Raquel: Welcome to Rite Gud, the podcast that helps you write good. I’m Raquel S Benedict, the most dangerous woman in speculative fiction. A lot of horror stories start like this: a family moves into a suspiciously cheap dream house. Over the course of the story, the house reveals its sinister nature.
Voices whisper unsettling things. Mirrors [00:01:00] reflect people who aren’t supposed to be there. The walls bleed. There’s an inexplicable, meowing sound. And at last the occupants discover its terrible secret. You can’t gentrify a haunted house. You either have to accept it as it is, burn it to the ground or run away.
But that doesn’t stop people from trying. And right now there’s a cheery, little squeeful family trying to move into a creepy old house called horror fiction. Here to talk about it is Andrew F. Sullivan, Canadian, horror author and bread shaped dog owner. Not to be confused with the other inferior andrew Sullivan.
Thank you for coming on.
Andrew: Thanks, Raquel. It’s really exciting to be on Rite Gud. I’ve been listening for a while and excited to talk about horror today.
Raquel: Yeah, you and your bread shaped dog are very important members of our Discord community.
Andrew: Yeah. My dog is a very silly creature. [00:02:00] He’s about 40 pounds of pug, bulldog, Corgi, and apparently cocker spaniel because he can swim. that’s a secret bread fact, he enjoys the ocean and chases ducks, so he’s full of surprises.
Raquel: Aw. So let’s start off by talking about the current state of horror publishing. I understand there was sort of a crash. In, in the eighties, horror fiction was huge. It was wildly popular. There was tons and tons of it. It was really, really profitable. I remember perusing used bookstores as a kid seeing 10, 15 year old paperbacks from the eighties with their sort of cool embossed covers and, and really schlocky cover art.
But then something happened in the nineties. There was a massive, massive crash, right?
Andrew: Oh yeah, I think like, I think, you can almost see that, yeah, if you go into especially like older used bookstores that sort of wave that just, [00:03:00] crashes onto the shore and then disappears. That sort of mid nineties surge, was the last gasp of that Big wave of horror. A lot of great stuff being done, but also just a lot of people cashing in. And, I mean, horror has come and gone in waves before too.
But that nineties crash was pretty devastating for a lot of writers.
Raquel: Yeah, yeah. It was huge. I mean it, it’s hard to understand just how big horror was and then how quickly it just disappeared. I mean, it didn’t totally disappear, but it stopped being quite as huge.
Why did that happen? Why was there such a big crash do you think?
Andrew: I mean, I’m not quite old enough to fully be boots on the ground there, but I do think it is cyclical. I do think it ends up with audiences even rising and falling with popularity. I don’t necessarily, I think once so much, so many people jump on a bandwagon,
so many new products get put out there and it becomes a product, right, rather than art.[00:04:00] When you’re putting out three titles from every author, every year, quality starts to slip,
Raquel: Yeah. No
Andrew: people start to notice. And I mean, it can sort of become a fad in a way. I don’t think horror itself is faddish, and I think it actually why it survives and why it continues to f lourish in its own way is that there are people who really love it. There are people who really speaks to, and it endures. But I think, yeah, that, coming from publishers, coming from writers, people looking to cash in, there is definitely, we’ve seen that with other fads that come and go, whether it’s certain breeds of YA or dystopian fiction.
I think trends are part of the scene. And that sort of mid nineties crash of horror was one of those incidents.
Raquel: Yeah. Now since then, horror has chugged along kind of quietly or, or at least not as big as it was. Largely by indie horror publishers. These are people who don’t expect to make big 1980s Stephen King dollars, but they’re in it [00:05:00] for love of the game. They’re creepy weirdos who love sharing work with other creepy weirdos and publishing other creepy weirdos.
It’s a beautiful underground sicko to sicko economy, uh, compared to sci-fi fantasy publishing, which has, I, I know it is niche, but it still has sort of a corporate publisher in Tor. It’s weird. People talk about Tor like it’s a scrappy little indie press, but it’s really not. It is a corporate publisher and it’s sort of the biggest voice around, and there’s not that much of an indie scene.
There’s not a ton of competition.
Andrew: Yeah. I think especially when you’re talking about, on that sort of novel novella collection level, especially, I think, you know, S F F does have a lot of short fiction, indie, Kickstarter based, sort of supportive communities. But that’s not the same as presses really putting out books, putting out writers, kind of competing on the same level.
And I think that’s one of my favorite things about the horror world is it does bring me a lot of joy to see how many people are [00:06:00] hustling to get their work out there. The power of a lot of these small presses to give writers a voice or get their work out there. Though that Indie scene and can also have its own downfalls too.
Micro presses run by like a single person can flame out and sort of lose a ton of books in the process. Um,
Raquel: Yeah. Indie publishing can be a mess.
Andrew: yeah, yeah, yeah. Cuz sometimes you get this framework of like, oh, it’s indie and it’s gonna be good. Well no, especially for the writer, indie often means, you know, you have to work five times as hard.
You, you have to be aware of everyone you’re working with. But the energy enthusiasm that’s there is very exciting and it’s definitely what’s, I think, kept horror alive and moving and reinventing. And that’s really exciting to see. And I think something that does happen with a vibrant indie scene.
Raquel: Yeah, that is pretty neat. I think a lot of mainstream publishers have avoided publishing a lot of horror. S F publishers tend to avoid most horror as well. [00:07:00] Uh, Tor which is a subsidiary of Macmillan Publishing, by the way, did recently open its horror imprint. What is it?
Andrew: Night Fire. yeah. And they’ve got some great books. Yeah.
Raquel: And they have some pretty good stuff coming out.
Uh, but. ,but mainly it’s just been a lot of indie presses. So that does mean it’s, it’s a mess and it means you’re not gonna make a ton of money, but it also means there’s a lot of competition. There’s chances to get real fucking weird with it and write cool, weird shit. And there’s, that means there’s a chance for a lot of different voices who have a lot very different approach to horror. There’s not one sort of house style.
Andrew: Totally. Yeah. And I think that’s also where a lot of more marginalized voices and I think also stranger kinds of stories can kind of find their legs. And, that’s something that the bigger publishers just aren’t willing to take a risk on until it’s proven itself. Often these, some of these writers are putting out, self-publishing their own stuff, because there’s no other venue.
