For Samhain 2021 we brought together Ryan Douglass, Gretchen Felker-Martin and Alison Rumfitt, the authors of three ghoulish horror debuts – The Taking of Jake Livingston, Manhunt and Tell Me I’m Worthless respectively – under the banner of the Small Trans Samhain. The three sat down for a public Zoom interview and chatted with librarian and writer James Hudson about all things horror and humanity in their books.
All three books are available to loan from the Small Trans Library Dublin catalogue! Follow the guidelines on our homepage to borrow it from anywhere in Ireland.
Thanks to librarian Ais Reina for helping with the transcribing of this interview provided below, lightly edited for clarity.
James Hudson: What would be inspirations for your books, especially in terms of horror, what would be kind of your big horror inspirations? Ryan, is it alright to start with you?
Ryan Douglass: Yeah. I think that my biggest inspiration for this book, in particular, was the Everlost series by Neal Shusterman. It was one of the first ghost stories that I read and it was about kids who get trapped in this limbo world, between life and death when they die, and I was just really interested in what that series did, and how it looked at mortality and what comes next. And just like how ghosts interact with the human world and like possession and what that means. And like, what that means for like spirits who feel like they have unfinished business in life.
I wanted to kind of look at that, because I got into more stories like that after reading Everlost. And I started reading more ghost books and watching ghostly horror movies. And I wanted to look at that from, I guess, a darker angle and put some social themes in there that felt applicable to that feeling of, I guess, like you were cheated out of life and want a second chance. That’s kind of how the antagonist was born, the antagonist who wants to possess Jake’s body. I just wanted to ask social questions, along with the ghostly vibes that I had been inspired by growing up.
JH: I love that. Would Everlost be… Would that have been middle grade? Young adult? Adult fiction?
RD: I think it’s lower YA? Yeah. Or YA.
JH: Would there be anything like that, that you would have read kind of when you were younger, Gretchen and Alison?
Alison Rumfitt: I’m trying to think of what I’ve read, sort of going through the books that I read when I was younger, I didn’t really read horror until sort of mid-teens. And at that point, I jumped right to Angela Carter, and people like that. So I don’t really think that there was a, there wasn’t a sort of book that I read when I was younger that made an impression like that on me. At least that led to this book, Tell Me I’m Worthless.
I think the most important bit of inspiration is right at the start, which is a quote from Félix Guattari, which I think that tells you the exact kind of horrible person I am. But I don’t really know, there wasn’t sort of a whirl of an idea that came from a book I read when I was younger really.
Gretchen Felker-Martin: Yeah, I never really had a young adult phase. As my mother tells people, my first book that I read was I Am A Bunny, and my second book that I read was Jurassic Park. So I got into like that sort of trashy airport adult novel at that age. I read a lot of John Grisham, a lot of Stephen King, who I still love very much and who is definitely an inspiration for Manhunt. But I was not in public school, or private school for that matter, I was homeschooled, so I was a little weirdo and the only books I had were my parents’.
JH: If there were any, what were the inspirations for Manhunt? I feel like I know about almost antagonistically to existing gender plague books. That’s the kind of context that I have seen it brought up in – you know, “gender plague books, but what if they were trans?” Is there more that you drew on?
GFM: Yeah, absolutely. I think the oppositional stuff is, like, useful for helping to position the book so that readers can understand where it sits in literature, but it’s certainly not what was on my mind when I was writing. What was on my mind were things like The Screwfly Solution, and 28 Days Later and Infect Your Friends and Loved Ones, books and movies about the gender at the end of the world, and how we enforce or compel gender.
JH: Is there any horror that you have read or seen or played in any medium that everyone found laughable, but that kind of scared you or freaked you out? Or vice versa, that everyone was very freaked out by, but that you thought was absolutely hilarious and not scary at all?
I’m thinking specifically about how there’s renewed attention for MA, the Octavia Butler film from 2019, which I saw in cinemas and did not expect to come back in such a big way. And then I think, Alison and Gretchen, you both have talked about Malignant, to some extent. Ryan, have you seen MA? I saw a big smile.
RD: Yeah, I love MA and Malignant both for like different reasons.
JH: If I remember right, Alison, you like Malignant, Gretchen, you don’t?
AR: Yes, that’s – yeah.
