Horror Writers Association

A Point of Pride: Interview with Mark Allan Gunnells

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Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his husband Craig A. Metcalf.

What inspired you to start writing?

Honestly, my desire to make up stories and write them down goes back so far I can’t say exactly what initially sparked it. I think I just fell in love with stories, and once I realized they were actually made up by people and written down, I wanted to do that too.

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

My love of horror also goes very far back. I remember watching the original Salem’s Lot miniseries when it originally aired. I was five. Then at ten my mother let me watch some of The Exorcist on television. I think what drew me to horror was that nothing else I had ever experienced at that age had that big of an impact on me. Sure, other genres entertained me, but horror got a visceral emotional reaction that stayed with me long after the credits rolled. That was what kept me coming back to horror again and again.

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

I do. That is actually very important to me, because when I came of age as a young gay man, the horror genre had very little LGBTQ representation. It hurt to never see myself reflected in the genre I loved. Times are changing, and I’m happy to be a part of that change. As for what I want to portray, I don’t necessarily go into it with a political or social agenda in mind. I try to make my LGBTQ characters varied and diverse, but I want them to be out and proud and also sexual beings. Basically I want to give them all the facets that straight characters have had forever. I want LGBTQ readers to read my work and find themselves reflected and represented.

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

Horror for me is an exercise in empathy. True horror gets the emotional reaction I crave by making you feel for the characters, root for them, want to see them survive and be frightened by the prospect that they won’t. I did a whole TED Talk on the link between horror and empathy, and I do think empathy is something the world needs more of these days.

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

I have seen horror, particularly in the small press, become much more diverse. Opening its doors to women, people of color, people from the LGBTQ community. There is still push back. When I bring up the subject of diversity and visibility, when I point out how many anthologies still have TOCs that are mainly straight white men, I can get some pretty nasty comments, but overall many inroads have been made and that has brought so much fresh and original horror to the table. I hope the genre will continue to become more inclusive and that inclusivity will bleed into New York publishing as well.

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?

In the 80s I rarely saw LGBTQ representation in horror unless it was a joke or a stereotype. That started to change with Barker and then a lot with Poppy Z. Brite. These days we have a lot more LGBTQ writers and that provides a greater variety of representation in the field and I love it. There has been a move to provide only the most positive portrayals of LGBTQ characters, but I want an equal playing field where LGBTQ characters are treated the same and given the same opportunities to be as complex as straight characters. That means queer heroes, queer villains, and everything in between. The LGBTQ community is diverse and complicated, same as anyone, and I want to see that reflected. The big thing is I don’t want us to be neutered anymore. I often see straight characters being fully realized sexual beings in a way LGBTQ characters aren’t. And I’m not talking sex scenes. You don’t have to show a character having sex to have sexuality. I think straight people don’t realize how what they consider the most mundane things, merely having a character tell a friend about a bad date for instance, gives their characters sexuality. But often straight writers, sometimes subconsciously I suspect, avoid this aspect when they write queer characters.

Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?

Trevor and Zach in Drawing Blood by Poppy Z. Brite immediately come to mind. Their relationship is sweet and hot, romantic and sexual in a way that feels very real, and it was the first time I read a horror book that featured a gay couple that felt totally authentic to me. I realized that an LGBTQ character in horror could be more than comedic relief, or a character to feel sorry for, but instead a fully realized person with all the passions and weaknesses as any straight character.

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

We do have a lot of great LGBTQ horror authors working today which is great. Everyone knows Barker, and for good reason since he is a master. Poppy Z. Brite is another one that I think transformed the horror genre with his work. Other names I think people need to be aware of are Aaron Dries, Lee Thomas, Hailey Piper, Eric LaRocca, Craig Gidney, J. Daniel Stone. Just to name a few.

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

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Your real power as a storyteller is going to come from your unique vision and passion. Tell the stories that matter to you, blaze your own trail, and realize “This isn’t like anything I’ve read before” is the highest compliment.

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

There is a place for us at the table. The seat may not always be offered, but we have every right to drag a chair over and sit our asses down. Being a member of the LGBTQ community gives us perspectives and experiences that can make even familiar ideas in the horror genre fresh and exciting again. Use that. Don’t shy away from the LGBTQ experience, but let it inform your stories, shape and guide them. To quote the rallying cry from Hailey Piper, let’s make horror gay AF!

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