And [00:08:00] then yeah, when they’re popular enough, the publisher comes along and kind of picks ’em up. Yeah.
Raquel: Yeah. Like right now there’s been a growing boom in trans body horror, which is great and I have trouble imagining
Andrew: are some of my favorite books. Yeah.
Raquel: I have trouble imagining that a, any scene but horror with its indie publishing ethos would put that out there.
Raquel: risky and it is a little niche. There’s not a, a huge number of people who really wanna, wanna read that just cuz there’s not a lot of trans people.
So um, I could see a lot of bigger publishers either wanting to go for kind of blander safer representation and not something that’s alienating or might make you uncomfortable. Or at the very least has kind of a small number of people who would absolutely love it, but aren’t really gonna guarantee you a big block busting hit.
Andrew: Totally. Yeah. I think if anything, the success we’re seeing is because a lot of those writers took a [00:09:00] chance on themselves and wrote the books they wanted to write. And if a publisher came along and found them interesting, great. But, they’re writing this stuff anyway, whether that publisher’s there or not.
And that’s kind of what gives it so much power, I think. It’s written on their terms. And we continue to see that with a lot of queer horror is just, how resistant it is to the limitations of the bigger publishers.
Raquel: Yeah. So right now horror publishing looks like it’s heading into another boom, maybe on the heels of horror cinema.
Andrew: Yeah, definitely. I can see that. I think I, I mean, I’m excited about it, but I, you know, I’m biased, obviously. I’m writing horror novels. I’m reading a lot of
Andrew: excited I’m, “oh yeah, it’s amazing. It’s so cool. I, I had no idea.” But no, I think you do see it out there. I, I feel like there is that energy.
I think you spoke to it well with how it’s been in film. It has, we have so many different varieties coming out, and I think that’s what’s exciting. People can get upset about the tags like elevated horror, which is silly. But [00:10:00] the fact that there’s so much different horror coming out and it’s getting a reception, it’s getting an
audience. That’s exciting and I can see, yeah, it seems like fiction is kind of, following that route is sort of gonna ride that wave, which is exciting for a lot of writers. But yeah, it does kind of give you right, like a little bit of a, when and who is gonna cash in on that new wave. That’s maybe just on the horizon.
Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. And, and I mean, that is great, at least financially for horror writers. Like, oh, cool, you might be able to make more than $20 in royalties for your next book. That’s cool. Hooray. Woo.
Andrew: Yeah. Maybe double that. Yeah.
Raquel: And that’s cool. And, and it’s cool to see something that I love doing really well. However, whenever there’s a boom, you get people rushing toward it who are just in it for the money.
And right now I do think we’re seeing a number of careerists from sci-fi, from fantasy, from other [00:11:00] genres, just sort of chasing the money, trying to break into horror, jumping from one trend to the next. Well, YA, the YA boom is definitely on its way down because it’s just massive oversaturation. So, uh, “okay.
Horror. Yeah. I’ll make some money here.”
Andrew: I think there’s definitely that fear is there and I think, yeah, we, we’ve seen it before, like you said with YA. That’s kind of burnt out and people are looking for new places to go. And yeah, you can kind of start to wonder, where’s this coming from and where’s it going, and what kind of stories are we gonna be telling?
Raquel: Yeah. And I wanna say I, this isn’t to say that everybody going from sci-fi fantasy to horror is a bad grifter person. I mean, I’m fucking doing the same thing. And a lot of people are going that way because of, well, various reasons. I’ve found the horror community overall to just be a lot less toxic than sci-fi fantasy and a lot more open to different kinds of expression.
than sci-fi fantasy. And just they, [00:12:00] they’re the right kinds of weirdos. Whenever I would go to speculative fiction conventions, I always found that I just clicked with horror people better just because somehow they were more normal, which doesn’t make much sense. I don’t know why. I remember at Reader Con using the gym one day and looking around, and the only writers that I recognized who were also using the hotel gym were other horror people.
And I’m like, yeah, horror, stay winning.
Andrew: They gotta, yeah, you gotta get swole, right?
Raquel: Yes. Fucking swole. Fight the monsters. You gotta,
Andrew: the beasties in the night. Yeah. So be ready.
Raquel: Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: Get your hour in. Yeah. Before it comes.
Raquel: and I can’t remember who said it, but it was this horror writer who said, “all the people who come over from sci-fi fantasy, they look like they’re traumatized from it. What the fuck is going on over there?”
Andrew: Yeah, I think I saw that tweet. Yeah. No, I do think there’s, I think that’s true, and I think that’s why it is a valid, I think there people are excited to tell more complex, maybe loaded stories that, you know, certain venues maybe don’t wanna publish or [00:13:00] don’t have the bandwidth to handle. Like, I think
Andrew: Horror is, it is transgressive, it is upsetting, it is supposed to challenge the reader, put them in a place maybe where they don’t wanna be, or to ask them to, you know, take a step into the dark.
And, sometimes, ambiguity, multiplicity, multiple meanings. I do find sometimes S S F F really wants to provide a taxonomy of narrative. And say, ” this is this kind of story. This is a good story. Don’t worry. When you read this story, you’ll be a good person.”
Horror maybe doesn’t promise that. There’s no promise that you’ll emerge a better person.
You might emerge a changed person, but better is relative. And I think that’s exciting for a lot of writers who, you know, maybe are at a stage in their career where they want to tell complex, upsetting stories that they have an urge to release into the world.
Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. [00:14:00] So let’s talk a little bit about what we mean by gentrification. So what is gentrification? Gentrification in sociology is when a wealthy people move into a poor urban area and they build more expensive housing, and they bring in newer and more upscale businesses. But in the process, they displace the previous inhabitants of this neighborhood.
It happens a lot with cool artsy neighborhoods, queer neighborhoods, and vibrant ethnic neighborhoods. New York City especially has been just killed with gentrification. Greenwich Village used to be a cool place for artists. Now it’s just way too fucking expensive for you to live there. Park Slope is now for sort of wealthy, upscale families.
It used to be a, a gayborhood. Its old nickname was Dyke Slope. Woodstock, New York. It was started as an artist colony for sort of broke artists to live in, in the woods. And now it is the most rich person, fucking insufferable, hell [00:15:00] town in the world. It’s fucking horrible. I, I hate Woodstock and
Andrew: Well tell, tell us how you really feel,
Raquel: it is a terrible place.
