Writer Grady Hendrix has some concepts
After Louise’s parents die unexpectedly in a car accident, she returns home to Charleston, where her plans to sell her childhood home soon become complicated. There are endless things from her parents, including the hundreds of dolls her mother owned. There’s her estranged brother Matt trying to cheat her out of her inheritance. And then there’s the house itself, which she doesn’t seem to want to let go of.
Grady Hendrix, the author of “How to Sell a Haunted House,” said his idea for the novel began during the pandemic, when many of us became more aware of our parents’ mortality. “One of the things I realized is that if our parents die, we have to take care of all their stuff,” Hendrix said. “And what are ghosts if not things that are left behind after someone dies?”
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Louise isn’t alone in her suspicions about the house: A staggering proportion of Americans may also believe her house is haunted, polls have found, and some states have passed laws clarifying what salespeople disclose about alleged paranormal things must and must not activities, previous murders and suicides.
I spoke to Hendrix about his new novel and the topic of haunted houses and trying to sell them. Our interview has been edited and shortened for clarity.
Annie Nova: A new one Opinion poll found that half of Americans believe their home is haunted. Why do you think there are so many superstitions?
Grady Hendrix: I just got back from a book tour and so many people I’ve met believe they live in a haunted house or have lived in one. For me it’s completely normal. You spend most of your time in a house. You sleep there, you go through all kinds of emotional things there. Why don’t you think it’s haunted?
What are ghosts but things left behind after someone dies?
Author, “How to Sell a Haunted House”
AN: What have people told you about living in a haunted house?
GH: Their hauntings often seem to follow their personalities. I’d have people who would say, ‘Oh my God, our house has been haunted. It was terrible. This spirit attacked us and we had to cancel our lease and move.’ It’s this really intense experience for them, and they’re very intense in how they tell it. And then I would have someone who would say, ‘Oh, yeah. Our house is haunted, but the spirit is pretty cold.’
AN: There are so many stories about haunted houses. Why did you focus on selling one?
GH: When you clean up someone’s house after they die, you’re dealing with the smell of their shampoo, the dent in the sofa cushion they used to watch TV on. And it’s not just the physical things, it’s the emotional things: the memories, the scars, the unfair things you always wanted to talk about but never did. Selling a haunted house was a great way to tackle all of these things in one convenient package.
AN: When did our fears of haunted houses begin?
GH: The first recorded incidents I saw were in the 1730s and involved real estate values plummeting because a house was said to be haunted. But the second half of the 19th century saw a large number of haunted houses, coinciding with this suburban building boom. The suburbs were really starting to expand then, particularly in London and some American cities, with developers raising houses practically overnight.
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Many of the houses were poorly built and began to fall apart. You would hear mysterious noises as your walls slowly gave way. You would get mysterious cold spots because the building wasn’t weatherproof. Then some of those houses would become uninhabitable, so you’d have a block full of nice houses with this one haunted looking house at the end that’s been abandoned for 20 years.
AN: What usually causes people to start believing that their home is haunted?
GH: The last time we had a really big haunted house boom was around the time of the subprime mortgage crisis. When real estate is tight and the economy does weird things, haunted houses pop up. But there is no such thing as objective haunting. If you feel like your house is haunted, your house is haunted, you know? Houses are haunted because there are people there.
AN: One of the scariest things Louise inherits is the haunted doll Pupkin with her “grinning clown face.” What are you trying to say here about the disadvantages of inheritance?
GH: Instead of the heredity aspect, I was really aware of the fact that we all have strange relationships with inanimate objects. We have stuffed animals or blankets from childhood that we are very attached to. We yell at our phones. We fight with our cars. We simply invest a lot of emotions in objects. With Pupkin, I really wanted an object that was endowed with so much emotion that you couldn’t leave it. It wouldn’t let you.
AN: Is anything in the book based on personal experience?
GH: I’ve cleaned out dead friends’ houses, and it’s one of those things that’s hard to really describe for someone who hasn’t been through it. You’re dealing with this massive amount of stuff. You’re crushed under the weight of it all. It’s a very strange experience.
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