This week, we sit down with horror author Chad Helder.
Chad Helder creates dynamic and innovative dark poems and scary stories that spring from the dark crevices of the horror genre. He is a Stoker Award winner (“Superior Achievement in an Anthology” for UNSPEAKABLE HORROR, which he co-edited with Vince Liaguno) He is the author of THE POP-UP BOOK OF DEATH and THE VAMPIRE BRIDEGROOM and his comics work has appeared in Bluewater Productions’ VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS and BARTHOLOMEW OF THE SCISSORS.
ANTHONY: Hi, Chad! Thanks for joining us.
CHAD: Thank you so much for your interest in my book and giving me the chance to share my ideas about it.
A: Your collection THE VAMPIRE BRIDEGROOM: POEMS AND TALES came out in July. Tell us a little about how the book came together.
C: I’ve been blogging about the horror genre and “gay horror” since 2006 (and I’ve been writing poetry since 1994), and for years I’ve been dreaming about writing my own personal “ultimate” response to the horror genre through poems–so it started out with a big ambitious goal. Ever since I first started writing poetry, my poems have been filled with images and metaphors from the horror genre–it does feel like horror chose me. The book is a big horror collage with a variety of poems (almost all of the poems contain stories), and it weaves together a lot of personal themes of gay identity with the tropes and motifs of the horror genre. It is my desire that even horror fans who don’t like poetry will find a lot of satisfying content. I have to say, for better or for worse, I really held nothing back when I wrote this book–it is the best book I could write.
A: Jay Lake often talks about an author’s “span of control,” in other words the length of work the author feels most comfortable in. Most of the stories in VAMPIRE BRIDEGROOM are less than 5 pages long. Do you make a conscious effort to only work in very short form? Have you written anything longer than what appears in VAMPIRE BRIDEGROOM?
C: Over the years, I have also really enjoyed drafting some novels, but I’ve never reached a feeling of creative control or artistic control with the novel form. For The Vampire Bridegroom, I decided that I wanted psychologically intense poems and monologues with lots of poetic devices. My first love in the horror genre was Poe’s “Tell-Tale Heart” monologue–a work with lots of richness and also lots of mystery in a very confined space. In lots of ways, I am always trying to write my own “Tell-Tale Heart.” The shortness of the individual pieces in Vampire Bridegroom also helps create a collage-like feeling, I think. I didn’t want any one thing to dominate the book. That being said, some of the poems feel very large to me, especially The Gory Boy, even though they just cover a few pages. For some of the poems that have a flash fiction feel, I actually fashioned the storytelling after movie trailers–lots of quick cuts and fragmentary images.
A: Some of the pieces in TVB are in true short story form and some are pure poems, but most of them toy with format and fall somewhere in-between. How do you decide how “poetic” a piece is going to be? Have you ever started something as a poem and realized it really needed to be a short story, or vice-versa?
C: I really love to play with the gray area between poems and stories. I called the book “Poems and Tales,” not because the pieces are either/or, but rather because everything falls somewhere on the spectrum between poems and tales. I thought it would be cool to have a wide variety of styles to add to the collage feeling. I start out writing most things in poetic lines. I like how a single line needs to have something substantial–a disturbing image or a startling metaphor or a vital piece of information. If a line is empty, it’s easy to cut it out, so writing with line breaks helps me keep off the fat. Sometimes, the lines get unruly and they become little paragraphs, and I try to just let that happen if it happens. I still try to keep it tight and concise, but to answer your question, sometimes poems do become prose stories. Similarly, sometimes I have huge back stories behind a poem, and the whole thing just gets crystallized into a short poem (like with Sweet Midnight).
A: Tell us a bit about the mythos of The Gory Boy and Queen Bloody Mary. They pop up several times in the collection, either obviously or obliquely. Where did the concept come from, and are you developing it further?
C: That poem/fairy tale came from a variety of places–it is a pastiche of various elements. Most prominently, the Gory Boy is like an evil Peter Pan figure–the archetype of the eternal boy. Also, I had a traumatic experience with Bloody Mary as a little kid (which I write about in one of the poems), and ever since I’ve been fascinated with the concept of a mirror realm, or the place where Bloody Mary lives–she is the ruling central figure in this alternate dimension, but she is only referenced in the story. In addition to that, I love the Grimm’s fairy tale called “The Juniper Tree,” the grisliest of Grimm fairy tales from which my story borrows a lot of elements. I wanted to create a fairy tale-like back story for the Gory Boy character, so I used “Juniper Tree” as the starting point. To sum up, I wanted to create this shadowy Peter Pan figure, give him a fairy tale origin, and then move him into the contemporary world of urban legends where Bloody Mary lives. I think it is my favorite story in the book.
A: I got the Peter Pan sense from Gory Boy. I haven’t read “The Juniper Tree,” so now I have some homework to do! Thanks! You’ve also written the Pop-Up Book of Death and edited Unspeakable Horror: From the Shadows of the Closet. Tell us a little about those works, please.
C: Pop-Up Book of Death is like a companion to The Vampire Bridegroom, although Pop-Up is a lot more poetic, and Vampire Bridegroom is even more focused on the horror genre. Both books are dark and surreal and involve my quest to weave together my personal obsessions with a lot of deep, nightmarish stuff. A lot of the Pop-Up poems are based specifically on my actual dreams, so in that sense Pop-Up is more personal, but both have shaggy dogs, scary apes, neanderthals, and my obsession with vampires and beasts.
I co-edited Unspeakable Horror with Vince Liaguno. It’s a collection of gay horror–short stories that feature gay characters and use the horror genre as way to confront the anxieties of gay life. This book most prominently deals with the theme of coming out and all of the anxiety and danger that entails. We were very honored that the anthology won the Bram Stoker Award. Gay horror works well because the anxieties of gay life really translate well into horror metaphors. I think telling horror stories is a healthy way to confront those anxieties–not everyone agrees. We are now reading stories for the sequel.
A: So what’s next for Chad Helder?
C: I am working on some horror fairy tales, but I’ve felt pretty lost all summer–trying out a bunch of different things and experimenting in my notebook. But confusion can be a good thing–there are always lots of possible paths that can emerge.
A: Now for my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who hasn’t read it yet?
C: My favorite book is Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. I would only recommend it to readers who are interested in works of literary obsession–most people I encounter don’t seem to be, or they had negative experiences with the book at some point because they weren’t ready for it. The book is as huge as a religion and as deep as the human psyche. It’s that big.
A: Thanks for chatting with me, Chad!
C: Thank you so much for the interview–I really appreciate the opportunity to tell readers about my book.
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