Grady Hendrix, author of Horrorstör (set in a haunted IKEA-type big-box store), returns with the 1980s-themed My Best Friend’s Exorcism. He’ll present the book at Malaprop’s on Monday, June 6, at 7 p.m. “I’m going to be talking about the Satanic Panic in the ’80s when everyone thought heavy metal music and backwards masking were sending kids straight to hell, Dungeons and Dragons was a doorway to evil, and Saturday morning cartoons were indoctrinating children into the occult,” Hendrix says.
The book — part humor and part horror — borrows a big from Hendrix’s own high school experience (as he explains below, in a Q&A with Xpress). Hendrix is also the author of Occupy Space and Satan Loves You, the co-author of the YA series The Magnolia League and the graphic cookbook Dirt Candy, co-founder of the New York Asian Film Festival, and a contributor to Slate, Village Voice and Variety, among others.
Xpress: I suspect most people think their high school experience was, at least in part, a horror story. What was the idea for you that initially led to My Best Friend’s Exorcism?
Grady Hendrix: The title popped into my head first. Then I figured best friendships were most intense in high school, and my high school experience was in 1988, so that’s when it would be set. Then I wrote a first draft and showed it to my wife because I was feeling pretty studly … and she told me it was a dumpster fire of secondhand ideas and stolen characters. And she was right. I was just recycling John Hughes movies and other people’s ideas about high school. So I sat down with all my letters and diaries from high school (and all her letters and diaries from high school) and read them for about three weeks. And somewhere in there, I had a genuine, authentic memory about what it felt like to be in high school in the ’80s, then another, and then another, and then I was off and writing.
I love the high school yearbook design of My Best Friend’s Exorcism — are those photos from your yearbook by any chance?
My author photo is my senior portrait and I thought that was horrifying enough. The rest are from the staff at [boutique publisher Quirk Books], so there’s a heavy New Jersey/Philadelphia vibe to them. One thing I’d like to point out is that even though I wrote all the yearbook inscriptions on the inside covers, our designer, Tim O’Donnell, farmed out the actual handwriting of them to about 32 different teenaged girls, like a yearbook-signing sweatshop.
Horrorstör also has a design element (the Ikea-type catalog). Do you seek out story ideas that have both a visual and literary component?
With Horrorstör the idea was there from the beginning because the IKEA catalog is the most published book in the world after the Bible and Harry Potter (and it surpasses the Bible some years — 160 million copies and climbing!). But with My Best Friend’s Exorcism, the story came first and the design came second. However, book design is pretty much 100 percent boring these days, so Quirk and I are doing our parts to make it more awesome.
It seems like the publishing industry is opening up to multi-media projects.
I think publishers are desperate to try to get people to read, and so they’re willing to try anything. But it’s rare that the multi-media aspect is more than a gimmick glued on at the last minute. One thing that’s been nice with Quirk is that they make this process organic. All we’re trying to do is make the most awesome books possible, by any means necessary.
You’ve worked as a journalist in the past — did that type of writing help inform your fiction in any way?
It’s made me a research junkie. I can’t start writing until I’ve got all my research done, and to be honest, research is the fun part. I’ve gotten to go to machine gun collector conventions, AA meetings, Civil War re-enactments, morgues and cut-rate heavy metal shows to research books and articles. For My Best Friend’s Exorcism, I had TV schedules from 1988, weather calendars from that year and school schedules all over my walls, and I made sure I walked or drove every route the characters took in the book. It’s a lot more fun than hanging around on Wikipedia.
Why do you think horror novels (and TV shows) have such a big following right now?
Probably because reality is just an endless strip mall full of corporate logos and family-sized servings of frozen buffalo wings. We’re all either really bored of reality or completely terrified by it, and we all know, deep down, that a couple of monsters would probably spice up the place. Who doesn’t want a sexy vampire boyfriend or to see your entire compliance department turned into zombies so you can shoot them in the head?
You’ve published two books with Quirk, a relatively small press. Why did you decide on that publishing route, and has it been a good experience?
I’ve published with Random House and Little, Brown, and Quirk has been a lot more fun. They only do a small number of books every year, which means they can spend more time and resources on your book, and they fight harder for attention and are willing to take more chances. A lot of publishers have a very corporate feel but if I wanted to work for a big company I would have gone to law school. I’d probably be richer, too.
What do you have planned for your Malaprop’s event?
Besides driving demons out of books, and reading from some of the most insane Satanic scare literature of the ’80s, and making sure the audience understands that Dungeons & Dragons is a portal that leads directly into Hell, and drawing obscene pictures in people’s books when they ask me to sign them, it’s going to be a pretty sedate affair.