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The Fear of Gay Men: A Roundtable Discussion on the New Queer Horror

Part 2

By, Paul G. Bens, Jr.

In the continuation of our exclusive roundtable discussion on the New Queer Horror in dark fiction, contributing scribe Paul G. Bens Jr. probes the minds of award-winning horror authors (and editors) Michael Rowe, Lee Thomas, Vince Liaguno, Robert Dunbar, and Chad Helder.

Dark Scribe: Is there such a sub-genre as gay horror?

Chad Helder: Yes. There are some different branches. There is the branch that includes erotica and vampire porn. There are also branches that follow in the short story tradition and the novel tradition of the horror genre. And filmmaking too — the recent Cthulhu was an interesting example. I like gay horror that uses the genre to embody societal anxieties about gay life (of which there are many). On a basic level, gay horror includes gay characters. On a deeper level, gay horror deals with relevant themes in modern gay life.

Robert Dunbar: Yes…and no. To the same extent that gay mystery and queer SF exist, certainly…but it’s taken gay horror much longer to become established or to gain any literary respectability. Possibly the same applies to horror generally.

Vince Liaguno: There’s a sub-genre and label for everything these days. I think it springs from our society’s insatiable need to compulsively categorize and organize everything and anything — and from savvy marketers who don’t want you to have to look too hard for what you want. Upside is that in this oversaturated world of ours, with myriad competing images and products, this categorization streamlines and helps us focus; downside is that, in our quest to efficiently find exactly what we’re looking for, we eschew the whole concept of browsing, perhaps ultimately missing out on something that would otherwise capture our interest had we stumbled upon it. We shortchange ourselves in this sense. I think.

Lee Thomas: I’ve been tagged as a gay horror writer and while I am proud as can be of both descriptors, they have the power to limit my audience. I believe all fiction should be inclusive and work on a universal level so that readers – regardless of orientation – won’t be excluded from the experience. Once a label gets slapped on something, you have a percentage of people saying “Ooooo, I’d like that,” and a whole ‘nother percentage thinking, “Nope. Not for me.” This brings us back to getting our stories told and our voices heard. I’ve published very little in queer-focused markets. Most of my work has appeared in mainstream horror publications, and I’m glad it’s worked out that way. I never set out to preach to the choir. (Well, honestly, I try not to preach at all). But while I want my work to represent and resonate with the gay community, I also want it to work for any reader who digs the dark stuff. I don’t want them dismissing the stories before they’ve given them a chance, and a label can do that. Kierkegaard represents!

Michael Rowe: Gay horror fiction is a sub-genre inasmuch as “gay fiction” is a sub-genre of literature, which is to say, yes, it’s a sub-genre, not because it IS a sub-genre but because it’s perceived to be a sub-genre. If gay literature is filed in a “Gay Lit” section at a bookstore, it’s seen as something other than how it would be seen if it were filed in “Fiction” or “Literature.” It’s all perception. And a perception that, by the way, that I wholeheartedly reject. When we did the Queer Fear books, my criteria were that the stories had to be good enough to appear in any mainstream horror anthology. I mean, I defy anyone to read Douglas Clegg’s short story “Piercing Men” from Queer Fear, or the stories in Vince’s and Chad’s anthology, Unspeakable Horror, or the work of Gemma Files, and call it “gay horror.” It’s just horror — unless the reader has an interest in, or problem with, gay people or themes. Then it becomes “gay horror.” Michael Marano’s Dawn Song had a gay hero who was the main character. But the book was so brilliant that no one could bring himself or herself to consider it as anything other than a brilliant horror novel.

Dark Scribe: For me, there are certain works that are watershed moments in gay horror. Do you view any particular works that way?

Robert Dunbar: There’s a moment in E. M. Forster’s “The Story of a Panic” where the boy has his erotic nature awakened by an encounter with the supernatural…which terrifies the adults around him to the point where they nearly destroy him. But he escapes out a window and runs into the night. I don’t believe anything like it had been written before. Some of us are still running.

