Every week, host Adam Sockel interviews a popular member of the literary world about their passions beyond what they're known for. These longform, relaxed conversations show listeners a new side of some of their favorite content creators as well as provide insight into the things that inspire their work.
The way of the Samurai (movies) with Christina Henry
Christina Henry's books are enthralling, heart-wrenching, and will leave you in awe... which makes sense when you hear about her deep love of movies that are much the same. This conversation delves into her love of samurai movies, how she's begun taking her kid to classic movie theaters, and the Iron Giant... It makes sense. Her new book Good Girls Don't Die is now available!
You are listening to Passions & Prologues, a literary podcast. For each week, I interview an author about a thing they love and how it inspires their work. I'm your host, Adam Sockel, and today's guest is Christina Henry, author of the brand-new novel, Good Girls Don't Die.
You may recognize Christina's name from a number of her New York Times and national bestselling novels like The Girl in Red, Lost Boy, Alice, Red Queen, and so, so many others. I adored her book from a few years ago, Horseman.
She writes just phenomenal stories and ones that are going to keep you on the edge of your seat for a variety of reasons. Good Girls Don't Die is a book that during this discussion, you'll find we talk about very, very little, and there is a very specific reason.
It is a super, super twisty thriller. It tells the story of three different women, and they find themselves trapped inside, basically stories that aren't their own. They wake up in completely foreign and strange situations and have to figure out why they are all in the situations that they're in.
And that's kind of all I want to tell you about it. You have to read this book. You're going to absolutely love it. But again, we keep the discussion of the plot very, very minimal because this particular story is one that you just sort of want to go into blind.
What we do spend a lot of time talking about is Christina's love for film, especially Samurai movies. And this is why I love doing this podcast. A lot of times I have discussions with authors about stuff that I do know a little bit about or a fair amount about depending on what the discussion is. I do not have a lot of experience watching Samurai movies, so this was very, very educational for me.
But we also got to nerd out about some shared passions about different stories and movies including The Iron Giant near the end of the conversation, which I absolutely love. We had a blast. I have gotten to interview Christina a few times in the past, but it had been a while, so it was really, really nice to catch up.
Because we talked so little about the book, I'm going to give you a book recommendation that is also another Christina Henry book, it is Near the Bone. Near the Bone is equal parts thriller, mystery, and horror, I freaking loved this book.
It tells a story of a woman trapped in a mountain as she tries to survive more than one type of monster. You'll be holding your breath the entire time. It can be a challenging read, trigger warning for domestic abuse and violence towards women to be sure. But it is a story that I think is worth reading and I just really, really love how she handles the entire story. That's Near the Bone, that is also by Christina Henry.
And again, I'm recommending that book as part of today's discussion because we talk so little about her new book, Good Girls Don't Die. But I cannot recommend it enough, it is so wonderful.
If you would like to get ahold of me, you can always find me on TikTok, Instagram and YouTube at Passions & Prologues. Had a little bit of fun on TikTok earlier this week talking about an experience I had that many of you may have had as well, going to a very bad eye doctor. But yeah, you can also email me at [email protected]. I'll be happy to give you some book recommendations.
Okay, that is all the housekeeping. I hope you enjoy this discussion with Christina Henry, author of Good Girls Don't Die on Passions & Prologues.
Alright Christina, what is something you are super passionate about that you would like to discuss today?
Well, I'm a big, big movie lover. I actually in normal times when I'm not extremely super busy, I actually do a movie podcast with my friends called TMI Confessionals of the Nerd Kind, where we just talk about different movies that we like. But I think after horror movies, my favorite genre would be Samurai movies.
First off, Confessionals of a Nerd Kind, just phenomenal, great work by you all. Great job. Do you remember your introduction to Samurai movies in general? So, we'll do the Samurai stuff because full disclosure for people who are listening in, we are recording this on November 2nd, so it just got done sort of being horror season.
So, let's do the Samurai stuff. So, do you remember when you had your introduction to Samurai movies?
I think a lot of people, I saw … I grew up in upstate New York and in the long-ago times when there weren't that many channels on TV, and you had to use a dial to turn it to find the next channel. And there was a channel, Channel 9 that ran a lot of older movies or imported movies.
