In Other Terrors, a Horror Writers Association anthology of original horror stories edited by Bram Stoker Award® winners Vince A. Liaguno and Rena Mason, horror writers from a multitude of underrepresented backgrounds have created stories of everyday people, places, and things where something shifts, striking a deeper, much more primal, chord of fear. Are our eyes playing tricks on us, or is there something truly sinister lurking under the surface of what we thought we knew? And who among us is really the other, after all?
Today, we’re thrilled to have the editors talking about why horror is the perfect lens to examine otherness, drawing inspiration from the Final Girl, and more.
Vince A. Liaguno: Since Other Terrors is a horror anthology, why do you think horror the best genre in which to tell stories of otherness?
Rena Mason: Ever since I can remember, people have always asked, “Why horror?” Whether it was books or magazines I was reading, movies I watched, or dark visual artwork that appealed to me, I’d get that question from friends and strangers, and I’d typically go with the quick answer of, “It’s fun to be scared sometimes.” But it’s not at all, not in real life. What I should’ve said was that “The horror genre helps me move past the actual scary situations I’ve experienced in my life.” But it’s even so much more than that. It’s being able to agree with a group of people for a time that you are not the monster and that the whatever in the world of make-believe we’re all experiencing is. That thing—that other there in the pages, or on the screen—that’s the monster. The one with three eyes. Not me, whose two eyes are merely a different shape.
Growing up knowing I was different and experiencing all the feelings that came with that on top of what most people go through in their adolescence, well, it was a lot, and no other genre allows for the expression of all those emotions the way horror does. So yes, horror is perfect for telling stories of the other.
Vince: Yes, agreed on all points, Rena. The very roots of the horror genre are steeped in the idea of fearing that nebulous other. I’d also add that horror was the genre in which I saw myself reflected back the most, too. I can remember sitting in a dark movie theater with my dad as a pre-teen, then teenager, feeling myself relate to the Final Girl in any number of slasher films. I could immediately empathize with Laurie Strode or Alice Hardy or Nancy Thompson—the idea of not fitting in, of somehow being abnormal for not liking many of the things that the other kids did. I related to the slasher heroine’s angst. Horror helped me recognize my own otherness and helped me build defenses around it. Audiences knew that it was only a matter of time before Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees or Freddy Krueger would come for the Final Girl. I knew, as a gay adolescent, that it was only a matter of time before someone recognized me for who I really was. Attack or hurt or harm in some variation was an eventuality. But, like the Final Girls of the slasher genre, I also knew—probably more on an intrinsic level—that there was strength in truth and confronting whatever those who hated me for what made me different lobbed at me. Yes, the battle would be bloody—but I’d persevere and survive.
Horror is so deeply rooted in this idea of otherness that it provides the most fertile soil in which to explore the effects of both being the other and being fearful of the other. Horror permits the duality of seeing ourselves both as villain and as victim. And isn’t that duality what those of us from marginalized backgrounds and communities grapple with over the course of our lives? When we’re young—toddlers and small children—we’re often conditioned by parents, by society, to see monsters in those different from us. As we develop into adolescents, we suddenly recognize the monster inside of us because of how we’re depicted in the arts, how we’re spoken of by the “adults” in the room, by the tone and tenor of political discourse. Then, as adults, when we understand and come to terms with our otherness, those who seek to oppress us become the monsters, don’t they? Our tormentors become the other to fear.
As Other Terrors came to fruition, I think the duality of otherness came through strongly in the collection of stories we’ve curated. The otherness that’s at play in these stories can be monstrous in one, while eliciting the reader’s empathy in another. I just honestly don’t believe there’s another genre that provides the expansive pallet onto which so many shades and variation of otherness can be painted.
Rena: Why has the Other Terrors project been such an important one for you—personally—coming from the perspective of a marginalized other yourself?
Vince: You know, Rena, despite how dark the days feel right now with recent domestic setbacks and geopolitical atrocities, I actually think we’re living in a golden age of enlightenment. We’re witnessing more and more people from marginalized communities and backgrounds stepping out of the shadows, demanding our attention to the specificity and uniqueness of them as people—human beings who just happen to be different in some way. The marginalized and disenfranchised are making their way to the table, looking for their rightful seats. Our enemies would attempt disparagement of this cultural shift by referring to this as “being woke,” but in actuality, that’s no ridicule at all. Society is being awakened after an extended period of going through life with blinders on—selectively unseeing of those standing on the sidelines or at the back of the room. The invisible are slowly, painstaking becoming visible at last. We’re using social media and public discourse to shed light on the plights of the marginalized, demanding a newfound recognition and respect. We see it right now with the trans community. Beautiful, talented men, women, and nonbinary people who are stepping forward to demand their place in society—on their terms. We’re challenging long-held views on gender identity and sexual orientation. We’re consciously trying to elevate people of color to positions of honor and prestige to bring about a much-needed balance of power and equity in this country. We’ve embarked upon a movement to embrace the other instead of fearing it.
Now, like any cultural correction, this period of greater enlightenment is also stoking fear within the establishment and there is backlash. We’ve seen it with rise of the movement toward theocracy in this country and in the recent SCOTUS decisions. For the first time in our lives, we’ve witnessed a Supreme Court Justice sound a dog whistle to our enemies to signal which others the majority should come for next. The backlash is frightening, but it’s also the last, desperate gasp of an antediluvian, regressive mindset. I believe the times are about to get tougher for many of us, but I also feel like we’ve made such progress in bringing the marginalized forward that our defenses are fortified and we’ve got the strength to push back against the current backsliding momentum.
