Grady Hendrix: Author events suck (not his), Halloween books to read and why COVID haunts writers
Horror Author Grady Hendrix is doing an event through the Orange County Library this week.
If you’re watching horror movies this Halloween, you might notice a theme: In many slashers, there’s one girl who lives. It’s known as the final girl trope.
And author Grady Hendrix’s latest book The Final Girl Support Group looks at what happens to those women after the worst night of their lives. HBO is developing The Final Girl Support Group into a series. His last novel The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires is also in development.
Hendrix is doing a virtual event with the Orange County Library System this Friday at 9 p.m. He spoke with WMFE’s Abe Aboraya.
Abe Aboraya: I’ve read The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires. I have not read your latest, The Final Girl Support Group. But it sounds like this is something that you obviously have like a very deep love for horror and sort of real crime and I’m wondering what sort of drove you into that?
Grady Hendrix: Well you know, that’s just you you kind of wind up where you wind up in life I don’t really you know, as a kid my exposure to horror movies was the same as everyone else, like watching them with my friends. But I wasn’t a big horror book reader. I actually found the covers too gross to get into them very much. But um, you know, I did the normal I read Stephen King, I think starting when I was about 12, and nothing nothing that would make you think I was anything but a nice boy on a good upward track to being a productive citizen. And then as I started writing, I just really you know, I realized that what people really liked more was the stuff I wrote that leaned into horror more and so I really embraced it. But but a you know, I was pretty conversant with horror movies, which I’d always loved.
Abe Aboraya: Well, talk a little bit about The Final Girl Support Group, kind of give us the elevator pitch. That’s kind of a weird trope in horror that’s sort of managed to stay up over the years and how do you kind of hope to maybe up end it a little bit in your book?
Grady Hendrix: Sure. Well, final girls are just women who survived right? They’re the ones who make it the end of the horror movie. And I think people even who aren’t horror fans kind of know that concept. And one of the things that I always found is that I found them really inspiring. I mean for a lot of people, especially people like me, they’re kind of the reason you watch horror movies. Like I mean they’re they’re the bleak, nihilistic endings, you know, like in The Dorm, [The House That] Dripped Blood. But I really love final girls, I love seeing people go through the worst day in their lives and survive somehow. There’s to me, nothing more cathartic than the very end of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when the final girl actually barely escapes, but escapes. It’s so cathartic. So that’s really where my head was. I’m not sure I’m deconstructing that trope. I think a lot of this stuff has always been there. I’m just trying to dig deep on it. And really, you know, not treat these women ironically, or, or as tropes. I’m trying to treat them like people and really ask, so what happens to you as a person, if the worst thing ever, you know, all your friends getting murdered in front of you, and then you have to kill the killer to survive? If that happens to you, when you’re 16 or 17 years old? How do you live in the shadow of that for the rest of your life?
Abe Aboraya: I’m wondering, because there’s so much talk about trauma and sort of overcoming trauma and how people deal with it. I feel like that’s something that we as a country talk a lot more about now. And I’m wondering how much that plays into the book of sort of this idea of, I’ve had this traumatic event happen and now I’m going to try and sort of deal with it and the consequences of it.
Grady Hendrix: Well, it’s interesting, I mean, I’m not a therapist, right? So I, you know, an actual trauma like real life, people’s trauma, I am not qualified to discuss or treat. But one of the things that’s always been part of this genre is this stuff happening to these women and then them surviving. And there’s a difference between old school and new school final girls like the new school, sort of final girl, she’s more of a Buffy or a Xena, or a Furiosa, she shows up ready to rumble she’s she’s can hold her own, physically, she can go at the drop of a hat. And the final girls I love are from the older movies in the 70s and 80s, who aren’t even necessarily the smartest kids in their class, they’re not necessarily the strongest, they don’t have a lot in the way of resources, but they just don’t quit. And they keep going. And they dig deep and And to me, that’s, that’s how you survive it right? You just don’t quit. You just don’t give up. And that, to me is tremendously useful as a life philosophy.
Abe Aboraya: I haven’t read the book obviously, as I mentioned, but my understanding of it is it’s very recognizable if you’ve spent any time watching horror movies, which you know, which which characters were talking about. How does that kind of work from like a legal perspective and sort of how does that sort of tie into the the show as well because I imagine that that crosses a different legal barrier.
Grady Hendrix: Well, not really these these situations are so ingrained in the collective unconscious even for non horror fans. I mean, someone who kills every season, whether it’s Halloween or Christmas or Valentine’s Day, a summer camp killer, a killer who lives in dreams, those things have sort of transcended their genres to some extent. And so you know, they’re they’re out there floating around and, and you know, I obviously changed a lot of things. I mean, these are my own creations, but you know the summer camp killer, the dream killer, the Halloween night killer, the prom night killer. These are tropes that have become really familiar to people.
Abe Aboraya: Well, what about the Christmas killer and sort of the Christmas scary movies idea, how does that sort of factor in?