I'm so sorry, can you hear that leaf blower?
No, you're good.
I'm sorry. They ran a lot of Godzilla movies. They ran a lot of black and white films. And I remember seeing some Samurai film on that channel at different times of the day. I don't remember specific films.
The film that I probably fell in love with first as an adult and I think this is fairly obvious, is Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa. It's not really necessarily the easiest one to fall in love with first because it's like a four-hour epic.
But I loved Toshiro Mifune in that film. I loved everything about it. And I think that really started kind of an affection and obsession. I love, love, love Samurai films.
It’s interesting, the reason I asked when you first discovered this, because I think especially for the types of pop culture we all ingest, I do think there's these seeds of it that are dropped when we are very, very young.
I remember vividly, my best friend, his name is Kurt, his dad was in our minds, big and scary. He was probably like 5 foot 10, but when you're six-years-old, everyone looks giant.
And he worked at the steel factory, he worked long hard hours. And so, when he had to watch us, he was like, “I'm going to put you in front of a TV and you're going to watch it.” And he had us watch The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Which, for those who don't know, is also like a four-hour, but it's a Western. In my mind it's like nine hours, but I think it's four.
And we watched the whole thing as six-year-olds because we were afraid to move because we didn't want to upset him. And now, I am absolutely drawn towards long, epic, westerny type movies. I don't know, I feel like that is very much stuck in my brain.
Do you remember how old you were when you first started seeing these, when you were watching these movies in, like you said, the kind of channel that would have these, which also was rare to have a channel like that.
Well, I mean, it was like a local channel that just ran, I think random things that they could get a hold of. I don't think it was any kind of concerted programming. I think they were just like, “We paid some money for this thing, and now we're just going to stick it on here.”
I was a child probably between 6 and 10, I would say, when I first saw a lot of those movies. It's funny that you mentioned The Good, the Bad, the Ugly though, because I'd be very remiss if I didn't tell this story.
So, my absolute number one, all-time favorite Samurai film is Yojimbo, starring Toshiro Mifune directed by Akira Kurosawa, this is a theme. And the film is a lot of people in the West think that Yojimbo is a rip-off of A Fistful of Dollars by Sergio Leone, but in fact it is the other way around.
And I read a joint biography of Mifune and Kurosawa several years ago. And the story of how Fistful of Dollars came to be is actually in that biography. And what happened was Yojimbo came out, Leone saw it, he was a huge fan of the movie.
And according to people who worked with him, he literally took the film, frame by frame through the Moviola machine, which is a machine where you can look at each frame of the — and again, in the olden days when we had film instead of digital. And he made Fistful of Dollars functionally a shot for shot remake of Yojimbo.
And Kurosawa saw the film and he sent Leone a letter and he said, “You have made a very fine film, but it is my film.” And basically, telling Leone off for copying his movie without giving him credit. And Leone was just so happy to get a letter from Kurosawa. He ran around showing it to everybody. It's like, “Look, look, I got a letter from the Master.”
“Look, I plagiarized, I plagiarized so good that they noticed.” Oh, man, that's so funny.
I know, I know. It's just insane. It's insane. And it's also somewhat infuriating to me that people … I mean, obviously it makes sense, Fistful of Dollars is in English. It's a movie that's just more familiar to a lot of people. But Yojimbo is such a masterpiece of everything.
Everything about it is perfect. Mifune is perfect in it. Tatsuya Nakadai plays Unosuke, he's perfect. The direction is perfect. The cinematography is perfect, the music is perfect, everything is perfect. It's a perfect movie.
So, what is it about Samurai movies? Is there something specific about either the pacing or the balance and dichotomy of action and emotion? Is there something about Samurai movies that scratches that itch for you, why you keep going back to them?
I think it's funny because I don't necessarily think I'm always drawn to the most action-packed ones, although I do like the Zatoichi films, The Blind Swordsman films, those totally have a formula, where this character, Zatoichi, what it sounds like he's a blind swordsman. He goes from town to town. He's a former yakuza who's now supposedly a masseuse, but then he acts in service of the oppressed.
