Interview: C.J. Henderson

Today, we talk with noted horror and hardboiled fiction writer C.J. Henderson, author of Central Park Knight:

IFP: Hi, welcome to Innsmouth. Can you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us what your latest novel is about?

CJH: Since I don’t want to take up a great deal of time with the rummy stuff, I’ll just say that I’ve been writing fiction of all types – horror, scifi, fantasy, comedy, mystery – and having it published for about thirty-five years. Novels, short stories, novellas, comics, anything for which they would send me a check. To learn more, just take a short trip over to, where there are always short stories posted. That way, you guys can learn whatever you want and see some of my fiction without that boring trip to the store.

My latest novel, Central Park Knight, is the follow-up to last year’s Brooklyn Knight. In both, the main character is Piers Knight, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum in NYC. In this one, he and a few others discover that the dragons, which have visited the Earth from time to time, are coming back for another visit – but one far earlier than they had said last time they were here. Considering that, in the history Knight has to work from, dragons are referred to as “the old ones”, obviously I’ve changed some of the ordinary legends around.

IFP: Who is your favourite fictional detective?

CJH: Since I’m pretty certain you don’t want me naming my own detectives, I can narrow it down to two. As a teenager, I fell in love with hardboiled fiction when I read my first Mike Shayne novel. Yeah, I bought it because it had this really sexy painting of a babe on the cover, but the funny thing was, the only woman in the story was an old scrub woman. The rest of it was all action and noir and I bought every one of them I could find after that for years.

The other detective I read like crazy was Nero Wolfe. He was the exact opposite of Shayne, a grossly overweight snob who raised orchids and solved all his crimes from his office. He sent operatives out to do the legwork and hated leaving his home for any reason. He was quirky in all kinds of ways and I couldn’t get enough. I probably read 50 novels – at least – about each of these guys.

IFP: How did you come to write about Kolchak?

CJH: Moonstone Books had hired me to adapt my hardboiled detective, Jack Hagee, into comics for them. Then they asked me to adapt one of my supernatural characters, Lai Wan, as well. She’s from my Teddy London supernatural detective series. They liked my work in noir and occult settings, and so, when they bought the rights to Kolchak, they asked me if I wanted to do Kolchak comics. I said, “Sure,” because who wouldn’t, and I was on my way. I did Kolchak graphic novels for them then a short story for their Kolchak anthology. It was a Lovecraft story and, it turned out, the first time Kolchak had ever been involved in the Mythos. It garnered such a load of positive attention, they had me do Kolchak: Lovecraftian Horror and then Kolchak: Lovecraftian Damnation in their new Widevision format, created for that event.

Those went over so well, Jeff Rice, the creator of Kolchak, gave the go-ahead for me to do the first new Kolchak novel in almost 20 years. Now, I just turned in Kolchak in the Lost World, and there’s still a Kolchak short story I did for their new magazine that hasn’t come out yet. So, I could get hit by a bus tomorrow and it would look like I was still churning out stuff, which is fine by me. He’s great fun to write.

IFP: How did you discover Lovecraft?

CJH: My mother was an RN at a state hospital for seniors. Someone donated a Lovecraft paperback, which no one there thought was appropriate reading for a bunch of destitute seniors waiting to die (They might have had a point), so she brought it home to me. I was 14 and it scared the crap out of me. 1964…Mike Shayne and Lovecraft…man, I was a screwed-up kid.

IFP: What is your favourite Mythos story not written by Lovecraft?

CJH: Since, once again, I’m going to assume I can’t nominate my own work, I would have to say that, hands down, it would be the stories in the collection, The Spiraling Worm, by David Conyers and John Sunseri. These are probably my two favourite Mythos authors, and when they teamed up to do a series of stories that together formed one big novel, I was a happy man. When they came to me to do the introduction, I gushed all over it. It’s hardboiled, tragic, action-packed, and Lovecraftian as hell. I’m not sure Chaosium even puts it out, anymore, but if you can find a copy, it’s worth a read.

Oh, and tying them for first place, the original Ghostbusters film. Lovecraftian as hell.

IFP: What don’t you like to see in Mythos fiction? What would you like to see more of?

CJH: I’m tired of the “the horror, the horror” stories, where someone sees something, is overwhelmed, and just stands there to get eaten. I understand what HPL was doing when he wrote the first of those stories ever to see print, but we’re getting close to the point where that was a century ago. There’s just been too many. Hey, people can die in a Mythos story, the good guys can lose…but I like to see at least someone pick up a baseball bat and try to fight back.

It’s like that Bill Mumy Twilight Zone, where he’s a little kid that can have anything he wants by wishing for it. He destroys the whole world and just keeps his immediate neighbourhood around to have people to wait on him. The whole half hour is just escalating, unrelenting horror, until finally, someone has the backbone to stand up to him. They die horribly, and the story ends with a sense of terrible dread, but it was great. Sterling was a huge Lovecraft fan and it really shows in that tale.

IFP: What are some of the challenges and advantages of writing comic books, as opposed to novels?

CJH: The fact that comics are shorter than novels is both the biggest challenge and advantage about them. You can get one done a lot faster and, depending on the companies you’re working for, you can get paid more for doing some comics than you can some novels. The biggest drawback, though, is that if you really want to do work that says something, you’ve really got to learn to shut up and work with the artist. Surrendering your precious words so the art can tell the story is really hard sometimes, but it has to be done. The best comics, like the best movies, are the ones where the pictures and the words share equal billing.

IFP: Do you listen to music when you write? What kind?

CJH: Soundtracks. I need mood music, or nothing at all. I also have no problem with some good techno thrash electronic stuff; if the vocals aren’t in English, I won’t focus on them and that works swell, too.

IFP: What are you working on right now?

CJH: Right now, I’m working on two Piers Knight stories. He’s my latest supernatural investigator, a curator at the Brooklyn Museum who gets pulled into occult events. The first novel featuring him came out last year, Brooklyn Knight. That was a Mythos novel. Central Park Knight, the sequel, comes out in just a few weeks in mid-May.

The two shorts I’m writing with him now are actually both Mythos. I’m just finishing a sequel to At the Mountains of Madness, starring Knight for Robert M. Price, and just starting a holiday Mythos tale with him for Scott David Aniolowski. They’re both as different as stories can be, too. One really long, the other short. One tragic, the other inspiring. One heroic, the other filled with “run away, run away”.

In another week, I’ll be working on a pair of scifi military musical comedies (honest), but right now, it’s Mythos all the way.

IFP: If you could be a Lovecraftian creature or character, who would you be and why?

CJH: It would have to be Inspector Legrasse. I’ve written so many stories (and even a novel) with him, I feel like I know him inside out. I really identify with him. Just a guy, caught up in a sleazy world of crime and violence, and then the Mythos gets dumped on top of him as well. And instead of folding, he slogs on, he perseveres, he holds the line.

That’s all you can do in life, I mean, Lovecraftian horrors, or just rising gas prices and taxes and unemployment and mass murderers and serial killers and bank foreclosures and…well…you know…Lovecraft wrote at a time of incredible social change and upheaval, just like we’re in now. You face things, you deal with them, or you drop to your knees, drooling, crying out, “The horror, the horror!” Legrasse fought back. I try to do the same thing.

So, yeah, after all that longwinded explanation, John Raymond Legrasse, monster ass-kicker.

Oh, and thanks for having me in.

Visit C.J. Henderson‘s website to learn more about the author.

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IFPInterview: C.J. Henderson