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A Point of Pride: An Interview with Laramie Dean



What inspired you to start writing?

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, from the moment I first learned to read. After I realized I could (and then did, all the time, voraciously), I decided I wanted to write my own stories. I started reading Stephen King at an obscenely young age—it was the 80s; I think there are lots more kids like me who cut our fangs on It and The Tommyknockers—and when he sent me an autographed copy of the Cycle of the Werewolf/Silver Bullet screenplay when I was eight, that was it. I had to be a writer. My mom gifted me a typewriter for Christmas that year and I was off to the spooky races.

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

It isn’t exactly that I like to be scared, though that’s a part of it; I know I’ve always enjoyed the thrill of the reveal, the monster’s true face, learning what actually haunts that old mansion or hotel or quaint New England village, or even the tear-away monster mask in a Scooby Doo episode. The appeal of the horror genre for me is that moment when the mundane world slips away and I’m transported to a place where there really are vampires, werewolves, witches. As a queer kid growing up in a remote town in rural Eastern Montana—my graduating class size was ten—horror fiction offered the ability to escape from my classmates and the townspeople who didn’t understand me. I was the weirdo; I stuck out. I read, for god’s sake. For fun. So of course I began to identify with the monsters in the books and movies I devoured.

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

Oh, absolutely. I started writing a story when I was a senior in high school, back in the late 90s, about a young woman—a high schooler in a small Eastern Montana town, like me—who is betrayed by the boy she loves, turns to witchcraft, and hijinks of the deadly variety ensue. But of course, what I really wanted was to write about a boy who falls in love with a boy who leaves him for a girl, and witchcraft-y hijinks ensue. But I didn’t think I could; there were no books like that. Like, anywhere. So I did what I always do, which is to do what I want anyway. That’s how I wrote my novel Witch Bones, which tells that story the way I wanted to tell it in the first place. I tell my students all the time to write the story you want to read that you can’t find. It’s gratifying now to see that the world of LGBTQ horror has blown up; it’s a really exciting time to be a writer. Now that I’m officially in my mid-40s, I want to explore what scares gay men in middle age. There still aren’t a ton of stories out there like that. Death of a partner, infidelity, changing metabolism, mortgages, colonoscopies for the luvva god—scary enough on their own, but what happens when you view them through the lens of a horror narrative? It’s going to be super fun to find out.

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

Writing horror fiction has taught me what an exciting place the world is. It’s also taught me the beauty of metaphor; as problematic as Joss Whedon is, Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught me a ton about how to use real-world problems and turn them into horror stories. Addiction, partner abuse, death of a family member, evil boyfriends. What’s the real kernel of terror beneath the boogeyman you’ve created? What really scares you? That’s what makes your story identifiable, even if your audience has never really fought an army of the living dead. I’ve started making lists of my own personal bugaboos, especially since, as I said, I’ve reached middle age; there are some doozies on there. Great material to mine.

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

Horror writers who grew up in the 80s obviously loved, or at the very least, felt the influence of Stephen King. You couldn’t avoid him. And King was writing during and after the surge of pulp horror from the 70s and 80s, those paperbacks that had amazing covers but very little in the way of memorable (or well-written, I suppose) stories inside. We’ve moved on from them, for the most part, and part of that we owe to King, and his ability to create believable, heart-breaking characters and situations within some seemingly silly structures (Christine seems unutterably goofy to me as a concept, but, haunted car or not, boy do those characters toy with my heartstrings!). I just re-read The Shining for the bazillionth time—what a beautiful, horrifying treatise on alcoholism, addiction, and partner-family assault! That epilogue gets me every single time. I’m a huge fan of Rachel Harrison, author of The Return. She understands how to use real-world terrors and turn them into a ghost story, a witch story, or something with werewolves that feels new or unfamiliar, which is quite a trick. There’s more room at the

table now: stories by women for women about women’s experiences, or by trans authors, or by people of color, or by queer writers. Or by all the above. It’s very, very exciting. And gratifying.

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?

As a Stephen King fan, it is very difficult to return to some—most—of his earlier works because their depictions of queer characters leave much to be desired. (Check out the fate of poor George Middler in ‘Salem’s Lot.) It’s painful, especially because he was so influential. Fortunately, a lot has changed, even in the last decade. We get to be the heroes! We get to save the day! Or destroy the world; it doesn’t have to be all fluffy-bunnies either. Look at Conner Habib’s Hawk Mountain, which . . . well, “horrifying” isn’t a strong enough word. It’s glorious in its horror. I want there to be evil queer characters and complicated queer characters and monstrous queer characters. I want loyal and brave and strong and true queer characters to face off against them. I want the entire variety pack; I want the spectrum of the human experience but I also want monsters. Wicked queer monsters and the Clive Barker kind from Nightbreed. I want it all.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

Theodora -no last name given- from Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House is the gold standard for me. She highly influenced the character I named after her in my novel Black Forest. I remember how thrilled I was reading Peter Straub’s Koko in high school and realizing that Tim Underhill was queer and not a murderer or a monster or a victim. In my one-person show Othernatural I performed at the Left Out Fest in 2009, I conceived a section about Lestat and Louis and Armand of The Vampire Chronicles and their impact on my coming out entitled “Anne Rice Made me Gay.” I’m a big fan of Rainbow Rowell’s Simon Snow and Baz the Vampire from Carry On. Conner Habib’s Hawk Mountain is beautiful and horrifying. Our Share of Night by Mariana Enriquez contains an exciting, well-drawn queer father character in Juan, one of the book’s many protagonists. I owe a lot to LeFanu’s Carmilla.

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

Conner Habib, Steve Berman, Michael Rowe, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Alison Rumfitt, Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite.

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

Scare the hell out of us.

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

Write what you want to read. Read everything. Read new stuff; read the classics. Don’t stop. Don’t be afraid to tell your stories. You’re a world of stories; tell them all. No one does it like you.

Laramie Dean is a Montana writer of queer horror fiction and the director of theatre at Hellgate High School in Missoula. He has recently published several plays from Theatrefolk, including Dracula, Frankenstein Among the Dead, and Finding Jo March, a queered adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. Laramie’s first novel, Black Forest, a queer Montana horror story, is available now from Inkshares. You can find him on his website at bylaramiedean.com and on Instagram at bylaramiedean.

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