I feel like the Samurai films that I really love the best, like Yojimbo, like Harakiri, which is directed by Masaki Kobayashi, are more subversive in tone. So, they work within the tropes to a certain extent, but they also defy the tropes.
Yojimbo is about a ronin, he's a master of the samurai. He's this guy who wanders from town to town. Everything about him is scruffy. Yojimbo means bodyguard, the character's name is Sanjuro. And he has his own code. He has his own way of doing things.
In Yojimbo, he comes into this town, the town is basically being run by two rival gangs who are supported by the money of two businessmen in the area. He decides the way to clean up the town for the few innocents that remain is to basically incite a war between them and to make them take each other out.
And he doesn't really want money for this, and he doesn't want credit either. He just feels according to his own code, that this is something that should be done.
And Harakiri, it's basically a story of revenge, where a father gets revenge on a group of Samurai who forced his son to commit suicide. Again, sort of the group had done it supposedly in the name of honor, and he shows them how dishonorable they are. So, really, it's not exactly an action-packed movie, it's quite dramatic.
But this underlying theme of what a samurai should be, kind of runs through the film, but obviously the one who really is a samurai, it's this father and his sense of honor and his sense of justice for his son. So, those are the kinds of movies I think that I really connect to. The ones that sort of take the tropes and they subvert them a little bit. Although, it is always fun just to watch a sword fate.
I know what you mean. like I said, it's not just westerns. I am drawn to all sorts of movies, but I know what you mean. Thinking about westerns, like Rooster Cogburn is this very famous western character, and it's like same thing.
Initially he is the very stereotypical, old, scruffy cadre of a cowboy. And he ends up being much, much more than that. I think, like you said, if it was always … obviously there are — we mentioned horror movies at the beginning. Every single genre has movies that are just flat out the tropes and people are going to watch them because of face value. Like you said, they're entertaining. You can always watch a sword fight.
But I do love the idea of stories that are in a certain genre, but like you said, there's so much more than that. And I want to ask, do you think that type of interest that you're drawn to also kind of bleeds into how you write your own stories?
I mean, I think so. I think that my instinct is always to do the opposite of what people expect. And I do think that overwhelmingly the response I get to my work is, I didn't expect that. I didn't think it was going to be like that.
And I think it's very hard now as a reader, as a writer, as a viewer, whatever, to not be aware of what's come before you culturally. And I think that readers are also aware of what they expect. If you read a cozy mystery, you know you're going to get certain cozy mystery tropes. Certain things are going to happen a certain way. And a lot of people come to that genre for that.
I read a lot of cozy mysteries. Because when I'm in the mood for something like that, that's what I want. But I've always tried in my own work, I think to do something a little bit different, to not be so easily pinned down.
And I'll tell you that my publishers don't always love it because they're always like, “Well, how are we supposed to market this thing that you've written that is not exactly one thing?” But I don't think, for me as a writer, it's not interesting to do the same thing every time.
And I love that. I mean, I totally agree. I think what I love about your books, I'm thinking of Near the Bone just because it jumps the top of my head. Because again, we just got done with October, which is one I would read, Near the Bone.
And that is a book where if someone would be like, “Well, what should I expect?” I would be like, “Don't ask me what you should expect. Start reading it and hold your breath for the entirety of the book.”
And yeah, to me, I don't know, I think if people say like, “Oh, what is a Christina Henry book?” To me it's an interesting story that you won't expect. And to me, that is a … I mean, I'm a reader. I'm not a publisher, but that's marketable to me. I don't know that stuff I absolutely love.
And I want to ask about your — we were laughing before we started recording how you said you don't have a strong pitch for Good Girls Don't Die yet. But was this the type of book, we can do a very high-level explanation of what is like, but was this the type of book where when you pitched it to your editors, they were like, “What do we do with this?” Or did they kind of buy in right away?
So, I wrote the book fully before I submitted it, which I don't usually do because I've been writing for a long time. And with one publisher, you usually pitch out an idea and you send them kind of like a sample, usually first three chapters or something.
But the impulse for this book actually came from, funnily enough, I was just talking about cozy mysteries. I was reading a lot of cozy mysteries — the height of the pandemic, really comfort food reading for sure.
