Horror Writers Association

A Point of Pride: Interview with Eva Roslin

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Eva Roslin is a disabled horror writer from Canada with a penchant for Southern Gothic themes. She received the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Scholarship from the Horror Writers Association in 2017, a Ladies of Horror Fiction Grant in 2021, and is a Supporting HWA member. Her work has appeared in such publications as Love Bites (Mischief Publishing), Dark Heroes (Pill Hill Press), Murky Depths, Ghostlight Magazine and others. She is a librarian, instructor, and researcher with a focus on 19th century American history.

My website: https://roslineva.wordpress.com

What inspired you to start writing?

I think like a lot of kids that didn’t fit in and were made to feel like outsiders from an early age, that had an impact on my psyche. I would escape into reading, and I used to draw my own comic books, supplemented by things I’d read like the Goosebumps books and Halloween was my favourite holiday, which I loved more than Christmas. I was also obsessed with She-Ra, Sailor Moon and Xena, which ignited my love of Greek mythology. Even though I couldn’t put it into words, I think I knew on some level that I wanted to create stories that could help other girls feel the way I did when I watched these empowering women be themselves and defy genre conventions.

I discovered Anne Rice’s work at probably too young an age because I had caught Interview with the Vampire on the television and then wanted to watch the whole thing, so I asked one of my older brothers to rent it for me. Even though I had a cursory understanding of the finer points of what was going on, I remember feeling enraptured. I sought out more of her novels like Pandora and Vittorio, the tales of the newer vampires, and then I remember seeing in the newspaper that Blood and Gold was coming out, a new novel by Anne Rice. This was the first book I bought with my own money. I stared at the cover every single day like I had just found a rare treasure. I absolutely adored Marius at that age, and I also remember seeing on the back cover’s inner fold an author image and the publisher’s name and the thought hit young me, around age 10 or 11, oh wow—I can be an author, too? Then that’s what I’ll be. And I would spin around the classroom at recess and come up with all kinds of horrible pen names for myself LOL

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

Horror started out for me as fun. I think the association with Halloween made me feel like horror was something special I could have for myself, and that it was a time where the freaks and weirdos like me could have our moment. I think horror also stirred a lot of visceral feelings in me that although I couldn’t put into words, I knew something rippled deep inside when I watched the Francis Ford Coppola adaptation of Dracula at too early an age, along with other horror films. Even though I would have to rewatch them as a teen and later as an adult to really understand, as a child I had a different understanding, and was riveted by these vampires who had so much power. They didn’t apologize for darkness and being different. They embraced it. Instead of running away from it, they embodied a ferocity that I wished I could emulate to fight the real horrors in my life at home and school.

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

About a year or so ago, I started challenging myself to make it a conscious effort to include more LGBTQIA+ material in my writing, because representation matters. I think of all the works I’ve read or the first times that there were openly gay or bi characters in television series and in books, and I remember thinking how great it was not only that we are out there, but also the message that we matter and we count. We exist and we do not have to apologize for who we are.

One of the other things that has inspired me to be bolder with LGBTQIA+ themes and characters in my fiction is so that I can be more authentic to my true self, as well as ensuring that there are more respectful and well-done portrayals. I can’t speak for other folks, but there have been so many harmful and reductive stereotypes of LGBTQIA+ characters in different forms of media, in many cases done by people outside these communities and experiences, and I want that to change.

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

That is a fantastic question. I think horror has taught me so much about the world and myself that I’m not quite sure where to begin. Lovecraft Country (2020) the television series reinforced the idea so well that humans are often the worst monsters. Don’t get me wrong–the Shoggoths and other beasties are also terrifying. Nonetheless, the very real and palpable terrors of Jim Crow laws, the reverberations of which continue to this day, are the true terror.

There’s a reason that so many creators talk about the universality of horror. At our core, most of us fear death, loss, grief, isolation, our secrets being found out, and so on. We’re living in the middle of a pandemic, despite what several nitwits insist, and several veils we never thought would be undone have come apart in the last decade. We used to have the comfort of illusion. We used to be able to read dystopian novels and think “Oh, that just happens here; it probably wouldn’t really happen in real life.” And then it was headline after headline of people questioning with the previous administration, almost every single day: is this really happening? I know it’s happening. But how? Why won’t it stop?

Many people are still grappling with intense trauma. I also think of the real-life horrors of wars, both military and those that some of the same nitwits are waging on history, on LGBTQIA+ rights, on the disabled, on the elderly, on everything that is not white, cis-het, and male. I have to work very hard not to ruminate, because the shadows are always swirling around in my head and it gets too much to bear.

