IMing about Horror in the Digital Age with Eric LaRocca

Eric LaRocca and Dan instant message about the need for more queer horror, unconventional writing, and more.

I am normally not one to read prose but something about Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke by Eric LaRocca that forced me to pick it up. I devoured it entirely in a sitting. I quickly jumped on Al Gore’s World Wide Web and instant messaged Eric to learn more about their horror novella that lives rent free inside me now. That conversation transcript is below.

gateCRASHERS202: What’s your favorite sandwich?

eric_larocca: I’m not huge on eating meat; however, there’s something so appealing to me about a pastrami Reuben sandwich. I usually feel disgusted after consuming it, but the cheese and the thousand island dressing are *chef’s kiss* magical.

gateCRASHERS202: What attracts you to horror as a genre?

eric_larocca: I think what has always attracted me to the horror genre was that it’s a heavily maligned and misunderstood genre. Growing up, I often felt like I was on the outside looking in at the rest of my peers. I never felt like I fit into any special social circle. Therefore, I think I inherently gravitated toward horror because I saw myself reflected in the characters.

gateCRASHERS202: What in horror do you find yourself most often looking to explore?

eric_larocca: I find myself often exploring themes of abandonment in my horror fiction. Although I was raised by two loving and doting parents, I’ve always been fearful of being left out or being left behind. I think horror is a unique genre because it allows us to confront our fears and anxieties in a safe space. There’s something decidedly comforting about horror and I know others reading this interview feel the same way.

gateCRASHERS202: I often find that a lot of horror films and stories explore queer themes in the stories. Do you think Horror needs more queer stories? Do you think there are areas where the genre excels or fails this?

eric_larocca: Horror absolutely needs more queer stories. I’ve said this a million times before in countless interviews, but horror is an inherently queer genre to begin with. Though queer characters haven’t existed in the classics of our genre (or perhaps they were coded, insinuated, etc.), horror has always been a genre that explores the idea of “the other” — the maligned, the misrepresented. Horror is, therefore, a supremely queer genre.

gateCRASHERS202: With your story exploring some of the sexual themes of power dynamics, do you find that horror is a genre that has the ability to explore these themes in different perspectives? 

eric_larocca: Yes and no. I think almost any genre can deftly explore these themes in different perspectives. I just so happen to write horror, so my creative process works in a way that’s specific to the genre I love. That being said, I think this kind of sexual power dynamics could work just as well in a comedy or a drama depending how skilled the writer is at presenting these themes.

gateCRASHERS202: With the story dealing with manipulation heavily, did you always plan to flip the expectations of where the story seemed to be going?

I definitely always had an idea of where the story was going because I usually outline heavily before approaching any writing project. I actually typically outline long-hand, and I think I still have the papers I wrote the outline for Things Have Gotten Worse We Last Spoke somewhere in my house. Regardless, I had outlined each section of the manuscript and I knew I wanted to reach certain beats at certain points in the narrative. There were a few unplanned deviations in the narrative when I got carried away or wanted to explore some peripheral themes further. But the narrative you read is essentially what the outline covered.

gateCRASHERS202: The cover art by Kim Jakobsson… wow. Did you have any input on this piece or was it something you saw from the artist and said “That’s it”?

eric_larocca: Yes, the cover art by Kim Jakobsson is definitely one of the reasons the book has sold so well. In my estimation, at least. The publisher (Sam Richard) and I were discussing different cover art options and I decided to scroll through Instagram in search of artists with a surreal or supernatural bent. I immediately came across Jakobsson’s work and fell in love with this particular print. I believe it’s titled “Passing Oxygen.” I showed it to Sam and he agreed it would make a visually arresting cover.

gateCRASHERS202: When did the initial idea for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke?

eric_larocca: The initial idea for the book really stemmed from my fascination with the internet and potentially coming across information that you shouldn’t normally have access to. I’ve explored this concept in other works of short fiction like, “miss_vertebrae” and “The Strange Thing We Become.” But I saw this novella as an opportunity to further explore my fears associated with the internet and how dangerous it can be when in unstable hands.

gateCRASHERS202: The novella itself is written in an instant messaging format… just like this actually. Why’d you write it this way?

eric_larocca: I’m a fan of any piece of fiction that employs unconventional methods of storytelling. For the longest time I wanted to attempt to write a book entirely in Instant Messenger chats but I worried readers might get bored with the formatting. So this book seemed like an excellent compromise.

gateCRASHERS202: The phrase “What have you done today to deserve your eyes?” Where did that come from? Is this something from your own life?

eric_larocca: I honestly don’t quite recall where the origin of that phrase began. It was something I invented to suit the narrative and thankfully it has resonated with readers. I wish I had this compelling origin story for the phrase, but it’s something I invented while writing without much explanation.

gateCRASHERS202: What has the response been to the novella? Do you feel like people have interpreted the story in the way you hoped?

eric_larocca: Although I didn’t expect the book to blow up the way it has, I definitely expected mixed reviews. Some people love it. Others vehemently despise it. That’s totally fine. It’s not my place to police other people’s interpretations of the book. They’re entitled to react however they wish to react to the book. Of course, I try to not read reviews unless I’m tagged. But curiosity often gets the better of me sometimes.

gateCRASHERS202: Bud. Why the rotten meat? The way you described it was so visceral to the point I could smell it so really thanks for that.

eric_larocca: Thank you! As I said before, I’m not huge on consuming meat. I don’t consider myself a vegetarian, but I definitely don’t consume meat regularly. There’s nothing worse than rotted meat, right? It definitely conjures a visceral reaction. That’s exactly what I was going for when writing the piece.

You can buy Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke from Weird Punk Books!

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