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Interview: November 1, 2018

With Halloween just in our rear-view mirror, who doesn't want to curl up with a dark yet hopeful YA novel about demons and romance to make the spooky mood last a little longer? In Jimmy Cajoleas' latest YA horror, THE GOOD DEMON, what they did to Clare wasn't technically an exorcism. When the reverend and his son ripped her demon from her, they called it a “deliverance.” But they didn’t understand that Clare and her demon --- known simply as Her --- were like sisters. She comforted Clare, made her feel brave, helped to ease her loneliness. They were each other’s Only. Clare will do anything to get Her back, even if it means teaming up with the reverend’s son and scouring every inch of her small, Southern town for answers. But if she sacrifices everything to bring back her demon, what will be left of Clare? One of our teen board members talked with Jimmy about THE GOOD DEMON, music and more. Keep reading to see what he had to say! Where did the initial idea for THE GOOD DEMON come from?

Jimmy Cajoleas: Like most ideas, it grew from a lot of different places all at once. The initial spark came from all these stories my mom would tell me growing up about her great uncle who used to cast demons out of people in a small town in northern Tennessee. Every time the power would go out or there would be a big storm, my mom would just launch into these absolutely terrifying true-life tales of demons invading people’s lives, wrecking and destroying everything. Those stories pretty much gave me nightmares for the rest of my life.

The idea got developed a bit more one day when I was thinking about this old Bible verse that used to confound me as a kid (and still does as an adult), in Matthew chapter 12. Jesus tells this parable to his apostles about a demon who is cast out of a person and “wanders through dry places, seeking rest, and doesn’t find it.” The demon then goes back into the person (who it refers to as “his house”) and brings his demon pals in with him, so now they all possess the guy. It’s such a strange parable, you know? Especially how Jesus gives the demon feelings, makes him wander around, thirsty and alone, longing for his home. That’s quite a narrative trick Jesus pulls, giving us no small empathy for the demon, even as the tale is ostensibly about the fate of a person about to get re-possessed. I thought it was fascinating and strange, and I still do.

I pretty much thought about all that for about two decades, and from all that came this book. 

TRC: Your main character, Clare, is brave, smart and stubborn, but she is also very lonely. Can you introduce us to Clare as she appears in THE GOOD DEMON?

JC: I’ll do my best! Clare is a 16-year-old girl with a tough past and fantastic taste in music. She’s a bit of a misfit in her tiny conservative town. Her mom is loving but distant, and she isn’t really close to anyone (though she does have an acquaintance or two, such as the elderly Greek owner of a junk shop she frequents). Her best friend in the world was the demon that had possessed her since she was a child, and that demon was cast out of her, against her will. Now she feels completely alone and unsure how to live in this world. 

TRC: Possession is a subject that has been used a hundred times in the past few decades. Most of the time, it’s the same exact concept but with a different physical look. THE GOOD DEMON is a take on possession that I’ve never seen before. Was it difficult to, in a sense, break free from the mold that’s been used so many times before?

JC: It was actually really fun! I love a challenge like this, to take an old idea and try to make it new. I love to write with the rules and limitations that certain genres provide, because a little bit of narrative framework gives me all kinds of room to move within it. It’s a weird paradox, I guess,, but when I know my parameters, the possibilities somehow seem infinite. I’m also a lifelong horror fanatic, and it was so much fun to get to pull in things from my favorite stories and movies.

TRC: As Clare struggles with the loss of her demon, she also comes to befriend Roy, the son of the very same person who took her demon away from her. Though she and Roy are very different at first, they come to admire, respect and even fall for one another. Why did you pair Clare with someone so different from her? Did you always know they would fall for one another, or did their relationship take you by surprise?

JC: Pairing a character with an opposite is a classic storytelling move that is endlessly fulfilling. It’s also pretty true to life. I find that we are generally are attracted to people we find strange or different in some way, for better or worse. Besides, both Clare and Roy are outcasts in the world, not really fitting in with the status quo. They just happen to lie on different ends of the normalcy spectrum, and that gives them a lot of common ground.

From the start, I was one hundred percent sure that Roy would fall for Clare. Like, being the good Christian kid just beginning to push up against the authority of his upbringing, there was absolutely no chance that he wouldn’t fall for someone like Clare. However, it did surprise me how naturally and easily Clare came to care for him as well. But I liked that. I think they needed each other.

