A Point of Pride: Interview with Vince A. Liaguno
Vince A. Liaguno is an award-winning writer, anthologist, editor, and an occasional poet. He is the Bram Stoker Award®-winning editor of Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet (co-edited with Chad Helder), the acclaimed Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology (co-edited with Rena Mason), and the forthcoming Unspeakable Horror 3: Dark Rainbow Rising. His debut novel, 2006’s The Literary Six, was a tribute to the slasher films of the eighties and won an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY).
Healthcare administrator by day, pop culture enthusiast by night, his jam: books, slasher films, and Jamie Lee Curtis. He is a member (and former secretary) of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), International Thriller Writers (ITW), and the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). Vince currently resides in the mitten-shaped state of Michigan with his fiancé and their two Miniature Schnauzers.
What inspired you to start writing?
I was that stereotypical only child whose imagination had to step in for siblings on a rainy day. From an early age, I was always creating storylines with my toys. Later, as my love of reading took off, so did my desire to tell stories of my own.
What was it about the horror genre that drew you to it?
I’m less certain that I chose horror; I think horror chose me. Truthfully, from as far back as I can remember, I was drawn to all things dark. As a kid, my earliest recollections of being terrified were watching made-for-TV movies from the 70s like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Gargoyles, and Trilogy of Terror. I can still remember damn near pissing myself when that little Zuni fetish doll from the latter chased poor Karen Black around her apartment! (laughs)
As I got a little older, my Dad would take me to the movies as part of our weekend “buddy days”. They were usually Irwin Allen disaster flicks or movies with a lot of car chases, but then a little film called Jaws was released. I was eight years old and can still feel the knot in my stomach the first time I heard those opening notes of John Williams’ now-legendary score. I think I only made it up to the point that the ill-fated skinny-dipping Chrissie gets slammed into the buoy before I pleaded with my Dad to leave. It would take three subsequent tries before I could make it through the entire film, each time making it a little further into the film before my ever-patient father heard the desperation of the “Please, Daddy…can we leave now?” in my voice. Jaws was a rite of passage for me; it was the first time I needed to summon and sustain any sense of real bravery. When I finally saw those end credits, it was a mark of accomplishment… a hint of manhood, if you will.
1978 was a game changer for me—the cusp of adolescence and the release of John Carpenter’s Halloween. If Jaws hooked me, Halloween reeled me in and cemented what would become a lifelong adoration of both slasher films and a certain actress named Jamie Lee Curtis.
Do you make a conscious effort to include LGBTQ material in your writing, and if so, what do you want to portray?
Absolutely. Just as being a gay man of a certain age informs my life, it informs my writing. The only thing I want or try to portray in anything I write is authenticity. For a while there, the LGBTQIA community was pushing back against any negative portrayals of LGBTQ characters. I think horror helped bring some balance to that with writers like Eric LaRocca and Hailey Piper and anthologists like Mae Murray who aren’t afraid to let their LGBTQ characters be their messy, authentic selves. Queer lives are not sanitized sitcoms with laugh tracks.
What has writing horror taught you about the world and yourself?
It’s taught me that adversity either ends in resilience or tragedy. The horror in a story—whether supernatural or environmental or human in nature—presents an extreme challenge to the characters. Some characters succumb to the ordeal; some rise up, summoning an inner strength not even they knew they had, and defy the odds to defeat the horror. I’ve found that’s largely reflective of real life and the way those we encounter along this journey also either rise up and win or submit and fail when life lobs curveballs and jump scares. Horror has cemented the idea that life is one never-ending body count.
How have you seen the horror genre change over the years? And how do you think it will continue to evolve?
I think we’re living in a golden age of horror fiction right now. The scope and depth of quality storytelling out there at this moment is breathtaking. Horror writers have moved beyond the atypical genre tropes to craft some fiercely original works. Look at what writers like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Stephen Graham Jones and Josh Malerman and the sorely underrated (at least here in the United States) Yōko Ogawa are doing right now. It’s invigorating. And I think the trend is going to continue—I think we remember the horror bust in the ‘90s particularly well and understand that innovation and experimentation in our storytelling, as well as diversity in the voices telling these stories, are paramount to the genre’s survival and continued boom.
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?
We’ve come miles over the past few years in terms of representation. When I edited the first Unspeakable Horror anthology back in 2008, the project was still considered edgy and its audience limited. Fifteen years later, on the eve of the release of the third installment—Dark Rainbow Rising—queer stories and characters have moved out of the horror ghetto, no longer relegated to the fringe, and into the mainstream. Moving forward, I hope to see more recognition of LGBTQ works in the genre, particularly within the Bram Stoker Awards. Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet was the first—and, sadly, still only—expressly LGBTQ horror anthology to ever win the prestigious award. The awards are 35 years old, and we can still count on one hand the number of times queer works have won. That needs to change, and I hope with the quality of queer horror being generated with regularity now, that it will.
Who are some of your favorite LGBTQ characters in horror?
I love the queer characters that populate Gemma Files’ Hexslinger series. Eric and Andrew—the gay couple at the emotional center of Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World—are also recent standouts. Margaret Prior and spiritualist Selina Dawes in Sarah Waters masterful Affinity. Wilde’s Dorian Gray, of course. Although horror adjacent, Otto and Xavier Shin from Helen Oyeyemi’s brilliant surrealist gem, Peaces.
Who are some LGBTQ horror authors you recommend our audience check out?
In addition to LaRocca and Piper who I mentioned earlier, I think there are some amazing talents out there flying just under readers’ radars. Writers like J. Daniel Stone, Mark Allan Gunnels, Lee Mandelo, Craig Laurance Gidney, Rivers Solomon, A.P. Thayer, and Max Gold, who’s doing some amazing stuff with prose poetry right now.
What is one piece of advice you would give horror authors today?
Be authentic. Ignore the cultural noise, and write characters who are messy and imperfect and reflective of those we cross paths with in life. Readers will invest in your stories when the characters are genuine.
And to the LGBTQ writers out there who are just getting started, what advice would you give them?
Write bravely. Push boundaries. The LGBTQIA community has its roots within the ideas of non-conformity and pushing societal limits. So, use your words and ideas to push them. Be merciless in your honesty. Be a literary outlaw.