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A Point of Pride 2024: An Interview with Rob Costello



What inspired you to start writing?

I’m an only child. When I grew up, I spent a lot of time on my own making up stories. With my legos and stuffed animals, I would while away entire weekends in perfect bliss concocting elaborate dark fantasy worlds involving aliens, ghosts, and monsters. (Godzilla was a particular favorite.) Eventually, the toys disappeared, but the stories stuck around.

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

I think I was programmed as a boy to love horror. My mother was a big slasher fan, and since my parents had questionable judgment and were too cheap to hire a babysitter, whenever a new slasher flick came out that Mom wanted to see, they would bring me with them to the theater or drive-in. She would then lean over and literally cover my eyes during the killings and sex scenes. (Trust me when I say, this was neither effective censorship nor responsible parenting.) Thus, by the time I was nine or ten years old, I was already a slasher movie veteran, having sat through gems like Prom Night, Terror Train, Tourist Trap, When a Stranger Calls, Happy Birthday to Me, Dressed to Kill, My Bloody Valentine, Halloween, and Friday the 13th (parts 1- 3), not to mention non-slasher horror classics like Jaws, The Fog, The Thing, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, The Omen, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane, and ‘Salem’s Lot. All those horror movies gave me a ton of nightmares as a kid, but they also taught me to be thrilled and fascinated by what lurks in the dark.

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

Always. I mean, it’s pretty much all I’m interested in writing about anyway. To be honest, I would be bored AF writing about straight characters. Let the straight folks tell their own stories! That’s not my job. Since I mostly write for and about queer young people (YA and adult/YA crossover), I feel a responsibility to portray the dark side of the queer teen experience in a way that is as authentic, complex, and nuanced as possible. These days, writing about queer trauma has largely fallen out of fashion in kids’ lit in favor of “Queer Joy” narratives. I completely understand and support the reasons for this. For far too long, the only stories available that featured young queer characters were about bullying, suicide, and kids who suffered for being different. The backlash to the ubiquity of those kinds of narratives was long overdue, and yet… Queer trauma still exists. There are still queer and trans kids dealing with a lot of ugly, painful shit. Especially in YA, horror has become a safe space to explore those experiences as a reader. And so that’s what I try to offer. I think for a lot of queer and trans kids, stories about hope, love, and acceptance can feel like cruel lies when those qualities are precisely what they lack in their everyday lives. At least, that’s how it felt for me at that age. (Only back then there were hardly any books about queer teens at all. We’ve come a long way!)

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

In a weird way, I think horror has taught me to be a more hopeful person. I’m deeply cynical by nature, and left to my own devices I can easily doom spiral about climate change, the return of fascism, or the way technology has eroded social cohesion. The world is a horror story right now—and yet, there is something so elemental and powerful about the struggle to survive at the heart of most horror stories. It’s a reminder to me that life is always worth fighting for, no matter how dark and despairing things get.

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

Horror has evolved in so many interesting and satisfying ways, but the most gratifying (and overdue) change has been the growth in representation. It’s finally starting to feel like there’s room at the table for everyone. Though there’s obviously still a long way to go, the breadth and quality of the work this change has produced is stunning to me. That’s the thing: Quite apart from the necessary arguments about fairness, equity, and inclusion, the simple fact of the matter is that greater diversity has yielded MUCH. BETTER. BOOKS. This is a hill I will absolutely die on. As far as the future goes, I hope this trend continues. I will also add that coming from the kid’s lit world, which remains firmly entrenched in the traditional publishing model, I’ve been gratified and excited to see how small presses and indie publishing thrive in the horror field. As corporate publishing continues to cannibalize itself for profits, I believe the future of books lies increasingly in the indie space, and horror is blazing that trail.

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?

My first exposure to queer protagonists in any fiction was in 90’s horror, in the books of Anne Rice, Clive Barker, Dennis Cooper, and Billy Martin (writing as Poppy Z. Brite). I feel like horror was provocatively queer long before pretty much any other genre. In fact, to me, horror has always been the queerest of genres. Horror stories are innately transgressive. They revolve around concepts of the Other, the outsider, and the conflict between what’s perceived as “normal” and safe versus what’s abnormal, dangerous, and corrupt. For most of our existence, queer and trans folks have been forced to live on the fringes of society, where we were treated as the Other, and considered abnormal, dangerous, and corrupt. So I think a lot queer and trans readers feel a natural affinity for horror fiction since our very existence has always been, in some sense, equally transgressive. Given the tremendous popularity of queer YA horror today, I think the appetite for queer representation across the genre will continue to grow as Gen Z and Gen Alpha mature.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