I’m physically disabled and neurodivergent, so horror fiction has given me a necessary escape. Whether it has been watching Supernatural or reading books in which the monster is defeated at the end, psychologically we’re wired for the compuslive need to know that there’s a resolution. There’s a comfort in seeing the demon or the horrifying monster defeated at the end of the novel, of the good guys prevailing. We need that now more than ever. When I am immersed in a horror story, I don’t have to think about the people who are horrible to me because of my disability, or wish ill upon me. I don’t have to think about the family issues or other things that constrain me, or precarity of work. I can also imagine myself as something more, putting myself in the shoes of a demon slayer and fighting back against evil.

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

I think one of the best changes I’ve seen to the horror genre, especially since I got involved a decade or so ago, is that there are so many more women. We are kicking ass and taking names. There are more LGBTQIA+ writers, Black writers, Latinx, Asian, queer, non-binary, neurodivergent, from so many different backgrounds. There has been a much-needed evolution since the days of a mostly white guys and maybe one or two white women dominating the genre. We have Stephen Graham Jones, who has been killing it and giving much-needed representation to Native American groups and communities. Quite literally as I write this, V Castro and Cina Pelayo are kicking down doors and barriers that have faced Latina women for too long. Black creators like Rhonda Jackson Joseph, Eden Royce, Tonia Ransom, Paula D Ashe, Sheree Renée Thomas, Jessica Guess and so many more are bringing much-needed stories and different cultural aspects to horror. Maurice Broaddus has been recognized as a Guest of Honour at many conventions and it’s long overdue. We have folks at the helm of presses like John Edward Lawson, co-owner and founder of Raw Dog Screaming Press, and Nicole Givens Kurtz of Mocha Memoirs Press who are publishing some of the best writers out there today.

We are definitely seeing many different voices that have previously been suppressed or outright denied opportunities by a contingent of older white cis het folks. They still believe in the Old Boys’ Club because it benefits them. It makes things easier for them to keep horror as intolerant as possible to discourage and get rid of marginalized voices. Fortunately, we have powerhouses like Gabino Iglesias who have smashed those doors down and clawed out this space for more diverse voices.

It’s also wonderful to see the HWA sponsoring initiatives that give more opportunities to underrepresented voices in horror as with the Diversity Scholarships, and more people of colour on Boards and Committees.

Even though the business side of publishing has always been precarious and most of us are in it for the love and not the profit, it’s wonderful to see how much crowdfunding has enabled anthologies and other projects to circulate and succeed. In an ideal world, the finance side of things in this regard would not have to be such a battle, but it’s phenomenal to see how much online platforms have helped generate word-of-mouth and sales for indie horror titles, which are some of the best in the field right now.

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?

I think as I alluded to above, for the most part, there have been a lot of very harmful stereotypes and caricatures of LGBTQIA+ folks in horror. Whether it’s the trope of killing off queer characters to making the villain queer for shock value to misgendering and making transness a joke, there’s a lot. Not letting us enjoy happiness for too long is another trope, as are still-too-common depictions that are trite and  over-the-top. I could really do without the “gay best friend” trope. Even though it’s not horror, Sex Education has done a great job with queer characters. The protagonist Otis (Asa Butterfield) is a cishet white teen. His best friend, Eric (Ncuti Gatwa), comes from a religious Ghanaian-Nigerian family, and is gay. Instead of resorting to lazy writing or just making things all about Otis while making Eric a one-dimensional cardboard cutout, the show explores Eric’s life with a multifaceted approach. We see him go through some of the worst pain and brutal homophobia of his young life. We also see his family issues and his complex relationship to Christianity, as well as who he is ‘out’ to and why he is still closeted to others.

I would like to see better, more layered representations of queer characters that go beyond what horror fans outside of the LGBTQIA+ community might expect. I want to see more anthologies like The Book of Queer Saints, edited by Mae Murray, with writers who have shown queer characters as villains and with a ton of nuance. I want to see more queer protagonists and leading roles and not just sidekicks.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

I have so many favourites! I love Bo the succubus and Lauren the scientist from Lost Girl. Even though there’s some debate as to whether Lestat de Lioncourt is bisexual or more pansexual, I think he is one of the most glorious queer characters we have. I loved Lafayette Reynolds in True Blood (portrayed by Nelsan Ellis) because he took the flamboyant image and infused it with his own essence. As well, even though these characters aren’t explicitly out, there’s also a lot of queer-coding in Carrie (1976), and Nancy, Fairuza Balk’s character from The Craft, which is so iconic.

