I first met Andrew J. Stone at Bizarro Con 2014 and like some Cronenbergian parasite, I haven’t been able to shake him since. He’s an affable guy with a serious prankster streak, but he also happens to be one of the most unique writers I’ve had the chance to chat with. So, given that his new book All Hail the House Gods recently dropped, I thought I’d slide into those DMs of his, as the young folk say.
Anthony Trevino: So, why houses?
Andrew J. Stone: The idea for AHTHG came to me during a writing exercise in grad school. In between semesters, one of my classmates was hosting her writers’ group and gave an open invite to our class. I decided to go one of the days and while there someone assigned us images at random and we had to write a story inspired by our image. I hated the idea because I just wanted to finish editing the book I was working on at the time (The Mortuary Monster), but was too shy to excuse myself from the exercise. The image I got was of two kingdoms separated by a bridge. I wrote the first few pages of what would evolve into AHTHG during that exercise back in 2016. I mean, what else could I have written about given the image?
AT: You could have written a basic as hell fantasy story about two warring kingdoms and featured a bridge troll, but instead we got people-eating houses. From the given image, how’d you craft the narrative behind it? There’s a lot of politics at play here.
AJS: The idea for AHTHG was the first thing that came to mind when I saw the image. Why the fuck did I invent living, human eating houses as opposed to a basic fantasy? Fuck if I know. My brain is weird. I could say I thought of human eating houses because people are, in a sense, controlled by their homes. We feed ourselves to our homes daily as a part of our societal family unit, but all those ideas came up after the story.
Initially, the book was a short story, but it didn’t work . . . so after a couple of years of letting it sit on my computer, I decided to turn it into a novella. The piece was also strongly inspired by Borges’ story “The Secret Miracle” and Bolaño’s novel By Night in Chile. Again, unsure exactly how those fit the idea of houses.
AT: There’s a lot of word play in the book when it comes to body parts and sex acts, what was the intent with never using common terms to describe either?
AJS: The initial draft actually didn’t have that. All body parts used the usual terminology, but per a friend/early reader’s advice (thanks again, Char!), I decided to use house-related slang for everything. The idea is that since the human characters’ existence is dictated by houses, the way they define their lives, and especially their sex, should reflect the influence the House Gods have over them. The humans in this world exist to appease the House Gods, consequently, the way they view themselves is through the lens of their rulers.
AT: Your friend is smart. Throughout the novel the characters eat what are referred to as aphrodisiacs to coax them into sex. Are all the food and drink mentioned in the book considered legitimate aphrodisiacs or did you just include things that seemed like sexy foodstuffs?
AJS: All the food and drinks (aside from water) are considered aphrodisiacs. I had this website saved on my computer with a bunch of different aphrodisiacs on it that I referred to whenever food/drink was involved. Though, after researching them for this book, I’m convinced that any food could “technically” be an aphrodisiac if someone else labels it as one.
AT: What’s an aphrodisiac for AJ Stone?
AJS: I enjoy eating quite a bit, but the idea of sex after food has never really appealed to me. So I’ll go with high doses of gabapentin are the best aphrodisiac.
AT: Typically, it’s food after sex. If you were a house, what kind would you be?
AJS: Either a tent or an apartment complex. Realistically, probably the latter.
AT: This is definitely a strong follow-up to your debut novel, The Mortuary Monster. What stood out to me is how different of a story it is, while still having a strong emphasis on family. Was your approach to AHTHG different from TMM.
AJS: Why thank you. And definitely yes.
First, just the writing process for AHTHG was incredibly different than TMM. I wrote TMM during my first semester in grad school, under the instruction of Geoff Nicholson (NYT Bestselling Author) and with wonderful classmates. Writing the entire book (and five to six drafts) in about 2.5 months. I was also sober for the duration of that process.
AHTHG, on the other hand, took about eight months to write, and it was the first novella I had written outside of a school workshop setting, which was the biggest difference in regards to approach. I was also on Xanax for the majority of the writing, a horrid habit that I’m currently trying to kick.
AHTHG was also an expansion of a short story, something I had never done before, which was its own unique experience.
Now, as far as story is concerned, TMM deals with family primarily in a negative light, whereas AHTHG portrays the family unit in an equally fucked up way, but much more positively. The society is fucked, and Kurt and Katie have very different ideas about how to fix it and don’t work together at all, but they are both at least trying to save their families, whereas in TMM the family itself is the problem and not exterior forces.
AT: Last question. I know from first-hand, on the road experience that you make playlists for your books. What are the top three tracks people should put on when reading AHTHG.
AJS: “You Can’t Win” by Iron Butterfly, “The Width of a Circle” by David Bowie and “Happiness is a Warm Gun” by The Beatles.
If Andrew J. Stone were a house, he’d be a tent. If he were a superhero, he’d be Marx. He is the author of the novella The Mortuary Monster (StrangeHouse Books, 2016) and numerous short stories and poems published in places like New Dead Families, Hobart, Gutter Eloquence, and DOGZPLOT, among others. He can be reached on Facebook (Andrew James Stone) and is currently living with his in-laws in Manhattan Beach, California. All Hail the House Gods is his second book.