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An Author Interview with Mark Allen Gunnells and W. Dale Jordan

I first became aware of you through your wonderful articles at iHorror. When did you first become a horror fan, and was there a particular movie or book that got you into the genre?

Oh, that’s an excellent question! I’ll keep this as brief as possible, but it’s a bit of a journey. I was a very nervous child. I know now that I was dealing with severe anxiety and a couple of other things, but I didn’t have the vocabulary for it back then. This is all to say that horror movies, especially, had a bit of a mystique around them that took me a while to work through. My parents didn’t allow me to watch horror films for a couple of reasons.

A) We were a conservative religious family, and they didn’t want that dark stuff in the house. B) They didn’t want to have to deal with the subsequent nightmares.

However, at the same time, my mother always talked about horror movies she watched as a kid. I grew up hearing stories about Psycho and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte and I were absolutely fascinated.

As I got a little older, I realized that while my parents paid strict attention to what I watched, they didn’t look at the library books I brought home at all. By the fourth grade, I had discovered Edgar Allan Poe and was devouring every dark story I could find. Then in the seventh grade, I picked up a copy of Firestarter by Stephen King and never looked back. 

As for the film, they used to show horror movies on television in the afternoons when I was a kid during the summer. After my mom started working again when I was in my early teens, I was home taking care of my younger brothers during the day and that was where my horror movie education began. I’ll never forget the first time I saw Carrie. Talk about life-changing. I was terrified. I also wanted more!

One thing that really caught my attention was how some of your articles would focus on LGBTQ+ horror. How did you find the response to such topics?

Response to my articles about LGBTQ+ horror have been about as mixed as you might expect. I learned very quickly that a certain section of the cis-het community is enraged by the very idea of it all, especially when I point out that the movies and books that they love have queer elements to them. I have gotten death threats. I have had people suggest I kill myself. I have had people say I’m “just making shit up” even when I provide ample evidence to underline what I’m talking about.

At the same time, I’ve had people write to thank me. I’ve interviewed people and shared their stories and some of them have told me they’ve felt seen for the first time in their lives. I’ve had people who have told me they were able to come out because of articles I’ve written. That makes the whole thing worth it.

Growing up a gay horror fan, I always hungered to see myself represented in the genre fiction I loved but usually came away disappointed. Did you have a similar experience? If so, what if any examples of gay representation did you find in the horror and suspense genres?

Yeah, I think you and I are about the same age. Our gay rep usually came in the form of coded villains and the worst kinds of stereotypes. I knew that I connected to certain characters like Carrie White and the Wolfman and so on, but I couldn’t put my finger on why until I really came to terms with myself and my identity and then a few of those things fell into place. As far as outright representation goes, I didn’t really begin to see that until I was an adult and even then, it’s been shaky. “Kill your gays” is alive and well, even in 2021.

Did you always want to be a writer yourself? 

I think so, yeah. When I was a kid, I would watch a movie and then sit down after and write out the story of the movie. I come from a family of storytellers, really. Holidays with my dad’s family were some of the most entertaining. He’s the youngest of eight kids and to this day I can’t tell you the definitive birth order of them all! What I can tell you is that when they would get together, they would inevitably start telling stories about their lives when they were kids, and I was absolutely fascinated. They were humorous and shocking and all the things a good story should be. I think, even then, they were teaching us how to tell stories. I just took the next step and put pen to paper to write stories down. In a way, I see myself as the next evolution of that storytelling tradition in my family.

What other writers influenced you?

Oh gosh, so many. I already mentioned Poe and King, but I think Shirley Jackson was one of the greatest writers of the last century and I have read and reread her work so many times. I feel the same about Ray Bradbury, Peter Straub, Anne Rice, Richard Matheson, Arthur Machen, and Henry James. These authors could create a sense of place and instill fear so subtly in the reader. Anyone who can read Straub’s Ghost Story and call it boring is a person not to be trusted!

I’d also mention Aaron Dries, Hailey Piper, Stephen Graham Jones, Victor LaValle, Octavia E. Butler, and Tananarive Due. These are all authors who I discovered after I was an adult—some didn’t start writing until I was an adult—and who continue to inspire me.

