Eric LaRocca, a lovely, bright, and shining new light, somehow just appeared out of nowhere. One day I was oblivious, and the next I’ve read four of his stories and a poetry collection. Eric’s writing talent is unprecedented. It’s ultramodern, deeply dark, and sneaks up on you in ways you don’t even realize.
Janelle Janson: Eric, thank you so much for agreeing to chat with me about horror for Pride Month. Can you tell me briefly, what does Pride Month mean to you?
Eric LaRocca: Pride month has always been a month when I feel most safe to be my most authentic self. I feel empowered to hold my boyfriend’s hand when we’re walking down a crowded city street. I feel no shame for listening to the music I enjoy or wearing the outlandish clothing I like to wear. I feel as though the threat of name calling or physical harm is far away and distant during June simply because of the sacrifices so many queer men and women have made throughout history. While Pride month is a time for celebration and unabashedly being your true self, it’s also a time of reflection—a time when we remember and honor the heroes of our community who gave so much of themselves in the fight for equality.
JJ: For readers who may not know your work, briefly, tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get into writing?
EL: Writing was a very intrinsic part of my life when I was growing up. I always felt the need to tell stories, to share my perspective of the world with readers. Although most of my very early work were crude imitations of films I had seen or books I had read, I was learning and developing my voice as a writer.
JJ: Did you have a good support system? Are your parents big fans of your writing?
EL: I’m so fortunate to have two very supportive and thoughtful parents who love me unconditionally. While they may not have always understood my penchant for the macabre and my zeal for the disturbing, they never attempted to squash my creative enthusiasm. They always knew in their hearts that I was expressing myself and living my truth.
JJ: Were you openly gay during your formative years and burgeoning career? Are you comfortable sharing that part of your journey?
EL: I was very shy and closed off to most people during my formative years. I often look back on my childhood and wish I could tell my former self to be prouder, to be more unapologetic. But that wasn’t possible for me. I needed to protect myself. High school was a very tumultuous time for me, unfortunately. I was bullied constantly by peers because I was often described as “overly feminine.” Thankfully I was never physically harmed by any of the upperclassmen, but I was targeted with name calling almost every day.
JJ: Did you turn to horror as a comfort?
EL: Horror has always been hugely cathartic for me, so naturally I turned to the genre in high school as a means to cope with the things I could not control. Horror is, of course, a safe space to reconcile one’s fears. I’ve said this before in interviews, but I often saw myself in the monsters portrayed on screen. I saw myself in those marginalized, ostracized, often misunderstood effigies of terror. For me, horror has always been an escape—a place for me to come to terms with my identity as a young queer man and to explore the darker facets of the culture in which we live.
JJ: What was the first book that got you hooked on horror?
EL: That’s a great question. If I remember correctly, I’d say it was a book of short horror stories prominently featuring W. W. Jacobs’ classic tale titled “The Monkey’s Paw.” For some inexplicable reason, I found myself captivated by the story and eager to devour more. Although it’s quite tame when compared with modern horror, there was something so deliciously mystifying about that particular story that really resonated with me at such a young age. It was a seminal moment in my life when I said to myself, “This. This is the kind of material I want to create.”
JJ: What is it about the horror genre that draws you in? Do you think there is a stigma to horror?
EL: There’s absolutely a stigma associated with horror. I actually just tweeted the other day how I recall when I was much younger, I told somebody in my hometown how I write horror and they immediately replied with, “You must be quite strange.” Horror is still considered a “gutter genre.” I think that’s what attracts me so much to the genre though. Horror is often maligned and ostracized—very similar to how I felt when I was growing up.
JJ: Is it more difficult to write horror poetry? And what makes your poetry fit the horror genre?
EL: Writing horror poetry has been a deeply cathartic process for me. It’s afforded me the opportunity to explore aspects of myself I’m still not comfortable sharing with my fiction. I suppose my poetry aligns with horror’s sensibilities in the fact that it’s an exploration of the uncanny, the macabre, the unnatural, etc. I actually just finished a brand new project that incorporates my love of poetry with my love of fiction and epistolary narratives.
JJ: What would you like to see happen in the future in the horror genre?
EL: I don’t have any set expectations regarding the future of horror. The genre is so malleable. Of course, I would love to see more marginalized voices break into the mainstream.
JJ: I did a little digging and saw that you have a master’s degree in writing from Emerson College. I noticed you are not only an author but a playwright and screenwriter as well. Which medium do you enjoy writing the most?
EL: That’s a difficult question to answer! Writing a screenplay or a play is a vastly different process than writing a piece of fiction or poetry. I’m usually more drawn to writing fiction because it typically allows me to be more descriptive. To that end, I usually have more control over the finished product as scripts are a hugely collaborative process. They mutate considerably throughout the rehearsal period.
JJ: I devoured your debut novella, Starving Ghosts in Every Thread. It has an unusual premise and is eloquently written–did it take you a long time to write? Teddy is a complex character–do you relate to her in any way?
EL: That novella is very close to my heart, as I identify quite a bit with the main character, Teddy. It didn’t take me very long to write. Perhaps a month or so at most. But I will say it was a truly arduous journey to actually complete the novella. I had the pernicious voice of self doubt whispering in my ear throughout much of the writing process and I truly wondered if the novella would ever see the light of day. I’m so honored that the piece has resonated with so many readers.
JJ: Fanged Dandelion is a stunning poetry collection. It cut right to my core and violently grabbed hold of my heart. Do you write from real-life experiences? How much of this collection is you on the page?
EL: Fanged Dandelion was inspired by my experience with intrusive thoughts—horrible, insidious thoughts that are overwhelming and debilitating at times. That collection is essentially a stream of consciousness—an exploration of myself and the things that continue to haunt me.