I, I worked in a restaurant in Woodstock, New York, and I still get angry when I think about it.
Andrew: Oh yeah. The service industry will quickly, , quickly reveal.
Raquel: Just fucking,
Andrew: True nature. Yeah.
Raquel: It’s currently happening to New Orleans. New Orleans is this cool, cool city with a vibrant culture and really interesting cultural influences. And wealthy people, they’re attracted to that because the city’s so fucking cool. So, “oh, let me move to New Orleans. It’s a cool city.”
But in the process right now, what they’re doing is they’re buying up a lot of real estate, and now it’s hard to afford for the cool kind of Cajun artsy people who made the city what it is. And even more so these wealthy new inhabitants are trying to pass noise ordinances, banning the playing of jazz music [00:16:00] at night.
And jazz is it’s part of the soul of New Orleans. It’s such a big part of the culture. So these people move in because they think they love the culture and then they do something like that, which is part of killing or silencing the culture. I mean, new Orleans without jazz at night, that’s, that’s not New Orleans anymore.
That’s just fucking bullshit.
Raquel: what’s so what’s wrong with gentrification? We’re not anti gentrification because we don’t want people to move to places that sound cool. We’re not inherently against a city neighborhood changing. When a neighborhood gets gentrified and yoga studios start popping up, it’s not a problem because of yoga.
Like I, I do yoga. I like yoga. It’s more a problem because it pushes out the other stuff. It pushes out the other things that made it cool. And there’s something incredibly cruel about how a lot of the time, these are neighborhoods that people move to because they’re poor. People moved to Park Slope because it was cheap and because [00:17:00] queer people did not have much money. People moved to these places because they’re broke and they can get it cheap.
And they put everything they can into making them beautiful, vibrant, wonderful neighborhoods. And they build it up. And as a result of all this hard work that they do to make a great community, they get pushed out by some rich dip shits. And that fucking sucks. So right now, I feel like we’re seeing the beginnings of a sort of attempt to gentrify horror publishing. Sci-fi and fantasy mags and publishers are trying to push their own horror, and it’s often a kind of softer, watered down version of horror stories.
There’s a lot of fondness for a spooky or even worse, a spoopy aesthetic, but without the difficult emotional resonance of really, really good horror. So there might be ghosts or goblins or vampires, but it doesn’t take you to these [00:18:00] emotionally daring places. And that’s kind of what’s important for horror.
There’s been a call for quote unquote cozy horror. There’s been a demand for likable characters, unambiguous morals, and unambiguous endings. I’ve seen a lot of sort of “therapy” stories where… Obviously horror often is a metaphor for trauma or mental illness, but it’s sort of a place where you can let it all hang out and be gross.
But I, I’m seeing a lot of sort of therapy stories where instead of confronting this, this dark side of yourself in a way that’s like messy and uninhibited, it’s facing it in a safe way like you would at a therapist’s office. And I’m sorry, but that shit’s fucking boring. That’s boring as fuck.
I don’t want that.
Andrew: I think it’s also this idea too, that you can, that you know these problems are solvable with just enough effort or enough therapy or the right spell or the right confrontation [00:19:00] will diminish them.
Andrew: and I mean a solved story to me is not really a horror story. That ambiguity, that multiplicity, the fact that you yourself may be the issue that you have the capacity to cause harm.
All those things are really powerful to me and really part of how to tell a horror story. And so, yeah, I think, my idea of like a great cozy horror story would be something that leaves those things still festering. And I think, yeah, when, when you have narrative closure in a way where everyone’s walking away, like you said, sort of a therapy session, it might be a different kind of story that’s not really, fully engaging with the possibilities that, the grimy kind of grotesqueness
of someone, you know, like Clive Barker might bring to the genre who’s, been doing that for decades. And that’s kind of what’s made a lot of horror thrive. So, yeah, I think the issues you’re identifying are definitely real. They’re out there. Very much that sort of, I think [00:20:00] something that, we’ve seen with S F F and other genre groups is definitely that sort of #AmWriting grind set vibe that, “just gotta crush it every day.”
Raquel: Yeah. Can you talk about that a little bit more? Because I, you’ve spoken about this on the Discord a
lot, saying, “oh, no, no, no. It’s coming into horror. No.”
Andrew: Yeah. Well, I, I think it’s just like the, a fascination with stats, with hit rates, with getting stories into venues. Even the idea of having, publications, the numbers are against you these days. The number of submissions to any magazine.
I think writers trying to gamify the process, gamify submission is kind of getting away from what makes writing exciting and what makes writing, personally fulfilling for me. And just seeing it sort of become this endless pursuit of anthologies, table of contents, whatever else.
That’s not really what it’s about. And you can see a bit of that in S F F and then seeing
it kind of trickle over.
Raquel: There’s a lot of it in[00:21:00]
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I think it’s just at the same time, no one is making a ton of money off this, so it does seem that sort of grind set vibe or that, that idea that if you just, keep working harder, on how you submit rather than what you’re writing… I don’t love it.
I think it’s definitely, something that’s grinds away at me a little bit, just seeing how relentless it is, how it can make writers who are really good, uh, start to doubt themselves and to doubt their abilities just because they’re not keeping up with the rat race. And again, yeah, like you said, it’s not like people are taking home thousands of dollars here.
This is often small potato stuff with limited prestige, but it’s, turning it into yeah, a gamified system,
Andrew: is scary to me.
Raquel: set. Shit.
Andrew: yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Raquel: almost like huns doing shit for an M L M.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. There’s definitely, you start, I mean, that’s writing across the board too, like from lit fic to romance.
You kind of get that, [00:22:00] yeah. That M MLM vibe that like, “actually you’re just not working hard enough. If you were , if you ”
Raquel: Just achieve your dreams. The only thing standing in your way is you
and your bad
Andrew: And then, you look at the publication rate for a magazine, and it’s like under 1%. There’s a lot of people writing and that’s great.
Writing has a low barrier to entry. Ideally we’d be getting a lot of diverse voices and a lot of different people out there, and we are in the indie scene. But, when it starts to be gamified, when it starts to take on that sort of technocratic approach to a meritocracy, I don’t necessarily think that’s healthy.
