Editors Vince Liaguno and Chad Helder step into Zombos' closet for a chat about their upcoming horror anthology that dares to open the creaking doors to those most personal, untidy closets we all share, where the light bulb is always dark, and the space is always pressing. And where fear is always piled deep in the farthest, darkest, corner.
How did Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet come about?
Chad Helder: In 2006, I started a website called Unspeakable Horror [https://unspeakablehorror.com] that explored the intersections between the horror genre and queer theory. Early on, I heard from Vince who was about to publish his first novel. We quickly became friends. At some point, Vince came up with the idea of publishing an anthology of gay horror stories. As a lover of short fiction, I was really excited about the prospect. That’s how it all began. Vince launched Dark Scribe Press, and the project began.
What were you looking for in the stories chosen for this anthology?
Vince Liaguno: Above all, we were looking for good horror stories that had a decidedly queer undercurrent. As the submissions process moved forward, our focus changed slightly to include finding stories that were compatible with the evolving mood. We read quite a few stories – 164 in total – that ran the gamut in terms of sub-genres and writing styles. In the end, we settled on pieces that had strong, literary voices.
There’s a strong period feel to many of the stories – Jameson Currier’s “The Bloomsbury Nudes”, Michele Scalise’s “I Am the Shadow That Walks There”, Michael Hacker’s “Vourdalak”, and Sarah Langan’s “The Agathas”, to name a few– that I think lend themselves to the literary equivalent of an art house film. Think short Tim Burton-meets-Merchant-Ivory films in print.
Chad Helder: I really wanted horror stories that included gay themes, but I was really excited about stories that approached the horror genre from a fresh and innovative perspective that was informed by queerness, by the “outsider-ness” and alienation that is a common experience among gay folks.
Does queer horror differ much from general horror fiction? If so, how is it different?
Chad Helder: Here’s my theory: all horror is informed by societal anxieties. We live in a homophobic culture, so a large portion of the horror genre is informed by homophobia and heterosexism. In some cases (including a lot of classic horror), queerness is associated with monstrosity and social alienation. A queer reading audience has their own set of societal anxieties. I believe queer horror simultaneously has the opportunity to overturn the social alienation of traditional horror and address some of the concerns of gay lifestyles. Gay horror is on the cutting edge of societal advancement and culture. It’s a creative response to what freaks us out.
Vince Liaguno: Chad’s so much more articulate with theory than I am! (laughs) So, for me, it’s an analogy: Queer subtext is to the horror genre what a lime wedge is to a Corona — a tart little twist that flavors but doesn’t change the essence of the brew.
Will a straight horror fan enjoy reading these stories, or do you really need to have an emotional underpinning that comes from being gay to "get" them.
Vince Liaguno: The universality of the closet experience was one of the things that surprised us most when reading through the submissions. Everyone – gay, straight or otherwise – hides some aspect of themselves in a closet. And while sexual orientation may be the human condition most closely associated with closets, there’s myriad other aspects of ourselves that get hidden away from others, whether those be certain vices or even virtues, political or religious affiliations and beliefs, addictions, or gender identity.
I think above all that this collection represents the horror genre, which – in and of itself – has a certain universal appeal. So, to answer your original question, readers of all persuasions can and will enjoy these stories. No gay club membership cards required! (laughs).
Chad Helder: You definitely don’t have to be gay to “get” the horror stories. If you’ve ever felt any kind of social alienation or “closetedness” of any form – which everyone has – you will find connection with these stories. It’s not an anthology of gay erotica; it’s an anthology of horror tales. And its success depends upon the quality of the horror stories, so horror fans will find a home here. I don’t think any horror fan will be disappointed with what they discover within these pages.
Do you have a favorite out of the 23 stories and, more importantly, can I get you to confess to it?
Chad Helder: I do have a favorite. “The Bloomsbury Nudes” by Jameson Currier is, without a doubt, one of the greatest pieces of short horror fiction that I have ever read. It is definitely my favorite gay horror tale of all-time.