Grady Hendrix: Well, the main character Lynette is the survivor of one of these Santa Claus killers. And that was that big trope in the 80s. It started with Silent Night, Deadly Night, there was such a, that had such a moral panic around it, and people protesting theaters with the guy dressed as Santa Claus killing people. You’ve got Black Christmas, you’ve got a lot of these movies. I’m a big Christmas fan. So I like writing about Christmas. But I also, there was something sort of always disreputable about these movies, even in the day, there was something really unsavory about them in a way that Friday the 13th wasn’t. And I definitely wanted Lynnette, my main character to be attached to one of these franchises that had, like, a bit of a stench to it.
Abe Aboraya: What I’m wondering is, you know, you, have you ever done something to a character as a writer that sort of haunted you? Or that that affected you that you maybe even regretted it?
Grady Hendrix: Yeah, well, I’m not one of those writers who thinks that my characters come to life and speak to me, I think that’s just poor planning. But you do spend a remarkable amount of time with these imaginary friends, like, talking to them. And so you do develop a lot of feelings about them. There’s a sexual assault in The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires that I really had a hard time with. And I still, it had to happen, but I wish it hadn’t. There was, there’s a dog that comes to a bad end in one of my books that had to happen, but I always feel very bad about that. And Final Girls Support Group, you know, it was really essential to me to get these characters to a better place. By the end, I couldn’t just let them have some kind of bleak, cynical, cop-out ending, I needed to get them to a better place, or I wouldn’t have been comfortable walking away from them at the end.
Abe Aboraya: I saw an interview with you where you sort of talked about, okay, I’ve turned in this book. And now I’m sort of going through the editing process on it, but I’m going through the research on another book, and I’m wondering how do you sort of structure your week, your day, your year when it comes to, you know, getting these different projects out, because they’re, they’re all in different sort of stages?
Grady Hendrix: Yeah, I do it poorly. Things have really hit me hard this year, because I’ve got a lot of stuff going. And after Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, we were on this sort of split promotional circuit, part, virtual party in person. And so that’s harder than just doing all in-person, or all virtual. It’s the worst of both worlds. So with all virtual, you could do a lot more events, because the cost of doing them and the time it took was smaller. But you didn’t have to leave your your office. With live events, you do less of them, but they have more impact because there’s travel time and all that. I just got back from a Midwestern tour where I drove something like 1,500 miles in a week. And so I’m, I’m getting the worst of both of those right now. And it sucks. I’m trying to get my life under a better schedule. I love writing books, I really do. It’s, it’s so immersive in a way other things aren’t. And it’s so nice to just get up every morning, get to your office at 8 a.m., and just write until 6 or 7 p.m. at night and just go away into this book, you know, and into this world. And I was very lucky during the pandemic. My office is about three blocks from my house. And there were only about three other people in this entire building, which is like a 16-story, Midtown office building, so I felt pretty safe. And so it was really nice for me every day during the pandemic, I got up and I got to go right it was so good for me. That kind of structure and routine is really, is very essential to my mental health.
Abe Aboraya: I want to talk a little bit more about the Southern Book Club’s Guide just because for me, one of the most legitimately horrifying parts of the book is sort of how the vampire is able to survive because he’s affluent, he’s a developer and he kind of preys on children in this impoverished black community and that privilege kind of helps shield him from a lot of this. What made you put such a big societal issue at the heart of something that’s a character driven vampire book?
Grady Hendrix: Well, I mean, that’s the world I see around me. I’m, I’m very limited I in what I write, I don’t write about like fantasy worlds, you get to by you know, going through your bedroom door or, or hobbits with made up languages or other planets. So these, I kind of limit myself to what I see around me. And that is what I see. You know, and, and you really do see that everywhere, um, you know, someone who is insulated from the consequences of their actions by their by their money and power. I really, I think that’s something we’re all pretty familiar with.
Abe Aboraya: I mean, were you able to look at any sort of similar big, societal ills, when you’re looking at The Final Girl Support Group? Was there anything like that you were able to sort of tackle?
Grady Hendrix: Well, you know, with Southern Book Club, it was interesting, because there was this there was this way that (the villain) James Harris, it’s set in the ’90s. And there’s a way that James Harris, the main character, mirrors the ’90s, in some ways, in the sense that the ’90s, there was a lot of stuff going on. The roots of what we’re living now were laid in the ’90s, right? CNN took off in the ’90s, Fox News was founded, the banks were mostly deregulated in the ’90s. The first Iraq War, the first attack on the World Trade Center, Walmart went from being you know, in 36 states to being the world’s largest private employer. And even though a lot of stuff was happening in the 90s, it was always this feeling of just hush, just don’t rock the boat. Everyone was making so much money that you were encouraged not to say anything, not to shake things up at all. And the thing that I encounter with The Final Girl Support Group is, I realize that the story we tell, that sort of focuses in slasher movies of this kind of monstrous male figure, or this monstrous killer hunting a woman, it’s a story we’ve been telling ourselves for hundreds of years. I mean, all the way back to Little Red Riding Hood. And even before, right? A teenager goes into the woods, is told not to do something, does it, encounters a monstrous man, the wolf, and sort of has to rely on her guile and cunning to survive. And we just keep telling this story. And sometimes it’s a bride, like in Bluebeard. And sometimes the story is a cautionary tale. Sometimes it’s a tale warning women to stay in their place. Sometimes it’s the story, it’s celebrating female resilience and strength and resourcefulness. It’s just the stories meaning changes with us. But it’s the same story again, and again. And I think, you know, we really need to wonder why that story is so essential to us.