Raquel: There’s also the issue too. People are hoping to make money, but if there are more writers than there are readers, you’re kind of fucked.
And you get a, you get this thing in a lot of speculative fiction where there are people who are always trying to sp sell a story or sell a book, but they’re not really reading much.
I don’t know who you expect to read your work if you’re not reading anybody else’s. Uh, we have a lot of writers [00:23:00] who only cite movies when it comes to talking about storytelling and talking about their influences, and you can see it in their prose that they learned from movies and not really from reading and Oh, that’s not good,
Andrew: Oh yeah. No, and I’ve seen, yeah, I’ve seen, yeah, Lincoln Michael’s talked a lot about that in his stack. I think he’s really good at identifying that. You get those reaction shot fiction, where we have, you get sort of this blocking fiction where it was like “this person was in the room, then they went here, then they went there.”
we did a whole episode on it back in the day
Andrew: that’s true. Wise wise Karlo. Yeah, I think that’s part of it as well, right? You start to see these things bleed in, and so I think that’s also part of the overall atmosphere of online writing, right? And it’s sort of trickling, trickled, into horror.
Raquel: Because there’s now, there’s money to be made, or at least people think there’s money to be made. There
probably isn’t. For the vast majority of people, [00:24:00] by money to be made, I mean $50 in exchange for a short story that took you several months to write.
Andrew: yeah, exactly. Yeah, exactly.
Andrew: and it’s, and it’s coming to a genre that, does thrive more in ambiguity, in unease, in dread, in stuff that’s difficult to, assimilate, difficult to swallow. Um, and so, there’s sometimes I find with some short fiction out there, there’s a desperation for kind of clarity.
Clarity of purpose. And horror fiction’s often gonna deny you that. It’s going to leave you wondering,
and it will have, what works for one editor won’t for another. It’s about the readers finding what they love.
Raquel: Yeah, yeah. And, and just as we talked about, how gentrification pushes out the original inhabitants. What I’m worried about is if that kind of approach that’s normal in S F F comes to horror, will that affect the approach to fiction? [00:25:00] We’ve seen in some really grim ways, the way sci-fi and fantasy polices the boundaries of acceptable expression.
I know I returned to this over and over again, but the fucking helicopter story. This was a sci-fi story in a major sci-fi publication that got a positive response initially, but it made enough people uncomfortable that they ruined the author’s life. The way they attacked her, because this story made them feel uncomfortable and weird and didn’t give them a clear ending and didn’t give them this unambiguous emotion at the end of it, and they just ruined this writer’s life
over it. And if that mentality is coming to a genre that thrives on discomfort and ambiguity, how’s that gonna mix?
Andrew: Yeah. And I think that’s probably where we’ll see some clashes and we’ll see some sort of [00:26:00] waves. And I, I think it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out because I do think like the very nature of horror is going to, um, alter that, you know, the encounter will, I don’t think it’ll be a strict takeover.
I think it will kind of, Maybe this kind of story’s being told. Um, but there will be, I think it’s not so much a sea change as like a, back and forth, um, between both sides there. And I think if anything that, people do wanna tell these stories and I think there’s a lot of writers who are looking to escape, like you said, they’re trying to find a way to speak to something they felt they couldn’t before.
We do see examples of that gentrified horror. I think, again, when we’re talking about sort of forerunners, we were seeing it a lot in film and TV first.
Andrew: we’re seeing it with like a lot of Netflix horror. We’re seeing it, you
Raquel: God. Fucking Bly Manor.
Andrew: Right. Yeah. [00:27:00] Like, Like,
hey, let’s take a incredible novel.
Let’s strip it of all of its purpose, and horror and unease, and just make it into a, a story about family. Yeah, like I, I, that’s where I
Raquel: What they did to Shirley Jackson too with, with the first season, what is it? Haunting of Hillhouse. Unforgivable that they changed the line from “whatever, walked there, walked alone” to “whatever walked there, walked together.”
Like that is like that bit in, in the Simpsons where the guy makes the Red Hot Chili Peppers changed their lyric to “what I’d like is that I’d like to hug and kiss you”
Andrew: Oh, exactly. I
Raquel: like mother.
No, I’m so angry. And one thing I’m also super worried about is pushing out the grimy, grotesque, horny queerness that’s been able to thrive in horror. We love you Clive Barker. Thank you. In exchange for the very sanitized, very sexless version of queerness that’s [00:28:00] embraced in mainstream sci-fi fantasy.
Andrew: Yeah, I think that, I think that’s where we’re gonna see a very big difference is that, horror fucks. It just does
horror fucks in fucking weird ways
Andrew: yes, in weird ways with weird organs and strange methods. And if anything, yeah, it embraces all forms of bodily connection. That’s definitely something that, you do miss in a lot of S s F F.
You’re not getting that sort of, really tactile lived in feeling that I think some of the best current horrors kind of achieving. And yeah, the, the old gods, like Clive, were all about . And so yeah, seeing that in film and TV has definitely been not great to, it is that first wave of gentrification and I think that’s the clearest example.
Those series entirely stripping away everything that made something like the Haunting of Hill House so iconic
Raquel: the new Candy Man where it turns him into a [00:29:00] superhero at the
Andrew: yeah, I mean I, and, and New Candyman had some ideas in it and then just was like, ah, nah, we’re gonna . Yeah.
Raquel: Yeah, but then it just fell apart in the ends and I’m watching it going. No,
Andrew: concepts and then was like, uh, actually we don’t wanna go there.
I think that at the same time you get the pushback though too, like, Shudder just keeps pumping stuff out.
Andrew: a, there’s a great strangeness out there. What’s great about horror is how much of it can be done on the cheap. Which means also there’s gonna be a lot of trash too, and you have to sort through it, and that’s part of the fun of it.
But yeah, we, like I said, you kind of have these waves back and forth. We do get these series from Netflix and then we get, something outta nowhere like Skinamarink, which is like, ” I’m here to upset you. ”
Raquel: We’re here for a bad time.
Andrew: here for a bad time and maybe a long time. We’re not telling you when you get to go home.
