Hardboiled: An Interview With CJ Henderson

Hardboiled: An Interview With CJ Henderson

Hello and welcome once again, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic Video World! Now, you’ve seen me talk up CJ Henderson quite a bit here lately, and none of it praise unwarranted.  CJ is a great guy, a real pleasure to talk to, and his work’s always a true joy to read.  When he agreed to do an interview, I knocked out some questions and sent them his way.  Here they are, with his responses.

5189_220090290713_8314928_nFirst off, CJ, let me say thank you for agreeing to this interview. I’ve been a big fan of your work for quite some time now and had been considering contacting you for an interview even before meeting you at Running GAGG. Could you start us off by telling us a little bit about yourself? For instance, when did you start writing?

My earliest memories are of telling stories to the other kids around the street light at night. Then, in the eighth grade, someone said “you ought to write stuff down.” And I said, “that’s a good idea.” Between then and the time I got out of college, I turned out hundreds, literally hundreds of little stories, comic book stuff, adventure, sci fi, very serious oriented, Marvel Comics guest stars … you get the idea.

Anyway, when I graduated, it wasn’t long after that someone said, “you ought to send stuff out and try to sell it.” And I said, “that’s another good idea.” So, well … I did. And, 75 books and/or novels later, I guess it worked.

How were you introduced to the works of H.P. Lovecraft? How about hardboiled detective fiction?

As for Lovecraft, my mother, of all people, brought home a copy of collected HPL stories. No cover. Must have cost a nickel at the time. She thought I might like it. I was 14. To be honest, it scared the crap out of me because it really made me think about stuff, especially my strict Catholic upbringing. She didn’t help the cause any doing that.

As for hardboiled stuff, I have to admit it was the sexy covers on the Mike Shayne novels at the drugstore that got me to spend the quarter a new paperback cost in those days. I fell in love with the genre, though. That black&white, tough-as-nails, never-back-down attitude was what I had been searching for for as long as I could remember. When I discovered hardboiled, I was finally home.

If forced to choose, Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett? Which one’s output do you enjoy more? You don’t strike me as a Mickey Spillane fan, but I’m not one to close off possibilities.

Chandler. Never got into Hammett. Plenty of folks I respect think he’s tops, but when I tried him I didn’t get a feel for the material, and so went elsewhere. You’re right about Spillane, though. He’s terrible. Yes, I was a guest at his 80th birthday party, and would never be so crass as to dis the man to his face, but his stuff was junk. It was written to sell books, not to make any kind of a point. He deserved every penny he ever earned, he just wasn’t the writer for me.

What do you see as the continued draw of hardboiled detective stories? What primal urge do they satisfy that keeps the classics in print and new ones arriving all the time?

It’s the you-get-what-you-pay-for, the world is writ in black and white, we create our own reality, et cetera, attitude. We live in a world that constantly tries to tell us that we have to pay attention to every one else’s views and ideas but our own. That nothing we think or believe is any good unless someone else validates it. That if one person disagrees with a million, that the million have to drop everything and worship the one.

This is bullshit, and any right thinking person knows it. But we live in such a politically correct nightmare of a society, where you can’t do anything without getting it approved by a committee … people don’t want to be told what to do every minute of the day. They especially don’t want to be told that their personal values and goals don’t count for anything because someone, somewhere else, has decided that they’re not allowed to live they want to live any more. One example:

Smoking. I don’t smoke cigarettes, but I do enjoy the occasional pipe or cigar. But, where can you smoke now? People aren’t allowed to smoke inside their own homes, not if any of their neighbors complains. People can’t form smoking clubs, can’t smoke in bars, because the employees of these places are being forced to breathe their smoke. The fact that can go get a job somewhere else doesn’t come into it. They want that job, so no one can smoke. Of course, if you don’t let people smoke in the smoking club, then there are no jobs, but the liberal mindset doesn’t understand that. To them, the smokers should be forced to maintain their club, but just not be allowed to smoke there. Their own property.

You can’t build a home on your property, not if some damn bird stops there once a year on its way south. You can’t … okay, I said one example. But, you get what I mean. The hardboiled character is usually the only one in sight that can see the emperor has no clothes, or at least is the only one who will say so. To work for the fire department, you used to have to be a man over six feet tall. Why? Because part of the job was carrying people out of buildings. But, rather than explain that to the howling feminists, they simply changed the rules so smaller people (men and women) could be fire fighters. Hurray. Justice is served. Except that now, when you have to be rescued, the standard procedure is to drag people outside. Down stairs. Head banging against each step on the way out.

Hardboiled = common sense. Thank god the genre stays popular, because when it disappears, it takes all reason with it.

The Teddy London series is your longest-running and most popular series of books. What’s the key to London’s The-Stench-of-Fresh-Air-Henderson-C-J-EB9781934501399popularity, in your opinion?

I think the fact that he’s hardboiled at his core has a great deal to do with it. He gained his power by believing in himself and his ideals. People respond to him because he does the right thing. He doesn’t cut corners. Doesn’t try to justify acting like the bad guy. He doesn’t rationalize things. He is who he is, and he knows it. Like Popeye “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” There’s a certain appeal in that.

Is Teddy London – his personality, his ideals, his dining preferences – based on anyone in particular?

