant grind of retail, forever and ever and ever…
In Horrorstör, Basil lectures Amy on the difference between just having “a job” and work. Do you have any advice for people who are stuck in their job and need motivation to make their work have a purpose greater than just making money?
The worst thing that can happen professionally is when you lose the thrill, and your work becomes a job. The days when you have to haul your carcass into the office like a dead body, the hours when your eyes glaze over and you have an out-of-body experience as you ring up customers, the shifts when you look at the clock and it says 2:15 and five hours later you look again and it says 3:05. We’ve all got to pay the rent, but there comes a point when you have to bail or you’ll turn into a ghost. That point is different for everyone, but you have to know where yours is. Some people don’t have the luxury of quitting, and that’s a tough place to be. In a way, that’s why I write books. I’ve been stuck in those jobs before, and sometimes the only thing that made me feel human again was laughing at a book or crying at a movie. So I hope Horrorstör will be a fun read that’ll give folks a few hours when they can forget about clocking in the next morning.
What type of research did you do to write Horrorstör?
I interviewed a ton of Ikea employees for Horrorstör, and the most shocking thing I learned is that none of them had anything bad to say about the company. Even though they might have had some complaints about their jobs (and who doesn’t?), all of them, without prompting, went out of their way to extol the virtures of Ikea culture. That might strike some readers as creepy, but I was blown away by the genuine affection they all seemed to have for their jobs. I also spent about a week in Florida practically living in an Ikea—I must have walked 15 miles through that store, ate a dozen meals there, and spent hours just wandering around. Then, to cap things off, a little poking around online yields an avalanche of Ikea materials: annual reports, efficiency studies, handbooks, manifestos. I bathed in that stuff.
Are you working on anything else right now?
Right now I’m working on a book called My Best Friend’s Exorcism. It’s set in 1988, at the height of the Satanic Panic, when Geraldo Rivera was conducting TV specials about devil worshippers eating babies and we were all terrified that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Hell. I’m thinking of it as a cross between Beaches and The Exorcist.