JH: What is it about either MA or Malignant of those that puts you on the opposite end of the general reception to it?
AR: MA-lignant? [laughs] I only watched MA recently, and I think I only really knew of it from being memed. It didn’t necessarily scare me, but there were aspects where I felt somewhat uncomfortable that it had been memed, because the film is actually – it’s a hard film to talk about, but it’s going for something a little more serious than I expected. I didn’t expect it to have a sort of commentary about sexual assault trauma. It does the whole bit at the end where she like paints a child’s face white, and it’s a really weird film. I don’t really know if I can say it’s good or bad but I did find it somewhat disturbing.
Malignant I didn’t find disturbing at all, but I found delightful. I was just basically clapping in the cinema, and then I took my girlfriend along to be like, you have to watch this, but I’m not going to tell you anything about it. But I do understand where some of the criticisms for that film come from.
GFM: Yeah, I mean, I love shlock and I love camp. But James Wan is so boring to me. Like, nothing that he thinks is upsetting to look at is interesting to me. And nothing about the way that he makes movies compels me, like if I wanted to watch something with a terrible script and some cool effects I’d put on like Dead Alive [laughs]. He just bores the shit out of me.
JH: James Wan would be one of the big turning points from the dominant film horror genre into like, action horror, is that fair to say? Turning from eerie stuff into everything having a big, almost superhero-ey finale.
Each of these books has a very different relationship to horror. Even though Tell Me I’m Worthless and The Taking of Jake Livingston are both hauntings, it’s hard to say that they are in the same category. And then Manhunt is obviously a new take on the gender plague genre, which is not ghosts in the slightest. It’s much more sci fi horror. So what would be your relationship to subgenres in horror? Do you have favourite or least favourite horror sub genres purely in personal terms – unless you do think that there is an objective worst kind of horror? If you have a take on that I’m open to it.
GFM: I would say it’s funny because Manhunt is not the kind of horror that I read. I don’t like The Walking Dead. I don’t particularly care for zombie fiction, the idea kind of hit me as a bolt from the blue. The genres that I really love are domestic horror and body horror. And of course, Manhunt does have a lot of body horror in it. But those are the things I find most compelling.
And objectively the worst kind of horror? I would say it’s any horror where you can fight back effectively. Horror about overcoming evil is so stupid and hollow to me.
JH: Is it the idea of evil that you find too simplistic?
GFM: I mean, I do generally think it’s a pretty trivial idea. I think what really bothers me about it is sort of the broader trend of feel good horror. Like, this idea that you and your friends are going to go on a scary road trip, but in the end you’ll have a better relationship or whatever, you’ll figure out your shit with your dad. It’s just, it’s not for me.
JH: I would love to hear from Ryan – I know that because your books are for very different audiences, there will be a much different relationship to despair and hopelessness. Ryan, you’ve spoken about Jake Livingston as a book for black boys that don’t see a lot of themselves in YA and middle grade, and so there’s a degree of balancing how much despair and hopelessness you can have in that kind of situation.
So what subgenre of horror would you find most appealing? And is there actually any that you would see Jake Livingston as falling into more specifically than haunting, which is the best word I can come up with for it?
RD: Honestly, I don’t know how to categorise it, because it’s a ghost book, but it kind of doesn’t take the structure of like, a traditional ghost story. And there’s just a lot going on. It’s very much a genre blend. And yeah, like, I actually don’t read books like what I write either? I prefer bug horror, actually, like, my favourite kind of thing is just like, creature features and monsters and bugs. I just find like genetically-engineered, experiment horror to be like, what I’m mostly drawn to, and there’s a little bit of that in there. But it kind of just like, became a hodgepodge of influences that I had growing up.
And yeah, like writing YA horror is very different in terms of the responsibility that you have to young people. And I feel like there’s a lot of people who say that it was too triggering for a youthful audience. But I think that that’s up to personal opinion. But I definitely had to keep in mind just not leaving teens with this sense that like everything’s going to crumble around you at the end of the day, because there is heavy exploration of suicide and depression and stuff like that. I had some nightmares writing, and I didn’t want to be a writer known for exacerbating issues that teens were going through.