JJ: I was one of the lucky ones to receive a copy of your short story collection, A Bright Enchanted Suffering. The two stories, “You’re Not Supposed to Be Here” and “Where Flames Burned Emerald As Grass,” are both spectacular. Can you give us an idea when this short story collection might be published and by whom? How many stories will be included?
EL: Unfortunately, A Bright Enchanted Suffering will always be the book that never was. I receive DMs all the time from readers asking about the book and it brings me so much joy because it lets me know people are really invested and clamoring for my work. I can tell you that the two novelettes that were to be housed in that collection (“You’re Not Supposed to Be Here” and “Where Flames Burned Emerald as Grass”) will now be published by Off Limits Press in my debut short story collection, titled The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales. The collection will launch in September 2021, and I am so excited to share these stories with my readers.
JJ: Your latest novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, is under my skin and has infected my brain – and I mean that as a compliment. The story gradually gets darker at a perfect pace. What inspired you to write this story and do so in an epistolary style? Do you ever despise any of your characters? Also, why an antique apple peeler?
EL: I’ve always been so intrigued by the lawlessness of the early days of the internet. Online communication figures heavily in a lot of my shorter pieces. My short story, “miss_vertebrae” (published in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Volume 2) is a tale of revenge told through a series of emails. My new short story, “The Strange Thing We Become”, is a tale of transformation told through blog posts. So, to write this particular novella was a very natural decision for me, especially format-wise since I adore the epistolary style. I wish I had a succinct and compelling answer for the reason behind the apple peeler, but I don’t. I wanted a household object that was mundane and yet somehow slightly theatrical. It fits perfectly because as the story progresses, Agnes seems to peel aspects of her life away until she has nothing left but Zoe.
JJ: What is your writing process? Besides your editor, who is the first person to read your work when you finish?
EL: Besides my editor, usually the first person to read my material is my boyfriend, Ali. He’s also a writer (he writes YA fiction) and he’s very sensitive and respectful with regard to the creative process. My writing process, unfortunately, is quite boring. I typically work for a few hours at a time and then take a break when I need to regenerate. Although I don’t write every day (because life often gets in the way), when I’m working on a new project, I strive to write at least two thousand words per day.
JJ: What writers have influenced you? If you could meet any author and ask one question, what would it be?
EL: Daring/audacious writers like Michael McDowell, Clive Barker, Chuck Palahniuk, Kathe Koja, and Poppy Z. Brite are huge inspirations for me. I suppose if I had the opportunity I’d love to simply bask in Mr. Barker’s presence. I’m not sure if I’d be capable of asking a question, but it would be such a pleasure to meet such a distinguished and iconic writer.
JJ: Please tell us about your affiliation with Ryan Lewis and Josh Malerman’s production company, Spin A Black Yarn. Inquiring minds want to know!
EL: So, Ryan Lewis is my manager and he represents me for projects developing as Film/TV properties. He signed me on as a client not long after he first read my debut novella, Starving Ghosts in Every Thread. Working with Ryan and Josh has been such a joy and a tremendous honor. I actually just attended the Tribeca premiere of Max Booth’s film, We Need to Do Something, which was produced by Spin a Black Yarn.
JJ: What are your top five horror book recommendations? What is a book you revisit time and time again?
I suppose the book I revisit time and time again from this list has to be Palahniuk’s Haunted. There’s something so deliciously disquieting about that novel and I simply adore it. One of my dear friends, author Ross Jeffery, actually sent me a signed copy of the book as a gift for the release of Things a Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. It’s a copy I will treasure for the rest of my life.
JJ: What are your top three horror movies? What’s a horror movie you despise?
EL: This is so difficult to narrow down, but I’ll do my best…
- Martyrs (2008)
- Possession (1981)
- mother! (2017)
There really aren’t any horror films I vehemently despise. I promise I’m not attempting to avoid the question. There are, of course, films I certainly would never watch again. But I really don’t despise any horror films I’ve seen.
JJ: Describe your perfect day? Where would it be and who are you with?
EL: My perfect day would be spent wandering the streets of Boston with my boyfriend. We’d visit our favorite shops, order bubble tea from our favorite place, have a late lunch, visit our favorite bookstore, etc. That sounds like such a perfect day!
JJ: What is one thing you’d want a reader to take away from reading your work?
EL: I think I’d like readers to understand that marginalized voices matter. Queer voices matter. My work will always be very queer, and I feel so much pride in that.
JJ: What are you reading now? What new release are you excited for most?
EL: Aside from a few ARCs I’ve received in order to provide blurbs for other authors, my TBR stack is never ending. Currently I’m reading Come Closer by Sarah Gran, White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi, and I Would Haunt You if I Could by Seán Padraic Birnie. The new release that has me on the edge of my seat is actually a Nightfire title, Nothing But Blackened Teeth. The cover is so visually arresting and I’ve heard such wonderful things about the contents of the novella as well.
JJ: What advice do you have for aspiring writers? Especially, to writers that want to break into the horror biz.
EL: Be fearless. Don’t be afraid to take risks and to be as vulnerable as possible with your readers. They will respect you for it.
JJ: What projects are you working on now? Any announcements you would like to make? Pretty please, with sugar on top.
EL: I’m currently working on my very first novel. It’s been a slow and steady process so far, but I’m so excited to see where this project takes me. I have tons of announcements, but unfortunately I’ve signed contracts so it’s in the capable hands of the publishers now. I wish I could share more details, but I will tell you that 2022 is shaping up to be a truly exciting year for me. I look forward to sharing more of my writing with the world!
JJ: Eric, you are such a delight. Thank you again for talking with me and for letting me pick your brilliant mind. I look forward to many, many more stories and beautiful poetry from you. Take care, my friend.