A Point of Pride: Interview with Holly Lyn Walrath
Holly Lyn Walrath is a writer, editor, and publisher. Her poetry and short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Analog, and Flash Fiction Online. She is the author of several books of poetry including Glimmerglass Girl (2018), Numinose Lapidi (2020), and The Smallest of Bones (2021). She holds a B.A. in English from The University of Texas and a Master’s in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. In 2019, she launched Interstellar Flight Press, an indie SFF publisher dedicated to publishing underrepresented genres and voices.
What inspired you to start writing?
I started writing very much as a way to process my emotions. I started out writing poetry. I wrote a lot as a teenager, then took a hiatus and came back to writing as an adult. It wasn’t until I discovered speculative writing that I found my way as a writer and really became committed to the field. This was also when people started responding positively to my writing, and having that positive feedback really helped me focus.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I’ve always loved horror movies, ever since I was a kid. I remember buying a ticket to see a kid’s movie and sneaking into horror movies. I spent most of my teenage years loving and watching cult classics featuring the Final Girl trope, like Halloween or The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I think what I love about horror is that it gives strength to the outcasts and is a place where metaphor becomes a way to process trauma.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing and if so, what do you want to portray?
It’s been difficult for me to write about queerness. I find myself cloaking it in metaphor. A few years back, I started writing more queer fiction and poetry under a pseudonym. I was just trying to convey my own experience as a queer person who grew up in the U.S. deep South, very much closeted, and then living in a straight-facing relationship, in a true and authentic way. I very much felt like my experience as a queer person wasn’t portrayed in speculative fiction yet. I think my goal in writing about queerness is to explore my own experience so that it might be available to someone else who has been through it.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
Everything is horrific. A lot of times, I’m writing what I see in the world. When it comes time to give it to a critique partner, they point out how horrific it is. But I don’t see it that way at first—I’m just trying to write the world I see in a true way. It turns out that most of my perspective ends up focusing on how messed up the world we live in can be.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I’m loving the horror renaissance we’re having in literature right now. I grew up reading Stephen King and Anne Rice. But the genre has come so far from that. It’s full of a diversity of genres—from short fiction to novels to poetry—but also a diversity of perspectives. The old tropes are still there, but we’re redefining what the Final Girl, the monster, the haunted house are.
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 would love to see more books like Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House, which explored a story about domestic abuse in queer relationships. We’ve got a lot of representations of queer people as strong, powerful, badass people. But I’d like to see books that allow the queer community to be horrific too. I’m interested in works that wrestle with the complexity of being queer, of being in a community, of the trauma that the collective history of queerness embodies. It makes sense that in a genre where queer people are historically represented as villains, we’d see a pushback against that. But I think there’s room for gray areas now.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
I’m obsessed with the work of French filmmaker Jean Rollin, who created the 1980s trend of lesbian vampires with films like The Rape of the Vampire (More on this in an article I wrote for Interstellar Flight Magazine: https://magazine.interstellarflightpress.com/in-defense-of-bad-horror-movies-a78c33943c) I love Rollin’s lesbian vampires and how they defy the Final Girl trope.
I have a soft spot for the entire cast of characters in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, because I spent a lot of my teenage years at midnight screenings. I think Frank N. Furter is a fascinating example of the gray area I’m speaking of—a character which viewed through a modern lens could be quite problematic, but Tim Curry’s portrayal is so nuanced.
Another character I’ll mention is Dorian Gray. I actually wrote a gender-flipped flash story based on Oscar Wilde’s book (A Day Without Mirrors: https://www.amazon.com/Condensed-Flash-Classics-Mark-Budman-ebook/dp/B00YQ6Y2EO).
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
There are so many! I love Caitlín R. Kiernan, Poppy Z. Brite. I love everything coming out of Neon Hemlock Press right now: https://www.neonhemlock.com/our-authors.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Write what you love, love what you write. Writing is really hard, and making a career out of it is even harder. You should write what you love, because you’re going to have to spend a lot of time and energy on it.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
There’s no right or wrong way to write queerness. The industry is very much focused on authenticity of experience right now, on asking queer writers to put their trauma on parade. But not every queer experience mirrors that. Queerness is historically veiled, liminal, and in some ways, imperfect. Writing about being queer inherently asks you to put yourself out there. That in itself can be difficult. But I would say, protect yourself, because writing comes from within you.