So yeah, it definitely was a balance between being true to the genre and making it as disgusting and gory as I could without traumatising people further who are already traumatised, you know? So that’s just to do with being a YA author pretty much more than anything.
JH: The cover art for Jake Livingston depicts Jake and I think that there were some people who maybe thought it was – [Ryan shows the book cover.] Thank you! So as everyone can see, Jake is a teenage boy. But you were saying that some people thought that it might have been middle grade because they just don’t recognise what a real teenager on a book cover looks like anymore.
JH: Did you ever kind of have a moment where you were wondering, am I writing for younger kids?
RD: No, I always knew what age range it’s for, like 12 to 18 year olds. But when I first got the cover sketch, it looked exactly like me, it looked like the artist had just like done a photo realistic portrayal of my face. And I was kind of like, this person looks like he’s in his 20s and has, you know, two jobs. So maybe we should take out some of the chisel on his face and make him look younger. And, you know, people will see it and they’re like, is this kid 12? Is he 16? And I think we’re so used to seeing like 28 year olds playing teenagers. But yeah, I think he looks sixteen.
JH: I respect any author who takes the opportunity to refer to themselves as chiselled.
RD: Well, my editor said that, she sent it back to me and she was like, so “you said he looked older, so we took the chisel out of his face”. I took that from her. I wouldn’t say that I’m chiselled. [laughing] That’s so – no.
JH: Speaking of bug horror, Alison, you’re working on worms, am I right? Would that be fair to say, you’ve got worms on the brain?
AR: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve got worms in my brain, on the brain?
JH: Is that something you’re interested in getting into further, or is it like everyone else on this call who just sort of accidentally walked into a genre and went, I don’t even go here?
AR: Yeah, I think I could get into worms. [laughs] I love Cronenberg. Actually, this next project kind of started as – a sort of friend of a friend of a friend, I think was commissioned to write a novel set in a very popular franchise. And my initial reaction was, I don’t think I would do that. Like, obviously, it’d be good money, but I don’t think I could do that.
And then I was sort of thinking about what franchise I could possibly write for and not feel like I was like, destroying my soul. And what I settled on was, I could write a story set in the Alien franchise because I love that franchise. I love almost all of the films, give or take Alien: Resurrection. So the first little beginnings of the idea started as me wondering what I would do if I were to write a novel set in the Alien world, and then I realised what I’d come up with wouldn’t be possible, so it became something else.
But I do find myself honestly more inspired by horror films than horror literature. And I don’t know why that is. It’s not that I don’t like horror literature, I love it. But I feel more inspired when I’m watching. Like when I’m putting together my documents or things that have been sort of engaging, it’s often generally more films and my one for this next project is a lot of Cronenberg and Tetsuo the Iron Man and some real body horror stuff.
I like all subgenres of horror, really, I think subgenres generally blend into one another. But there’s a particular sort of trend of horror that’s come up in the last decade or so where the last act reveals that it’s purely metaphorical, and that it was all happening to further the ends of a metaphor. And that’s an easy way to just completely turn me off a film. There’s probably some examples of where I like that, but I can think of some recent films and books that have done that – but I’ve just gotten quite angry, because I’ve been like, no, you had a good idea. And it’s scary. And then it’s all a metaphor for Alzheimer’s. And I don’t find that as interesting.
RD: Yeah, agreed. There was a book I read recently that did that with schizophrenia. And I was just kind of like, first of all why do we have to explore schizophrenia this way? And also, it’s just cheap. And it feels kind of lazy when all this stuff is front loaded, and it’s just like, “actually, everything was okay!” because it allows you to get away with so much and just say it was all an illusion. I think that’s just so lazy.
AR: I’ve also seen examples of horror where say, the main character, or a character within the story, has schizophrenia say. But the story doesn’t entirely rely on them having schizophrenia as the source of explanation. And I think that’s way more interesting, to have a main characters who is that, in Tell Me, I’m Worthless. Both the primary characters have depression, like very serious depression. But the story isn’t a metaphor for their depression – they’re reacting to the things that are happening. And it’s affecting their mental health, but it’s not purely a metaphor for their mental health, if that makes sense.
GFM: Right, you’re not trying to write a DSM entry.
AR: Yeah. [laughs] I find myself underwhelmed when it is just sort of, “and all along, this person had like, 12 identities within them”. There’s a proper word for that. But that’s the laziest thing. And it always feels so offensive to people who have that.
