Riley Sager is a pseudonym—the author of Final Girls has written and published elsewhere under a previous name. However this first thriller, a grounded but still extremely scary take on horror’s final girl trope justifies the new introduction. Lauded by Stephen King (in a blurb to die for), Final Girls follows Quincy—the survivor of a years-ago massacre that killed her friends and a “Final Girl” as dubbed by the press—as she meets a fellow victim/sole survivor, the not-entirely-trustworthy Samantha. This book is all about the aftermath: if horror movie classics show us how a girl survives violence, this book shows how women survive its memory.
Extra Crispy: What did you have for breakfast this morning?
Riley Sager: I had coffee, a banana and a bowl of instant oatmeal. I used to make the old-fashioned oatmeal that had to be cooked on a stovetop, but now I just go straight for those handy little packets. I buy them in variety packs and just choose a flavor at random. It’s a pleasant surprise every morning.
Is that a normal breakfast for you?
I’m a creature of habit, so yes. I like the simplicity of it and how it’s enough food to keep me going until lunch. I tend to reserve extravagant breakfasts for special occasions like holidays and vacations. Last Christmas, I made blueberry pancake bread pudding for breakfast. It was as decadent as it sounds.
Are there any breakfast—or memorable food—moments in Final Girls?
There are several. The main character, Quincy, is a baking blogger. To her, baking is safety and order in a chaotic world. Chaos arrives anyway, in the form of Samantha Boyd. One of their first interactions is a baking lesson initiated by Quincy. They make pumpkin bread. Really, though, it’s an excuse for them to observe each other, ask questions, and try to find out what the other is hiding. It’s baking as a form of interrogation. In terms of breakfast-specific moments, Sam later tries to impress Quincy by making lemon-blueberry muffins all on her own. It doesn’t quite work. They’re dry and there’s not enough lemon.
From the title on, your novel very clearly takes on the well-known horror concept of the "final girl." What about this trope did you hope to explore, challenge, or subvert? Why, at this point and place in time, are we so obsessed with "final girls"—why are they allowed to live?
Cinematic finals girls, whether it’s Laurie Strode from Halloween or Sidney Prescott from Scream, always end up kicking ass on their way to a so-called happy ending. But, honestly, how happy is that ending? All their friends are dead. They’ve barely managed to survive. And of course the vanquished killer is going to return in the inevitable sequel. I wanted to drag the trope off the screen, plunk it down into a real-world scenario, and explore what it’s like to be a “final girl.” How does being a sole survivor affect the rest of your life? What kind of scars, both literal and psychological, does that create? One of the things I love about the final girl concept is how it’s a very feminist idea that arose from a movie genre criticized for alleged misogyny. These characters are fierce. And that resonates with people, especially in today’s insane political climate. Look at the Women’s March. The idea of not just merely surviving but actively fighting back really appeals to a lot of women right now.