It’s October, and that means it’s time to read some scary stories (though, really, when is it not?). But while writer Eric LaRocca says the ones in his short story collection The Strange Thing We Become And Other Dark Tales (paperback, Kindle) are “mainly horror stories,” he also says in the following email interview that they’re driven by sorrow and grief.
To start, is there a theme to the stories in The Strange Thing We Become? Something that connects them?
I think grief and despair serve as the connective tissue for the stories in The Strange Thing We Become. It’s a somber, muted horror collection, and though some of the stories explore various themes and ideas, I think grief and sorrow are the main driving forces. I’ve always been fascinated by the role that grief plays in fiction, especially horror fiction. I have lost many family members and other loved ones, and I find myself able to come to terms with their demise through my writing. The act of writing is hugely cathartic for me and assembling this collection of stories was no different.
You keep referring to them as horror stories. Is that the only kind of stories in The Strange Thing We Become And Other Dark Tales?
They are mainly horror stories; however, some could easily argue that the stories are also dark literary fiction. I tried to push myself and my sensibilities while writing these pieces and I found myself interested in writing less overtly scary stories and instead focusing more on atmosphere and mood.
While the rest are new to this collection, the titular story in The Strange Thing We Become previously appeared in the literary journal 34 Orchard and in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, Volume 6. Is the version of that story the same as it was in 34 and Best Hardcore Horror?
There were no substantial changes made to the previously published story. Perhaps a word or two was changed to fit Off Limits Press’s style guide, but the story was otherwise printed the same.
But I’m not too litigious when it comes to publishing stories. I find that pieces are ever evolving and I’ve made many amendments to previously published pieces.
Are there any writers, or maybe specific stories, that had a particularly big influence on a story or stories in The Strange Thing We Become, but not on any of your other writings?
Hmm…that’s an interesting question. I suppose the two writers that had the most profound impact upon me while I wrote this collection were Michael Wehunt and Roald Dahl. I’ve been acquainted with Michael Wehunt’s work for several years now, and am a devoted fan. Dahl, however, is a newer writer to me (despite the fact that he’s much older) and I had been savoring most of his tales while writing this particular collection. I’m especially fond of his macabre stories like “The Landlady” and “The Way Up To Heaven.”
Along with fiction, you also write poetry. How do you think writing poetry — and, I assume, reading it — influenced how you wrote the stories in The Strange Thing We Become?
Admittedly, I’ve always been somewhat of a prose snob. I grew up reading the lyrical and poetic dialogue of playwrights like Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. I think the writers I admired so enthusiastically all were especially lyrical or poetic in their writing and I’ve emulated some of their writing styles. I don’t necessarily read a ton of poetry; however, I do care deeply about the poeticism of the piece I’m working on and love to make things sound pleasing to the reader, even if I’m describing something abhorrent or obscene.
Speaking of your poetry, earlier this year you put out a collection of it called Fanged Dandelion. Was there a theme to that collection?
The theme to Fanged Dandelion was my struggle with intrusive thoughts throughout the early part of the Covid-19 pandemic. The poems were written over the course of a few months and reflect my feelings / thoughts throughout the entirety of the beginning of the pandemic. It was a frightening time for me; however, I’m so delighted I was able to use my creativity to work through some of my traumas.
What poets do you see as being the biggest influences on the poems in Fanged Dandelion?
Some of the poets I was reading extensively during my time of writing Fanged Dandelion were Cynthia Pelayo and Stephanie Wytovich. Both poets are exceptional writers and now dear friends of mine. Though I typically don’t read a ton of poetry, I’m always enraptured and mesmerized by Pelayo’s and Wytovich’s pieces.
You also put out a novella this summer called Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke. What is that story about?
Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke is set in the early 2000s, and is about the detriments of online communication and just how far someone will go if they’re isolated enough from society. That’s all I’d prefer to say about the plot because I really do think the value of the novella is not necessarily knowing where the book is heading.
It sounds like Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke would’ve fit well in The Strange Thing We Become had it been shorter.
It’s funny you mention that because I originally had full intentions to include Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke in my debut fiction collection; however, my publisher at Weirdpunk Books read the novella and was so excited to publish it. I’m quite content with how everything worked out, however. I think it’s important for beginning, newer writers to have a few releases under their belt.
So, did it start out as a short story?
I had always intended to deliver Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke as a novella. I know some reviewers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the book and have insisted that they might have liked the book a bit more if it were a full-length novel. I think that’s presumptuous on their part simply because I could have written more, and they could have easily detested what I delivered as a finished novel product. Perhaps even more so because novels are so time consuming. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke works best as a novella simply because it’s difficult, sometimes impossible, to sustain a feeling of horror or dread for 200+ pages. Novellas are my preferred format and I think they work exceptionally well.
It’s been my experience that short stories are a good way to get to know a writer…but not always. Do you think people who enjoy the stories in The Strange Thing We Become will like Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, and vice versa?
It’s interesting because some of the readers that read Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke have now read The Strange Thing We Become and some seem to prefer one over the other. I think both works are very different and decidedly distinct pieces in my growing catalog of fiction. It would be difficult to compare the two. I also encourage folks who read the novella to attempt the short story collection simply because it’s a totally different writing style and different themes presented. I think the collection definitely shows my versatility as an author.
As you know, Hollywood loves turning short stories into movies. Are there any stories in The Strange Thing We Become that you think could work as a movie?
I would absolutely love to see a film adaptation of the short story, “You’re Not Supposed To Be Here.” I think that piece would work well cinematically. It’s a compelling story and I think if I expanded it, it would make an interesting film.
And if that was going to happen, who would you want them to cast in the main roles and why them?
I would love to see Zachary Quinto [NOS4A2] or Matt Bomer [Doom Patrol] play one of the leading roles. It’s so important to see visible queer representation in horror storylines; however, it’s equally important to cast openly queer actors in these roles. I’ve admired both of these actors for many years for their status as role models and icons of the queer community.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Strange Thing We Become, what short story collection of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
As I mentioned previously, I was very much enraptured with the work of Michael Wehunt and Roald Dahl while writing these stories, I think if readers enjoy my collection they’ll be especially interested in reading those authors as well. For Michael Wehunt, I would recommend his iconic collection, Greener Pastures. Every story contained in that collection is an absolute knockout. For Roald Dahl, I’m sure readers will be able to locate a few of his many short story collections at their local bookstore. He was an exceptionally prolific writer and most of his stories are deliciously macabre and perverse. For those just beginning with his catalog, I would recommend “A Dip in the Pool” and “Skin.”