Author Eric LaRocca is getting a lot of attention right now. His recent novella Things Have Gotten Worse Since Last We Spoke has been on everyone’s to-read list, and naturally, his new collection The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales from Off Limits Press is going to be a hot ticket item when it publishes on September 1, 2021. The out gay author practically wrote himself onto the roster for this year’s Horror Pride Month.
LaRocca grew up in a small Connecticut town. His dad was a pilot for American Airlines and his mother, from an early age, encouraged his reading, taking him to the library where he began consuming classics from authors like Agatha Christie. She also began exposing him to classic films.
“It was my mom who introduced me to the Universal monster movies,” the author said. “Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Wolfman, and The Mummy. I really took an interest in those characters. I think it’s because they’re such inherently queer characters to begin with. The monsters we’ve come to know and love exist in such a queer space being the other and being reviled and maligned. Being cast out. I really identified with them.”
This expanding horizon on film, pushed the boundaries of the young author-to-be’s reading list as well. He was soon consuming the works of Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley before discovering openly queer authors like Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, and Michael McDowell.
“I really tried to do as best I could educating myself with what horror could offer me and what horror is,” he explained. “It really stems from my mom introducing myself to those classic films. I always felt like an outsider growing up. I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. Horror was a space for me to exist. It was a great place for me to confront my own fears and insecurities.”
Like those monsters he loved, his own inherent queerness became more apparent to LaRocca as he got older, though he says, a part of him always knew that he was different from his friends.
Like so many of us, it was a matter of waiting until the time actually felt right and safe. That began with friends when he was a teenager before eventually working his way up to telling his parents when he was around 18 years old.
“Looking back,” the author said. “I don’t know why I was so fearful. I have the most supportive parents on the face of the earth. They have never done anything to make me think that they would have abandoned me or put me out because I’m gay. My fears of my true self were unfounded. They were more based on society’s perception of gay men and women. Growing up in the early 2000s, one of the popular phrases was ‘Oh that’s so gay’ equated to ‘that’s so stupid’ or ‘that’s so dumb.’ So it was really me reacting to my peers and how they treated me.”
As he was integrating his ideas on identity for himself, he was also giving more attention to his writing. At 14, young LaRocca pitched an idea to his local theater group for a play and they agreed to produce it. Later, he would incorporate his love of horror to playwrighting, as well, creating a show about Elizabeth Bathory at Hartford Stage.
Looking back over the many things he’s read and enjoyed, the author said, there is one piece that continues to stick out for him after all these years.
“The one book that really kind of opened my world and made me realize it’s more than fine to be a gay man writing horror was Clive Barker’s The Hellbound Heart,” he said. “That piece really just completely resonated with me on such a visceral level. Just the unabashed sexuality of it, the perversity, the absurdity. I discovered him when I was maybe 16 or 17. From there, my world just completely changed. I felt like the limitations I put in my mind not only in horror but as a person were just completely erased and I felt like I was just completely limitless with possibilities in regards to writing and with myself as a human being. I feel like Clive Barker really just destroyed all barriers. His imagination is completely unparalleled. It was a seminal piece for me to digest and define myself.”
The story also influences his own writing. One can see glimmers of the body horror of Barker and filmmakers like David Cronenberg in the pages of Things Have Gotten Worse Since Last We Spoke, a novella that not traverses the course of a manipulative relationship but also takes a look at the darker corners of internet culture which LaRocca compares to the wild west.
As for his upcoming collection The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales from Off Limits Press, Eric LaRocca had this to say.
“It is a collection of dark fiction—not all of the pieces are outright horror. A lot of them are the sort of slow, more reflective kind of slow-burn horror. And some are just more unsettling and very disturbing.”
I, for one, can’t wait to read it.