Vince Liaguno: Certainly Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House was one of the earliest watershed moments, as was Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw.” Hard also to argue the lasting impact of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire on gay horror.

As an anthology editor, Michael Rowe’s Queer Fear collections were defining moments in the modern queer horror movement for me. Truly an inspiration for my own work on Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, which in and of itself was a personal watershed moment when it won the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology — the first time an LGBT-themed anthology had ever won the award in the sponsoring organization’s 22-year history. Surreal as it was to win an award during the same ceremony in which [Stephen] King walked away with two of his own that night, the implications of what we’d achieved for queer horror was overwhelming and unexpectedly moving.

Lee Thomas: [Clive] Barker’s Books of Blood and (some years later) Sacrament. What I admire about Barker’s work is that he isn’t coy, precious or defensive with his queer-themed stories. They are incredible, sometimes brilliant, works that include emotionally real queer characters, but the only agenda seems to be to tell an amazing story. I think that’s why his work broke through the straight-white-guy horror veil and resonated with a substantial number of readers.

Chad Helder: Michael Rowe’s Queer Fear and Lee Thomas’ Dust of Wonderland

Lee Thomas:  Thanks Chad! And I agree with you about Michael’s anthologies. A friend introduced me to Michael’s Queer Fear anthologies, and I was blown away by what the editor had done. Gay and straight authors contributed to the volumes, and they showed how intense, wide-ranging, and relevant horror stories about the queer experience could be. Those were the big ones for me. On a different level were Straub’s Koko and The Throat. Neither book explored gay lives – the character’s sexuality was incidental – but Straub utilized a prominent gay character in a positive way, which was all but unheard of in the genre when those books released.

Michael Rowe: The works of Poppy Z. Brite come to mind, as do Clive Barker’s — including the movies. There’s a moment in the first Hellraiser movie where you think, “Oh my GOD, Uncle Frank is the leather top from hell, and no one knows it but me!” and then, later, you realize that millions of gay men (and more than a few perspicacious straight people) have come to the same conclusion. It attained critical mass at some point with the books and anthologies, including the works of these gentlemen. Also, to be fair, the audience is not only younger and hipper today; it’s also more sophisticated. So there’s a certain symbiotic quality to it

Dark Scribe: How accepting is mainstream horror genre of gay horror?

Robert Dunbar: Surprisingly so. I did have one enlightened reviewer criticize my publisher for not catering to “normal” readers, whatever that meant, but generally speaking my books are more likely to get bashed for being “too literary.” Maybe it’s code.

Michael Rowe: I think it’s more accepting today than it has been, but I’m not going to start singing “Kumbaya.”

Lee Thomas: It’s got a ways to go, but that’s true of any genre work that isn’t about straight white folks in peril.

Michael Rowe: The notion of two men fucking is still going to freak out a huge number of male readers, whether they do it under the full moon as they’re transforming into werewolves or not. That prejudice is going to affect publication, sales, and marketing…

Lee Thomas: The fact is every step away from that incredibly limited perception of “the norm” knocks off a percentage of the readership — at least, I think that’s how publishers perceive it. When you write a queer horror story, the opinion isn’t that your work will resonate with the horror audience and the queer audience, but rather will appeal to a rather small subset of both. Queer books are still considered niche.

Michael Rowe: It’s a hump that can only be overcome by persistently invading the market with top-notch writing. Hopefully, after a point – a point I think is coming soon, by the way – the horror readership will be so used to it that they’ll truly start judging the work on its own literary merits.

Vince Liaguno: I’ve never encountered an ounce of homophobia from the mainstream horror community. I’ve found most readers more interested in the horror element than concerned about the gay aspects of one of my works.

Chad Helder: They gave me and Vince a Bram Stoker Award for Unspeakable Horror — I consider that to be very accepting.

