Last month Grady Hendrix brought his unique brand of macabre wit to Charleston's Write On! Literacy Festival. While in town, the man whose imagination brought us a haunted IKEA (Horrorstor), an exorcism-based friendship set in Mt. Pleasant (My Best Friend's Exorcism), and an exhaustive, humorous compendium of horror novels from the past (Paperbacks From Hell) hosted a fiction writing workshop one day and a live reading of Paperbacks From Hell the following day. At the live reading, he enthusiastically recounted the myriad of horror paperbacks that littered the literary landscape during their heyday. At one point, Hendrix regaled the audience with a ditty dedicated to the books that inspired him so much:
And hungry Bunnies too..."
It's apparent the most important thing Hendrix wants to communicate is his love of the subject and a desire to, at the very least, inspire/infect those listening with a curiosity of those books.
Consider me, a movie addict, infected.
Last week, I obtained a copy of one of the books Hendrix sang about, Berton Roueché's stray cat scarefest Feral. I was already a fan of his work but am now a fan of his infectious enthusiasm.
The day before his workshop, over beer and a Coke, we talked about that enthusiasm, writing female protagonists, and his new book We Sold Our Souls, the story of a washed-up '90s heavy metal guitarist, Kris Pulaski who finds herself knee deep in supernatural conspiracy that may involve her former bandmate, Terry Hunt.
City Paper: You're very good at getting across your enthusiasm whether it be your work or the work of others.
Grady Hendrix: I realize I'm a nerd. The least cool thing is to be excited about something. You look like a jackass. Cool is the opposite of warm, right? I want people to see why I'm excited about stuff so they won't think I'm totally crazy. I feel like with bookstore appearances — people are doing me a favor, they're coming out to hear this.
CP: What's the writing process like for you?
GH: I have an office which I can't really afford, but it's inspirational because I'm like, I have to earn the money to keep the office and if you're married or live with someone and you write for a living, writing at home is a good way to get divorced. Every day I try to hit a word count in between 3 and 5,000 words. Most of them are garbage, but I really like having sort of a vomit draft and then going back and redoing the whole thing, you know, but it's like you can't rework it if you don't have anywhere to start.
CP: You said you're working on a new book set in Charleston just like My Best Friend's Exorcism. Are you tinkering with the idea of creating a shared universe?
GH: Basically My Best Friend's Exorcism was in 1988 Mt. Pleasant. And this one I'm working on now is set in 1993 Mt. Pleasant. It's not like a shared universe, (laughs) but as much as Mt. Pleasant is the new Marvel universe.
CP: Would it be correct to say you like having female protagonists in your stories?
GH: Yeah. It's weird. I don't know how that happened, but one of the things I think is that having a character, the point of view of who's not you, kind of having that distance from them actually frees you up a lot. Like when I write a male character, he almost feels like a proxy. Writing women, I feel like it gives me a distance. It really frees me up to sort of like see them more clearly. It's funny. We Sold Our Souls was supposed to be my "dude" book because I'd done My Best Friend's Exorcism right before which was really female heavy. In 2016, I went to an election night party and I realized that if I wanted to write about a character who had been passed over and pushed aside and treated like garbage and really felt completely like the world was against them, it kind of had to be a woman. And the other thing is, you know, I have three older sisters; I kind of feel like I have a lot of access to those lines. I think if you have sisters, you have no imaginary ideal about womanhood and what femaleness is if you're paying attention, like especially if you're growing up with them. One of the worst fist fights I ever saw was between two of my sisters in the front yard. They were so mad. Hell has no fury.
CP: In We Sold Our Souls, the central plot is about a metal band, Dürt Würk. What kind of metal is it?
GH: They're power metal basically. So they're not '80s, they're more like a throwback to the '70s. They're like Motörhead, Halloween, or Manowar.
CP: So how would you describe Terry and Kris?
GH: Kris is the one with all the musical talent and she doesn't think about how it looks or how it should be packaged. Terry's the guy who had a lot of stage presence and a lot of charisma but not a lot of actual raw musical talent and the only thing he wanted to express was that he wanted to be famous and rich and he did it. He made sacrifices other people wouldn't and he got those rewards now, whether they're worth it once you get there, that's another story.
CP: The book employs Satanism and you recently sold a screenplay, Satanic Panic. What is it you find fascinating about that subject?
GH: So I remember going to the Coastal Carolina Fair in 1990, I think. And in all the freak shows where they had a tent, it was called Billy The Addict. It was this idea that like someone was out to get your children, whether they were a drug dealer or a Satanist or a cult member or a kidnapper, like people were out to get your kids in the eighties. And then the other part of it I love is I love the idea of literalizing evil. Like Satan, oh, that's the guy in the red suit with the horn. Like, OK, well what does he do on his day off? Does he, what does he have on his Netflix. Like what is his favorite show? Once you personify evil, it comes with all the things that personhood comes with, which is I think fun.