Good luck. And that’s really exciting and that’s [00:30:00] hilarious to me is, just the varied reactions you’re getting. And I mean, I wanna see that with horror fiction as well. And I think you do get that with horror fiction, from the indie stuff like Eric Larocca, Gretchen Felder, Martin, like.
You’re really gonna see it, Joe Kotch, Paula d Ashe, putting out stuff that is here to upset you. And that’s exciting, but that gentrification is still there on the boundary, right? Like you said, it’s,
Andrew: can see it kind
Raquel: you can see it, you can see it, you can really, really see World con hosting a bunch of horror related panels, but all staffed by people who don’t really know much about horror. They love talking about Final Girls forgetting that Final Girls as as a topic is like 15 years old now, and everything that’s been possibly said about it has already been said.
And I think Tor Blog ran this really awful piece talking about how sexist and problematic the, the final girl trope is. It was written [00:31:00] by, first of all, a Christian pastor, which is weird, who accused Slumber Party Massacre of misogyny, forgetting that Slumber Party Massacre was written by a pair of feminists
Andrew: Oh yeah. Oh, I remember that. Oh yeah, I remember that. Yeah. No, there’s this, there’s this amazing thing where people outside the genre assume… yeah, he was a pastor. Oh, man.
Raquel: written by Rita Mae Brown.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Raquel: Slumber Party Massacre. The a woman who wrote a very famous lesbian coming of age novel called Ruby Fruit Jungle.
Andrew: Well, and there’s also just the fact that horror is aware of its tropes, it’s aware of itself, it talks to itself. The community is aware of these things.
Raquel: Scream was over 20 years ago. Guys,
Andrew: exactly. It is a self-aware genre that is excited to play with these things and talk about these things and just seeing people come in and be like, “ah, here’s my thesis.
Dunno if you guys ever [00:32:00] considered the Final Girl. Little bit problematic.” It, it flummoxes me seeing these kind of articles. The idea that horror isn’t aware of its own tropes, that it isn’t aware of its past is something that, a pastor would say.
Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. So do we wanna name names? Do we wanna talk about the, the gentrified horror fiction? Because I, I, I figure I might as well. I’m not afraid.
Raquel: gonna be ca am I gonna be canceled again? Or at least list some examples cuz we always run in, we always run into this thing where if I name names, then I get accused of bullying.
But if I don’t, it’s, ” you’re not providing any evidence and you’re just generalizing.” Like, okay, well fine. Okay, so here’s a name, the Book of Accidents, Chuck Wendig . The hero is a goody two shoes boy with zero emotional ambiguity. It’s boring. It pulls punches, it backs down from anything too uncomfortable.
Here’s an example. So the hero is this boy who has psychic powers that can affect people’s emotions. And there’s a bit [00:33:00] where he uses his psychic powers to heal like a bully’s pain. To try and make him better. And then the bully commits suicide. And at first it looks like, okay, this could be interesting.
It could be you’re, you’re wrestling with the ability of good intentions going wrong. Or you’re realizing, “okay, the thing I was doing, even though I was well-intentioned, it was inherently manipulative.” You’re affecting somebody’s emotions without their consent. And that’s kind of fucked up. So it seems like it’s gonna be kind of interesting and introspective, but then what happens is it turns out that the bad guy killed the bully and staged it as a suicide.
You were going into an area that was uncomfortable. You were going into something that was difficult and morally ambiguous, but then you back down. Because like, “oh no, our hero has to be a good guy. Unambiguously. We’ll, we’ll make the bad guy do it.” Okay, but that’s weak. That’s weak as
Andrew: yeah, yeah. yeah. No, no, and I think it, it’s reducing again, that, as you mentioned, that emotional [00:34:00] ambiguity. It’s not allowing the reader to kind of sit with, ” who have I been cheering for this whole time? Who have I been throwing in with?”
Andrew: the complexity kind of gets drained out and I think it is also, it’s sometimes a bit of a throwback to be like, oh, well, you know, we can’t… he is a kid. As if, childhood hasn’t been a site of horror forever.
Raquel: As if horrifying things never happen to children.
Andrew: Yeah. I think that’s true. And I think there’s definitely elements in some modern horror novels where it’s going to be like, okay, we’ve taken you up to the gate, but we’re not actually gonna open it.
We’re gonna look through the bars at the scary thing,
but you won’t actually have to touch it. You’re okay, you’re safe out here. Pulling punches. Backing down. I think that’s what you’re describing. And I think, yeah, I mean, it’s something that’s gonna continue. Obviously. I don’t know if there’s a,
Andrew: I [00:35:00] don’t know if we have a an anti gentrification squad out there on the streets.
But I think, yeah, if there’s a readership looking for that, I’m not sure what they’re gonna find in horror.
Raquel: Yep. I, I’d like to list another example. I feel it’s fair to say that this is punching up because this is a story that won, I believe a Hugo and a Nebula. The inexplicable to me popularity of the award-winning Open House on Haunted Hill. So it’s a short story. It’s widely hyped up by the S F F crowd. And it’s about a guy buying a haunted house that wants to be his friend.
First of all, there’s no engagement with Shirley Jackson’s novel that the title’s riffing on. And for me, I feel like this story embodies most of my problems with gentrified horror, cuz it literally is a gentrification story. It’s about a guy buying a suspiciously cheap house, but it’s okay. Now here’s what bugs me about this story.
Haunted houses aren’t really about the ghosts. It’s usually [00:36:00] about the sins of the past. In European literature, haunted house stories are often about social class and aristocracy. If you are from an old money family, chances are your ancestors built up that old money by doing some really fucking evil shit. By like working for Nazis or taking part in the slave trade or doing imperialism or something.
In North America, haunted houses are very, very often about colonialism and the fact that we’re living on stolen land. The Amityville Horror, that whole story went for the old, obviously very problematic “this was built on an Indian burial ground” thing. Poltergeist had the, “you didn’t move the body scene” where this homeowner realizes that his dream house is built on a former cemetery.
And the developer said, it’s okay. We moved to the graves, but they found, he finds out they didn’t move the bodies, just the headstones. So in a way, it’s kind of [00:37:00] having people forced to engage with the fact that this place they moved into is not a blank slate. There’s a history to it and it’s an ugly history, and at some point you’re going to be confronted with it.
