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A Point of Pride 2024: An Interview With Amabilis O’Hara

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What inspired you to start writing?
I have no idea, I just know that I’ve always done it. My first “book” was written in a five-year-old scrawl. I don’t recall what inspired me to tell the tale of a dinosaur town threatened by storms, but I can still visualize the amorphous illustrations I drew in pen. I’m quite certain one T-rex blob wore a birthday hat.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
For years, I avoided horror because my life was horror enough as a child and young adult. I was that teenager in the movie theater who stuck my fingers in my ears and sang la-la-la with my eyes shut, desperately trying not to tip into hyper-vigilance as my friends laughed at the jumpscares.
However, when I started writing as an adult, horror poured out of me. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I was simply compelled by my own curiosity to capture, vivisect, and display my own experiences and emotions in creative ways. It turns out I’ve got plenty of fears and memories to mine for inspiration. I am innately driven to poke and prod at the things that scare me, so I can understand and challenge them, ultimately robbing them of their power over me.
There’s also so much courage and vulnerability in peeling back our skins to see what wriggles away from the light of our awareness. I want to cradle those soft, exposed terrors and hurts between my fingers, coil them in a knot over the hook of my syntax, and cast them out into the world to see what connection I can catch.

Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
Yes! I enjoy writing about queer people overcoming adversity to find joy, like narratives of found family where queer characters get happily ever afters. In my horror, though, I most often am drawn to portraying messy, hurting humans who don’t give up even when they find themselves facing a doomed end. I love flawed protagonists who struggle, fail, and learn to give themselves grace anyway.
I also want to portray how insidious and abusive shame is, regardless of whether it comes from others, or from inside ourselves. I want my words to convey how pushing us to internalize their hate is how people with malicious and bigoted intent get so many of us to erase ourselves for them. I don’t ever want to succumb to that sense of fear and worthlessness again. I’m not going to do anyone else’s dirty work by hurting or devaluing myself anymore. I hope that I can write counter-narratives of resistance and pride that will inspire others to keep going, even when the people who should love and cherish them shame or harm them, instead.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Horror made me realize I can take all of my trauma lemons and get paid to squeeze them into other people’s eyes. I genuinely hope they enjoy the second-hand suffering. I also learned that I often twist my difficult experiences into humor as a way to cope and offload strong emotion, because critiquers have pointed out that tendency toward levity in some of my horror. As for the world, this may come across as a little pessimistic and a dash despondent, but writing horror has reinforced my sense that the world is more strange and terrible than any story. To me, narratives are often the shadows cast by very real suffering, anguish, and agony. It’s true they can also come from places of joy, and hope, but I think with horror, the focus remains on the tragedy, violence, fear, disgust, and discomfort experienced in people’s lives.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
Because I came late to horror, I don’t have a ton of detailed knowledge to draw on as I answer this. I often feel like I’m a wannabe, not understanding references, and frantically playing an impossible game of catch-up with others who’ve been consuming and creating horror media for decades. That said, within my lifetime I’ve seen a general media shift, including horror, toward publishers and audiences wanting more diverse authors, characters, narratives, and points of view. There are so many kids shows now with positive portrayals of queer folx like Dead End: Paranormal Park, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, The Legend of Korra, and Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts, that simply weren’t around or accessible to me when I was growing up. I think horror has also followed that trajectory, with more narratives centering queer characters who are humanized and three-dimensional, not just the queer-coded two-dimensional villains of my youth or monster-fodder extras to be violently killed off. I have no idea what the future of horror holds, but I know I’d love to see more narratives that include explorations and portrayals of transformative justice.

How do you feel the LGBTQ community has been represented thus far in the genre and what hopes do you have for representation in the genre going forward?
It’s for film, not literature, and it’s been a while since I read it, but a great resource is Queer Screams: A History of LGBTQ+ Survival Through the Lens of American Horror Cinema by Abigail Waldron. I highly recommend checking that out because it’s a lot more nuanced, well-researched, and engagingly presented than I could hope to be. I will quickly say that, from what I understand of history versus what I know of the horror shows around now, queer representation in film has gone from being legally restricted to only existing in subtext because of the Hays Code to modern characters having their identities, and sometimes also their relationships, openly and explicitly confirmed within narratives. I’m not sure if the Hays Code was only for film, or if there was similar legislation for books. I do think ongoing current book bans threaten queer representation and I wish more people would become aware of them and fight them. I am, however, grateful for all of the lovely queer representation I’ve found in indie horror books and even some mainstream shows. My hope is that more Own Voices stories will be given chances in the spotlight and that more cisgender, straight, and white creatives will put in the effort to research and avoid harmful tropes when creating authentic characters for queer representation from different cultures, backgrounds, and identities.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
It’s a kids show, but I think Barney from Dead End: Paranormal Park is one of my favorite LGBTQ2S characters in horror because he is someone I desperately wish I’d seen representation-wise as a kid. Seeing an overtly acknowledged, not just queer-coded, gay trans protagonist that resonated strongly with me would have been a game changer. Witnessing Barney’s interactions with his family made me get misty-eyed and soothed a grief that has been aching in my inner child for a long time.

Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
My brain is always blue screens with overwhelmed when I’m asked for recommendations, so I’ll stick to a few things I’ve read recently. I’m a big poetry fan and recommend Beautiful Malady: Poems by Ennis Rook Bashe from Interstellar Flight Press. It was a powerful collection that conveyed a lot of emotion with respect to chronic illness and disability. I also read a few things from Rae Wilde that I enjoyed over the past year, too, including The Stradivarius and Merciless Waters from Brigids Gate Press. These aren’t authors per se, but I’m always trying to acknowledge and boost presses whose books I like, so I’ve also really enjoyed the stories of queer authors published by Cursed Morsels, Medusa Publishing Haus, and Tenebrous Press.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Writing can be such a vulnerable and intimate endeavor. Even when we write in a genre like horror, meant to explore and invoke fear and discomfort, it’s easy for me to start self-censoring. When that happens, I remind myself: “Life is short. Write whatever brings you joy and catharsis. Write whatever makes you cackle with unholy glee. If there’s something ridiculous, shocking, or vulnerable you want to put on the page, and you notice your brain questioning if you should, take that idea and feed it cookies.”

And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
**Disclaimer: this is not legal advice and take action based on the following at your own risk. I am not a lawyer, and I am not your lawyer.**
Note: While many editors will be happy to alter contracts for you, some may get miffed by the following. If they do, you probably don’t want to be working with them anyway. 🙂
Put some time into learning the legal side of publishing contracts. An acceptance is no guarantee of publication until there’s a contract signed, and even then projects can be canceled. Don’t be afraid of asking publishers to add a rights reversion clause or to send editors a bullet point list of: “Hi, just checking that these are the rights you’re asking for and that some version of x, y, and z are (or could be included) in your contract before I say yes to this acceptance.”
Even if the draw of an acceptance is tempting, your work is precious and you deserve to know you’ll retain the rights to sell your work either: 1) elsewhere as a reprint and/or podcast after the exclusivity period is up, or 2) as an original story to a new market after the period stipulated by the rights reversal clause times out, assuming it’s not published by the one that accepted it within the timeframe stated in the contract.
You, your words, and your rights all matter. Protect them by researching and understanding standard industry contracts.

 


Amabilis O’Hara writes speculative fiction & poetry inspired by emotional connection and eir experiences as a geoscientist. Ey also writes more subversive works under the pseudonym Dex Drury. Find em at www.amabilisohara.com or @AmabilisOHara on social media.

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