JH: I think everyone here kind of nodded when Alison was saying that films are like a strong inspiration. Maybe equal, if not more than literature in certain cases. Ryan, you were saying at one point that you’re kind of visualising the writing in your book, and how much of it is cinematically clear in your head versus being more of an abstract idea, which comes up a lot in the later scenes in Jake Livingston, when Jake gets really in the ghost shit. Is that something that you all think about a lot when you’re writing? Do you put a lot of thought into how to make the images crystal clear in front of the reader’s mind?
I feel that Manhunt is very direct about the things that happen, it’s almost impossible not to see what’s going on as you are reading it, whereas maybe Jake Livingston and the house in Tell Me I’m Worthless, are more kind of like, I wouldn’t say metaphorical, but they leave more room for you to picture them in the worst way you personally can. So, how does that play into the writing, how do you decide how to fuck with your reader in the most appropriate way?
GFM: Well, for Manhunt, what I wanted to do – horror is a body genre. The goal of horror is to provoke a physical fear response, in very basic terms. And that’s what I want people to experience reading Manhunt. I want them to feel chased, I want them to feel unsafe, I want them to feel like the world is a hostile and difficult place. And I think one way to accomplish that is to make them feel present in it.
RD: Yeah, I agree. I think with visuals, it’s a bit more straightforward because I am generally more inspired by horror movies than I am by horror books. But the challenge becomes making it immersive, making it feel very visceral in the body. And, you know, asking, when you’re deep in a horror scene, like, what does it smell like? What does it taste like? What do you feel on your skin? You know? How do you kind of disrupt the reader’s sense of safety in order to get your point across.
AR: There’s only really, at least for this book, it’s very internal and about the things that are happening inside people’s own heads and their thoughts. There was only really one section which I won’t spoil, but I’ll sort of talk about vaguely, where someone’s body does something and someone’s limbs do something. So I had to sort of spend a lot of time working out in what order their limbs would be doing certain things. And I watched a lot of, I had made a little playlist of horror scenes. So the first real dance ritual in the 2018 Suspiria, and the subway sequence from Possession and there was another one as well, but I can’t remember what it was. But there were just scenes where people’s bodies stopped acting like they were in control of them that I found really compelling. So I made a playlist of those. And then I also thought very carefully about what order certain limbs would be moving, and then tried to write out that order, and then turn that into prose. But that’s the only time I really thought about a particular sequence of visuals. Just because I needed it to work, that someone reading would know what those limbs were doing, if that makes sense.
RD: I just want to interject and say that my mouth literally fell open when I read that scene. And it’s like the only piece of body horror since the original Hellraiser, where Frank reconstitutes himself to the floor that has made me do that. It’s really incredible.
AR: Oh, thank you so much.
JH: Yeah, it’s absolutely disgusting. And I hope that there’s people who will read the book now, and who will get to that bit and will go, “ah! That’s what that was about.” I feel like it’s fairly unmistakable. Like, if there’s any point in Tell Me I’m Worthless, where you’re like, is this the limbs bit? No, you’ll know.
I have a question, and then a recommendation prompt, and then I’m going to go to the audience questions. So, we are in a trans panel. Jake Livingston is not a quote unquote, you know, it’s not a ‘trans book’ in the sense that it is not about a trans character. But at the same time, I didn’t want to discount it just because it doesn’t have trans characters, because it’s obviously a very important book by a trans person.
So I just kind of want to ask people generally, what do you feel is the difference between a trans author’s relationship to horror and a cis person’s, even if that’s absolutely nothing – because there’s some uncreative and mean trans people out there – but in your own experience, has there been points in which you feel your transness has informed your relationship to horror as a genre, if not this book specifically? It’s fairly clear to see where transness is relevant in Manhunt.
GFM: I would say that I feel my transness has been very relevant to my particular sensibilities about horror. I actually have body dysmorphic disorder, which is a species of obsessive compulsive disorder in which you fixate on small or even imaginary flaws in your body, you know, you might see that you have a blemish on your nose or your cheek and you become fixated on it, and your brain starts to exaggerate it. And eventually, it may reach the point of hallucination. And having that kind of like, long sustained experience of really hysterical emotional contact with my own body? I don’t see how I could ever separate that from my relationship to body horror, which is about those things actually happening in the physical world. And, you know, obviously, it’s part and parcel with dysphoria.