Vince Liaguno: In fact, if anything, I’ve probably felt more marginalized by the larger LGBT literary community. There tends to be some pretty blatant snobbery within those circles, with disdain for speculative fiction being pretty evident. Let’s face it, much of our gay culture centers around images and ideas of youth and circuit parties and the lighter side of life. For the minority left who read, it’s all about these great, sweeping explorations of love and life and the pursuit of gay happiness. Gay people have historically spent so much time feeling bad, that they look for some kind of positive affirmation in their arts. Dark fiction’s got that same positive affirmation — but you’ve got to make that journey through the darkness to find it. For those who do, the experience can be transformative. But there is pain and discomfort, and the really good queer horror forces our eyes open to experience it. Unfortunately, many prefer to go through life with their lavender blinders on, safe in the airbrushed artificiality of this carnival atmosphere we’ve created for ourselves in today’s gay culture.
Dark Scribe: Have you ever had anything rejected by a market in the “mainstream” horror genre because it was “too gay”?

Chad Helder: No, I’ve never encountered that.

Vince Liaguno: To date, no.

Lee Thomas: Not that I’m aware of, but that’s not likely something an editor would tell me in a rejection letter. I mean there’s no way to know why a story gets rejected unless the editor feels like cluing you in, and it’s a big mistake to demand an explanation.

Robert Dunbar: Oh, you mean where the editor was forthright about it? Not often, but I’ve had plenty of things rejected because they weren’t gay in the correct way.

Lee Thomas: I’ve certainly had my suspicions, but that could just as easily have been my ego jumping in to help me cope with the rejection. (laughs)

Michael Rowe: Once, sort of. It’s funny. I was asked to consider writing something for an erotic horror anthology. “Gay” was OK, they said, but not “too gay.” Considering that it was an erotic horror collection with a strong sexual theme, I found that caveat boundlessly stupid...and declined.

Lee Thomas: In the YA market I did have a proposal nixed because of a gay protagonist. Not exactly a rejection, but it did indicate that the teen market – or my editor – wasn’t ready for a queer horror novel.

Dark Scribe:  As a reader (or editor), when you find that new writer who writes horror (and specifically, gay horror) that excites you, what is it that excites you about them? 

Chad Helder: Works that achieve symbolic depth — when the horror represents or embodies something culturally significant.

Lee Thomas: A good story, well told. It’s that simple. I don’t cut slack for a queer writer any more than I would a straight writer. If the work is smart, engaging, and takes me to someplace new and introduces me to complex characters, I’m in.

Vince Liaguno: Someone who uses language and the symmetry of words to push the envelope...someone who understands the true value of shock in literature. A writer who can unflinchingly explore the dark side of human nature…a wordsmith who understands the fine line between sex and violence, for example, and isn’t afraid to straddle those uncomfortable lines until the reader is ready to jump out of their own skin. It’s been said that Dennis Cooper is one of our last true literary outlaws — and dark fiction needs more voices like his. That excites me.

Robert Dunbar: Emotional engagement – rather than the merely sexual or visceral – does it for me every time. But I’m hard to impress. High standards are a curse. 

Michael Rowe: Great writing, period. If I feel the writer is stupid, or a hack, it will irritate the fuck out of me, and I’ll believe he’s taken on gay themes because he can’t publish anywhere else. At that point, I’ll be insulted, too.
Dark Scribe: Is there anyone right now who really excites you, gay horror wise?

Lee Thomas: Lots of folks. When it comes to gay horror, it’s all kind of exciting because it’s still fresh, and there are a good number of very talented people writing it. I’d say the people involved with this interview make a good start.

Robert Dunbar: Dennis Cooper still dazzles me — brilliant, brilliant writer.

Chad Helder: Lee Thomas and Jameson Currier both have recent collections of short stories that are totally awesome.

Lee Thomas: I’ve really been enjoying Jim Currier’s work lately. His collection The Haunted Heart and his novel The Wolf at the Door tell excellent, contemporary ghost stories.

