Eric LaRocca: An Interview in Pieces

Ashley interviews Master of Horror Eric LaRocca in celebration of their newest release, They Were Here Before Us.

Before I even begin this interview, I just want to let everyone reading know how much Eric LaRocca’s work means to me and the impact it has had on my life. To be fair, I do think that it’s probably very obvious, being that I got a tattoo dedicated to Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke (to anyone that would like to check out the tattoo, feel free to check out my instagram). As a lesbian who absolutely loves horror, their stories have been a home of mine ever since I first found THGWSWLS. My mental state was at my lowest of lows, but there is such comfort for me in the beautiful way that they write darkness and depravity. I found solace in the pages of everything they write. For additional context, it was because of the tattoo that I was actually offered a place here at GateCrashers, as my post on instagram of the piece was the gateway for me and a member of the team to talk about books and my interest in reviewing for the site.

Now I will stop being sappy (not really) and get to the interview.

Obviously, in my opener I mentioned that your viral hit Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke had a deep impact on me- but I am curious as to what the impact was for you? What were some of the long lasting changes in your life after your novella took the internet by storm?

The impact that Things Have Gotten Worse… had on my life was tremendous. I noticed how all these doors began to open for me. Not only professionally, but creatively as well. It proved to me that there’s a devoted audience for fearless writing with complex, messy, and unhinged queer characters. The success and feedback I received from other queer people really showed me how my writing can resonate deeply with readers. That’s perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the book’s success. I receive so many kind and thoughtful messages from young queer people just beginning their journey and so often they tell me how my novella inspired them to read more or to write more. It’s such an honor to know that I’ve made a difference in their lives.

You did just recently release a merchandise collaboration to go along with some of your novellas (I am writing this interview wearing my apple peeler crewneck), was that something you always envisioned releasing? I am a fan of it all, but very few authors release merchandise for their books so I am curious as to what led to this decision?

I connected with Jordan Shiveley (@hottestsingles on Twitter) and Jordan was such an admirer of both Things Have Gotten Worse… and You’ve Lost a Lot of Blood. Our decision to collaborate on a merchandise project together came about very organically and really stemmed from Jordan’s appreciation of my work. I never really imagined I would ever have the opportunity to do a line of merch, so this was a wonderful surprise and it’s been such a rewarding project.

You really have made a huge waves in the horror genre, especially with your representation of the queer community- your upcoming release They Were Here Before Us is no different- how do you feel about the space you have helped create and foster for us in the horror genre? How important is it to you to have queer characters in your books?

Writing about queer characters is very important to me. I recall how when I first began writing short fiction for magazines and literary journals, I was so hesitant to include queer characters in my stories because I imagined certain editors might immediately reject my submission. Of course, I now realize how foolish that sounds. I can’t imagine wanting to work with a particular editor if I know for a fact they are a homophobe. So much of the literary landscape has changed in the past five years. I think it’s wonderful to look out at the current panorama of horror and recognize how much diversity there truly is. So many authors from marginalized communities are telling their stories and thriving. It’s so satisfying to watch, and I anticipate we’ll see an enormous shift in publishing over the course of the next few years.

You have a ton of upcoming releases, including your first novel, and in an interview on youtube you did mention you have most of your releases all the way up through 2025 already set so it is safe to say that you write a lot, can you tell me alittle bit about your writing process and how you come up with your concepts?

I typically work on only one project at a time. If I’m working on a short story, I dedicate myself entirely to that piece. If I’m deeply involved in writing a novel, I am fully committed to seeing that project through. My process, of course, usually depends on the project and each project is so different. Sometimes I’ll begin with a theme I know I’d like to explore. Often, I’ll have constructed a character that I’d like to analyze further. In fact, most of my concepts usually begin with the character. I think crafting complex and fully realized characters are deeply essential when working in the horror genre. I don’t necessarily believe that we need to absolutely love a character in order to be invested in their journey. However, we, at the very least, need to be interested in their plight on some level.

Speaking of your concepts, They Were Here Before Us has some of the most interesting perspectives I have ever read- the first few pieces are all of the perspectives of animals; how did you get into the mindset for those?

Yes. They Were Here Before Us was an arduous creative process. The thematically interconnected vignettes in that novella were not easy to write and I recall several times when I wondered to myself if it was worthwhile to even keep pushing forward. “Who on earth would want to publish this book?” I would think to myself. But, thankfully, Doug Murano approached me and asked me if I had anything that I might like to submit to his press, Bad Hand Books. The only manuscript I had at the ready was They Were Here Before Us. So I sent it to him and was very relieved when he told me how much he loved it.

Additionally, this novella in pieces will certainly ruffle some feathers with some of the content you are covering in it (specifically Delicacies from a First Communion)- what are your thoughts on covering taboo subjects such as this? Do you find it difficult?

