The Unspeakables: Chad Helder and Vince Liaguno

Vince Liaguno is a writer, award-winning editor, and publisher of dark genre fiction who lives on the eastern end of Long Island, New York, with his partner of 21 years and their two Cocker Spaniels. His 2006 debut novel, The Literary Six, a tribute to the slasher films of the 80’s, won an Independent Publisher Award (IPPY). Vince is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and the National Book Critics Circle (NBCC). He is concurrently at work on his second and third novels.

Chad Helder lives in Portland, Oregon where he writes disturbing poetry and teaches a variety of writing classes. Helder’s first book of poetry, Pop-Up Book of Death, will be published by Queer Mojo Press. He is the creator and writer ofBartholomew of the Scissors, the innovative horror comic book that features the creepy “comic-books-in-wood” illustrations of artist Daniel Crosier. In addition, Helder wrote a series of horror comic books for Vincent Price Presents. His flash fiction has appeared in The Harrow, and his poetry is forthcoming in Doorways Magazine. He’s currently at work on his second volume of queer poetry.

JMW: Tell us about your anthology, Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet, which recently won a Bram Stoker Award.

CH: Unspeakable Horror was released in December from Dark Scribe Press. The whole project began back in 2006 when I started a website called Unspeakable Horror. On the blog, I wrote about queer themes and GLBT portrayals in horror fiction and cinema, as well as featuring the work of new writers who wrote for the emerging gay horror subgenre. One of the main goals of the website was to define “queer horror” as a distinct subgenre that uses horror plots and motifs to explore societal themes related to GLBT life. Right away, Vince found the website and wrote to me when he was promoting his novel, The Literary Six. We started a correspondence, and pretty soon he had a blog on the website too. We realized that the best way to make a statement about the queer horror subgenre would be to put together our own collection of short fiction that portrays the range and diversity of the genre.

VL: The collection came together through a combination of open call submissions and invited authors. We assembled an eclectic lineup of talent from both the GLBT and horror literary communities that includes Lee Thomas, Jameson Currier, Rick R. Reed, Sarah Langan, and Kealan Patrick Burke and ended up with a collection of 23 stories. We’re really proud of the talent in this collection, including the five writers who made their professional debuts in the tome.

JMW: Tell us a little about the Bram Stoker Award.

VL: The Horror Writer’s Association (HWA) presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula, annually. The Stoker Awards were instituted immediately after the organization’s incorporation in 1987. We won the award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology during the organization’s Stoker Weekend last month in Burbank, California. Of course, it was more than a little surreal to take the podium during an awards banquet in which Stephen King won two Stokers himself!

CH: Basically, the Stoker Award is the ultimate award for a horror writer, not only because it’s named after the great Bram Stoker, but because the nominees are selected and voted on by writers, editors, and publishers in the horror field. As long as I can remember, when I found a book or story designated as a Stoker Award-Winner, that story (or writer) carried with it a special distinction and prestige in my eyes, which is something that many non-horror fans might not be able to appreciate. There’s also something special about it because the award is unique to the horror genre, and I would guess that many horror writers feel the same. So, of course it is an amazing dream-come-true to have one on my mantelpiece.

JMW: I’ve heard that your win was groundbreaking for LGBT horror writers. Is that true?

VL: Definitely. Unspeakable Horror is the first GLBT-themed horror anthology to win a Stoker Award in its 22-year history. There was a moment after the awards when the reality of what we’d just done really set in. It was the perfect moment of surrealism and gratification. Our little anthology has secured a place in history, and we’re damn proud of that.

CH: Perhaps, in the past, our anthology would have been relegated to a “queer” award exclusively. However, I think Michael Rowe and the Queer Fear anthologies really paved the way for the existence of our anthology. In addition, Greg Herren’s anthology Shadows of the Night was a real inspiration to me. Queer themes have existed in the horror genre since the beginning. Sexuality and the repression of sexuality is a central theme in the horror genre, so anxiety about queerness has always been present in the genre. However, bringing the theme to the surface and portraying queer characters as heroes (instead of exclusively victims and “monster queers”) is what might be called groundbreaking about anthologies like the Queer Fear collections and our anthology.

JMW: I’ve also heard there’s a strong strain of homophobia in the horror reading and writing community. What has your experience been?

VL: I’ve been a member of the HWA for several years now and have never encountered homophobia or any kind of anti-gay postings on their message boards. In actuality, I’ve found the horror community and the HWA to embrace the diversity that GLBT-themed works bring to the genre. Chad and I were asked by the organizers of the HWA’s recent Stoker Weekend in Burbank to participate on a panel on GLBT horror, and the response from the audience was just fantastic.

CH: All of my interactions with horror writers have been awesome. I’ve encountered a lot of interest from writers of all walks regarding queer horror. Horror writers are really cool people!

JMW: Clive Barker is probably the most widely known openly gay horror writer, but who are some others that readers new to the genre might want to check out?

VL: In terms of anthologies, the Queer Fear collections that Michael Rowe edited are a terrific place to start. Michael’s also got a heartbreaking novella called “In October” in Triptych of Terror. Lee Thomas’ The Dust of Wonderland (a Lambda Literary Award winner) is a fantastic read, and Dark Scribe Press will be publishing his short story collection In the Closet, Under the Bed in late fall of this year. Jameson Currier is also a brilliant writer, and I’d strongly encourage anyone who enjoys literary ghost stories to check out The Haunted Heart and Other Tales, his forthcoming collection from Lethe Press.

CH: I am a huge fan of Vintage by Steve Berman [publisher of Lethe Press]. Also, Rick Reed has an impressive collection of gay horror novels. Like Vince, I love The Dust of Wonderland. If you can find a copy of Greg Herren’s Shadows of the Night, William J. Mann has a vampire story in there that is one of my all-time favorites.

JMW: Steve Berman has selected several stories from Unspeakable Horrors for Lethe’s Best Gay Stories 2009 and Wilde Stories 2009. Any other similar news to share?

VL: With the Stoker win under our belts and glowing reviews from Fangoria and other review outlets, we’ll be pitching the collection to Michael Connor at InsightOut, hoping that the book club will carry the title to a GLBT-specific audience. We also submitted the anthology and several of the stories to the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards.

JMW: What’s next for you two as writers?

CH: Right now I’m writing a book of poetry that explores connections between queerness, homophobia, and the horror genre that will be published by Dark Scribe Press. My first book of poetry, The Pop-Up Book of Death, is going to be published by Queer Mojo Press next year. My comic book, Bartholomew of the Scissors, will be published as a graphic novel in the fall.

VL: I’m finishing up my second novel The Renewed and have started work on my third, Final Girl. Both feature prominent gay characters and are firmly rooted in horror. I’m also in the process of editing another anthology, a collection of essays on slasher films called Butcher Knives & Body Counts, some of which will also speak to the queer elements of the oft-maligned, but surprisingly enduring, slasher sub-genre. Of course, with our Stoker win, we’re looking at each other now as if another volume of Unspeakable Horror is inevitable.