Former Mt. Pleasant madman Grady Hendrix, the author of My Best Friend’s Exorcism, We Sold Our Souls, and Horrorstor, is releasing a new book, The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires on Tues. April 7. The book was recently picked up by Amazon for series development.
In Guide to Slaying Vampires, Mt. Pleasant housewife Patricia Campbell suspects her neighbor, James Harris, may very well be a creature of the night. Unfortunately, no one, including the members of her book club, believes her. What follows is funny, heartbreaking, scary, and fun as h-e-double hockey sticks. Here’s what Hendrix had to say about his latest foray into Old Village darkness.
City Paper: How would you describe Patricia?
Grady Hendrix: She’s very much like the moms I grew up seeing in Charleston. A lot of the ones I knew didn’t work. They really seemed to be caught up in a lot of stuff that I thought was pretty irrelevant … the manners, the thank you notes, and all that stuff. Then as I’ve gotten older, I realized they’d done a tremendous amount of work that I’d never seen. They took all these hits so we didn’t have to. They were navigating divorces, alcoholic spouses, friends in divorces with alcoholic spouses, domestic violence, real world violence, aging parents — all this stuff that they didn’t have a lot of resources for, except for their support staff for them.
For a lot of these women their support network came in their social work, their church, their church choir, their book club, their bunko club, their sewing circle, their carpool group. My grandmother, my dad’s mother, lived with us towards the end of her life for several years. At the time, we just thought she was old. We know now she probably had Alzheimer’s. The toll it took on our family was intense. My mom navigated that and she didn’t have much in the way of resources. There’s a lot more to these women than meets the naked eye and certainly appears to you when you’re growing up.
CP: Would you say that turning a blind eye to things is a running theme in the book?
GH: In terms of turning a blind eye, it certainly is the operative mode. Look at the American gymnastics team, the Catholic church, old sports associations … turning a blind eye to children in peril has been a running theme in almost every institution in America. I grew up in Charleston. You see it everywhere but to me it was apparent here: As long as your neighbor’s house was painted one of the architectural board of review’s colors, they could be an alcoholic, they could beat their wife — and that was none of your business.
That was when I grew up. I think things have changed. The vampire in this book, James Harris, realizes that the ’90s are here and he’s entering a time where keeping records seems more common, where everyone’s going to need photo ID. He needs to settle down and put down roots. He needs a bank account. He needs all these things to survive, because you can’t just wander around anymore if you want to live within this system. He decides that the perfect place to do that would be a small southern town where as long as you’re white, seem to have money, and are the right kind of person, they’ll take you for who you say you are. As long as you’re preying on marginalized people you don’t think we’d miss, then that seems like a pretty viable long-term solution.
CP: Speaking of James, was there a particular vampire you had in mind when writing him?
GH: With James, there were a couple people I had most in mind. One was a friend’s ex-boyfriend who was very, very charming and a super nice guy. He had a lot of darkness below the surface. The other one was Ted Bundy. Ann Rule’s first book The Stranger Beside Me is about how when she got hired, she was a crime reporter. Ted Bundy was her really good friend who worked next to her at a suicide hotline. Reading her book and talking about turning a blind eye, it took her a really long time to process this because he acted all the right ways and said all the right things.
CP: Aside from Lowcountry moms, were there any particular inspirations for James’ motives?
GH: Around the time I was writing this book, I was flying into Charleston, I was looking out the window. I realized all the rivers and the marshes looked like a circulation system, the Cooper River, the Wando and everything … they look like arteries and veins and the capillaries and these branching networks. There were some big developments we flew over, they were being built. It was like this giant dead patch of dirt reaching right into the marsh. It looked like something that was rotting and a pair of fangs biting into this blood supply system. That’s when I realized that the ’90s, (when this book takes place) is when Charleston began to sell off so much of its legacy that made it what it is to where it began to overdevelop and overbuild.
Sell off the wetlands, sell off the marshes. Anyone who has sat in traffic on Coleman Boulevard for more than 20 minutes has to wonder — how long can this last? On one hand you want to see the tourism industry thrive and bring money to the region, but on the other hand you’re looking at someone cannibalizing themselves … and just to see Charleston that way had a huge impact on the book. Just this idea of this city starting to suck on its own blood.
Charleston hasn’t reconciled with the fact that it happens everywhere. The idea is this sickness — when you get this sickness you’re gonna need everything. You’re going to need and need and need. You just consume. It’s a hunger that’s never satisfied. This could be set anywhere.