Vince Liaguno: Yeah, Jim’s the kind of writer who has such a keen eye for narrative-enriching detail that you can literally submerse yourself in his stories.

Lee Thomas: There are also a number of young writers who haven’t quite hit their strides, so I can’t exactly say their work excites me, yet. But it’s great to see them in the trenches and pretty much assures us that a new generation will be making significant contributions to the field.

Michael Rowe: Lee Thomas and Gemma Files, hands down. Lee is a gay male gold standard, in my opinion, and Gemma is quite frankly the best writer of queer horror on the scene today.

Vince Liaguno: Lee flirts with greatness every time he types a sentence. He’s got the potential to push envelopes, and I don’t even think we’ve yet to see what he’s fully capable of. He’s still exploring and experimenting, in my opinion, with his dark side. But it’s in there – and I suspect he’s going to unleash it at some point. And it’s going to be brave and ugly and painful and beautiful all at the same time.

Lee Thomas: I’ll second Michael’s praise for Gemma. Her work is amazing.
Dark Scribe: One of the things that I think made Hitchcock and others such masterful storytellers were the very restrictions they were fighting against imposed by Hays Code and the Catholic League that forced them to be more inventive and subversive in how they explored their stories. In a day and age where there are no restrictions and writers can and do show everything, is work that is more subtle and complex at a disadvantage in horror?

Chad Helder: I love subtle storytelling, but repression is always bad — it always smothers.

Lee Thomas: I have to disagree with your basic premise here. We are currently experiencing a level of profound conservatism in publishing. Much of this has to do with profit. Editors don’t want to alienate anyone. They want the largest audiences possible, which means appealing to the lowest common denominator of readers.

Michael Rowe: I think this economy is this generation’s Hays Code and Catholic League. The economy has devastated the publishing industry, and publishers aren’t willing, or can’t, take chances on work that is too “subtle and complex.” Hence the explosion of the micro-presses and small publishers. We’re in a period of stunning conservativism, except this time it’s not moral conservativism that is shackling the industry, but rather economic conservativism. The damage is the same, though. It doesn’t matter who starts the fire, it consumes and destroys just as voraciously.

Lee Thomas: I see far less challenging work these days than what was available in the 70s and 80s. Oh, the gore and torture gets more word count, but none of that is new. All of these “extreme” writers think they’re breaking new ground, but it’s been broken and tilled and lies beneath the dead horse. Challenging ideas that examine the status quo and reveal something new – and unpleasant – about the human condition are all but vanquished from bookstores these days — at least in genre.

Vince Liaguno: I think the more subtle, complex works have a leg-up on the competition at the moment. I think the marketplace is a bit oversaturated right now with the more visceral, in-your-face horror — particularly in film. We’re so numb to over-the-top violence thanks to the torture porn craze – best exemplified by films like Hostel and the Saw franchise – that audiences are open to some thinking man’s horror.

Lee Thomas:  A significant portion of the horror audience has bought into the rather disturbing philosophy of anti-intellectualism, which means they’ll throw a book across the room if it smacks of literary aspiration. More than ever, ideas have to be buried and finessed, not because social morays dictate it, but because books – like the nightly news – have to tap dance, juggle, sing and strip to keep their audiences. Candy coat the medicine I guess. So yes, I think subtle and complex works are at a disadvantage, but that’s because they require effort to read, and we’re not a culture that’s currently big on effort.

Robert Dunbar: Well put.

Vince Liaguno: Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a place and market within the horror genre for the more extreme blood-and-guts variety, but I think there is an entire generation that’s burning out on that element right now.

Dark Scribe: Is there anything that’s taboo to you as a writer or editor in the gay horror world or the horror world in general?

Robert Dunbar: No, I don’t believe in taboos. Who could be trusted to decide what you can or can’t write? Palin? Beck?