Jennifer’s Body (2009) was also a huge film for me because it was one of the first that I watched and thought, “Wow. We can do that?” I also loved the 2019 adaptation of Carmilla directed by Emily Harris and based on the work by Sheridan Le Fanu; it was very visceral and Gothic. Speaking of the classics, one of my favourites is still The Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Folks forget that this novel got Wilde arrested for ‘defying public decency.’

As well, I absolutely love Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite (who now goes by Billy Martin). It’s such a powerful and moving work–very transgressive and ahead of its time.

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

One of the few good aspects of social media is that it has given a platform to so, so many talented LGBTQIA+ authors especially in horror. I adore everything Hailey Piper releases. Her prolific nature and powerful grace are awe-inspiring, and she does so much good in the world. I’ve started referring to Montreal maven Caitlin Marceau as my fellow doyenne of Canadian horror whose work is also very powerful. Folks should also check out another Canadian Suzan Palumbo in addition to one of my all-time favourite authors Teri Clarke (Zin E Rocklyn). The Greek poet Avra Margariti wove a fierce spell on me long ago, so I’m in love with their poems. Eboni Dunbar, Brent C Lambert, Paula D Ashe, Eve Harms and so many others are doing wonderful things. Victoria Nations is also producing amazing work. I also wholeheartedly recommend the anthology The Book of Queer Saints edited by Mae Murray mentioned above, which I believe deserves as much recognition as possible.

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

One thing I would say is to not let other people try to box you into categories or define what you write for you, if that makes sense. There’s already so much pressure on horror authors to be “cool” and “transgressive” or to fit a dark, brooding image. If you really are, as my fellow Goth Kristin Cleaveland is, about the makeup, dresses, admiration of Victorian era and so on, that’s fantastic! But if you’re not, or you mesh with a different esthetic, that’s totally okay, too. Horror writers come in all different forms, and there’s not one “right” or “wrong” way to do it.

There’s a reason you will hear the advice to read voraciously from all corners and it’s because reading as widely as possible really is the best way to find out the themes that resonate with you the most. It also helps to see examples of good writing as well as bad and hopefully to learn from each. It’s also crucial to get critical feedback on your work, so folks beyond your parents or friends. Some folks find the most benefit from in-person or online critique groups, workshops like Odyssey or Clarion, or to find beta readers. In other cases, a combination of approaches works best. Be bold, and write what’s in your heart. Improving craft takes many years and a lot of dedication. Don’t let that intimidate you.

Go for things. When you see opportunities, organize them, and find a way to make them work. Don’t self-reject or tell yourself that a market or anthology would not be interested in your work. You never know what’s going to resonate the most.

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

My advice is: don’t be like me. Don’t let the fear of how others may react be a poison you drink every day. There’s only so long you can survive with that. Many writers like myself, because of cultural reasons and backgrounds, face the threat that our family of origin will kick us out, disown us, or that some of our writing colleagues will not want to work with or be on panels with us at events. Persist. Persevere. Find a way to be your authentic, true self without reservations, and find the people who will nurture that.

I know this is much, much easier said than done, and something I am still working on, but I want to encourage folks not to let this fear paralyze them.

As well, don’t underestimate the power that spite carries. I know the conventional advice is not to be negative, or not to do things that self-destructive potentially, but spite is very misunderstood. Spite isn’t about being mean to others. Not at all. It’s about being defiant in the face of haters who you know wish you weren’t there in a field, or at a convention, or somewhere else. It’s about facing that energy head-on and hitting back at with resilience– like a Care Bear but with an attitude.

There are always going to be people who say you are too X or Y, too much this, too queer, too out there, you publish too much, you’re always going on about this agenda, or some other variation of that. Remember that you’re not doing this for them. You are carving out a hard fought and won space for you. Nothing is more powerful than that intentionality. I’m going to end with a quote of wonderful advice from one of the authors for whom I fangirl each day, Cina Pelayo, who I mentioned above:

 

“Guard your thoughts. Fill your thoughts with good and positive things about yourself.

And especially your work as an artist.”

 

People underestimate the importance of affirmations or manifesting desires as “woo-woo” stuff that isn’t helpful. But they’re wrong. You get out of this life what you put into it, and if you constantly put yourself down or say you’re not good enough, that will work against you. Instead, if you focus on the opportunities that you do want and the things you are actively working toward, that energy will come back to you, as well.

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