Riley Sager is the new author on the scene for 2017, with his novel ‘Final Girls’ getting the seal of approval from Stephen King.
Recently he spared us some time to answer some questions on the book, King’s approval and horror films.
Tell us about the idea behind Final Girls?
Two years ago I was watching the movie Halloween on, of course, Halloween. I had seen it many times before, but for some reason this time I started thinking about the ending. It and many other horror movies end the same way, with the bad guy vanquished (for now) and that one final girl left alive to tell the tale. What struck me is that, while these are supposed to be happy endings, they’re really not happy at all. Most of the characters are dead. The hero has been physically and psychologically scarred. After the credits roll, that sole survivor is going to have a lifetime of trauma ahead of her. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to explore the idea of a real-life final girl and how the horror of her past affects her in the present. Final Girls is the end result.
What was your research process for the book?
The research I did was more psychological than anything else. I really wanted to get inside the head of a final girl and see how the events of a horror-movie style massacre would still cling to her five, ten, fifteen years later. My editors and I had a lot of conversations about how one might reasonably act after such a situation. What are her issues with strangers? With friends? What does she do for a living? There were so many different ways to hint at her trauma. It was fascinating to dive in deep and explore them.
Were there any other novels or author who inspired the book?
Stephen King, of course, because he’s the patron saint of all authors who want to write something even remotely scary. I also read a lot of Gillian Flynn and Megan Abbott, both of whom are experts at voice, tone and luring readers into murky moral territory. The setting, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was inspired by Rosemary’s Baby.
The book has the seal of approval by Stephen King, what did that mean to you?
It meant the world to me. I’ve been reading him for thirty years now and never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d ever read something I wrote, let alone give it his stamp of approval. To know that I provided him with a memorable reading experience is mind-blowing. I can’t really put into words how amazing that feels. When I saw what he had said about Final Girls, I needed a moment alone to let it all sink in. I still can’t quite believe it happened.
How would you describe it to someone who knows nothing about it?
In the world of the book, these slasher flick scenarios actually occurred and the survivors have become tabloid celebrities. They’re known in the press as the Final Girls. There’s Lisa, Samantha and Quincy—all survivors of separate massacres. Although they know about each other, they’ve never met. But when Lisa is found dead under mysterious circumstances, the elusive and possibly unstable Sam shows up on Quincy’s doorstep, influencing her in the worst ways imaginable. While Quincy tries to figure out what really happened to Lisa and learn Sam’s true purpose for visiting, there are flashbacks to the night of the massacre that only Quincy survived. I like to think of it as a horror movie and its sequel all rolled into one.
Are you a fan of the slasher films of the 1980’s and if so, which ones are your favourites?
I am a fan of slasher films, but ones that either helped kick-start the genre or later played with the conventions of the genre. It’s no surprise then that my two favorites are Halloween and Scream. As for more recent movies, I thought It Follows was an amazing artistic achievement. So well done and so utterly terrifying.
Is there scope to expand Final Girls into a series or do you have different ideas for your next story?
I just finished the first draft of my next book, which is a modern riff on Picnic at Hanging Rock. It was a fun challenge in that it’s very different from Final Girls but also shares that theme of the past haunting the present. As for Final Girls, I don’t have any plans to make it a series. Those characters, quite honestly, have gone through enough. I think it’s best if I let them rest in peace, so to speak.
What advice would you give to first time horror authors trying to get published?
The best advice I can give is to keep at it. Don’t be swayed by one rejection or one failed draft of a novel. Writing isn’t easy. And for most beginning writers, it certainly isn’t lucrative. You do it because you love telling stories. But if you work hard, learn your craft and trust your instincts and talent, success is possible. I’m living proof.
Order your copy of Final Girls HERE