Chad Helder: Biting off dicks. (laughs)

Vince Liaguno: As an editor, no. I believe that horror is meant to unnerve, disquiet, and strike deeply at the darkest places in a reader’s heart. I do not believe that writers should ever be restricted within the established genre and I feel strongly that they should feel comfortable offering up their darkest tales. As an editor, if I don’t like it or it’s not a right fit for a particular project, I’ll simply politely pass on the submission. I’ll welcome taboo and edgy subject matters if handled in a literary manner and the story itself is well-executed and compelling. That said, animal cruelty is a hard sell for me – simply from the perspective of personal bias as a strong animal-rights advocate.

Michael Rowe: That would be a hard sell to me as well, and nearly impossible to write. When I was writing my novella In October, the hero kills a cat as part of a demonic ritual sacrifice. Writing that scene put me in a weeklong depression. Chad’s comment is funny, though, in this context — there’s a bitten-off dick in the story, and I loved writing it. To each his own, including taboos!

Chad Helder: I read a bunch of submissions for the Unspeakable Horror anthology that included penises being bitten, torn, or cut off — I just don’t want to read about that!

Vince Liaguno: As a writer, nothing is off limits if it’s essential to the truth of the story. Life is ugly; art imitates and reflects life. It’s therefore reasonable to leave ourselves open to the exploration of that ugliness in literature.

Lee Thomas: Putting something in a story simply for shock value is weak, and I think that’s where many of these “taboos” come from. Somewhere along the line, shock became more prominent than fear, basically because shock is easier to achieve. If you have shocking scenes in an otherwise empty narrative, then it’s easy to see why such stories would offend readers. A child is raped and brutally murdered. Okay. If the story is saying nothing else, then certain editors and readers consider the subject matter taboo. If the story goes on to examine the way this crime affects a family and a community, it’s The Lovely Bones.

Dark Scribe: As we all know there’s a lot of drek published in just about every genre and horror has its fair share. I’ve personally found in gay horror, the quality level seems consistently high and, generally, more literary than a lot of mainstream horror. Is this the case?

Robert Dunbar: We get our share of drivel. Trust me on this.

Chad Helder: As an editor of a queer horror anthology, I’ve read lots of really bad gay horror stories — I think the ratio is the same for everything.

Michael Rowe: I’ve also had some pretty appalling submissions to anthologies by queer writers. On the other hand, maybe because queer horror is a harder sell in the marketplace, there’s less room for bad writers given the available sales numbers, and the cream rises to the top more quickly.

Vince Liaguno: There’ll always be slush pile drek, but I see a definite swing toward higher quality, more literary-leaning horror being published right now. In addition to Jim and Lee and Gemma Files who were mentioned earlier, you’ve got others like Laird Barron, Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, Scott Heim, Gillian Flynn, Lisa Morton, John R. Little, Rio Youers, Kealan Patrick Burke, Paul Tremblay, and…ahem…yourself, who are all producing high-end literary dark fiction. I think we’ve left the plethora of published drek back in the 80’s and early 90’s when the horror boom went bust.

Lee Thomas: And one man’s drek is another man’s classic. There are prominent horror writers whose work just makes my hair hurt because it strikes me as so completely awful. I’ve heard from more than one reader that my work falls into that category for them. But that’s the thing: I expect certain things from a story — the ones I read and the ones I write. I like smart pulps as much as I like more complex “literary” works, and I draw from the spectrum trying to use whatever works to get a story right. I really don’t know if a writer of queer horror has to be any better or work any harder to achieve some level of success than his/her straight counterparts. If the queer horror you’re reading is of higher quality and/or more literary, it could be your aesthetic is calibrated differently, or it might simply mean you’re looking in the right places.

Dark Scribe: Do you differentiate between “dark fiction” and “horror”? If so, what do you see as the differences?
Michael Rowe: No, I don’t. “Dark fiction” is for people who, for whatever reason, honorable or not, don’t want to say “horror.”