And my brain just started to break it down, kind of the way that cozy mystery functions. And I was like, “I wonder if I could write one of these.” So, I started to write and almost immediately it's like a left turn and something else happened. And I just felt that I wanted to be alone with the book when I was writing it.
I didn't want my agent or my editor saying, “When is it coming? Or how will we sell this?” Or whatever. I just wanted to kind of be alone with this weird idea that I had and see how it played out.
And it was a lot of fun to write, and I feel in some ways that I really enjoyed that process almost more than any other book I've written, because it was just for me, it was just this weird book that I was writing for me.
So, then I finished it, I sent it to my agent, and I said, “I have no idea how to describe this to you, just read it.” And so, she read it and she said, “I had no idea where this book was going,” which was a really great compliment. Because she's been in this business for 30 years.
So, if you can get your agent to not know where the book is going, that's a good thing. So, she sent it to my editor, and she said to my editor, “I don't want to tell you anything about this book. Just read it.” So, I think that that's kind of how I've been telling people who ask me about it, like just read it.
I mean, I love that. First off, I was laughing when you were … I tend to like make myself to laugh because when you're like, “I started writing a cozy mystery,” and knowing the book I'm like, the fact that that was where your mind started. Like I wonder if I can do this. And then what it turned out to be makes me laugh very, very hard.
For people who don't know, we're recording this before the book comes out. Do you have the highest-level pitch that you can explain? Because like I said, I agree with you. If I was to tell someone, “Hey, this is a book you should read,” and they would ask me what's it about? I'd be like, “Just read it, similar to Near the Bone.” But if you were going to describe it, how would you describe it?
So, I think I've got it broken down to three women are trapped inside stories they know aren't their own, and that's all I'm going to say.
That's a really good way to describe it. So, with this, starting from a cozy mystery, because I love this, like I said, the second I saw that as the initial pitch, it's like there's these three, they're trapped inside these stories and they're not their own stories. I was like, “Oh my gosh, what a genius idea.”
So, I guess, like you said you knew you wanted to try and write a cozy mystery, but at what point did it unfurl in your mind to say like, “Oh, you know … like how far in were you when you realized like, “Oh, I want to subvert this?” Like we were talking about before?
Like three or four pages. It was almost immediate. I was like, “Oh-oh, no, this isn't at all what I thought it was.” And I mean, the opening of the book is this opening that I started with, nothing changed. So, if you read the book, you'll realize pretty quickly something's off kilter.
And I just think, like I said, I feel like I have something contrary in me, my impulse is always to do the opposite of what people expect. And I hope that people go with me on that. I hope that they kind of get in that kind of free-falling spirit and say, “I don't really know where this is going, but I hope she pulls the parachute before the end.”
I mean, I would think especially for readers who have read other books of yours, I will hope that they understand, be like, “Oh yeah, I'm going to trust Christina with this story.” That's certainly how I felt about it. People are obviously, picking up, like we're being so light on the plot because it — where we really want.
You want to go in somewhat blind. Along those lines, going into it blind, to get back to your thoughts on movies, do you go into movies blind?
I do. I don't read reviews. I'm not interested in anyone else's opinion. I do like previews. But I heard a great phrase a long time ago about expectations, expectations are resentments under construction.
Oh, my God.
And I was like, “You know what, that's true.” So, I try not to expect anything. Even if I've seen a certain thing in a preview or whatever. I mean, a lot of times I'll pick up a book and if it's an author that I know, I won't even read the back cover copy. I'll just get the book and read it because I don't want to have any expectation about how things are going to play out.
And I try to be very, very open when I'm watching a movie or when I'm reading a book. Because a piece of art isn't meant to be viewed in a three-minute trailer or in a back cover copy. I don't think you can make any decisions based on that. It's meant to be seen as a whole product. That's one of the reasons why I still like to go to the movies when possible. Because when you're at the movies, you're giving the movie your full attention.
You're seeing it the way the filmmaker meant you to see it. I still go to see a lot of older movies at the movie theater. I have a theater near me called the Music Box Theatre, and they run a lot of independent film and older movies and I'll go see a movie that I've seen a hundred times just to see it on the big screen and give it all of my attention.