Alter and Frankie from Aden Polydoros’ queer YA horror masterpiece, The City Beautiful, one of my favorite novels of the past decade. This book has everything going for it: It’s a gorgeously written coming-of-age story; a searing exploration of the Jewish Diaspora and the trauma of antisemitism; a meticulously researched historical saga set at the turn of the last century; a moving chronicle of found family and the struggle of immigrants to achieve the American dream; a riveting thriller about a sadistic killer stalking the Chicago World’s Fair; and a spine- tingling tale of possession rooted in Jewish folklore. But most of all, it’s a swoon-worthy romance between these two lonely outcasts who find each other under the most dire of circumstances and fall madly in love. I can’t possibly recommend this book highly enough!

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

As a member of the HWA’s Diverse Works Inclusion Committee, I take every opportunity I can to evangelize for queer YA horror. I worry that not enough writers of adult horror pay attention to what’s happening in the kid’s lit space. I think that’s a mistake. Kids-lit horror writers are building the horror audience of tomorrow, and they’re doing a damn fine job of it! Though I can’t possibly name everyone, here are some queer YA horror writers that I encourage all the horror lovers reading this to familiarize themselves with: Kalynn Bayron, Jessica Lewis, Trang Thanh Tran, Ryan La Sala, Andrew Joseph White, Erica Waters, Justina Ireland, Claire Legrand, Vincent Tirado, Rin Chupeco, Alex Brown, and, of course, Aden Polydoros.

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

The future of horror looks bright—so long as the country does not descend into a right-wing hellscape of censorship and Christo-fascism. My advice to every horror writer, therefore, is to get a hell of a lot more politically active. The book banners are coming for kids books right now, but they’ll be coming for your books next. Trust me, they consider horror just as obscene as Gender Queer: A Memoir. I encourage everyone in the horror community to closely follow what’s happening with book banning across the country. Book Riot’s “Literary Activism” Substack is a great place to start.

Use your voice, your platform, and your wallet to support the organizations on the front lines in this battle, such as Red, Wine, and Blue; EveryLibrary; We Need Diverse Books; the Author’s Guild; and Pen America. (I realize there’s a lot of anger right now about Pen America’s Gaza response, but they remain a powerful and influential voice in the fight against censorship here at home.)

Join Author’s Against Book Bans and follow what’s happening in your local community on school and library boards. Be prepared to attend those board meetings to protest censorship policies and organize against pro-censorship candidates.

We need to fight for everyone’s right to read because they will absolutely take it away from us if we let them!

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

Don’t be afraid to tell the stories you want to tell the way you want to tell them. This may sound trite, but it took me most of my adult life to figure it out. Your first and most important reader is yourself. Write the stories you want to read, and your audience will find them. I think that’s solid, basic advice for all writers, honestly. But it’s especially important for queer and trans writers who often feel extra pressure to soften their edges and suppress their identity in order to appeal to the widest possible audience. But the truth is, readers crave authenticity and originality. If the success of queer horror writers like Eric LaRocca, Hailey Piper, and Gretchen Felker-Martin has proven anything in recent years, it’s that being true to your own vision can sell a lot of books. So, let your freak flag fly and show us what you’ve got!

Rob Costello (he/him) writes contemporary and dark speculative fiction with a queer bent for and about young people. He’s the contributing editor of the YA dark speculative anthology We Mostly Come Out at Night: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures (Running Press Teens, 2024), as well as the author of the adult/YA crossover dark fiction story collection The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times (Lethe Press, 2024). His debut young adult novel, An Ugly World for Beautiful Boys, is forthcoming from Lethe Press in April of 2025. His stories have appeared in The Dark, The NoSleep Podcast, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hunger Mountain, Stone Canoe, Narrative, and Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America (Candlewick, 2020). An alumnus of the Millay Colony of the Arts, he holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and has served on the faculty of the Highlights Foundation since 2014. He is a co-founder (with Lesa Cline-Ransome, Jo Knowles, and Jennifer Richard Jacobson) of the R(ev)ise and Shine! writing community, and he lives in upstate NY with his husband and their four-legged overlords. Learn more at: www.cloudbusterpress.com, www.revise-and-shine.com, and at @cloudbusterpress on Instagram.

One comment on “A Point of Pride 2024: An Interview with Rob Costello

  1. Thanks for the interview! I’ve been a horror fan since I saw “Night Gallery” in Grade
    School. a show which eventually inspired me to try writing stories myself. I’ll plug Rob’s new anthology “We Mostly Come Out At Night..”

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