Stephen Lloyd achieved success for his writing on hit TV comedies like “Modern Family” and “How I Met Your Mother,” but in his debut novel, “Friend of the Devil,” he trades laughter for horror. What starts out as an investigation over a missing book at the exclusive Danforth Putnam boarding school quickly becomes a search for the source of an evil that hangs over everyone there. The main protagonist, Sam Gregory, finds hidden dangers and secrets behind the school’s façade of professionalism. “Friend of the Devil” certainly gives new meaning to the term “school spirit.”
We called up the newly minted novelist to chat about his book, the freedom he found in the long-form medium and why boarding schools are so terrifying.
Los Angeleno: So what prompted you to make the leap from writing scripts for TV to writing novels?
Stephen Lloyd: I guess there are things you can do when you’re writing a novel that you can’t do when you’re writing a TV script that I was excited to try — things like description and imagery and internal thoughts. So, I was just excited to try that. It was a fun sort of project in my free time. And I’ve always loved books, so I just wanted to take a crack at it.
L.A.: How was your writing process different for the novel compared to your past work for TV?
S.L.: Mostly, it was that my time was entirely my own and there was really no pressure on it because when I started writing, nobody had asked me to do it. So I could really take as much time as I wanted and write whatever I wanted. Whereas in TV writing, typically, at least in the jobs I’ve had, the writing room breaks a story over a few days and then you’re assigned something, then you have a day or a few days to write a draft. So you’re really kind of under the gun, and you’re trying your best to deliver a script that pleases the showrunners and the creators. So what was so nice about this is that it was all for me and I could write it at my own pace — with no pressure on it.
L.A.: Bullying is a big theme that runs through this novel; was that intentional or did it just develop as the story came to life?
S.L.: I think it just evolved from telling the story. High school, as we all know, is a place where bullying goes on, so it was a natural fit for that environment. Hopefully, there’s less so now than when I was a kid. At least I want to tell myself that because I have two daughters who are going to be in high school soon. But it’s just something that happens in that environment.
L.A.: Is that why the story takes place in a high school?
S.L.: I think the main reason I picked high school is that I do think that [it’s] a kind of terrifying place. You’re looking at this environment where kids were just children — and most of them are mentally and emotionally just coming out of childhood — so they have all of the physical powers of an adult and sexual energy. If you add to that a boarding school where there are no parents around, it has kind of a “Lord of the Flies” feel to it. I didn’t go to a boarding school but a lot of my friends in college did, so I’ve heard stories of what goes on in boarding schools. It just sounded terrifying from the outside what these kids are thrown into. So, it seemed like a good place for a horror story like this one.
L.A.: You broke away from comedy and moved over to the realm of horror. What was that like for you?
S.L.: I have worked in comedy a lot, and I think that I just wanted to try something new. I like a lot of other things and have always liked mystery and horror and speculative fiction. So I wanted to give that a chance. It started as a fun side project, and I think it would not have been as fun if it had been a comedic novel; it would have felt more like work. I really just wanted to do something that was very different from what I was used to.
L.A.: Do you think you’re going to write another novel?
S.L.: I’d like to. I really enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun doing it. I had a wonderful experience with my editor at Putnam, so I would love to do it again. That is contingent on a lot of factors, but I would definitely love to do it again.
“Friend of the Devil” by Stephen Lloyd goes on sale today. Click here to order a copy and learn more about the author’s book tour.