You can’t just decide that this is okay. You’ve got to face this. But in Open House in Haunted Hill, there’s no acknowledgement of the history. There’s no reckoning with history. The house is there for you. It wants to be your friend because you deserve it, you special Caucasian man. Don’t think about it real hard.
It’s a gentrifier fairytale to me. And the fact that this story gets so much adoration… Mainly to me it’s inexplicable because it’s really not a particularly good story stylistically. But something about it I, I doubt this is intentional, but this emptiness to it, this failure to engage with history really leaves a fucking bad taste in my mouth. Because haunted house stories as problematic as they can be, [00:38:00] also have this subversiveness to it.
And here it’s just gone.
Andrew: Yeah, I think in the way of the gentrified haunted house. I can see where people draw some comfort from it as if this monster, was actually your friend the whole time. But that’s to me is a, it’s, it’s a concept.
Raquel: It’s like, no, it’s okay. Americans, Puerto Ricans want you to move to Puerto Rico and buy all the land. It’s cool. It’s great. Open a bitcoin mining farm here. Fucking do it. You belong here. Kill all the coquis cuz they’re noisy.
Andrew: I think what you’re describing too, to me also sounds like maybe act one of a great story where then the house starts trying to implicate you in what it is. But we don’t get there, do we?
- It’s just, it’s
Andrew: Accepting the house on its terms means accepting all the other things that maybe it represents.
And that is an interesting story in there. There is something about siding with the [00:39:00] house or getting the house to side with you. But that’s not there. Uh, and I think you’re reckoning with history. Like, I think that’s what’s exciting to me about haunted house stories is that sort of, you can’t outrun the past.
Andrew: That the past is alive, is present, is part of your every day.
And your, your, your idea that you can put in into chronological order and set things right is sort of, yeah, a very like human arrogance. And I think
Raquel: much so.
Andrew: That arrogance is often what gets upended in great horror is that arrogance gets shown for what it is, which is often a deep insecurity or a deep fear that you will be found out.
And so I think yeah, the issues you’re raising here. There’s always the possibility, I think, for a cozy horror story to work. But I’m waiting for that trap door to kick out in the middle of the living room and plunge [00:40:00] us into something a little bit darker, a little bit more substantial, and a little bit, more willing to confront maybe what that house represents.
And yeah, I, and I think that’s what’s exciting about it is the free reign you have to go where, to take things further. And horror’s saying, ” okay, that’s great. Push it.”
Andrew: Open the door and, uh, do something worse.
Raquel: We’re already seeing horror venues that are asking for limitations on the kinds of stories and what topics they can discuss.
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah, no, you’re definitely seeing that. In some cases it totally makes sense. I mean, way back in the day, I used to be a slush reader for a lit mag in Canada, and we’d get insane, horrifying, power fantasies, rape fantasies, terrible stuff that you just delete after the first page. But, I’ve been seeing calls where it is sort of like, “oh, you know, nothing with too much violence.” [00:41:00] And it, it does cause a lot of writers to hesitate, like, “well, okay, what are these boundaries? What do these boundaries mean?” This is different from content warnings or, putting out work and acknowledging, yes, “there’s child death in here, there’s whatever else in here.”
Um, but the fact that, you’re seeing submission guidelines that are like, “oh, no weapons.” Well, , what do you want from me? No children in peril. I think that to me is a bigger sign of the gentrification to come, is watching the sort of the creep of what is allowed, showing up in guidelines.
I think editors do need to make intelligent choices. And do need to really think hard about what they’re putting out there and what is the writer trying to achieve with this? And is this just, do they just wanna make the reader disgusted, or exert some control over the reader?
But when it’s in the guidelines, writers are wondering, ” what is gore? My character loses a hand. Is that gore? There’s a car accident. How, how descriptive do I get? Where does that line come up?” And you can feel kind of that [00:42:00] chill on some authors, often authors from, you know, communities that feel that chill in other places and, are using that fiction to kind of express themselves.
So that’s been, if anything, that’s been the big sign of sort of that gentrification you’re talking about,
Raquel: Yeah. Yeah. I, a member of our Discord said she was super pissed off because she saw a call for submissions to, I think it was a women’s horror anthology. And one of the guidelines was No Sexual Violence. And she said, ” okay, this is the thing that women are most afraid of.”
Raquel: If you’re a woman, that this is a, a thing that affects your life a hell of a whole lot, so to say, you can’t write about it at all in horror’s ridiculous.
Andrew: Someone maybe had a good intention somewhere and it’s totally outta whack with what’s gonna be submitted. And it’s just, I know the comment you’re talking about too, and I think it’s very much being unwilling to trust the [00:43:00] writers that are gonna send you stuff.
And trust that they, they know these experiences.
Raquel: And obviously you’re going to get a lot of shit, but you’re also going to get some some fucking great stuff
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You will get shit, but you’re gonna get shit no matter what and the people who are gonna send you real shit, they don’t even read the guidelines. They’re sending you whatever they want. They don’t give a shit, you know, it’s automated for them. They’re just pumping crap out there.
So yeah, you are gonna have some writers who hesitate and maybe who don’t send. And I think again, with those guidelines, it’s really yeah, that it’s that chilling effect that says, “maybe I can’t tell this story. Maybe this isn’t a safe place for me to submit this story.” And you end up with sort of a horror that’s not willing to confront what is actually so terrifying.
Raquel: Yeah, yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about
the paranoid horror community.
Andrew: Yeah. No, I, I mean, I was thinking more just like, I do feel like horror does have sometimes an aggressive [00:44:00] immune system that can lash out. I do think sometimes horror can, “oh, you’re trying to write horror. You don’t even know, man, you don’t even,” like, it can kind of have that vibe of, ” name your three favorite joy division songs.”
And I think we, we see that again when people freak out about elevated horror, like five, six years after it was a term that was out there. It’s over and over. It’s the same discourse. And I do get it, it’s a fear of a world that doesn’t accept horror. I think that’s something that has in common with S F F, that kind of paranoia that there’s outsiders who made fun of us or made fun of our work.
Or , I took a workshop one time and someone was mean to me and, it really upset me. And I think that’s real. Your traumas are real and your experiences are real. But I mean, horror has its own power. It’s, it’s like this fear of a broader audience. I think Jeff VanderMeer at one point when he was talking about this kind of tendency in S F F is like the language of defeat.
