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A Point of Pride 2024: An Interview With Christian Baines

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What inspired you to start writing?
Being able to realize the worlds and people in my head. Books always played a huge part in my childhood and I grew up in a place where imagination wasn’t really encouraged, much less queerness, so it was kind of a natural path.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
The lure of the forbidden! Horror was always a no-go zone in our churches and schools. At the same time, my family forbade anything to do with the occult, but they encouraged me to read anything Gothic or based on Victorian horror. So, I’ve had a weird, contradictory relationship with the whole genre. As I started accepting and exploring my queerness and rejecting some of the dogma I grew up with horror was one of the first things I explored, consuming as much as I could. None of my friends were into it, so alongside my sexuality, horror felt like this secret journey I was on. I put a lot of that into Zach’s story in My Cat’s Guide to Online Dating. I had no idea how many others were on that same journey! I was living in a smallish city in Australia, going through the isolation of coming out, and queer horror groups on the internet were not a thing. It’s a bit melancholic, looking back and thinking how that experience could have been shared and how great that would have been, but at the same time, it was really a way to forge my own path and aesthetic, especially as I was starting to write more seriously.

Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what
do you want to portray?
One of my goals is to get queer folks into stories and genres where we’re not usually welcome. The action genre? Hugely homoerotic, but we’re probably not going to see Scott Adkins making out with Kris Van Damme after fighting their way through an army of goons any time soon (though I’m putting it out into the universe just in case). So, I want to help change that, and horror at last is coming around. Including LGBTQ+ material per se isn’t hard. LGBTQ+ culture and gaze though, is a bit harder. When you’re writing about a community that isn’t your own, there are always nuances and cultural connections, and concerns that don’t necessarily register with people outside that community. Legal rights or not, every queer person has checked to see if it’s safe at least once before showing affection in public. Every trans or NB person has questioned about how they ‘present’ before going out. How a lesbian might view the world is very different from a bisexual man, and so on. It’s important to think about your character’s lens and gaze in that way. There’s more to it than putting LGBTQ+ characters into archetypes that weren’t built for them. But then, queering and reworking those archetypes is fun too.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
To be brave, ask questions, and trust my gut, particularly about people. People are hugely problematic almost by nature, and horror gives us this wonderful license to explore that and find out how we really feel about certain types of people or behavior. There’s an honesty to it because fear is incredibly honest. I suppose it helped me learn how to cut through bullshit.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will
continue to evolve?
I’m the worst person to ask this question because I’m a slow reader with a terribly low consumption rate when it comes to new books. It’s been amazing to see horror come back to the movies, more profitable than ever, including queers, with no sign of slowing down. It’s horror movies that consistently get people out to theatres, and they’re firmly in the hands of the independents, which has been wonderful for creative output. Literature doesn’t seem to have followed suit, outside the specialty presses. A horror scene, even in a paranormal novel can still come as a shock. Skin, which is the most outright ‘horror’ of my books has been far and away my most divisive child. Publishers don’t even like the word horror, which is very different from when I’d comb the bookstore as a kid and see all these (forbidden, of course) horror paperbacks that people snapped up. I’d love to see it come back, but I’m not holding my breath on mainstream publishing doing that, or that it would be a good thing if it did.

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?
‘Representation’ to me is like a starting point, not an end. It’s not enough to just tick off the boxes with these plain, inoffensive queer characters as several big shows are doing right now. To me, that feels timid, dishonest, and most of all, BORING, especially in horror, where exploring dark places is the whole point. Queerness or transness used to be shorthand for moral decay or a mark for death. That’s not really the case anymore. There’s enough healthy rep out there that it’s okay to kill off LGBTQ+ characters sometimes, especially where you have a lot of them, or a lot of other characters dying. Likewise, LGBTQ+ villains. The biggest, most important thing is to make them interesting! If they’re going to be problematic, explore the reasons why. One of the characters in my newest book Tears in Time is a gay trans man who becomes a serious threat to my main (ostensibly gay cis male) character, but his being trans is never the issue. He doesn’t agonize over his gender journey. He’s got a much bigger bone to pick, and it leads him on this complex, morally grey trip through his own fears, desires, and potential. Bottom line, writing advice 101: Don’t be timid or boring in your representations!

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
I’ve got to shout out J. P. Jackson’s books here, which are packed with queer, mostly cis male characters and explore some pretty grisly themes (also, hot!). The first queer characters in a horror novel that hit me hard (you wanna talk problematic?) were the four main guys in Poppy Z Brite’s Exquisite Corpse. That book is like the best aspects of Dennis Cooper and James Robert Baker rolled into one thrilling stomach-churner, but the way Brite explores each man’s pain, post-AIDS rage, isolation, and a need for connection, still resonates all these years later. I also love the protagonist in Christos Tsiolkas’ ghost thriller Dead Europe. Maybe I’m drawn to more complicated, problematic characters. I’m okay with that. We’re complicated, problematic animals.

Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Besides the above, Rick R. Reed’s horror novels are terrific. I’d also put Michael Rowe up there, and possibly my favorite, Lee Thomas.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
I feel presumptuous even answering this, so perhaps the same as I’d give any author? Read widely and read in genres that aren’t your own and that interest you. It’s important to know what you want to emulate, but you also need to work out your own style. Don’t sweat bad reviews (they’re better than none!), don’t respond to them, and talk about books and authors you love (never what you hate). You have no idea where this path is going to take you, so be nice and stay authentic. We’re most of us introverts with crippling imposter syndrome and anxiety, so don’t let that hold you back.

And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you
give them?
Queer fiction has never been bigger, even though its spaces (queer bookstores, awards…) seem to be shrinking or disappearing. There are huge differences between different kinds of LGBTQ+ fiction that impacts expectations and the way they’re marketed. MM Romance for example is a hugely different beast to Queer Fiction. Find out what you’re passionate about writing and focus your attention on that, rather than trying to catch all audiences.


Christian Baines is an awkward nerd turned slightly less awkward author. Raised on dark humor and powered by New Zealand wine, he is the author of seven novels including the paranormal series The Arcadia Trust, Puppet Boy, Skin, and My Cat’s Guide to Online Dating. Born in Australia, he now travels the world whenever possible, living and writing in Toronto, Canada between trips.

 

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