Vince Liaguno: You know, for me, I was bowled over by the five debut authors in the collection. Part of Dark Scribe’s mission is to discover new writers, and we were thrilled to find five writers who ably stand on their own beside some of the more established, award-winning talents we’re fortunate enough to have in the anthology. Holding your own alongside the likes of Sarah Langan and Lee Thomas and Jameson Currier is no small feat. It’s going to be a source of pride for me someday to watch any of these remarkable writers – Michael Hacker, LA Fields, Jude Wright, Christopher Fox, and Reesa Brown – have their first novels published and think “Gee, we knew them when.” An outstanding lot of up-and-coming writers the horror and/or GLBT genres will be proud to have.
A favorite? Gee, that would be like a parent admitting to having a favorite kid, wouldn’t it? Honestly, each story is fucking brilliant and, if pressed, I could gush about each one individually. Putting down the editor’s pen for a second, though…there is something insinuating and genuinely haunting about C. Michael Cook’s “The Boys of Bald Cave” — a story that has yet to clear my mind completely as a reader. The story has shades of the emotional resonance of King’s “The Body” and It for me, a realism of male adolescence that rings true in every sense. There’s a bittersweet feeling of innocence lost at its core and a melancholic ending that profoundly affected me.
I was surprised to see the book's trailer. I had associated trailers with movies, not books. Is this something new or pretty common, and what challenges are there in promoting and publishing a book in today's web-based, LCD display-crazed world?
Vince Liaguno: Book videos emerged a few years ago and have really caught on in the last year or two. The company we chose for the Unspeakable Horror project – Circle of Seven Productions – was really at the medium’s forefront. They’ve done spectacular work for some of the genre’s hottest talents like Douglas Clegg, Alexandra Sokoloff, Deborah LeBlanc, and L.A. Banks.
There’s an underlying theme to book trailers that reading is entertainment. And in an age when entertainment has gone decidedly high-tech, these promotional videos are the perfect way to reach a visually-oriented audience. They’re short and catchy — perfect for our attention-deficit society in which countless visual cues compete for that attention. The whole team over at COS – Sheila Cover English, Victoria Fraasa, and the uber-talented Jacob Henderson – did a bang up job on our trailer.
Chad Helder: In today’s challenging book market, it’s all about buzz. In many ways, this is a very exciting time for publishing and bookselling. More and more, we are finding that small presses and independent authors have access to a large market through the internet and its various promotional tools. Even authors writing for large publishing houses are finding that they need to devote a large amount of time and energy into building buzz for their titles. Personally, I like this. I think it levels the playing field. Writers have resources never available before. One of those resources is book trailers; another resource is horror blogging, which is a real passion for me and Vince.
What's next for Dark Scribe Press?
Vince Liaguno: We’ve taken on an abandoned project from a UK publisher that’s been languishing for the last year or two. Butcher Knives & Body Counts: Essays on the Formula, Frights, and Fun of the Slasher Film will be a comprehensive non-fiction collection of essays on the slasher genre and its films, one that will explore the archetype of the slasher film and trace its evolution from formula to franchise. The project will be less a "guide" — what most would immediately associate with encapsulated reviews — to a more comprehensive collection of critical and personal essays on the slasher film genre. In addition to analyses of individual films, the book will include essays on various aspects of the slasher genre, interactive trivia for the slasher aficionado, and anecdotes from the filmmakers and cast members who worked on these films. People like Hatchet director Adam Green, KNB EFX artist Mike McCarty (Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Hostel, House of Wax), and scream queens like Meg Tilly (Psycho 2), Lesleh Donaldson (Curtains, Happy Birthday to Me), Jamie Rose (Just Before Dawn), and – for the first time anywhere – Jodi Draigie (The House on Sorority Row) are already onboard to talk about their roles in and recollections of the genre.
As we did with our Unspeakable Horror anthology, Dark Scribe Press has established a dedicated blog [https://www.swingingmachetes.blogspot.com/]for the project where submission guidelines, tips, and announcements will be posted.