A Conversation with William Holden by Gavin Atlas

William
Holden is the author of Words to Die By (Bold
Strokes Books), a new collection of queer horror stories as well as A Twist of Grimm (Lethe
Press), a collection of queer erotic retellings of the Grimm brothers’ fairy
tales that was a Lambda Literary Finalist in 2010.  Bold Strokes Books will also publish his
first novel, Secret Societies, which
takes place in early 18th Century London. 

Hi, William!  Congrats on Words to Die By.   I noticed that you thanked your “dark half”
Christopher.  I know Christopher was the
name given to you originally at birth. 
What makes you think of Christopher as your dark half?  Are there ways you consider yourself to be
more Dr Jekyll/Mr.Hyde-like than the average person?

Thank
you, Gavin. Ah yes, Christopher.  He
seems to be getting more attention than I am. I’ll have to have a talk with him
about that. Being adopted I always felt as if there was a part of my life that
was a mystery. I often wondered who I would have become–though from what little
I do know of my birth family, I suspect that my life wouldn’t have been a good
one. So I’m thankful that my birth mother realized this and decided to give me
up. But there is still a part of who I am today that has always been an empty
space, a dark side so to speak. Since I’ll never know more than I do now about
my birth family, it was important for me to reclaim that part of me and make it
my own, so Christopher was born, or reborn in my case.

I’ve heard that for horror writers, part
of the goal is to scare the reader. 
First, do you feel that’s accurate, and if so, what do you like about
scaring your readers?  Are their techniques
that work in many horror plots that you find satisfying?  And last, are you sure you wouldn’t rather
have your readers feel cuddly toward you instead of scared?

I’d
hope that by scaring them, they might need to cuddle even more to chase away
the boogeyman–if not with me, then with someone near and dear to them. 
 

We
write erotica in hopes of turning our readers on or at least getting them a
little hot under the collar. Romance is written to give the reader a warm fuzzy
feeling.  So I guess it stands to reason
that scaring the reader–or at least giving them a chill or two–is one of the
goals of writing horror. Otherwise, what would be the point of writing it?

I love
to be scared. It’s a thrill for me. If a reader and I can share a gasp together
or have a nightmare after reading a story, than I’ve developed a connection
with that reader.   That’s why I write, to share an experience
with others that I might not ever meet.

 

You wrote about coulrophobia, the fear of
clowns.  How difficult was it to write
about a fear you possess yourself?  I
know phobias are irrational by definition, but did someone show you Stephen King’s
It when you were too little?  Or do you have a theory of what caused you to
develop that fear? 
 

First
of all, thank you for making me sound young. I was twenty-six when Stephen
King’s It was released, so “too
little” I was not. That movie freaked me out even at that age – it still
does. When I was very young, back in the 60’s, Bozo the clown disturbed me, at
least that is my first memory of being afraid of clowns. But as I’ve gotten
older, I’m not sure that the fear is actually the clown, but what the clown
represents. I remember going into a gay club in Dallas for the first time. It
was filled with drag queens, and I have to admit those childhood fears came
rushing back. I think for me the fear comes from what’s behind all the
exaggerated makeup and costuming. I wrote four different versions of that story,
because I could never finish it. The version that’s in the collection was my
way of seeing what was behind the paint and costume, and in this case, what lay
beneath it all was the thing to be scared of.

 

 

Your tale, “The Story of Glencliff, New
Hampshire reminded me of “The Fall
of the House of Usher,” and your first story, “The Other Man” seemed like a
combination of Lars and the Real Girl,
the Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, and the Chucky movies.  Are those similarities at all deliberate? Do
you have favorite authors, books, or films that help inspire your “horrific”
creativity? 

The
similarities you mention are not deliberate. I hadn’t even thought of them
until you mentioned them. The story “The Other Man,” came when my friend Dale
Chase and I were in New Orleans for Saints and Sinners and we wandered
into an adult novelty shop to do “research.” I remember seeing several of those
blow-up sex dolls, and remember asking Dale, “I wonder if they have feelings.
What would happen if one of them came to life?” That was when Joey was created.

Old
Man Max in “The Story of Glencliff, New Hampshire” was created based on a very
minor character in the movie, Burnt
Offerings
, which stars an elderly Bette Davis. The character was in three
or four very short clips. He never spoke. He had a glowing white complexion and
wore dark glasses at night while he drove around in a hearse.  For some reason that character struck a cord
with me and has remained with me for nearly thirty years. I figured it was time
to do something with him.

