By Despina Durand
Part of the Arcade Asylum Virtual Authors Readings series. To sign up for the reading and to get further information about the series click here.
Gretchen Felker-Martin describes herself as the “Filthcore queen” on Twitter. She explains that this means, “In your prose and your story you push human misery and human abjection as much as you can.” The goal is prose that “looks how an emotion feels.” Eve Harms explains that horror is a genre which gives you access to the “full palette of human experience.”
“In horror you have access to everything,” Harms underscored.
With this kind of no-holds-barred approach to fiction, especially fiction which deals simultaneously with the experiences of marginalized persons and communities, and with lived experiences which can challenge the accepted norms (“Art without the subversion of ‘common knowledge’ isn’t worthwhile,” Harms pointed out) none of these authors is unfamiliar with negative responses to their art, or the art coming from their own cohorts and community.
Harms describes the importance of discomfort in art and discomfiting art as being two fold: first of all it can be a source of comfort, she explained, “By experiencing trauma in a fictional manner, it can help us relive our own traumas in a way that’s safe.”
This recognition of the self, in its most abject and distressing forms is something Felker-Martin also appreciates. By defining specific types of pain, marginalized people who feel alone can realize that they aren’t as isolated as they might otherwise believe.
It allows for people to know, she explains, “[That] [a]cross the vast gulf between consciousnesses someone else is feeling the way you are.”
“The second [purpose of discomfort] being, it can challenge your preconceived notions about something. It takes something you think you know and challenges you on it,” Harms said. “The most important thing you can do is challenge your most sincerely held beliefs.” She recognizes that this doesn’t mean that a given work of art will necessarily cause someone to change their beliefs, but it gives them the opportunity to explore and examine those beliefs from outside their usual thinking.
One of the reasons that Felker-Martin prioritizes the suffering and abjection that mark her work out as “filthcore” is that she sees disgust as being an important element of the human emotional system.
“Modern science suggests disgust evolved to protect us from rotten food, dead bodies, [etc.],” she said. But disgust is not an intelligent process, “It cannot tell the difference between something that is dirty and something that is unfamiliar.”
Both Felker-Martin and Piper have faced unexpected reactions to their work. For Felker-Martin, while she expected “liberal cis white women” to react negatively to Manhunt, the negative response from younger queer—especially a certain subset of transmasculine—individuals, shocked her. The majority of these people, she suspects, have not read the book in full. “I’m not going into their living rooms and forcing them to read it,” she added.
Piper explained that while her books are less focused on overt violence against queer and trans individuals and communities (as compared to Felker-Martin’s work), the purely positive or enthusiastic responses to her work have left her mildly perplexed in the past. Some readers of her 2020 novel Benny Rose, the Cannibal King described it as a ‘fun time.’
“Not how I see it,” Piper explained. “The book gets more depressing as it goes on. But that’s just my perspective as the author.”
This ‘hands off’ approach to her audience marks Piper out, she has a zen approach to her readers, “What I write is going to be taken by who it’s taken,” she said. “It’s an ideological potluck, everyone can bring their own experiences.”
The response to Queen of Teeth seems to bear out that understanding. Piper said she’s seen the book described both as ‘a delightful novel’ and ‘a brutal novel not for the faint of heart’.
“It depends entirely on the person,” she added.
Felker-Martin and Eve Harms both view Clive Barker as a formative influence for them. “I would never write the way I do if I hadn’t read Books of Blood,” Felker-Martin said. Additionally, Barker shared certain life experiences with her which made his work particularly impactful, both of them having gone through periods of poverty and sex work.
Barker also views queerness in terms of monstrocity, Felker-Martin explained, especially in Nightbreed. “Otherness was so appealing to me,” Felker-Martin said of her youthful self. “Queer community is about finding people who love the parts of you that society won’t even look at,” she continued, in reference to Barker’s monstrous queer fairy tale. Both Piper and Harms echoed this sentiment.
But this focus on discomfort and disgust does not mean that the purpose of their art is to alienate the reader.
Piper explained how she wants her writing to give people, especially queer people, hope. “I write with my feelings,” she explained. Piper recognizes that some people would prefer for queer representation in fiction to be soft or delicate, to counteract the difficulties that queer people, and other minorities or oppressed people, experience.
“I need the contrast; honest contrast from honest sources,” she said. “If it’s all soft it feels trite. If it’s all brutal it feels numb.”
When she was writing Queen of Teeth, Piper’s wife asked her, “Who is this for?” “Oh, for me. It’s for me,” she replied. Harms, giving advice to writers trying to out themselves out there, said, “Only do what feels right. Don’t write for a lot of people, write for yourself and/or a few friends. Find a weird artists to give your book an interesting cover.” She added, “Find a community, find your cohorts. Find what you can do for your community, for your readers.”
On Twitter, Felker-Martin has urged her followers and readers to read “queer art made by real queer people.” All three authors agree that queer art made with the heart and soul of the real lived queer experience far outweighs the value of “corporate queer art” or the “rainbow capitalism” represented by the, in their eyes, hollow tokenization of the queer experience deployed by companies like Disney.
