Grady Hendrix writes fiction, also called "lies," and he writes non-fiction, which people sometimes accidentally pay him for. He is the author of Horrorstör, the only novel about a haunted Scandinavian furniture store you'll ever need. It has been translated into 14 languages and is being turned into a television show. His most recent novel is called My Best Friend's Exorcism, about demonic possession, friendship, exorcism, and the Eighties.
Grady used to be a journalist, which means that he was completely irrelevant and could be killed and turned into food at any time. He is one of the founders of the New York Asian Film Festival, but he is not responsible for the bad parts of it. He is also not Asian. For years he was a regular film critic for the New York Sun but then it went out of business. He has written for Playboy Magazine, Slate, The Village Voice, the New York Post, Film Comment, and Variety.
The New Yorker once ran a short profile on him, and this means that when the time comes and they are lining people up for the Space Arks he will be guaranteed a seat ahead of you.
Both Horrorstör and My Best Friend's Exorcism are incredibly unique, riding a delicate line between full-fledged horror and more mainstream fiction. Where do you find inspiration for your stories?
With books I really like taking clichés and digging into them, taking them literally. I mean, Horrorstör is just a haunted house story, and My Best Friend’s Exorcism is a straight-up exorcism narrative. But those stories are only clichés if you don’t think about them too hard. Once you take them seriously, weird contradictions arise. I’ve always been freaked out by the end of The Exorcist when the MacNeils are saying goodbye to the priests. I mean, sure, Regan is no longer possessed, but what’s breakfast like the next morning after you kill a priest, rub your mom’s face into your bloody crotch, and spray bystanders with green vomit?
Tell us a bit about what it was like to write from the perspective of teenage girls.
The most important thing that happened to me writing this book was when I gave my wife the first 50,000 words to read. I was super proud and thought she was going to be blown away and all “You’re the world’s greatest writer.” Instead she told me it was hot garbage. We pretty much almost got divorced over that conversation. But when I got over my wounded ego, I realized she was right. My head was so stuffed with pop culture depictions of the 80s and high school from movies and other books that I’d forgotten what the real thing was like, so I pulled out all my old letters and journals, all my wife’s old letters, all the yearbooks and photos we had, and I just dove into them for 3 weeks. At one point I started copying letters over to get into the mindset (I copied so many of them that my handwriting actually changed and I reverted to some weird ways to write “a” and “e” that I had in high school). It reminded me that high school in the 80s was so much stranger and so much scarier than I remembered. Writing from the POV of two girls wasn’t very difficult after I got that part down. I mean, we’re both people.
A reviewer has called My Best Friend's Exorcism, "a great mixture of nostalgia and horror." How does that assessment strike you?
I’ll take any assessment anyone’s willing to give me! I write these books alone in a room then seal them up in bottles and throw them out into the world, so it’s nice to hear from someone who’s found one washed up on the beach. Even if they don’t like something I’ve written, I’m grateful they’re taking the time to engage.
If My Best Friend's Exorcism were to be made into a movie, who do you hope would play Abby and Gretchen?
Zendaya as Gretchen and Willow Smith as Abby.
My Best Friend’s Exorcism includes some really intense and suspenseful scenes, but there are added elements of humor and a lovely friendship between your main characters. Do you consider yourself a part of the horror genre? Or is there another label that you think better captures what you’ve created?
I just write books about the world I see around me. Afterwards, people tell me it’s horror. But I am aware that I’m writing in a horror tradition and I’m happy with that. Horror is the mulch down deep in the dark where all the other genres have their roots. It’s the most flexible genre that talks about the most important things: life, death, love, werewolves.
Who are your top five favorite authors?
I’ll read anything by Elmore Leonard and any of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Once a year, or every other year, I re-read Charles Willeford’s Miami-set Hoke Mosely novels. I keep finding new things to love in Shirley Jackson. And I’ve been doing a massive re-read of Stephen King and it’s given me a new appreciation of what he’s done and is still doing.
Which books are in your to-be-read pile right now?
Right now, I’m working on a book about books, so I’m reading a ton of horror paperbacks from the 70s and 80s. My to-be-read pile has about 100 books in it, and I’m reading 2-3 per day, which hurts my brain. But in terms of what I’ve read in the past five days, Satan’s Mistress, Satan’s Seductress, Satan’s Sleuth, Satan’s Pets, Satan’s Love Child, Satan Sublets, Satan’s Bride, and Satan’s Daughter. Basically, I’m reading about all of Satan’s relationships.
Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?
It doesn’t exist until you put it down on paper. That’s the only way to do it. There are no shortcuts.
Can we look forward to another book from you in the future?
I’ve got a new book due in October, and then a new novel due in February. I can’t talk about them right now because I don’t want to make any promises until they’re finished, but there will be new books from me in 2017 and 2018 at the very least.