JH: That makes sense to your thoughts on using things like mental health as a metaphor, because definitely, it comes through in Manhunt that these things can coexist in horror. Ryan, you kind of shook your head when I was saying Jake Livingston is not a capital T trans book?
RD: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that. I think Jake Livingston is… Jake is – but I don’t want to say that he’s cis because he’s 16 years old, the story takes place over the span of like two weeks. And he’s really confused the whole time. So I don’t want to say that, I don’t want to put that on him. The only reason that gender is not really so explored in this book is because I wrote it before I really came to grips with being non-binary. And it took like, six years from when I actually first had this concept to when it came out. So the concepts in it are very old.
I think that the works that I write in the future will definitely be informed by my non-binaryness. And the projects that I’m looking at now definitely incorporate diversity in terms of trans people and non-binary people. And it’s just something that I had to kind of come to terms with myself. So that’s why this particular book is more focused on sexuality than gender.
JH: Yeah, absolutely, just like Tell Me I’m Worthless was written before Alison realised that she was a worm. Now we’re getting the worm hero.
AR: [laughs] Yeah, the next one’s about me being a worm. Yeah, the next one is just, I’m basically, you know that cover of God Emperor of Dune, where Leto II is like – that is a worm.
JH: [laughing] Oh, yeah.
Alison: That’s what I’m gonna be in the next five years.
Originally, I honestly didn’t want to get into some of the weeds in terms of the trans stuff that Tell Me I’m Worthless is about? I think the original idea, I wasn’t going to quite talk about that as much, because, I don’t really know. But I ended up doing it. So that was my fault, really. I think it would be hard for me to not write about gender in some way. Maybe I will do that someday. Maybe I’ll have sort of exhausted everything I have to say. But I was trying very consciously to also push back against the idea that trans characters have to be sort of a good representations of transness? There are multiple trans characters in Tell Me I’m Worthless and they’re all deeply flawed, difficult people.
I think it was interesting writing Alice, who is one of the two primary characters who, I’ve had some readers respond with surprise, saying that they didn’t quite realise where the book was going with her until the midpoint? But I’m surprised at that because I was thinking very consciously about trying to let you know from early on that – I mean she has a poster of a certain singer on her wall, and that’s very important to her early chapters. And I think that poster, I was trying to say, “hey, you know, this character is a trans woman but she’s also a white woman, and there’s particular biases that come along with that”. So I was trying to sort of explore and I don’t know, maybe do a little poking at certain parts of the community and get people to sort of look in at themselves more and try and kill the cop in their head.
JH: I’m going to go into audience questions. Two short ones first. Werewolves or vampires?
RD: Werewolves, actually.
JH: Ooh, fun. Do you have a specific werewolf media that you like?
RD: I was gonna say Twilight as a joke, but I’m not even going to do that. No, I don’t actually. I like real werewolf stories like the wolf of Bedburg. Yeah, I like real stuff that has like been recorded in history.
JH: I’m looking forward to your werewolf era, where you will define werewolves for us. The next question was, what do you think goes bump in the night?
AR: I actually kind of believe in ghosts, so ghosts go bump in the night. [laughs]
RD: I also believe in ghosts.
JH: We have a question from Susan in the chat, who’s asking for all the authors, what attracts you to horror as a genre? And this actually also goes into a different question, do you write to scare yourself? Do you enjoy the kind of adrenaline of horror as you write it, or is that purely a thing that you get as an audience?
AR: Yeah, I enter, there are sequences where I really sort of freaked myself out. And I did enjoy that even if I found it kind of difficult at times. I think the world is a quite horrific place. And for me, the easiest way of exploring the relevant topics that I found is to write horror.
RD: I don’t tend to read YA horror and I don’t read a lot of YA in general, so that’s also another thing that I’m writing that I’m not – you know I like to stay abreast of what’s going on and be aware, but I feel like YA horror tends to be really benign and not scary at all. So I usually don’t read it.