One thing I really respect about your work is how you do not shy away from the gay aspects of your characters’ lives. Some people feel that could limit a potential audience (a theory I don’t happen to believe). Did you ever worry about that?

I tell the stories I feel compelled to tell and worry about the audience later. Those stories almost always involve members of the LBGTQ+ community. I think the people who tell us it will limit our audience are the same people who tried to tell Toni Morrison that she wouldn’t be a mainstream author until she wrote a book about white characters. Those are the people who are quietly homophobic and who are only comfortable in a heteronormative space. They prefer us sexless and quiet, two things I am not and refuse to be. If they can’t read a story about someone who is different than themselves and have empathy and enjoy it, it says a lot more about them than it does about my subject matter. 

Your new novella, The Stop, is wonderful and exciting and ground-breaking in many ways. Where did you get the initial inspiration?

I was listening to The Queer Bible: Essays on audiobook and the first essay was about George Michael. It went into his arrest and his being forced out of the closet because of it. My mind immediately took me back to some of the, shall we say, risky behaviors I took part in back in my younger days and I thought, “It’s a wonder more of us weren’t killed all things considered.” That was it. That one thought kicked this story into gear, and it wouldn’t let me go. I tell people I felt like I had been through an exorcism when this book was finished and it’s not an exaggeration. I was wrung out by it, but I’m so proud of it at the same time.

What I love about this story is that you take an aspect of gay culture that most consider salacious and deviant and present it with humanity and sensitivity. Was this something you intended from the onset or did it develop naturally as you were writing?

I honestly didn’t know how else to write this story because there are so many people who try to reduce who we are to what we do in our bedrooms. This is at its core a human story about real human beings, even if they are only archetypal representations in a way. Whether we want to admit it or not, almost all of us at one point or another have sought physical contact as an emotional bandage. These characters are doing the same. They are real people with real needs, and they deserved the best treatment I could give them. I try not to judge my characters ever, but it was especially important here.

The story, as well as being a bang-up suspense tale, also delves into what it was like to be gay in the south during a certain period, the lengths you would go to when society at large wouldn’t let you be yourself. I could relate to this so much. Did you have a gay audience in mind when writing it, or was your goal just to tell the story as truthfully as possible?

I didn’t have a particular audience in mind when I was writing it, but I certainly felt a responsibility to tell our story as honestly as possible. I drew upon a lot of my own experiences from the time as I was writing. I also sought out feedback from other gay men in my generation who grew up in the same types of spaces as beta readers. In the end, I think I’ve told a story that only one of us could tell, about a time and place that is bittersweet to remember.

I think The Stop is going to appeal to a wide audience of suspense readers, especially those seeking authentic characters and totally fresh situations. Did you feel like you had something special when you were writing it?

I wasn’t sure what I had while I was writing it. It wasn’t until I let other people read it for feedback that I realized I had perhaps tapped into something unexpected. They spoke about it in ways that really kind of blew my mind. It’s still hard for me to believe some of the things they had to say. I only hope that when it’s released more readers will have the same experience.

I hear you are working on something new. Can you tell us a little about that?

I’m always working on something! I do have a novel titled Taking Possession that will be published by Off Limits Press in the next year. On the surface it’s about an antique store that houses some very unusual items including a haunted mirror and the most sadistic child ghost I’ve ever written. It’s also about an uncle and nephew, both gay, and their parallel lives moving between the 1980s and 2007.

I’m also working on the third book in The Eagle and Heart fantasy/romance trilogy, and I have ideas for two more novellas in the same vein as The Stop. One takes place in the 1960s and the other is more contemporary. Both will be suspense/thrillers, and I have a feeling I’ll be digging into those soon.

W. Dale Jordan

W. Dale Jordan

Author

W. Dale Jordan is an out and proud gay author living with his husband in the wilds of East Texas. His imagination was always just a little too big for him growing up, and it often spilled onto the page. Today, he splits his writing life between fiction and journalism. He is a big believer that representation in media is vital to equity in the real world and incorporates those ideas into his writing whether it’s a scary creature feature or a fantasy tale like those he loved growing up.

Mark Allen Gunnells

Mark Allen Gunnells

Author

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