That's super interesting. Can you think off the top of your head, your favorite movie going experience from one of those older movies?
Well, I think there's a couple for different reasons. Several years ago, I saw TheTexas Chainsaw Massacre there. And if you grew up in the 80s, you only ever saw The Texas Chainsaw Massacre on a tiny TV, on video. Which I do cherish the video experience, but it's not necessarily the best thing in the world in terms of seeing a film.
But seeing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the first time on a big screen, in the dark, again, where you're giving 100% of your attention to it. It was literally a different movie from the movie that I had grown up watching.
And so much more powerful, I think because especially horror movies when you watch them in the theater and you're feeling everyone else's tension, as well as your own, it's such a great experience. On that same note I saw Bubba Ho-Tep, which is one of my favorite movies, directed by Don Coscarelli.
When it first came out, I actually saw it at a theater here in Chicago. And Bruce Campbell came with the film and did a little Q&A, and it was really, really cool. And then this was before he became Bruce Campbell, like convention guy.
So, after the film, he was just kind of standing out on the sidewalk talking to people. It was really cool, very casual. But then about, I guess it's got to be three or four years ago now, Don Coscarelli came here and showed Bubba Ho-Tep at the Music Box Theatre.
And he was promoting his biography, his autobiography that he'd just written. And my son was old enough to go to the film with us, which was great because he got to see it for the first time on the big screen the way my husband and I had so many years before.
And he got to meet Don Coscarelli, who he thought was the coolest guy, and he ran to the microphone to be the first one to ask a question during the Q&A. So, that was really, really special just because it was a film that I loved and a director that I loved, and my son got to be a part of it. So, there was that.
And then recently got to see Sorcerer William Friedkin's movie. I don't know if you're familiar with it or not.
Most people I think know Friedkin in for French Connection and The Exorcist and that's it. So, Sorcerer is this movie that he did after The Exorcist, and it's based on a book. And now the name of the book has just escaped me at this moment.
But it's about a bunch of men who've committed different kinds of crimes in different places who end up in South America in this obscure little village working for this oil company. And they need to go and get nitroglycerin and carry it across the jungle, which as you know, nitroglycerin's very, very unstable.
So, it's a very, very tense movie because these men are driving these trucks with crates of nitroglycerin in the back through jungle in the most ridiculous, set of obstacles coming up in their way. Such a good movie, like so much tension.
And again, this is one of those things where seeing it on the big screen I think makes such a difference. You're so wholly engaged in this struggle that you almost forget that all of these men are not good guys.
I keep laughing about it. Like we were talking about how these films are meant to be seen and there's all this dialogue, especially now, I mean, obviously TVs that we have now are gigantic, but there's all this dialogue where all these directors are constantly, like Christopher Nolan is one of the most famous ones.
You have to see the movie in this specific way. And I agree with you, it is a different experience, but the reason I'm laughing is because I know that directors are saying that now. Because so many people will watch it on their phones or their tablets, whatever.
But the reason I was laughing is I was thinking back to when you mentioned Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I remember, Friday the 13th nights watching with my friend Kurt. We had those same thing, those local channels where it'd be like hosted by a generic local person.
And we would be watching the Jason movies, the Friday the 13th movies on this, eight by eight TV. Because I was born in the mid-80s, I was growing up in the mid-90s, but TVs were very small still. And I feel like it's been the same thing forever where it's like, yeah, I've probably seen some of these movie’s hundreds of times, but I haven't ever seen them — I've never seen a Hitchcock movie on a big screen. I've only ever seen them-
Oh, you should. You should. If you have a chance, you should. Because it's that thing, my favorite Hitchcock movie is Rear Window, and that's a movie. I mean, I've memorized that movie. I've watched it so many times. But seeing it on the big screen is just this incredible experience.
I do think it kind of depends like what's around you. Like I'm in Chicago, we have a lot of theaters here. We have a lot of theaters that show older films. The two closest theaters to my house are Music Box, which shows older film.