I feel like in certain ways, I kind of just want to shake the table a little bit and put something that is a little bit edgier into that market, which is why I write what I don’t necessarily read. I just feel like there’s a need for it. In terms of what draws me to horror, I think I just, I like seeing characters that feel desperate and afraid and just like, endangered, because in many ways, I feel that way just walking around every day. Walking around in spaces that are not safe, you know, existing in the body that I exist in. I just relate to that sense of not feeling safe, so that’s why I like it.
JH: Even in Nightwing costume? [Referring to Ryan doing cool flips in a Nightwing costume for Halloween.]
RD: That makes me feel a little bit stronger, a little bit more capable.
JH: That was fucking good. Those are good flips, I could not believe it.
RD: Oh my gosh, exposed.
JH: To say the least, there’s diverse opinions on YA in the room. But I feel that ‘YA’ as a term has almost become synonymous with a specific kind of YA, which is that benign YA that you’re talking about, whereas in the most literal terms, it’s writing for that demographic.
So, like, and this goes to everybody, but do you feel that there is a need to bring that edginess into YA in general? Do you think that YA needs to get sharper or just maybe be dissolved?
RD: Yeah. Maybe a little bit of both. If it doesn’t get sharper, I think that it needs to be dissolved, because it’s gotten too much about protecting kids. And it’s doing that so much that it’s like infantilizing and dehumanising kids to where it’s like, now kids don’t have reading comprehension skills. Now, they can’t handle any reflection of the real issues that they face in life.
So I think across genres, like all of them, contemporary, fantasy, horror, there needs to be more risk being taken. And it’s just not happening. And that’s hugely disappointing to me, because I remember growing up reading YA that was marketed as YA, but it felt edgier, it felt like it was going there. And those were the books that really impacted and inspired me, and I’m not seeing that a lot. So it’s pretty disappointing for me.
GFM: Yeah, I definitely think that YA needs to be given some new teeth. And I also think it really needs to be taken away from its adult audience. I think we need to have the pacifier ripped out of their mouth for their own good, and for the good of the kids who the books are actually for.
AR: I was going to say similarly that I would love to write YA one day. I think it would be interesting to put those constraints on myself and wonder what an Alison Rumfitt YA book looks like and what I could write that was the effective for that audience. But looking at the whole market, it feels like it’s not built for young adults, it seems mostly built for, like 25 and up. And I think that’s quite sad. Because, you know, that means the younger audience are missing out on literature written with them in mind. So if I did write YA, I think I would be very much trying to write for that audience.
JH: Would you see yourself writing horror YA – do you all see yourselves as horror authors? I know Gretchen you definitely have a history of it. But I’m less familiar with Alison and Ryan, your work outside of the novels. Alison, I know you have a story in the Cipher Press anthology coming out. Is that right?
AR: Yeah. So that’s kind of erotic horror, but it’s still horror. It’s also sort of satirical. See the interesting thing is up until I wrote this, I thought of myself as a poet. I don’t really think I do anymore. I have, you know, I’m planning some more horror novels, but I also am planning some epic fantasy. That will be quite a while down the line, but I have some concepts and some sort of storyline. So I don’t know. I currently am a horror author. But I’ll jump around, I like to think.
RD: Yeah, I feel the same. I would characterise myself as a speculative fiction author sooner than a horror author. I like combining genres and playing around. I actually sent a rom com to my agent and he was kind of like, what is this? [laughs] I think I’ll definitely stay in the realm of like speculative fiction, even if not horror, but I just like being sick and dark. So I think I’ll always kind of go back to that. But I definitely want to explore a little bit.
JH: Yeah, absolutely. I am dying for the rom-com. We’re gonna be doing a rom-com panel next year, I’ve decided, just to make you spill the beans.
Another question, is there horror that exists already that you have retrospectively, retroactively decided is gay or trans? Gretchen, I know you were really excited about trans Hellraiser when Jamie Clayton was cast, so is there anything that you have decided in retrospect, “oh, that was gay”?