Abe Aboraya: And talk a little bit about sort of the place because a lot of your books sort of have this, this, you know, setting in a in a decade, or in a timeframe that’s very recognizable. And and this book sort of was in the 2010s. It’s very recent, but not quite modern. And what made you sort of pick that timeframe?
Grady Hendrix: Well, the final girl support group was gonna be contemporary, but then COVID happened. So I had to bump it back pre-COVID, because I didn’t want to write about COVID. My next book, I’m writing about COVID, but not this one. And one of the issues with that is you’ve got to bump it back far enough that COVID isn’t even a part of the story. So if the story book took place in 2019, it would end and everyone think, Oh, yeah, well, it seems like a happy ending, but they probably all died of COVID the following year. So I had to put it back in 2010. Just to get it far enough back where 2020 would have nothing to do with the story.
Abe Aboraya: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about that that you wanted to kind of touch on that, you know, sort of stands out for you with this book?
Grady Hendrix: I was just gonna say you know, it’s funny. Slasher movies have such a bad reputation. I mean, they really do. If you say you like slashers, people think you’re essentially saying you like watching porn. They’re considered very misogynistic, very violent, and, and I had the same stereotype growing up. I was more of a zombie guy than a slasher guy. And watching so many slashers to write this book, I realized that there plenty of cheap, lousy slashers out there, but there are some that just they really get at something primal and almost fairy tale-ish. And so many of them focus on women surviving horrible circumstances. And it’s interesting, even a movie that I had always sort of dismissed like Slumber Party Massacre, which I mean, it just, the title alone sounds too terrible. But it was actually one of three movies that Roger Corman produced that were all written and directed by women. And that Slumber Party Massacre was written by Rita Mae Brown, the famous feminist author. And it’s a really fun, really great movie that defies expectations. And I feel like people really bring a lot of expectations to the genre, they think it’s just going to be, “Oh, it’s going to be about killing women.” And there’s so much more to it than that. And I hope that those preconceptions don’t keep people from you know, watching Nightmare on Elm Street III, watching Friday the 13th Part Two, or Slumber Party Massacre, because there’s so much good stuff there. I mean, this. This is a story we’ve been telling for hundreds of years. And this just happens to be its latest incarnation.
Abe Aboraya: We’re sort of right in this Halloween season right now. Do you have recommendations for people about what to watch, what to read, before things get really crazy. What would you recommend?
Grady Hendrix: Sure, well, you can’t go wrong with Slumber Party Massacre. It is still a movie called slumber party massacre. So have a beer or six, that helps. But it really is fun. And the characters in it really do act like real human beings, not just knife fodder. I always, always always this time of year I reread Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, which is such a great book and always feels like autumn to me. But also on top of that, Stephen Graham Jones has a new book called My Heart is a Chainsaw, which is also a final girl book that’s really terrific. And Oyinkan Braithwaite wrote a book called My Sister, the Serial Killer, which is a very short, sharp, funny serial killer book, if a serial killer book can be funny. Sarah Langan’s Good Neighbors has such great teenage characters. This is a time of year I really like big fat, immersive books you can kind of lose yourself in and there’s a book from 1981 I helped get reissued called The Tribe by Barry wood, which is really a giant New York novel. That’s probably the best American work of Jewish horror fiction ever written. And you can find that from Vallencourt but if this is the time of year you want to get lost in a big, fat, epic book, The Tribe by Barry Wood is definitely one you should check out.
Abe Aboraya: You’re doing a virtual talk with the Orange County Library System Friday, October 22 at 9 p.m. Tell us a little bit about that.
Grady Hendrix: Sure, well, author events make everyone want to kill themselves – the audience or the author. They just have a bad reputation – is it a worse reputation than slasher movies? And years ago, I just decided there’s got to be a way to do better. So I started doing these one-man shows instead of doing a typical event. So on Friday night, it’s going to be virtual, but I’ll be giving a one hour history of horror, of murder books and murder movies that goes from everything from hairy murdered dwarves with double rows of teeth to primal hamster trauma to Jack the Ripper. It goes about an hour, there’s about 134 slides, so it moves pretty fast, and there are even horrible songs. I highly suggest you drink before or during the show. It will make my singing exponentially better. So I’m to save the author event from its sorted reputation.
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