Grady Hendrix hates author events.
No one wants to go to his events, he says, not even him. So around the same time he released Paperbacks from Hell in 2017, he started doing what he calls “one-person shows” instead.
“It’s really nice to be doing things for the audience,” he says. “Everyone left their house [to be there]. That’s a big deal. Not just during a pandemic, but there’s Netflix. There’s any music you want.”
Hendrix, a horror author who is convinced he would die within the first ten minutes of a horror movie, has done these shows for several of his books now. He was planning on doing one for The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, his book from April 2020, but made a podcast instead when the pandemic hit.
He plans to bring the tradition back with his appearance at Bookmarks’ 16th annual Festival of Books and Authors which takes place from Thursday through Sunday. At the event, which will be in person for the first time since 2019, Hendrix will be presenting on the history of murder books with a series of slides.
“It’ll be an hour long, but it moves pretty fast,” Hendrix says. “There are songs and I’m a terrible singer, so I always say the drunker they are the better my voice sounds.”
Hendrix and horror go way back. He has been a fan of Stephen King since his teens and did a five year long read of all King books that ended in 2017, though King has published several more since.
Some of Hendrix’s favorite horror and horror-inspired books include anything by King, My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Joan Samson’s The Auctioneer. The one book he says everyone should read, though, is Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.
“If anyone hasn’t read that, that’s a crime and they should read it before they die sad and unfulfilled,” Hendrix says.
His most recent book, The Final Girl Support Group, came out earlier this year, but Hendrix had written the first draft back in 2014. In the intervening years, he rewrote the ending and studied up on fairy tales, which he said were surprisingly helpful.
“It’s not really a genre that occurs in fiction,” he says of slasher novels. “I found that the closest thing I could find were fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood is a slasher story, isn’t it?”
The Final Girl Support Group centers on a group of women, each the sole survivor of a brutal massacre. The plot takes off when one of the women is murdered, convincing the protagonist that someone is out there trying to finish them all off.
For Hendrix, it was important to make these women real, which meant creating characters who were not all white and able-bodied.
“In movies I feel like a wheelchair is either too important or not important enough, so I spent a lot of time talking to people who use wheelchairs,” he said.
The “final girls” in most popular horror movie franchises, like Scream or Halloween, tend to be young, white, tough and most importantly, alone. The trope now refers to young women who somehow survive the span of a horror movie when everyone else has been killed off.
The women in The Final Girl Support Group, instead, band together. They deal with addiction and agoraphobia. They matter beyond the initial murders. They won’t be discarded.
“These women survive, and they don’t do it by accident,” Hendrix says. “I wanted to pay tribute to them. I find them really inspiring figures.”
In the coming years, Hendrix anticipates more horror about or related to the pandemic. His upcoming book, These Fists Break Bricks, is set at the beginning of 2021. He’s also read pandemic books over the course of the last year, namely Paul Tremblay’s Survivor Song, which came out in August 2020. The book is about a virus that quickly infects people’s minds, and a doctor who risks everything to help her pregnant friend in the midst of an epidemic. Hendrix found it unexpectedly reassuring.
As someone who has built a career out in the horror genre, he feels the pandemic is a natural subject to explore, as much as people want it to be over.
“Part of my job as someone who writes horror is to be the person who’s like, ‘Not so fast,’” he says. “Horror is all about the return of the repressed, that thing you’ve buried in the backyard.”
Coming up for Hendrix, The Final Girl Support Group is set to be adapted into an HBO Max show. His books Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism and The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires are all in the process of being adapted for the screen as well.
“It feels like these characters have gone off to college and only occasionally send a postcard,” he says. “All I can do is hope they don’t fall in with the wrong crowd.”
Hendrix will present his one person show about the history of murder books at Bookmarks in Winston-Salem on Thursday at 9 p.m. He will also do a panel with author Stephen Graham Jones on Saturday. The full schedule of events can be found on Bookmarks’ website.