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A Point of Pride 2024: An Interview with Michael G. Williams

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What inspired you to start writing?

I grew up in Appalachia in a family where storytelling was highly prized. I can’t count the number of hours I spent hearing relatives and neighbors tell stories, some true, some maybe not so true but entertaining all the same. From a very early age, I wanted to participate in creating and telling stories, and books were the form that I could practice in private. My childhood hometown was something of a cultural desert: we had four TV channels on a clear night, one country station, one rock station, a circular rack of comic books at the gas station, a single-screen movie theater in town, and that was about it. We had great public libraries, though, and every trip to a place with a mall meant a bookstore all to myself. Also, frankly, my parents were very conservative evangelicals with some exceptionally firm opinions about the dangers of popular culture, but books were something they wholeheartedly endorsed. They actively engaged in reading and encouraged us to do so as well. By the standards of the wider world, my parents were dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists, but by the standards of that community at that time they were fairly progressive and thought of themselves as being intellectually active and open-minded. They were both very intelligent and valued education. Ultimately I think they gave books a pass in part because they enjoyed them so much themselves and in part because a kid with a book is quiet. Heh.

What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?

To some degree because I’d been told so many times that I, myself, must be a monster just by being queer. I realized fairly early on that was not true and was able to create a little pocket of self-acceptance in my heart of hearts, but that message was repeated at top volume for many years and it was impossible to tune out. Rather than making me hate myself, though, it made me fascinated by the power of monstrosity. I read Dracula for the first time in 6th grade and instantly found the Count as seductive as he was terrifying. Time and again, story after story, book after book, I found myself much more drawn to the monsters. A very important part of my development was realizing the monster was simply someone who decided to pursue what they wanted despite everyone telling them it was wrong. That really resonated. The louder everyone else in the story condemned the monsters for pursuing their true natures, the more I hoped the monster might win out in the end. Also, horror is fun and healthy! I love the wonder and hope of science fiction, and I love the grim what-ifs of sci fi/horror blends, but the thing I love most is the thrill of something truly awful and deeply traumatizing happening and characters living to fight again another day. I love the anticipation of knowing something lurks in the shadows and that maybe if I have enough garlic and learn how to fight back I’ll survive. On one level it’s a good thrill, and on another level, it validates the real experience many of us have of being deeply afraid: of society, of political whims, of those who are supposed to care for us but can’t or won’t or simply fail. I think many more of us than are comfortable admitting it go through life waiting for the trap door to open beneath us, and horror tells us that we’re not alone in that feeling and that we’re not wrong to feel afraid.

Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?

Yes. I never want to tell a story about people who are not queer. I want queerness at the heart and in every vein of everything I write. I love to tell stories of people who are on the outside looking in and who find each other and realize their shifted perspective is a source of strength rather than a burden. I love writing books about people who think community, society, friendship, love, and all the good forms of connections between people, are totally unavailable to them and who then stumble directly into the messiest, most validating relationships possible. In my experience, queer people must make our own communities, we must make our own families, we must make our own meaning, our own place to be meaningful, our own bubble of love and safety, and I always try to reflect that in everything I write. I penned an entire series about a curmudgeonly gay vampire whose biggest lesson was learned over five books, the thing that most surprises him, is that it’s OK for him to be a little vulnerable and to make some friends. Horror holds a special place for characters who can see and speak the truths no one else can bear. In the real world, queer people are often the only ones who can see and speak the truth about something because we are outside the prison of propriety. I don’t just try to include LGBTQIA+ people, I feel like horror without us is impossibly inauthentic and unconvincing.

What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?

Survival takes work and that work can be joyful. It was a revelation when as a young person I realized I could live as a gay man and no bolts of divine retribution would rain from the sky. What really knocked my socks off, however, were stories where people faced anguish and ruin, true devastation, and reveled in their unwillingness to die quietly. Here I’m thinking of scenes such as the end of Aliens. Ripley gets in that power loader because she has to, because it’s the only possible chance she has to make it out alive, but she also feels real satisfaction in finally getting to fight back. Horror taught me there is real joy in surviving, both in watching one’s enemies fail and in seeing the sunrise tomorrow side by side with those we love. It also taught me we don’t get either of those by sitting around and waiting for them to happen. I think horror fueled my desire to be an activist on behalf of queer equality and my desire to enjoy the results of our communities’ work over time.

How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?