I don’t necessarily find it difficult to write about taboo subjects. The more difficult part of the situation comes into play when you present the work to readers and they don’t know how to react to what you’ve written because it’s “outrageous” or “disgusting.” My editor and I fully expect there to be some discourse surrounding that particular story you mentioned and we’re fully prepared. The truth is: you may not always completely understand why I write something or why my books are presented in such a way. However, that’s okay. Sometimes there are no definitive answers when it comes to art. Moreover, very often embarking on the journey toward the answer is more satisfying than the actual answer.

Now I really want to get into Bird and Bug are Happy, because oh my god, what a stunning commentary this one was. There is a line in it “She thinks of how there’s an invisible expiration date stamped on the forehead of every queer person– how most of society, even other queer people, expect you to wither away, to languish in torment and eventually expire from some incurable illness as if it were proper contrition for you perversity.” that truly blew me away- now don’t get me wrong this story is absolutely horrifying but you really find this balance in the gore and such beautiful on the nose commentary on society. This is a common balance in all of your work- do you have any insight for me on how you manage to craft that balance?

That’s so very kind of you! I sincerely appreciate that. I wish I could answer this thoughtful question with a more interesting response, but I suppose it really comes down to you developing your voice as a writer. The answer also depends on the piece and how you’d like to portray certain societal commentary. It’s difficult to find that balance. Sometimes I struggle and I worry I’m coming off too heavy-handed. On the flip side, there are times when I worry I don’t give my readers enough information to truly savor what I’m trying to explore. I suppose it’s a learning process. I don’t always feel fully confident I’ve mastered the art of the balance.

Personally, I find myself returning to think about a few different characters from your books- First and always Zoe Cross from Things Have GottenWorse Since We Last Spoke, Rake and Mara from We Can Never Leave This Place, and now Bug the newest addition to this list. Do you have any of your characters that have stuck with you more than others? Who was the most challenging to write?

Upon reflection, I think the character Rake from We Can Never Leave This Place was the most difficult character to write simply because he was so evil. I had never written a character so unequivocally hateful and malicious. That was a very difficult mindset to enter almost every day because I wrote several monologues for that particular character. Some of those monologues didn’t end up in the final version of the book. That aside, it was often draining to sit down and write scenes with him interacting with Mara or her mother. I tend to write the more morally grey antagonist. That kind of character simply interests me more as a reader. So, this was my first experience really exploring the mindset of a more traditional villain.

A lot of writers have spoken about how difficult it can be on their mental health to spend time in the mindset of their darker characters- Typically in horror most of the characters are dark;  Is it ever a challenge to spend so much time in such a gory or dark mindset when writing? How do you take care of your mental health when handling such heavy topics?

That’s a great question. I feel like I slightly touched on this issue in my previous answer, but I can explore this more fully now. I think it’s very important to protect your mental health as a horror writer, seeing as we’re constantly exploring the darker sides of humanity. It can become so demoralizing and depressing. When I’m working on a relentlessly grim or especially bleak piece (which is pretty much all the time), I try to limit my intake of similar media. For instance, I won’t watch horror movies or read horror if I’m deep in writing a novel. It’s too overstimulating for me. I also try to make my writing office/area as pleasant and as cheerful as possible. I’m very fortunate that my partner will regularly check on me while I’m writing and I’ll be able to break up some of the flow with light conversation, etc. These things are very important to consider. Just because we write about darkness doesn’t mean we can’t stand in the light every now and then.

Additionally as a queer person yourself, while it is amazing to have queer representation in horror, do you find it to be additionally taxing to write about the suffering of queer people? I also would like to note that I have always appreciated that your work has none of the suffering of the characters to be related to their queerness, but do you find any difficulty in it?

I’m a bit pessimistic when it comes to my view on humanity and life in general, so I’m afraid this answer may not be that lighthearted. I think there is so much suffering in this world, unfortunately. More to the point, it’s incurable. Suffering is simply part of the human experience. Of course, I do find it taxing sometimes to write about characters experiencing the worst parts of humanity. But there’s something to be said about purging that suffering on the page. It always usually makes me feel better. It feels like venting to a trusted friend. You always feel better after that, right?

And lastly, what advice do you have out there for all of the aspiring horror writers out there? Do you have any tips?

I would encourage any aspiring horror writers reading this to be as fearless as possible. There are no limits. Be brave and showcase the true glory of your imagination. If you are honest with your readers, they will respect you. Of course, it’s in your best interest to read as much as possible (read as widely as possible too!) and to write often so that you regularly engage those literary muscles, but the truth is: there are no rules when it comes to writing horror successfully. Be free to be who you are.

They Were Here Before Us by Eric LaRocca is out now and available for purchase at your local independent bookstore or wherever fine books are sold.

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