Likewise, we’ve seen this greater sense of cultural enlightenment reflected in our arts. I’m a gay man of a certain age who can still remember that on the rare occasion an LGBT person was depicted on TV or in the movies, you could count on one hand the few stereotypical roles they’d occupy: the flamboyant sidekick who traded stereotypes for laughs, the gay man dying of AIDS, or the unhappy trans serial killer. It’s little wonder why the Gen X and Baby Boomer LGBTQ generations still to this day struggle at times with our own internalized homophobia—we were conditioned to believe this narrow compartmentalization of our lives. This is why visibility, especially in the arts, matters. Our lives are reflected in our art.
That’s why projects like Other Terrors are so near and dear to my heart—they reflect the lives and experiences of us, the others. Yes, the stories are entertaining—as thrilling and chilling as you could want a horror anthology to be. But this collection also reflects a truth and promotes a visibility of traditionally shunned voices. This anthology elevates those voices… voices that deserve to be heard and that have been silenced for far too long.
For me, personally, Other Terrors is a middle finger to every bully, every racist, every homophobe, transphobe, and xenophobe, and every misogynist I’ve ever encountered over the course of five decades and counting. It’s a love letter to the truths of the other, a thing of physical and literary beauty filled with words that will endure long after the bigots have died off or slunk shamefully home. I’m excited for readers to meet the exquisite characters our contributors have created and the terrifying otherness that they unleash upon them.
Alright, Rena—turnabout is fair play. So why has the Other Terrors project been an important one for you as a marginalized other?
Rena: You covered a lot of my thoughts with your reply to the previous question, Vince. But of course the story of how I got there was a little different. I spent my childhood in a neighborhood where a large influx of Vietnamese refugees had migrated in the latter part of the 70s. When I was seven and bike riding in my neighborhood, a bunch of guys in a muscle car revved their engine behind me and ran me off the road, yelling “Go home, boat people.” I wasn’t physically injured when I landed on a nicely manicured lawn, but I was bawling my eyes out, and I’m still uncertain if I sobbed out of fear, or anger, because I was not a Vietnamese refugee, or both. Then the homeowners, an older couple, came out of their house and approached me, telling me to get off their grass while I cried. That couple, though, the way they looked at me. Their flat stares and fast walk struck a near-paralyzing fear I’d never experienced before. One I couldn’t explain at the time and at that age. The way they came toward me, with a kind of intent. That scared me much more than almost getting run over by a loud speeding car. When I realized my sister had sped way ahead, and no one else was around or had seen what had happened, I don’t think it would’ve mattered if I’d had two broken legs, I pulled all of me together at once and bolted off that grass so fast it’s still a blur how I got away. But that feeling I had that day on that lawn, I’ll never forget. That’s how I define horror—a claustrophobic residue of unease and crushing weight of foreboding that’s unknown, where escape is uncertain. And that’s what I wanted people to experience at different levels as they read through the stories in Other Terrors. I know I’m being partial, but I’m certain we succeeded in that.
That childhood incident changed me forever. Stole a teeny tiny piece of my childhood. I became more cautious after that and was determined to be stronger. Then came the 80s and video rental horror movie nights on weekends with my parents and sisters. My favorites were the films with the Final Girls. They showed me that I could stand up and fight back—survive. I wanted to be strong and learn ways to protect and defend myself like they did. I wasn’t going to just fall down and cry ever again. Not without a fight. So I learned whatever and whenever I could. All of it helped get me through college, my career as a registered nurse in oncology, home health, and the operating room, further shaping me into who I am today. Then the pandemic hit, and the open hate came back. But I am unchanged, and I’ll work diligently to support and lift the voices of so many others who’ve also fought hard and survived to be where they are today.
I agree with you that this is a kind of golden age and enlightenment of diversity across so many mediums never seen before. That’s the main reason I wanted to be a part of Other Terrors. It’s important to continue on the path and drive ahead. Be a force. I’m happy that horror is a part of that. In my culture, especially, women are stereotyped as being quiet and obedient. I may not be as vocal as some of my female horror colleagues, and I love them all for it, but I feel I’m doing my part and will continue to do so.
Like you, Vince, every story in Other Terrors felt like an experience I’d gone through personally—the side eye from a mother-in-law, the hurtful comment from a crowd, friend, or lover. The ones who get their comeuppance in this anthology are splendid. I’m a sucker for revenge stories. But of course art imitates life, and we all know life is unfair, so those stories that end on that note are just capturing some of the author in their purest writing-from-the-heart selves. There are also the stories that tease that residue of unease and some that go deeper under the skin. It’s used a lot, but there really is something for every reader in this anthology.
One of my favorite parts of Other Terrors has been seeing the anthology process form from the idea of Lisa Morton, former HWA President, and Writers House agent Alec Shane to becoming a proposal, taking part in the conversations to sell the pitch, having someone like Jaime Levine from William Morrow interested and enthusiastic about the project, then inviting authors to take part, reading through so many fantastic submissions, to editing, and to where we are now. My most favorite part of this process, of course, has been working with and learning from a pro such as you, Vince. Your patience has been saintly.
Being a part of Other Terrors gives me hope, and I believe readers will feel that way, too.
Contributors to Other Terrors include: Tananarive Due, Jennifer McMahon, S.A. Cosby, Stephen Graham Jones, Alma Katsu, Michael Thomas Ford, Ann Dávila Cardinal, Christina Sng, Denise Dumars, Usman T. Malik, Annie Neugebauer, Gabino Iglesias, Hailey Piper, Nathan Carson, Shanna Heath, Tracy Cross, Linda D. Addison, Maxwell I. Gold, Larissa Glasser, Eugen Bacon, Holly Lyn Walrath, Jonathan Lees, M. E. Bronstein, Michael Hanson