I grew up reading and watching horror in which truly grotesque scenes and horrifying events (the creature from The Thing, the alien takeover in They Live, countless camp counselors sliced to ribbons because they went skinny-dipping) were paired with the high psychological cost of being paid after (Louis’ entire story in Interview with the Vampire, for instance). There have always been people who leaned more toward one or the other, but it feels like the horror genre has started to untangle those two things more formally. Now we see people going all-in on writing the grossest possible scenes of gory body horror and others going just as deep into the inky waters of processing grief and trauma, and I love that for us. What a joy to be writing and reading at a time when writers are supported and even invited to indulge our deepest fears, to dig up and expose the parts of ourselves we are most afraid to explore. Personally, I’m one of the “three scoops of emotional trauma in a waffle cone, please” writers, but I love that it all exists. I see horror as a game of truth or dare between the writer and the reader. Truth? What are you worried has eaten your soul? Dare? Let’s find the line between what’s fun and what’s too much and I’ll dare you to step over it. I love the many subgenres that have evolved—or been renewed, or kept quietly alive—to keep playing that game with each other. I love the resurgence of weird horror, and the way cosmic horror has been rescued and revived, I love all of it. I think we’re going to see more subgenres develop with their own rules, their own tropes and taboos, and that people are going to go deeper into the darkness in pursuit of the sources of each, and it thrills me to no end.

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?

Like any other genre, we are best represented in horror when we tell the stories ourselves. I don’t think it’s impossible for non-LGBTQIA+ writers to get us right, but I think the truest stories, the ones that mean the most to us, can only be told by us. I hope more queer writers turn to horror as a place to talk about the good and the bad of being queer. I think it affords us a unique space for getting things out we might not want to say in front of people otherwise: things we want to confess about our own experiences, our own choices, things we fear about what being queer might mean for us, and to talk about how every queer person alive has had to survive the trauma of living in a cishet society already, how strong we are, how brave we are, and how we’ve had to choose to be those things. My hope is more queer horror writers and more queer horror readers so we can converse with one another—across miles, across years, across generations—about what queerness means to each of us and what we have built with it collectively.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

I’ll go right to the meat of things and say Louis and Lestat from Interview with the Vampire are the first ones to spring to mind. I love what a complete and utter dumpster fire they are and how true that feels. I love how they know they are in constant danger and they choose to go out in the world and invite the world in and run all the risks of each regardless. I also love Nell and Theo in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. It may not be a particularly empowering depiction of queerness, but just stumbling into obviously queer characters was such a pleasant surprise they’ve stuck with me. Last ones I’ll mention: Joe and George from You’re Killing Me. It’s one part slasher movie, one part queer rom-com, and I love everything about it. George is played by the hilarious Jeffrey Self, and Matthew McKelligon is just amazing as his new boyfriend Joe. I love this movie so much, and it indulges some very impolite feelings I sometimes feel towards straight society in a major way.

Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?

One of my favorite books of the last five years is Zin E. Rocklyn’s Flowers for the Sea, eco/body/cosmic horror about the personal traumas to be faced at the end of the world. Just an astounding work beautifully written by a queer author. I also think everyone should read Nicole Kurtz’s Sisters of the Wild Sage, which is a weird west/horror novel by way of anthology about generations of women tangling with the supernatural and mundane forces arrayed against them in the desert of New Mexico. I cannot overstate how much I love that book. And of course everyone—and I mean everyone—needs to read Clive Barker. The first time I ever saw queer sex celebrated in horror was in his story In the Hills, the Cities. No one can write a better short story than Barker, for my money.

What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?

It’s possible to see the ongoing growth and blossom of new branches of horror as a kind of fracturing, and to think that’s restrictive. It isn’t! It’s liberating! Read horror you think you might not enjoy. Try writing horror outside your comfort zone. Learn from it and keep experimenting. Revel in the power we have to shock or frighten audiences into paying attention to what we have to say. I’m also going to steal from Anne Rice (who doesn’t?) and say, write the story that scares you. Excavate the parts of yourself that are most frighteningly personal and mine them for stories, because those are the ones that will ring with emotional truth. Readers will immediately connect with the raw honesty of the stories that result, and they will remember that forever. I’m shopping a book around now that is basically about issues with my upbringing. Some of it is terrifyingly personal and embarrassing, and every alpha reader so far has said something specifically about the emotional truth of those elements. I was so scared to write this book and now, as I revise it, I am exceptionally proud.

And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?

You—I don’t mean y’all and I don’t mean we and I don’t mean some indefinite one, I mean you have had a completely unique experience of the world. The odds are pretty good it has at times been deeply unpleasant and at times unspeakably uplifting and empowering. You’re the only one who can talk about either of those. Luxuriate in spinning stories out of both of them and everything between. Revenge fantasy? Horror welcomes you. Redemption arc? Horror welcomes you. Tired of everyone thinking you’re a monster when you’re just trying to get by? Horror welcomes you. Woke up with a head full of ideas you know would scare the straights? Horror welcomes you. This is home. This is the place where we can kick our shoes off and let it all hang out. Every last one of us is worried we’re a freak, and horror loves us for it.


Michael G. Williams writes queer horror and sci-fi about outsiders finding their people, including Perishables (Laine Cunningham Award), A Fall in Autumn (Manly Wade Wellman Award), and Through the Doors of Oblivion. He’s a Trustee of the NC Writers Network and a member of the North Carolina chapter of HWA. Michael lives in Durham, NC, with his husband and a variety of animals. You can find him online at michaelgwilliamsbooks.com, on Facebook, and Bluesky.

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