GFM: I think that it’s easy to project queerness and transness onto monstrosity, because it’s all aberrant. You know, it’s deviant. I don’t necessarily do that myself, just because that’s not really how my analytical mind works. But I do love a lot of older gay fiction. We were talking about werewolves earlier, Melanie Tem’s Wilding is the story of this all women clan of werewolves, who are deeply, deeply, deeply dysfunctional and sort of undergoing generational rot and it has a bunch of lesbian material in it. I think that’s a really beautiful book. I think there’s a lot of queerness inherent obviously in like, Clive Barker’s work, you know, as as a queer man. I guess there’s such a rich history of queer literature that I don’t super feel the need to go poking around for examples in the mainstream.
JH: If I can rephrase, is there any one that you have felt most personally connected to as a work of queer horror?
GFM: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Just like, that intense, self-censoring, totally unself-confident experience of desire is so, so painfully understandable to me.
AR: I think I probably do it with most things. I’m trying to think of examples where I don’t do it. I think every horror thing I like, I project a little bit of queerness into it, from the films of Rob Zombie to Cat People [laughs] like it’s just, I see it in like all of it.
Horror, horror is so many times a deeply reactionary genre, but it’s also a genre of so many sort of subversive elements, that it’s so bizarre and fascinating to just sort of look into the history of it and look into odd examples of it and times where say, there were films with gay monsters or trans monsters, and also be able to relate to those because it’s often done in a way where they’re deeply sympathetic characters even if they are monsters. I find it really interesting. And I do it a lot.
RD: Yeah, for me, I wouldn’t say that I project queerness onto a lot of the horror that I read or watch, unless it’s like there already. I also wouldn’t say that I’m used to like seeing myself in horror too much. I kind of just experience it for what it is. Obviously, black characters have been done a great disservice by horror historically and are often killed off and discarded and really like employed in the work just to be, you know – [laughs] so I grew up like, seeing that a lot. And it kind of got me thinking about like, what it would look like if a black character was at the centre. How that would change things. But yeah I don’t know, that’s a really hard one for me to answer. I kind of feel like it’s just, yeah, I would rather read queer works when I’m looking for that kind of thing, rather than like, project anything onto things that aren’t queer.
JH: Do you have any favourite queer works?
RD: Hmm. Stuff that I like. I don’t know if I want to admit it. [laughs] Jesus, I was a really big fan of More Happy Than Not when I read it, by Adam Silvera. Just because it did have a really harrowing dark ending. And a lot of YA did kind of give you that like, uplift at the end, but that one doesn’t. And I was like, wow, this is so true to life. I’m not drawing a blank, but there’s certain things that I don’t want to say because it’s like, controversial.
JH: It’s Tell Me I’m Worthless by Alison Rumfitt, you can’t say it.
RD: [laughs] Exactly.
JH: It’s all the limb horror.
Thank you so much for coming tonight. Both to you three and to everyone in the audience. I didn’t prepare a good sign off. We’ve got applause in the chat! Is there anything you’d like to say before we go?
AR: Other than read all three of our books and then any other work you can get your hands on? I’m in the Unreal Sex anthology that’s coming out in a couple of weeks. I have a story about a boy in a maid dress coming under attack from a gang of girl bosses. That’s in that. But apart from that, no I don’t.
JH: That’s more than enough. That is far more than I expected when I asked that.
GFM: Manhunt comes out February 22, which is 2/22/22. I hope that you all read and enjoy it. In the meantime, I would love to recommend the comics of my good friend Julia Gfrörer. Who is my favourite living horror cartoonist and just writes these beautiful sketchy Gothic comics about sex and love and despair.
RD: Yeah, so I’m really interested in reading Manhunt, because I looked up the cover and I love the sack on the cover. It was like wow, that’s definitely the kind of stuff that draws my attention because it’s just like so raw and wonderful. Let’s see. What would I recommend? I’m reading Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Khaw right now and I’m really enjoying it. So definitely that one, it’s a quick read, it’s a novella. The cover is amazing on that as well.
Yeah, everybody on the panel, definitely read all of our books. Oh, mine comes out in paperback in the UK in March.
JH: Oh, I did not know that! That’s perfect. I have more questions about the covers that we didn’t have time to ask, but I hope that you all enjoyed the cover art which I painstakingly edited to make it looks like Manhunt and Tell Me I’m Worthless were Jake Livingston‘s two lesbian moms.
Thank you all so much for coming. And thank you everyone who came to watch tonight. I hope everyone had a good Halloween and we’ll see you another time. Have a good night, or a good day to the Americans. Have a good one!