Lee Thomas: I find them synonymous. Dark fiction implies a broader reach, but I’m just as comfortable calling any works I’d define as dark fiction, horror fiction. It’s just a matter of semantics and marketability.

Chad Helder: Someone could make a case that horror includes the supernatural, and dark fiction doesn’t, but I think they overlap.

Vince Liaguno: A few years ago, I interviewed [author] Bentley Little. We were chatting about this move away from the ‘horror’ moniker — essentially taking works that at one time or another would have been classified as horror and re-labeling their spines with ‘paranormal thriller’ or ‘dark suspense’, etc. I laughed out loud at his reaction, basically calling those writers out as traitors to the genre — albeit in far more colorful language than that!

Robert Dunbar: One tries to avoid the “H” word, if only because it’s become so synonymous with all those “Five Little Peppers and How They Slew Zombies” travesties, as well as with vampire erotica and paranormal romance. It’s not encouraging. Henry James could never have gotten published in the current marketplace. Neither would Shirley Jackson…at least not by the mainstream, maybe by some crusading little “dark fiction” house.

Vince Liaguno: One of the upsides to this marketing fragmentation, though, is that genre lines have blurred as a result. So, while none of it is horror, all of it is horror. I think for people who need to view works within a constrained label, dark fiction could be seen as the broader umbrella, under which fall horror, suspense, dark fantasy, and myriad related sub-genres.

Dark Scribe: When I was at a gay bookstore with a friend of mine, he joked that “gay men don’t read”. When I looked around the store and realized that the majority of the stock was porn and erotica picture books, it made me wonder how true this statement was.

Vince Liaguno: Sadly, I’d agree – but I’d also broaden that statement to encompass people in general.

Chad Helder: It seems readers are more and more the minority, whether gay or straight. As a writing instructor at the community college, I find that most of my students either don’t read at all, or they read Clive Cussler (very depressing). I write poetry — even fewer people read poetry. If people want to read erotica — I think that’s great. I just want people to read.

Vince Liaguno: Reading as a pastime competes now with multi-media formats that have a “wow” factor — high-tech, interactive, dizzying visuals. Reading is not glamorous. It’s subtle and solitary.

Chad Helder: That’s why I love book clubs — they give people a reason to read and a social context to discuss what they read. Members of book clubs are never sorry they read a book, even if they don’t like it.

Vince Liaguno: But we have a whole new generation for which the latest video game or iPhone app is what generates buzz around the water cooler — not the latest Stephen King book. That’s why, as much of a push-back as eReaders and such have gotten from book-loving publishers and writers, I think adding an element of technology to the reading experience is going to be part of the natural evolution if the pastime is going to survive.

Lee Thomas: Queer men and women don’t necessarily gravitate to queer fiction, at least not exclusively. They have all the other books in the world to read as well as the queer-lit selections, so if you’re looking at a group of individuals, each of which reads – maybe – 12 books a year (and that’s being generous, because most people don’t read anywhere near that many), then your friend’s observation, while perhaps not completely accurate, isn’t far off if you’re basing your assumptions solely on the interest in queer lit.

Michael Rowe: Gay men do read, whether they read gay-themed books or not. And if they do read gay-themed books, they can get them somewhere other than a gay bookstore now, so judging whether or not gay men read based on the available porn in gay bookstores is problematic. Porn may be what they are now going to gay bookstores to buy, which is part of the tragedy of all the gay bookstores closing.

Dark Scribe: This year, the Lambda Literary Foundation changed the rules for the Lammys and there was a huge outcry from some straight writers that it wasn’t fair. One writer even went so far as to say that the Lammys wouldn’t mean anything this year if straight people weren’t invited. So, each of you has been nominated or won a number of awards. How important are awards either from the queer community or the “mainstream” community?

Robert Dunbar: It’s about reaching people, sometimes even just that one reader, the one who really gets your work, who maybe even needs it on some level…but who might never have found it if not for some award or review or interview. That more than justifies all the fuss.