“Basically it’s just advertising aimed at us. They’ll flick scraps off the table at us. Its sellng our heritage as queer people to us,” Felker-Martin said. “Queer art by queer people doesn’t cost $150 million. It’s cheap and it’s sexual.”
She mentioned the Bread and Puppet Theater Cheap Art Manifesto which says, “[Art] needs to be EVERYWHERE because it is the INSIDE of the WORLD.”
Harms expressed a similar sentiment, adding, “Lots of people want diversity in art and publishing, but they are only focussing on the people already at the table. But if you have the opportunity to give direct aid to marginalized communities, not in exchange for their art or transactional in any way, that’s how we get more diverse artists. It’s not enough to focus on the people already here.”
Piper cut to the core of the connection all three of them are looking for, “One of the things I love most is when queer people ﬁnd my books and message me and say ‘I feel seen.’”
Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin will be available from Tor Nightfire on 2.22.22. Follow her on Twitter @scumbelievable
Transmuted by Eve Harms is available on Amazon here. Follower her on Twitter @eveharmswrites and visit her online at eveharms.com.
Queen of Teeth by Hailey Piper is available from our store & anywhere fine literary works are sold. Follower her on Twitter @haileypipersays and visit her online at haileypiper.com.
The Hellbound Heart
By Clive Barker
Frank Cotton's insatiable appetite for the dark pleasures of pain led him to the puzzle of Lemarchand's box, and from there, to a death only a sick-minded soul could invent. But his brother's love-crazed wife, Julia, has discovered a way to bring Frank back—though the price will be bloody and terrible . . . and there will certainly be hell to pay.
The Damnation Game
By Clive Barker
There are things worse than death. There are games so seductively evil, so wondrously vile, no gambler can resist. Amid the shadow-scarred rubble of World War II, Joseph Whitehead dared to challenge the dark champion of life’s ultimate game. Now a millionaire, locked in a terror-shrouded fortress of his own design, Joseph Whitehead has hell to pay. And no soul is safe from this ravaging fear, the resurrected fury, the unspeakable desire of...
THE DAMNATION GAME
By Clive Barker
A horrifying and spellbinding tale by the “great imaginer of our time” (Quentin Tarantino) and New York Times bestselling author Clive Barker about the magical world lying right beneath our feet.
In a home of an elderly woman in Liverpool lies a carpet.
Suzanna Parish is called to Liverpool after her grandmother has a stroke. Cal Mooney is on the run from an escaped homing pigeon. Together they find themselves accidently drawn into the strange world that lies beneath the mysterious rug. Here, a race of magical beings have hidden themselves from the normal world to escape human persecution and an evil known as the Scourge. But two other evils, a ruthless witch and her sidekick, seek the carpet for their own gain and will do whatever it takes to find it. As the intricate weavings of the tapestry come undone, Suzanna and Cal must face their biggest fears to save this discovered land and all its inhabitants.
Queen of Teeth
By Hailey Piper
Within forty-eight hours, Yaya Betancourt will go from discovering teeth between her thighs to being hunted by one of the most powerful corporations in America.
She assumes the vagina dentata is a side effect of a rare genetic condition caused by AlphaBeta Pharmaceutical, decades ago, when she and several thousand others were still in the womb.
But, when ABP corporate goons upend her life, she realizes her secondary teeth might be evidence of a new experiment for which she’s the most advanced test tube . . . a situation worsened when Yaya’s condition sprouts horns, tentacles, and a mind of its own.
On the run and transforming, Yaya may be either ABP’s greatest success, or the deadliest failure science has ever created.
Night of the Mannequins
By Stephen Graham Jones
Award-winning author Stephen Graham Jones returns with Night of the Mannequins, a contemporary horror story where a teen prank goes very wrong and all hell breaks loose: is there a supernatural cause, a psychopath on the loose, or both?
We thought we'd play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead.
One last laugh for the summer as it winds down. One last prank just to scare a friend. Bringing a mannequin into a theater is just some harmless fun, right? Until it wakes up. Until it starts killing.
Luckily, Sawyer has a plan. He’ll be a hero. He'll save everyone to the best of his ability. He'll do whatever he needs to so he can save the day. That's the thing about heroes―sometimes you have to become a monster first.
"Suffused with questions about the nature of change and friendship, “Night of the Mannequins” is a fairy tale of impermanence showcasing Graham Jones’s signature style of smart, irreverent horror." ―The New York Times
"A hotter voice in horror would be hard to find these days, and Graham Jones does not disappoint, delivering another masterpiece. Give to fans of slasher or serial killer tales." ―Library Journal, starred review
"Jones tiptoes the border between supernatural and psychological horror in this weird and wild novella... Balancing horror and humor, this novella puts a clever modern twist on a classic monster story." ―Publishers Weekly
Stephen Graham Jones was raised as pretty much the only Blackfeet in West Texas—except for his dad and grandma and aunts and uncles and cousins. He now lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife, a couple kids, and too many old trucks. Between West Texas and now, he's published more than twenty books, including the novels The Fast Red Road, Ledfeather, and Mongrels, and the short story collections After the People Lights Have Gone Off, States of Grace, and The Ones that Got Away. Jones is a three-time winner of the This is Horror awards, and made Bloody Disgusting’s Top Ten Novels of the Year list.