TRC: THE GOOD DEMON is a book that constantly has a reader thinking about morality and what makes something good or evil. What’s the main thing you want readers to take away from THE GOOD DEMON?

JC: I hesitate to assign any kind of overarching moral or message to a book, because I think that can be a pretty destructive way to read. However, if there was a single takeaway, I suppose it would be that every person on this earth is endlessly strange and fascinating and complicated, capable of both great goodness and great evil, often at the exact same time.

TRC: What was the biggest challenge for you when writing THE GOOD DEMON?

JC: The first draft of the book was actually from Roy’s perspective. I finished it, edited it, and was about to send it to my agent, but something felt off about it, incomplete somehow. And I slowly came to realize that I had written from the wrong perspective. It wasn’t Roy’s story at all, and he shouldn’t be the one to tell it.

So then I had to start from scratch and rewrite the entire thing from Clare’s perspective. I mean, I had to get her voice exactly right. It was a wonderful challenge, and I had a lot of help from my early readers, all of whom were women.

TRC: Music plays a part in the book. It’s something that’s important to Clare and she uses it to feel a type of connection to her father. Most of the music mentioned in the book is 80’s punk and post-punk. Did you listen to a lot of that music when writing THE GOOD DEMON? Was it just those genres or did you listen to a bunch of stuff?

JC: I’m pretty much incapable of writing anything without music playing in the background, and I almost always work with headphones on, so music very much informs what I do. Most of Clare’s music comes from her father’s old record collection, so that’s what wound up in the book. It’s also all stuff that I love, which is one of the great joys of writing your own book --- you get to include all the things you like, and nobody can tell you not to.

The album I listened to the most when writing THE GOOD DEMON was The Moon and the Melodies by the Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd, which gets a shoutout in the book. There just wasn’t anything else that captured that feeling of menace and wonder quite the same way, and that was exactly the vibe I was going for. I listened to it so much I wanted the sound of that record to invade the book, to invade every single word. I also wrote extensively to Dopethrone by Electric Wizard (sometimes you need some sludge to drown out the chatter of a crowded coffeeshop), Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (which might be a perfect record), and Sprained Ankle by Julien Baker (who is 100% my favorite music-maker in the world right now).

TRC: There are a few beautiful illustrations by Michael Hoeweler that accompany your writing and really helps to give the book even more dimension. Did you know from the beginning that you wanted art to be featured alongside your story?

JC: That was actually my genius editor Maggie Lehrman’s idea, and wow were those illustrations not absolutely perfect? Michael absolutely blew my mind with those things. I sent him a couple of spellbooks I found online for him to tinker with, and he just went to town. I mean, it was like he had held a microscope up to my own brain, and then made it all even better than I could have imagined. I love those illustrations so much. Jeez.

TRC: THE GOOD DEMON is such a vivid and atmospheric book. With a book like that, it's hard not to imagine it actually coming to life. Would you ever want to see it as a film or series?

JC: Oh gosh, yes please! I would love that so much. Ever since I was a kid I’ve been crazy about horror movies. I used to wander up and down the aisles of the video store and gaze up at all these incredible covers of movies I was too young to rent, praying for the day I would finally be old enough. Those covers were so wonderful back then, just violent and gory and weird, and your brain just couldn’t help but try and think of stories to go along with them. In a lot of ways, the covers were more inspiring to me than many of the actual movies turned out to be. To this day I try never to miss a scary movie release in the theater, because movies are always better on a big screen. Every week my brilliant friend (and incredible writer) Will Stephenson and I go to Terror Tuesday at the Alamo Drafthouse, where they show a different old scary movie on 35mm every week. I love it so much. It’s one of the few consistencies in my life.

Okay, sorry for getting off topic there. I just love scary movies, and it would be a dream to see this book adapted into one.

TRC: Are you working on any new projects?

JC: Yes! Always! I have a middle grade novel coming out in March 2019 called THE RAMBLING, which I’m really excited about, and I’m finishing up edits on another scary book for teens as well. It’s just a real honor and pleasure to get to do this and have these books actually exist in the world, and I’m trying to do as much as I possibly can.