Born in South Carolina and now making New York City his home, Grady Hendrix is an acclaimed writer who has worked in various genres and for some amazing publications. For example, Hendrix has been a journalist and contributor for Slate, The Village Voice, New York Post, Film Comment, Variety, and Playboy Magazine. In addition to non-fiction, Hendrix has also written incredible novels and one of his most recent books is My Best Friend’s Exorcism. Wanting to learn more about his career and that novel, I was able to interview Hendrix for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what were some of your favorite stories? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Grady Hendrix: I didn’t read much horror when I was a kid because the covers scared me too much, but I read a ton of men’s adventure fiction — the more guns the better. A particular favorite was The Park is Mine by Stephen Peters about a crazed Vietnam veteran who takes over Central Park, turns it into a death trap full of land mines, then kills all the cops who try to eject him. In terms of pure bonkers and totally inappropriate mayhem, it definitely still holds up.
Yanes: You have several years of experience as a journalist. How do you think this writing work helped you become a better author?
Hendrix: Being a journalist gave me all the tools I need to write fiction. It taught me to type fast, to do research, and to have zero pride.
Yanes: Your recent novel is My Best Friend’s Exorcism. What was the initial inspiration for this story?
Hendrix: Actually, my most recent novel is We Sold Our Souls, which came out this September. But in terms of inspiration for My Best Friend’s Exorcism it’s a case of getting the title first and then figuring out the rest later, Roger Corman-style.
In so many exorcism books and movies, it’s basically the story of some old guys tying a young girl to her bed and yelling at her for hours. The demoniac (possessed person) doesn’t matter. In The Exorcist we don’t know much about Regan because she’s irrelevant to that story, instead it’s about the demon testing the priest’s faith, using the demoniac as a vessel.
So I wanted to focus on the experience of the demoniac. Then, I had to deal with the fact that faith is central to exorcism stories, but I don’t think religious faith is as powerful now as it was in the past, so I had to find something that people would believe in just as strongly, and the obvious answer was their friends. My friends in high school saved my life, more than once, and that age is when friendships are at their strongest, so that meant it had to be set in high school and the high school experience I know best is the one from the Eighties. So the story really came together in a series of logical steps once I thought it through.
Yanes: My Best Friend’s Exorcism is set in the 1980s, a decade known for Satanic Panics. While doing research on Satanic Panics, was there anything new you learned about this cultural phenomenon?
Hendrix: Nothing that I hadn’t already experienced. I remember reading about and hearing about the Satanic Panic back in the Eighties and feeling completely and totally terrified, but not of Satan. I was seeing these insane headlines and lurid fantasies getting played out in the press and they clearly seemed like total BS to me but newspaper editors were taking them seriously, cops were taking them seriously, lawyers were taking them seriously, and judges were taking them seriously. People were going to prison. It felt like the whole world had gone insane.
Yanes: Abby and Gretchen are the stars of My Best Friend’s Exorcism and are fantastic characters. How did you go about shaping them? Are they based on anybody you know or celebrities?
Hendrix: All my characters are based on people I know, whether they’re people I saw in the street or on the subway or people I know from my life. They change a ton as I write them and by the time the book is finished they’re unrecognizable, but they all start with a kernel of truth.
Yanes: It was recently announced that My Best Friend’s Exorcism is being developed into a movie by the team that created Happy Death Day. Could you take a moment to describe just how this news feels to you?
Hendrix: It’s very nice, but also a bit distant. I feel like my kids grew up and went off to college and won an award. I’m very proud of them, but they’re their own people now. I just hope they don’t wind up on drugs or dropping out.
Yanes: On this note, since there is always something lost in translation when a novel becomes a movie, what are some little elements you hope make it to the big screen?
Hendrix: The one thing I really hope they figure out how to nail is the ending. It’s one that works great in a book but it probably won’t work on the big screen and it would be easy to just junk it completely and do something radically different and more familiar to audiences. But I hope they spend the time and energy figuring out something that stays close to the book and that works and feels really new. I don’t know what that would be, though.
Yanes: Given that you introduced such great characters in My Best Friend’s Exorcism, do you have any plans on revisiting them in other novels?
Hendrix: I’m not a sequel kind of guy, which is too bad. I love sequels, and writing a series is where the real money is, but I just can’t figure it out.
Yanes: When people finishing reading My Best Friend’s Exorcism, what do you hope they take away from it?
Hendrix: I hope they have a strong desire to buy 10 more copies and give them to everyone they know.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Hendrix: I’m furiously rewriting my next novel, which is coming out in Fall 2019. It’s set in the same neighborhood as My Best Friend’s Exorcism, about 5 years later, but it’s not a sequel. Exorcism was about the kids, but this one’s about parents.