Chad Helder: I think it’s appropriate for awards (or award categories) to be specifically defined for a niche audience, as long as they are open and honest about it. If an award encompasses a very general category, it seems only fair that gay writers are included, but defined and limited is OK too.

Lee Thomas: Wow, a lot of questions there. (laughs) I think it was a mistake for the LLA to exclude straight people. I think a book that illuminates, entertains, and does the queer community justice should be recognized and awarded. The sexuality of the writer should be the last concern of a literary award. I hope they’ll rethink this approach in the year to come. (And yeah, I was nominated again this year, and yeah I spoke out about the issue!) That noted, I don’t think the award now means “nothing,” but I do think it means less only because the field has been narrowed. They’re now awarding a subset of queer lit, rather than the entirety of it. The Bram Stoker Awards have similar limitations, in that they’re often awarded to works that are made easily accessible to the Horror Writers Association membership, and not the top works in the field. The thing is awards are flattering and lovely, but they aren’t something to fight for, cry over, or invest your ego in. An award won’t change what I’m writing or how I write it...I’ve seen writers embarrass themselves in the pursuit of awards and seen others crushed when they didn’t win, and it’s such a bullshit thing to drive yourself crazy over. All awards are incredibly subjective. But if you’re handing one out…I’d like to thank the academy…

Vince Liaguno: First of all, the whole notion of a writer’s sexual orientation being relevant to the work itself is pure rubbish, and I fall squarely into the camp that thinks the LLF went too far with this rule change while simultaneously taking a big social step backwards with the move. We’ve gotten as far as we have in the gay rights struggle by building bridges and embracing our allies — straight and gay alike. This change in the rules sends the wrong message, and I’m disappointed in the LLF. I mean, are we honoring works representative of the gay experience — or are we honoring gay writers? I’m always about the work. The writer will die; the work has the potential to last forever.

At least half of the contributors in the first volume of Unspeakable Horror identified as heterosexual. And some of those writers crafted the most authentic pieces in the collection. To have excluded them on the basis of their sexual orientation because this was an LGBT-themed project would have been a huge disservice to the LGBT reading public. Are awards important? Sure. They can serve as external validation of a project hitting its mark, they can boost sales, and they can add prestige to a bibliography. That said, if the inclusion of heterosexual writers in an LGBT-themed horror project meant disqualification from the Lammys or any other LGBT awards body, then I wouldn’t give another thought to that particular award and opt to include the best works, the works most representative of the authentic gay experience, without regard to the contributors’ sexual orientation.

Michael Rowe: I think that the Lambda Literary Awards – an award I have won, and deeply respect – made a mistake when they excluded straight writers. I understand the impulse, but I don’t think it serves our community of readers and writers well. I have heard enough gay writers, over the years, bragging about how they can’t be bothered to write gay-themed books and hinting that they find them tedious, implying that queer lit is somehow “beneath them,” to take a very jaundiced view of sexual orientation being a criteria for a book award. On the contrary, when a straight author writes a beautiful, complex novel with gay characters, he or she is the one making the contribution to the queer lit canon, not the queer one who’s too “serious” to tackle LGBT themes, but who might, under these rules, theoretically be eligible to win a Lammy for a non-gay book based on his or her sexual orientation. One of the best writers in the queer horror field at the moment is Gemma Files — a married straight woman with an understanding of the nuances of gay men’s lives that surpasses that of most gay male writers I know. Her novel, A Book of Tongues, is quite simply the best queer horror novel on the market at the moment, bar none. And because she’s not a lesbian, she’s not qualified to win a Lammy? Huh? What on earth does that say about the Queer Lit community? I’ll tell you, some closeted gay or lesbian kid who picks up her book is going to get more reinforcement of his or her own desire than they’d ever get from some mediocre, mimeographed anthology of vampire stories from some kitchen-table LGBT vanity press.

Dark Scribe: And one final question. What are you currently working on?

