For September, the Audiences Everywhere Book club (#AEBookclub) chose Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism as their book. The novel, a tale of friendship between teenage girls and possession by the devil in the ‘80s, has proven to be a popular choice among members of the club. We sat down with/emailed the author to ask him a few questions about his book, career, and whether or not he has made a blood enemy out of Ikea.
Sean Fallon (Audiences Everywhere): What inspired you to write My Best Friend’s Exorcism?
Grady Hendrix: The title came first, to be honest. It just popped into my head one day like a bad idea. After that I realized that the one thing that could combat the Devil in the modern world, when we aren’t as religious as we used to be, would be the power of friendship. After all, while most of us don’t rely on a supernatural deity to rescue us, we all rely on our friends to save our souls. Friendships are most intense in high school, and the high school experience I’m most familiar with is from the ‘80s, when I grew up. I remember how horrible my 10th grade year was and that would set the book in 1988, and that was when the Satanic Panic was at its height and when Geraldo Rivera’s 2-hour special, Exposing Satan’s Underground aired, so the pieces just all started to click together.
AE: Was it hard to get into the heads of your teenage girl characters? Did you go method and live like a teenager for a year or anything like that?
GH: You’re not too far off! I’m a huge researcher, so I read a ton of what’re known as “female friendship” books that usually feature some beach chairs on the cover and have titles like The Five Nantucket Sisters when I was getting ready to write MYBFEX. It gave me a new respect for what an absolutely staggeringly good book Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart is — she basically founded that entire genre and almost no one has equalled her since. I read the typical non-fiction about exorcisms and deliverance (the Protestant version of exorcisms). But the most important thing I did was give the first 50,000 words of this book to my wife to read. I figured she’d read them and be so impressed at what a king stud writer I was that she’d give up her career and do the laundry and clean up the house for me forever. Instead, she told me that what I had written was a hot flaming garbage fire full of the worst clichés and stereotypes she’d ever seen. After I finally got over my bruised male ego, I realized she was right. My head was so stuffed with pop culture depictions of the ’80s and high school from nine million movies, a billion pop songs, and a trillion TV shows and books, that I’d forgotten what the real thing was like. So I pulled out all my old letters and journals, and my wife gave me all her old letters and journals, and I read them for 3 weeks. And at a certain point a real, isolated memory of what it was like to be in high school in the ’80s popped into my head, and then another, and then more and more. I realized that high school in the ’80s was so much stranger and so much scarier than I remembered.
AE: How much research did you have to do for the setting or are you an ‘80s obsessive already?
GH: Obsessive. I had charts on the wall of my office with the weather for every day, I had old TV schedules so whatever was on in real life was on in the book, I had stacks of old YM and Seventeens and TIME and Sports Illustrated all over my office…I went a little crazy.
AE: What ‘80s movies do you still love and watch?
GH: Okay, I hate to take a digression, but I actually hold an ‘80s Marathon every year in January at the Anthology Film Archives and you’ve given me a chance to talk about it. There’s more to the ‘80s than John Hughes, so this gives me an excuse to rent a bunch of 35mm prints and lock people in a theater for 12 hours. I’ve shown everything from White of the Eye, that’s like a Patrick Nagel print stabbing you in the face forever, to Vice Squad which is one of the most beautiful and brutal movies ever made that completely stunned the audience into silence. Eyes of Fire, which is a more interesting version of The Witch only it takes more risks, and Enemy Territory which is an urban panic movie where the guy who sang the Ghostbusters theme song, Ray Parker Jr., helps a white insurance salesman escape Harlem after dark.
AE: Which is better, Goonies or The Monster Squad?
GH: Goonies, hands down. Although, there’s a lot to be said for Tom Noonan’s sad Frankenstein’s monster in Monster Squad, especially seeing it back-to-back with his sad monster in Michael Mann’s Manhunter that he shot basically in the same year.
AE: What is your favourite horror movie?
GH: Return of the Living Dead is one of the best movies, period. It delivers on every single promise it makes, and it’s one of the only horror movies I’ve ever seen where the biggest body count doesn’t belong to the monsters but to the United States Strategic Command.
AE: If you could go back and see an ‘80s band at the height of its fame perform, which band would it be?
GH: Public Enemy. I actually saw them perform once back in 1990 in a really subpar venue in South Carolina and I don’t think I appreciated them enough at the time. And, of course, I’d love to see Van Halen on their World Invasion “Party ‘Til You Die” Tour, but then again, I think everyone feels that way.
AE: When they adapt My Best Friend’s Exorcism into a movie, who would be your choice for director?
GH: I would love to see Karyn Kusama take a stab at it with Drew Barrymore producing. Or I’d be totally on board with Lena Dunham, although I think she’s too young, but she’d turn something out that was a great, big, beautiful mess and I mean that in the best way. Also, Jennifer Kent from The Babadook is Australian, which is problematic, but it would be interesting to see what she did with it.
AE: Are you still best friends with your high school best friend?
GH: Weirdly enough, I am. Katie Crouch was my first girlfriend and one of my two best friends all through high school and she and I even wrote a couple of YA books together. I was just crashing on her couch a couple of weeks ago. Then again, there are some friends I was really close to in high school, people it felt like I couldn’t live without, and I’ve seen some of them since high school and it’s just not the same anymore. We don’t fit together at this point, and we’ve silently but mutually agreed to let it go. Some friendships simply weren’t meant to survive high school. You need them while you have them like you need oxygen, and then they’re over.
AE: Your last book was Horrorstör, a horror novel set inside a haunted Ikea-type store. Are you now banned from going into Ikea stores?
GH: Actually, I ran into someone from IKEA corporate and they told me that people in the upper levels of IKEA had read the book and thought it was funny. Which was a huge relief. I’d been scared that one morning I’d wake up and IKEA would have come in the night and repossessed all their furniture and left my apartment empty.
AE: Your wiki states that your worked in the Library of the American Society for Physical Research, and your last two books have been about ghosts and possession. Are you a believer in the supernatural?
GH: I think seeing ghosts is a very normal and common part of the human experience. Whether this proves there’s life after death, or that ghosts exist, or hauntings, I don’t know. These experiences might be hallucinations, or errors in perception, or some normal physical process we can’t explain yet and don’t have the tools to study, they might actually be ghosts — who knows? I don’t. But to dismiss them out of hand, or to condescend to people who’ve experienced them, doesn’t hold a lot of value for me. If you’ve ever had one of these experiences yourself, you realize no matter what explanation you come up with for them later, in the moment, while they’re occurring, they’re extremely powerful.
AE: What was the last great movie you saw in the cinema? And what was the last great book you read?
GH: I just saw Don’t Breathe last week and I don’t think I’ve seen that many close-ups of semen outside a porn film ever. Hats off, standing ovation. That whole basement scene was one long build and every time I thought it was over, they’d top it with another twist that made my skin crawl. Also, angry dogs in tiny cars — always a terrible combination. As for books, I’m reading a ton of ‘70s and ‘80s horror paperbacks for a book I’m working on that’ll be out next Halloween, and I just read a book called Voice of the Clown from 1982 by Brenda Brown Canary that made me shriek like a little girl more than once. It’s a book about a small child who has a clown doll and it tells her how to destroy her family and it keeps going there, and going there, and going there until it felt like my face was going to explode.
Featured Image: Quirk Publishing