Not really. Jack Hagee, my first series character, was created to allow me to rationalize my place in the world, the universe. I’m not saying I knew I was doing this, but decades later, as you look back on things, you gain perspective. London, my second series character, I do believe I created to allow me to figure out the whole, God/faith/soul thing. In other words, I taught myself to be a man by creating Hagee. I taught myself to be a man in a larger world than my own personal space by creating London.

Piers Knight is another occult investigator, though maybe owing more to Indiana Jones than the Continental Op. Do you consider him to be a sort of successor to London? Not literally, but in the sense of having grown out of ideas and knowledge gained during the process of writing London?

Absolutely. Not so much merely from having written London, but from all my writing, and from just having lived as long as I have. Each new character (and there are scores of them now) teaches me more about myself. Knight is quite different from London in that he’s not driven. He’s just a guy who wants to do his job. He’s not up for adventures. They just keep finding him. He’s a pleasure to write, I love his attitude, but he’s extremely different from London, or anyone else I’ve ever created.

Which of your characters do you find the easiest to write? The most challenging?

Can’t answer either of these questions. When I sit down to write, whoever I feel like working on is the easiest thing in the world to write. If I’m not in the mood, then it’s a struggle. I love all my guys and gals, the same way people love their kids. But there are no favorites. It just depends on what mood I’m in at the time.

Which of your characters do you identify with most strongly?

If I had to chose one–life depending on it for some reason–it would have to be Jack Hagee. But really, I identify with the all. They are all me. Especially the newer characters like Darby and Marv Richards, and even Rocky from my sci fi military musical comedies. I really don’t seem to create anyone that isn’t drawn from some portion of myself. I’m either just not clever enough to, or just don’t want to, create characters that aren’t a part of me.

51qDZWsCUTL._SY300_You’re currently the official scribe of Moonstone Books’ Kolchak novels, and have previously worked with Lin Carter’s occult investigator Dr. Anton Zarnak and expanded on the adventures of Lovecraft’s Inspector Legrasse. What challenges do writing pre-existing characters like these present compared to writing your own characters?

I’ve never found any challenges, to be honest. Everyone says that I’ve captured Darren McGavin’s voice in my Kolchak stories. Glad to hear it, of course, but I didn’t do anything more than watch a few episodes as a refesher before I started. Now, I was an actor in my youth, and it could just be that I have a natural ear for such things. My theory is that with all the characters you mentioned, it’s the fact that what I do with them is what people want to see done with them, and so they respond favorably to me.

I never try to change characters that aren’t mine. My goal is always to go in, find what makes a character tick, and then go from there. Do what was never done with them before, but which everyone wanted to see. One of the main things I do in my fiction is to get inside the character’s heads, let the audience hear what they’re thinking. It took me a while to realize this was something new and different for a lot of folks. Hell, one idiot of a reviewer even condemned me as a hack because … and I swear this is true … in Brooklyn Knight, Piers Knight heard voices in his head, and “he wasn’t even possessed.” I remember reading that in utter amazement. This poor, sad jerk felt equipped to review literature, and yet had never had a conversation within his own mind. He had never once had a thought and then contradicted it within his own mind with another.

Sigh, and there I am getting off on a tangent. Me stop now.

{NOTE: don’t know why the justification changed}

Carl Kolchak was unsuccessfully resurrected for a very short-lived 2005 show, and there’s word that Johnny Depp is interested in playing the character. Can it be done? Or is Kolchak too indelibly connected to Darren McGavin and the Watergate era of investigative reporting?

If it couldn’t be done, then my first Kolchak novel, A Black & Evil Truth would have been my only one. If Depp has the right story, shows the proper respect for the material, he’ll make a good movie. I mean, The Avengers doesn’t follow Marvel canon, but no one seemed to care. Treat Carl, or any character, really, with respect, show that you have their best interest at heart, and the audience will embrace you. I have no use for JJ Abrahms’ (sp?) work, and I am as big a Classic Trek fan as you can find, but I loved his movie and want more. It really is all about respect.

What’s your editing process like on any given short story or novel? How many rewrites, on average, do you go through?

None. I read the work over as I’m doing it, and sometimes I’ll do a final polish, but most everything is stream of consciousness for me. No outlines, no idea where I’m going, just jump in the car and drive.

If you had to select one of your own stories as a personal favorite, which would it be?

Can’t be done. Every day is a different answer. I can’t even pick a favorite genre. Some days I love my comedy best, next it’s hardboiled detective, next … well, you get the idea. Again, you’re asking me to choose between my children. Stop that, bad man.

What’s next for CJ Henderson? What novels, short stories, etc. should we keep an eye out for in the near future? Any convention appearances coming up?

The third Knight novel, “Radio City Knight” is at the printers now. The collected “The Challenge of the Unknown: with your host–Marv Richards” stories are in layout right now. “Bet Your Own Man” the best of my hardboiled stories is on its way from the printer now. All of the Rocky & Noodles stories are being collected later this year. The best of my science fiction stories is being put together as we speak … and there’s more. There’s always more.

As for cons and shows, if anyone is interested, they should just check in at www.cjhenderson.com. I always have a list up for my appearances for the next few months. I did 52 shows last year, so trying to list them here could get insane. I hope people do stop in at the website, though. There are always free short stories posted for folks to read. Come on and visit, folks. Everyone is welcome.

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Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

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