A Point of Pride: Interview with Damian Serbu
Damian Serbu is an author of gay horror/speculative fiction. After over twenty years of teaching history at the collegiate level, he now writes full time. He lives in the Chicagoland area with his husband and two dogs. You can find him at www.DamianSerbu.com, or keep up with his latest ramblings at https://twitter.com/DamianSerbu and https://www.facebook.com/damian.serbu.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was inspired to write because of the stories running around in my head! For as long as I can remember, I created fictional narratives and characters in my mind. I found the process exciting and a release from everyday life. Over time, I came to see these ideas as having the potential to become novels. I began by writing for myself. Over time, I let a couple people see my stuff and began to edit based on their recommendations. It was a while before that blossomed into an attempt to publish anything. I discovered that these internal conversations were a way to express my opinions about the world, humanity, human emotion – you name it – and so it became a passion to release them to the world.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I love the creative expression of horror writing. I find horror liberating in a way other genres don’t allow. With horror, there are no rules about what can or cannot happen! The notion of generating a unique monster, plague, demon, or source of evil fascinates me. I wonder what caused the horror to exist. And I ponder how people can over come it. I also think horror writing prompts a writer to get into the raw emotion of being human and in community. Fear is such a base human emotion and at the center of so much of what we think and do. Horror digs into that feeling to reveal the soul of a person.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
I cannot fathom writing without LGBTQIA+ material in my writing. I never have written without such a component and can’t imagine I ever will. And what do I want to portray? I want to portray reality. I want the LGBTQIA+ characters to reflect our society – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I want people in the community to relate to my stories, to have a way to see themselves in a story when that can be otherwise hard to find. Growing up, LGBTQIA+ folks rarely appeared in the horror stories I liked to read. I want to contribute to changing that dearth, so anyone who loves to read horror can find themselves in the material. And I want these diverse characters to be the heroes of the stories, not side characters or only the villains. Though I do enjoy writing about a good gay villain!
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
First, it gives me a window into evil. I see how people gravitate toward horrific thoughts because it empowers them, often when they otherwise feel powerless. Horror teaches us about the darkness in the world and why it comes after innocent people. However, regarding myself and a lesson horror taught – I also see it as a way to find hope. If characters can overcome the worst monster imaginable, then there is hope and a way to strive for equality and a better world for all of us. In examining what we’re afraid of, we can learn how to live better in the actual world by confronting our fears.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
The biggest change is in diversity and inclusivity. Race, gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, religion – there are so many rich diversities in the world. But for a long time most horror avoided them. Or, perhaps more damaging, included these diversities in negative ways, with stereotypes and tropes. This fact, of course, was true of almost all forms and genres of writing, but it felt really intense to me within the world of horror. I recall having to deliberately search, for example, for female horror writers, when too few existed. As more and more representation has developed in horror writing, the genre has come to reflect the world and its people more holistically. I see this trend continuing. One fun outcome is that these diverse characters can run the gamut now. For example, in my own writing, at first I wanted LGBTQIA+ heroes to emerge. My use of representation was to uplift these characters and the readers who sought their stories. I will always maintain that goal and focus. However, in a now maturing world of horror diversity, I can write about the other side as well – for example, a gay vampire who is hedonistic, narcissistic, and evil. There is a new richness in horror diversity to explore.
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 has grown in representation and inclusion a great deal over the last twenty years. Before that, it was hidden, rare, and the community too often stereotyped. It feels like the horror genre took longer than other genres to come to include a wide variety of people from the LGBTQIA+ community. My hope is for this to continue and to expand, for so many voices to find their place here we only feel overwhelmed by how many stories we want to read, not from the discrimination and invisibility we confront.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
My first horror love was for Armand in Anne Rice’s vampire chronicles. He spoke to me when I was coming out, and her use of ambiguous sexuality was a lifeline for me. A recent read, Jose Luis Zarate’s recently translated into English The Route of Ice and Salt, has a great captain to read about. Of course I’m fond of my own LGBTQ vampires, because they scream in my head all the time!
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
Where to start! Okay, here is a partial list of authors I love. But I know I am forgetting so many, it makes me queasy! And I would say my list is horror/speculative fiction, as opposed to only or pure horror.
- Cassandra Clare
- Robert Dunbar
- John Fram
- J.P. Jackson
- Malindo Lo
- M.D. Neu
- Rick R. Reed
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Write your passion! Write from your worldview. Worry about who will read your story and publish it second of all. I know that sounds idealistic and flippant – but authors who attempt to please others first will often miss the mark and lack passion. And readers will sense something missing. You have to love your own story first, before others will. Also, for those published, successful, or about to achieve success – uplift your fellow authors! I hate the toxic world of competition and snotty dismissal of other people’s writing and stories. There is room for all of us at the table. Bring positive energy to your fellow writers so you can get positive energy in return.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Don’t be afraid to tell your truth. Be bold. And for the most part, I have found the LGBTQ writing community to be welcoming and affirming, so reach out and meet your fellow authors! I also emphasize how important it is to share your work with people you trust, and edit and take their advice. Find people who will help you improve your writing so you can get your tale out to the world and get people to see it.