They also do a 35-millimeter festival every year. They actually have people who still know how to operate the 35-millimeter projectors, and they also do 70-millimeter films there. And then the other theater that's closest to me is Alamo Drafthouse, which-
Shows a lot of older films too as well as new films. So, I feel obviously it kind of depends on what kind of access you have, but if you have the opportunity, it really is transformative sometimes even just to see the picture, the size that the director intended it to be.
I mentioned westerns earlier. Growing up, my grandmother had dementia and we would go and visit her, and it seemed to bring her peace to watch westerns or just Turner Classic Movies. And so, I remember on her very small TV when I was younger, seeing movie Shane.
And it looks nice on a small TV, but there's these huge what are supposed to be sweeping landscapes that are supposed to make you feel a certain way. Especially at the end of the movie, there's a little kid yelling the name Shane over and over waiting for this person to come back.
And on a small screen you're just like, “Okay, well what's coming on next?” Whereas like you said, on a big screen with surround sound, it's enveloping you. You would feel the things that you're supposed to be feeling. I know what you mean.
You were talking about Nolan; my husband and I saw Dunkirk when it first came out on the big screen. And then in the intervening years, our son got older and older, we watched different Nolan films with him, but we never let him watch Dunkirk.
And he kept saying, “Why?” And I'm like, “Because when we saw in the theater, the sound was so percussive, you could feel it in your chest.” And I really felt like that was part of the experience. So, we got very lucky and this year the Alamo Drafthouse did a Nolan festival right before Oppenheimer came out.
And they showed Dunkirk. I was like, “Okay, we're going, you're going to see it and now you'll know how it's meant to be heard as well as seen.” It's not just what you're seeing, it's the sound of the movie. At the beginning of the film when they're walking through the village and those shots just start going off, you can feel them.
Yeah. You're absolutely right. The entire movie going, “Oh, now all I want to do is go watch old movies at the movie theater.” Which speaking of, I've done a very good job not saying this, but I can see the bottom fifth of a what looks like an Iron Giant poster behind you. No one else is going to see this. It is an Iron Giant poster.
Oh, I literally like saw that when we first started recording and then when you mentioned movies, I was like, “I feel like I can't not reference it,” but I was staring at it the whole time. But no, that's all I want to do now is go watch old movies.
So, what's behind me, directly behind me, I realize this is an audio format, but I have a Thing poster. I have Toshiro Mifune and Yojimbo, there's Iron Giant, there's a Isla Nublar.
Oh, that's amazing.
And directly behind me is Oldboy.
These are great. Where did you get these?
So, some of them I got at comic conventions. The Oldboy poster, I actually got from the Alamo Drafthouse when they did the anniversary re-release of Oldboy earlier this year.
We'd actually gone to see a different film. I had my tickets to the old boy the following week and I walked out in on the counter, they had the Oldboy poster sheets, and I was like, “Can I have one?” And they were like, “Yes. They're for people to take.”
Oh, that is amazing. Okay, I have one last question for you. Obviously, like I said, we were very light on talking about Good Girls Don't Die. In the intro I hyped it up a whole bunch because people really need to read it. But obviously, before we started recording, we were both like, “We're not going to talk about the plot a lot.”
But my last question, I always ask people for a recommendation of any kind. It can be a book; you can also recommend a movie since we've just spent a half hour talking about movies. But what is something you want to recommend to my listeners that you think they should know more about?
Can I recommend two things?
Okay. So, for a book, I think my favorite book that I read recently was Mister Magic by Kiersten White. I thought that book was amazing. And for a film, obviously, I want everyone to stop what they're doing and go watch Yojimbo.
Perfect. That is absolutely perfect. Christina, I told you before I started recording, for people who may remember this, we got to talk a couple of times during the pandemic when I was doing my previous podcast. I was so excited to see your name again and the book does not disappoint. This was so wonderful. Thank you so much for joining me today.
Passions & Prologues is proud to be an Evergreen Podcast and was created by Adam Sockel. It was produced by Adam Sockel and Sean Rule-Hoffman. And if you are interested in this podcast and any other Evergreen Podcasts, you can go to evergreenpodcasts.com to discover all the different stories we have to tell.