Like, “oh, they, they don’t understand us. [00:45:00] They’re secretly all writing novels about professors fucking their students” and like, no, some of the best lit fic stuff is playing with genre. Like Carmen Maria Machado is writing horror.
Andrew: Come on. She’s writing horror, she’s writing amazing horror.
She’s writing memoir, she’s playing with genre. She’s doing amazing stuff structurally. But, she went to Iowa, she did writing workshops. That doesn’t mean it’s not horror. I think I, when I’m talking about paranoid horror, it’s just this idea of , ” someone’s trying to take our thing.” and I get that.
That’s kind of what we’re talking about here today, right? The
gentrification. But I think it’s, it, what we should be doing instead is kind of opening up that tent wider. And I think that’s what a lot of the indie publishers are doing. But the, the paranoid reaction of, “oh, this person tried to write horror and they didn’t do it right.”
Okay, well maybe that’s a new kind of horror and maybe you don’t love it, but it’s growing in your garden anyway. You can’t weed it out.
And I think sometimes again, when we’re seeing stuff like Skinamarink [00:46:00] recently too, like the discomfort over, ” this doesn’t have a plot.”
Andrew: That’s fine. That’s allowed. You can do that. Just a wariness of the outside world and being threatened a little bit. I do kind of sometimes get that feeling. At the same time. I think, once, if people come with the right attitude, horror is extremely welcoming. Like you said, you’re going into that work workout, you’re gonna go work out at ReaderCon and everybody’s just happy to have you there. So I think that kind of overlap, between S F F and horror, that’s a place of sympathy, but it’s also kind of a place that, can put up walls where it should kind of be a bridge instead.
Raquel: Mm Yeah,
Andrew: And I guess that kind of leads into, yeah, I guess my next kind of thing, I wanted to… like the scary part, I guess, of gentrification, of horror, is it, when it starts demarcating what is safe and what is allowed, like you said with, who’s playing jazz at night? Is that loud?
It links to [00:47:00] something, say like a larger discourse of whether sex scenes are necessary or not. The fact that like anyone’s talking about what’s necessary in art, I know I don’t, I bring up the worst thing possible, right, ,
Raquel: Oh my
Andrew: but like, I do think that’s kind of where this kind of thing goes, right?
Is it’s like, oh, this, why was that in here? It was excessive.
I mean, it’s
Raquel: the, “bury your gays”, the horrible, horrible, horrible misuse of the expression bury your gays,
Andrew: Yeah. Yeah,
Raquel: not, it doesn’t mean, oh, a gay character died. This is a bury your gays. What it refers to as a tendency for poorly written stories, to have a minor queer character and then kill them off for cheap drama.
And that’s not necessarily what happens every single time a queer character dies in a narrative.
Andrew: Yeah, I can’t even– the idea that TV Tropes is gonna dictate
the kind of story I tell
Raquel: offensive to
Andrew: is offensive. Yeah. That TV Tropes as, the arbiter of storytelling [00:48:00] is a fucking travesty. That’s one of the worst possible things. I mean, being aware, self-aware of your genre, being aware of the kinds of stories that are being told is totally, you know, it’s something I think horror really does well.
And just to see yeah, this sort of , “ah, haha, saw your tropes.” All right. It’s that sort of Cinema Sins, -ification of culture. It’s this idea like, “oh, you made a mistake. You did a I M D B goof.” I don’t have any patience for it. I don’t want to tell those kind of stories. It’s, it, it ends up kind of being a policing of what’s possible.
It’s a taxonomy. It’s like, “well, if we name all the parts, they can’t hurt us.” They’ll hurt you if they want to. There’s room for all kinds of horror and there’s room for all kinds of story elements. But that means keeping the indigestible stuff, keeping the stuff that’s really hard to swallow by design the stuff that is… if you’re looking back in the, at some of the best nineties horror, like Poppy, Z Brite or Kathe Koja, like The Cipher, those are grimy [00:49:00] books.
Those are books that, I read once , maybe I’ll read them again, but they, they left an imprint. And those aren’t books that lend themselves to easy consumption. And I think what’s, what’s scary about something like, the guidelines for what you can submit is it sort of threatens to flatten a genre down.
It’s like, again, “well, is this necessary to the plot?” I mean, nothing’s necessary in art. We’re making art. I guess, what horror writers need to stick to, like, we’re making art.
We’re not an algorithm. The danger of something like gentrified horror is accepting the terms and conditions of your publisher for a little bit more money, for a little bit more prestige to say, “oh, I won’t include this scene because, it’s a bit, trope-y or it’s a bit upsetting.” I’ve seen this with some of my own work, to be honest, where trying to offer multiplicity of interpretation becomes, “oh, I, I don’t know what this means, so I’m going to assume the worst possible [00:50:00] version of it.”
Andrew: I, I think that’s something to– that, the one-to-one correlations, the sort of desire for, ” oh, this is the good guy, this is the bad guy.”
If anything, horror itself resists that. I think horror stories resist that. We’re happy to, you know, throw canon out the window. The idea that there’s gonna be a logic or that you can identify who’s on your team. That’s, that seems super alien to me. And so when I run into reviews that are like, “well,
Andrew: “this guy was a pervert.
He didn’t say that was bad. So…”
Raquel: or this need for rules. They,
I, I find that audience really, really wants rules and rules to make logical sense, which is pretty fucking weird when you’re dealing with the supernatural.
Andrew: Oh yeah. Like the idea that you can provide a perfect taxonomy. I think that’s also part of sort of, I know you’ve done episodes on this before on Rite Gud, the idea of world building as like, “oh, see, the, these are the rules. Now that we have them we’re safe.” [00:51:00] that’s world builder brain to be like, “well, why did the monster do that?”
Why the fuck should I tell you?
Raquel: Yeah, I, it drove me crazy when I, when I got All of Me published. To make a long story short, it is about a mermaid, but she’s not a fish mermaid, she’s a starfish mermaid. So if you cut one arm off, she grows a new arm and the arm grows into a new her. And people were really mad cuz they said “the clones retain her memories.
