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A Point of Pride: Interview with Joe Koch


Joe Koch (He/They) writes literary horror and surrealist trash. Their books include The Wingspan of Severed Hands, Convulsive, and The Couvade, which received a Shirley Jackson Award nomination in 2019. His short fiction appears in publications such as Vastarien, Southwest Review, PseudoPod, Children of the New Flesh, and The Queer Book of Saints. Joe also co-edited the art-horror anthology Stories of the Eye. Find Joe online at their website and on Twitter.


What inspired you to start writing?

Writing evolved from the same need that drove me to do visual art fifty years prior. I need to make things, be creative, invent little games and problems to solve, and come up with ideas to chew on in order to be happy. I’d taken my art as far as I wanted to and began writing seriously as an experiment in a different medium. So far it’s worked out pretty well.

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

The horror genre has always delighted me. Some of my earliest childhood memories involve watching classic black and white horror films on Saturday afternoon TV’s “Creature Feature.” As a kid, I wanted to be a vampire instead of a boring human. I was a teen during the eighties horror boom, exposed to King and Straub, but also many books outside the horror genre that had dark, thoughtful, and absurdist elements like Samuel Beckett and Camus. I didn’t read them for school; I’ve always read quite a lot of fiction and nonfiction out of sheer curiosity.

Anyway, horror for me signifies the letting down of mundane barriers to experience and knowledge. In this genre, there’s the possibility that anything can happen, and as a creator, you don’t have to play nice. I like that freedom.

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

Well, I’m very interested in dream logic and psychological worlds as opposed to literal ones, so queerness really pervades my work even when the characters and their concerns aren’t LGBTQ. It’s funny, though; in the last “straight” story I wrote, I had a pang of guilt for not writing queer characters. As if it was my responsibility to always make some kind of statement or make sure queer people are seen! But it’s not. That kind of heavy-handed intention leads to bad writing. In fact, while most of the time you’ll find queer characters in my work, you won’t find “good representation” as far as morality or models of behavior, because I’m not here to teach people how to live, I’m here to explore themes, ideas, symbols, feelings, allegories, and all sorts of scenarios that challenge more than they coddle. Simply put, I’m your weird uncle, not your mom.

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

If I ever write a memoir, this may be a chapter, or perhaps the whole book. I started writing before I understood myself as queer, which is an astounding level of blindness on my part considering I wrote things like The Couvade, a book about gay werewolves, and Paradisum Voluptatis, a story in which the narrator grows a cock, refers to scars on their chest, and delights in shared bodily mutations. I look back and see how obsessed my work has always been with transforming the body and can’t believe it took putting words on the page to figure it out.

Yet, I do believe it; the words we use are so important. This is what I’ve learned about the world through writing: we’re only as free and autonomous as the things we can imagine, and much of what we conceive is limited to the words we know and how we use them. There are certainly other ways of knowing, deeper ways through the sense, but I’m saying the confidence to act upon your true will and desire and to put it out there in the world relies very heavily on language.

The people who want to ban books know this, of course.

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

Big sweeping questions like this make me a bit nervous because I’m no critic with exhaustive knowledge, but I’ll do my best. I suppose horror went from restrained Victorian-era stories with a gothic bent to more extreme areas of gore and intensity over the course of the twentieth century, perhaps because of the development of film. But that’s not true; the Grand Guignol existed before film, didn’t it? Hasn’t theater always walked a more dangerous edge with real violence than a book or film can manage? Real people on the stage or in the Coliseum, ladies being chopped in half by magicians, excessively bloody, putrid Christs; there’s always been a thread of manic violence through human entertainment and the arts. Horror is fundamental to our psyche. I’m not sure the heart of horror ever really changes.

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 seems we’ve gone from monsters being queer-coded in the past to using overt queerness to characterize villains as repulsive or monstrous, and have moved toward queer people simply existing in stories in the myriad ways we exist in real life. Right now we’re on the brink of a glorious boom of queer monsters written lovingly by queer authors, with Hailey Piper at the helm. Yes, I’m picturing her with a horned Viking hat and holding a spear or some sort of historically appropriate weapon out on the deck of our ship as the gales blow and flags billow.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

My mind goes blank when anyone asks for favorites! I guess my ideal is Dracula, who is, of course, merely queer-coded, but so strongly so that he’s become overtly queer in modern interpretations. I guess I was imprinted quite early by vampire movies. I like mixing up sex with my horror and the vampire idea really embodies that.

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

I feel like everyone is already reading Hailey Piper, Gretchen Felker-Martin, and Eric LaRocca; I’m very excited when I see the names LC von Hessen, M. Lopes da Silva, Lor Gislason, Luna Rey Hall, Eric Raglin, J. A. W. McCarthy, Samir Sirk, and so many up-and-coming authors found in the anthologies Bound In Flesh and Your Body Is Not Your Body. I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many writers I love because my brain just flails at times like this. My apologies to anyone I left out!

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

Don’t compromise the work. Trends come and go, but publishing moves slowly, so all you’ve got is your unique voice to see you through. Trust yourself. Don’t fake it. Don’t hide. Even though it’s fiction, your work should tell the truth.

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

Beware of the great number of cishet white men who will appear in your DMs at the first hint of success in your writing career. They will suddenly manifest from all corners of the earth to ask you for favors, blurbs, free writing advice, beta reads, unpaid sensitivity readings, and so on. They may be good kind men and say nothing at all offensive, but at some point, you’ll realize they are speaking up and asking because they are simply accustomed to having all that space and will blithely step up where most of us have been conditioned to be reticent or afraid. Don’t be afraid to step up, to set boundaries, and to put yourself first. You get to choose who you give space to, so choose wisely.

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