Chad Helder: I recently completed a book of queer horror poetry called The Vampire Bridegroom for Dark Scribe Press. Now I’m working on some horror fairy tales and more horror poetry.

Vince Liaguno: I’m finishing up edits on a huge non-fiction collection of essays on the slasher film genre called Butcher Knives & Body Counts that will be out this fall. Chad Helder, my co-editor on Unspeakable Horror, and I have just released the submissions guidelines for a second volume of what looks like will become a series for Dark Scribe Press and will begin an open call for submissions later this fall. This time out we’re exploring the dark underbelly of desire with the aptly chosen subtitle: Abominations of Desire. Somewhere in between, I’m trying to finish up my long overdue second novel, Final Girl, in which a criminal psychologist, a gay film historian, and a cub reporter try to stop a serial killer who’s murdering former scream queens in grisly recreations of murder set-pieces from 80’s slasher films. Straight-up horror-thriller time with this one.

Robert Dunbar: A nervous breakdown mostly. Along with running Uninvited Books, I’m putting the finishing touches on two projects. Wood – a novella – should be out sometime this year. It’s about an HIV+ hero who helps a runaway teen battle monsters (metaphorical and otherwise) in the slums. Then there’s Willy, a novel that takes place in a boarding school for boys with emotional problems. Creating and inhabiting that world, full of erotic and supernatural overtones, has been emotionally exhausting…to put it mildly. When I write the final word, I fully intend checking myself into an asylum. Not just any old asylum, mind you. I want to go to the one Bette Davis went to in Now, Voyager…you know, with cocktails and tennis courts.

Lee Thomas: Rob, book me a room next door. I have a busy year ahead. My novella, The Black Sun Set, was just published by Burning Effigy Press out of Canada, and an excellent small press will be releasing a second novella, Focus (co-written with Nate Southard) in time for World Horror 2011. I’m also gearing up to start promoting my next queer-themed horror novel called The German, which Lethe Press will release in March of 2011. Anthology editors have been ganging up on me (no complaints, mind you) so I’ll be working on a lot of short fiction in the months to come. After that? Who can say?

Michael Rowe: I’ve got a vampire novel coming out next fall from ChiZine Publications called Enter, Night. I can say with enormous certainty that it’s very much an old-school vampire novel, which runs against the current grain of Tiger Beat-style horror. Also, there’s only one gay character in it, which I’m finding oddly restful. In keeping with the entirely schizophrenic nature of my life and career, I’m continuing to write my pieces for the Huffington Post, some of which will end up in my third essay collection, which I hope to get to Cormorant Books next spring. It feels like a very good time, all told.

Read Part 1 of DSM's exclusive roundtable interview on the New Queer Horror.

Posted on Wednesday, November 3, 2010 at 07:54AM by Registered CommenterDark Scribe Magazine | Comments2 Comments

Reader Comments (2)

Now I'm laughing at myself for writing about that taboo--not only did I recently write a story in which a penis is cut off and thrown into a stew, but I recently read Let the Right One In, which has a horrifyingly good scene in which Eli's penis is cut off. So much for that taboo--and so much for consistency. Gee whiz!

November 3, 2010 | Registered CommenterChad Helder

I couldn't agree more with Lee Thomas regarding Clive Barker. What's key to his work is that story always comes first - sexuality colours it, but it doesn't dominate the writing. I think that's why he has such mainstream appeal.

As for the idea of a 'gay horror' genre, I had a similar discussion with somebody the other day regarding 'queer' literature. I think the advent of online bookstores have created this wondrous world where we can tag a single book with multiple genres. Without the limitations of a physical bookstore (where they can't afford to stock a book on multiple shelves), books really can be both gay and horror at the same time.

What this does is gives the author access to a mainstream audience (who are searching for 'horror'), while also enabling the LGBT reader to find this books that are personally relevant and speak to their sexuality/identity.

December 2, 2010 | Registered CommenterSally Bookslut
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