And, um, clones don’t actually retain memories of the original.” I’m like, it’s a fucking mermaid! Mermaids aren’t real. I’m sorry. Is this magical fucking self mutilating mermaid story not rational enough for you?
Andrew: Ex Oh
Raquel: the fuck down, man.
Andrew: Also since when are you an expert on starfish bodies? Maybe they do keep memories
in their face. You don’t know man. You
Raquel: It’s a metaphor
Andrew: Yeah. [00:52:00] Just, you just need a big hammer that says “it’s a metaphor.” Smash it around, honestly.
Raquel: I mean, there was, I, I put it in the introduction of the story and people still didn’t understand what it was about.
Andrew: Yeah. No, I think that’s a big, that’s a big part of it , especially horror stories. I think a lot of your fiction leans this way too. It l lends itself to ambiguity. It lends itself to multiplicity. It resists logic, it resists taxonomy, it resists borders. And I mean that’s also why some of the best current horror is queer horror, is diverse horror coming from a lot of new voices and new places because they don’t need to fit into a specific call and response of here’s the moral of my story, here’s how the moral was executed, here’s the summary of why that moral was good.
Thank you for reading this essay that I sold as a story. Horror won’t do that. If anything you might end [00:53:00] up agreeing with the wrong thing. And I mean that’s, that’s the fear, right? That’s you, you might consume some art that doesn’t perfectly match your politics and then you might have to reckon with what that means. And uh, a lot of people don’t want to go down that road. So I think that’s, that’s kind of why I have a lot of hope for horror to keep evolving and keep allowing new genres to bloom within it, including cozy horror, but to absolutely strangle anything that says, “oh, actually I figured it all out.
And, uh, I know exactly what every writer’s thinking at all times. And if a story doesn’t tell me exactly what it’s saying morally, it’s a bad story.”
Yeah, and I think that’s kind of what will keep horror thriving.
Raquel: Let’s hope so.
Andrew: I think so. I mean, it wants to transgress, right? It does, whether that’s good or bad.
People do do a bad job as well. There’s a lot of bad horror fiction as well. It’s not [00:54:00] like it’s all
Raquel: Oh yeah. There’s so much bad
Andrew: There’s so much bad stuff,
Raquel: There’s so much shit.
Andrew: Yeah. And you should be able to make shit. Writing, people creating, people making art. That’s exciting. I just don’t have to like it.
But I can be excited about people making it, and I can be excited about people creating things. I just don’t have to say it’s good.
Andrew: The fact you’re making art is great. What you make, I don’t really care. And I think, horror is gonna say, “I don’t have a solution, but I’m gonna make you look.”
Andrew: And there’s a lot of people who don’t wanna look.
Raquel: So it’s been an hour. We’re winding down. Tell us about your book that’s coming out. The Marigold.
Andrew: Thank you. Yeah. The Marigold is a novel about a city eating itself, kind of based [00:55:00] around a luxury condo tower, speaking of gentrification, that is, filled with a sentient mold. It’s a polyphonic novel. It’s got a lot of different voices, different people all trying to cope with this sort of disease spreading through the city, through the buildings.
The government’s in denial about it. It’s sort of a near future, but it is very grounded, and takes place in Toronto, which is the city I lived in for over a decade. And, you know, I can still see it from my house now, but it is, it’s a novel sort of about, what happens when a communities begins to fail, when the structures of sort of civic society start to fall apart.
And not in a sudden disto, you know, apocalyptic fireball, but in a slow. Grinding, wear and tear of just the every day. It’s about how we build, like you were saying, wealth is built on bodies.
Andrew: wealth is built on literal bodies of the people [00:56:00] who came before. And um, yeah, it’s an exploration of that.
It’s a little bit Cronenberg
Raquel: Yeah, I definitely get Cronenberg vibes
Andrew: Yeah, it
Raquel: What’s that first one he did? Shivers?
Andrew: Yeah, shivers. Exactly. Which also takes place in a tower.
Raquel: Yes, it does.
Andrew: yeah, The Brood, Videodrome. This is very much in a Canadian tradition. It calls out to stuff like, you know, JG Ballard’s High Rise as well. It’s sort of a mistrust of, our own arrogance of trying to build up into the sky.
And yeah, just sort of interrogating the city itself and how, what people are willing to do to survive. Yeah, it’s been kind of a crazy experience to write it. I’m really excited to have it out there in the world. I think it does speak to the current moment, especially in Toronto right now, but also in a lot of other cities.
I started writing it during, actually years before Covid, probably 2017. And then when the pandemic started, I kind of was like, “oh, I should probably stop. The whole world could [00:57:00] change.”
And then after three months I was like, “oh, no, civic irresponsibility, government apathy, people left to kind of fend for themselves.
Yeah, no, no, I, I, I’m gonna continue writing this book.” It’s not a covid book, but the covid thing definitely made me double down twice as hard on like, okay, no, this was going in the right direction. And treating sort of like the city as a body itself too, you know? So yeah, it’s about, what happens when you try to hide the past and, uh, it always comes back.
Raquel: All right. So thanks for coming on and talking about horror.
Andrew: Thanks for having me, Raquel. I always love listening to Rite Gud. And glad we got to chat about this today. I’m looking forward to the next time we have to decide, uh, which TV trope we’re going to eliminate.
I think, uh, Bury Your Gays is probably one of them, but we might also go after stuff that’s just, uh, listed like “father figure” or ” mother” [00:58:00] or
Oh, you mean people, yeah.
Raquel: yeah. What’s amazing is TV Tropes has “happy endings” are a trope, “sad endings” are a trope and “ambiguous endings” are a trope. That, that’s the only three ways you can really end something. How are those all tropes?
Andrew: Yeah, well,
Raquel: Ah, you’ve used the, “this story ends” trope
Andrew: Yeah. No, exactly right. It’s that, it’s that like, ” okay, detective, show us your evidence.” They’re like, “well, the story had a beginning. First of all, let me tell you that.” I think that’s our next step is to slowly, quietly delete every page of TV Tropes.
Raquel: Yeah. We had an episode about that.
Raquel: evils of TV tropes.
Raquel: Anyway, so that’s it. Thank you for coming on, and thank you all for listening. If you like what you heard, head to patreon.com/ritegud and subscribe. Until next time, keep writing good.