Hailey Piper on Combining Romance and Horror | Behind the Book

Hailey Piper discusses the intersection of romance and horror, her literary and film influences, and her first novel, Queen of Teeth.

Hailey Piper here, hello! I’m the author of horror novellas The Worm and His Kings, Benny Rose the Cannibal King, and The Possession of Natalie Glasgow; the short story collection Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy; over 60 published short stories appearing in places such as Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Year’s Best Hardcore Horror; and most recently, my first novel, Queen of Teeth, from Strangehouse Books. I hail from the haunted woods of New York, but these days I live with my wife in Maryland, where our paranormal research is classified.

As might be obvious, I adore the hell out of horror. Ever since I can remember, I’ve loaded my brain on Godzilla, Goosebumps, Stephen King, and everything else I could get my hands on, probably too young sometimes (Night of the Living Dead isn’t exactly for eight-year-olds, allegedly, but that’s the same age I plucked up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so appropriateness is anyone’s guess).

But beyond the creature features, ghost stories, and the lovely raw chill of terrifying atmospheres and imaginations, I feel horror is the genre of honesty. There is truth in its monstrosities and what it says about the world and our emotions. Horror is healing, or at least it has been for me. I find catharsis through its explorations of humanity, its opportunities to process trauma and sometimes escape from it, where the out-of-control terror of the real world fades behind a fear we choose to experience and even enjoy. Horror is often about monsters, but it’s also about surviving or standing up to them.

Which is part of why I find horror to be fundamentally queer, like me. We queer folk have been made out as monsters in the past, which we nowadays like to have fun with, and we’re used to escaping, surviving, and sometimes battling monsters too.

My motto or slogan, whatever you’d like to call it, since I hopped into the crypts of today’s horror literature, has been “Make Horror Gay AF.” It’s my way of reclaiming the word “gay” from my adolescence, when it was the go-to for kids as an insult, and turning it into an all-consuming rainbow beast. And even if I didn’t state it so bluntly, it’s how I operate on a fundamental level. I cannot engage with the genre of honesty without that honest perspective, and so I wear my queerness on one sleeve and my horror on the other. Queer horror paints my worldview, and I write my stories not only to feature queer characters but to breathe queer themes of love, isolation, monstrous exile, and transformation, to name a few, all of which I bound tightly into the pages of Queen of Teeth.

At its core, Queen of Teeth is a body horror story. It tackles the kinds of physical metamorphosis, bodily dysmorphia, and constant discomfort we associate with that subgenre, while tackling a society that would rob us of our autonomy. At the same time, it’s a book of queer feelings, a weird love story pulling together two gay women and the monster growing between them.

Bram Stoker Award winner Sara Tantlinger wisely coined the term “horromance” to describe the intersection of horror and romance, and since then I’ve found that many authors have noted the two genres’ similarities in tooling with tension. A prowling creature can be terrifying, but so can breaking out the L word to someone you’re dating without knowing for certain that they feel the same. Different extremes, sure, but tie their thrills together, and that’s where Queen of Teeth chases horror and love down snaking roads. Something I learned when my friend Claire Holland (author of I Am Not Your Final Girl) launched the Sexy Books podcast with her cohost Blythe is that romance is about fantasy, and sometimes those fantasies involve a toothy monstrosity, be it vampire or the Creature from the Black Lagoon or perhaps something that crawls and squirms. Horror can be a nightmare, of course, but you can have it both ways.

You can have it any way you like in horror—that’s one of the best parts. On top of the honesty, healing, queerness, and monsters galore, I love horror because it’s varied. A lot of people who think they don’t like horror haven’t been introduced to the right kind for them, but there’s something for everyone. From haunted houses to horromance, slashers to exorcisms, horror easily cross-pollinates with every genre and type of story, for any age group. That’s why I can’t stick with one subgenre across these books; I keep hopping between them, tasting all the flavors, as both a horror writer and, more importantly, a horror reader.

You can find more about my releases and ramblings at www.haileypiper.com, and on Twitter via @HaileyPiperSays.

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