Like most
people I have my favorite horror authors and movies, but my inspiration doesn’t
necessarily have to come from them. A dark lite room in some b-rated horror
flick might inspire me, or an image of a full moon behind the clouds, or a
dripping faucet. I play the “what if” game a lot. I can be walking down the
street and see a man whittling and I’ll ask myself, “What if he went on a
rampage with that knife?” or “What if he put down the piece of wood and began
whittling on his leg?” 

 

In your opinion, are there aspects of
combining queer content with horror that make writing more challenging?  If you’re writing erotic horror, do you feel
the author should try to both arouse and scare the reader?  If so, how difficult (or easy) do you find
that to be?

I
didn’t find that adding queer content made the process of writing any more
challenging. It’s not the queering of horror, but the horror itself that poses
the challenge. You need to have a lot of dark, creepy atmosphere in your
stories, not to mention sudden and unexpected twists. You need to be able to
write descriptively enough so that the reader feels everything your character
feels, whether that is pain, anger, rage, or just an uneasy feeling of
something not being quite right.

The
question about arousing and scaring the reader is an interesting one. In my
opinion erotic horror needs to have both elements.  The combination is what the reader would
expect. The difficulty for me is being able to blend the two effectively. It
also has to do with what type of horror the story encompasses. In the story, “Downtown
Crossing” for example, there is a lot of fear that builds throughout the
narrative, and the sex is incredibly hot. The main character actually gets off
through fear.  The reverse of that is the
story, “Felonious Behavior.” The horror is a bit too graphic to be highly
erotic, but the elements of arousal are there, though more carefully placed.


I think your character, Nate the Midnight
Barker, originated in a story you wrote for Jerry Wheeler’s anthology of circus
erotica, Tented.  Could you tell us how that character formed
and what about him makes you keep coming back for more?

Ah,
yes, Nate my big, bad, sexy shadow man. He has truly taken on a life of his
own, and to be honest with you, he’s been with me for so long I really don’t
know where he came from. He has been in five or six short stories now, and each
time it’s a wild ride to work with him, as I never know what he’s going to do.

Nate
is pure evil, yet he has what he would call a few character flaws.  He’s well mannered, polite, and at times
endearing. You just don’t want to piss him off or disrupt the plan he has for
you. So it’s not that I keep coming back for more, it’s that he won’t leave me
alone! And for those readers out there who have enjoyed his short stories, I’m
currently working on his novel. I hope that after I tell his story he might
leave me in peace.
 

 

Are there villainous horror characters in
films or books you find irresistibly sexy?

I
have to admit that I have the hots for Clive Barker’s character, Pinhead, from the Hellraiser
movies. That deep voice, pitch-black eyes, the wicked and demented sense of
humor, oh and that black outfit. That’s what I call sexy.

 

Could you tell the readers what you’d
like them to know about your forthcoming novel, Secret Societies?  Who is
your favorite character in the book and what do you like about him or her? 

Secret Societies, is
an erotic novel set during the time of the sodomy trials in early 18th
century London. I spent nearly five years researching the raids on the mollie
houses, reading trial transcripts and court proceedings. I immediately fell in
love with the time period and the two main characters: Thomas Newton, the
troubled young man who narrates the novel, and Margaret Clap, or “Mother Clap,”
who owned the mollie house which the raid in this novel focuses on.

As
much as I loved Thomas Newton, by far my favorite character is Mother Clap. She
was an amazing woman for that time. She didn’t have a problem with men being
intimate with each other, in fact she stood up for them.  She gave them a place where they could feel
welcomed even if it meant going against the churches and the laws that
criminalized sodomy. If I could go back in time for even an hour, I would want
to go back to London around 1725 in order to meet her.

 

I know you’re moving to a different city
soon.  What are you looking forward
to?  What writing projects and other
goals do you have for the future?   And
if your wildest dreams came true, what would have happened?

I’m
looking forward to having a single family house again with a yard and room to
breathe. Living on top of everyone in Cambridge hasn’t been quite my cup of
tea.  I’m also looking forward to a
slower pace of life. My job will be 4 days a week, so I’ll have 3-day weekends
to work on my writing projects and to travel with my partner.

As
for dreams….this is going to sound like a corny cop-out, but I’m pretty much
living my wildest dream. I’ve had an amazing man in my life for almost fifteen
years now. My third book is being released in October, and I’m blessed with
great friends and fellow writers. I can’t imagine what else there is to dream
about. And for those of you reading this and wanting something a little more,
then it would be one steamy, sweaty night with Pinhead and his realm of
unending pleasure and pain.  Though I
guess I should be careful about what I wish for.
 

Thanks so much, Bill!

Thanks
Gavin. This was fun.

For
more information about William Holden and his books, visit williamholdenwrites.com
 

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