Tag Archives: His Hideous Heart

Inside an Anthology: His Hideous Heart ed. by Dahlia Adler

Well, this is a pretty exciting post for me, considering I’m the editor of this particular anthology! Getting to see different takes on Poe was fun in itself, but getting to see half the collection come back with queer protagonists? Now, that was utterly delightful. I asked the authors of those stories to share a little bit about them, so come check it out!

Edgar Allan Poe may be a hundred and fifty years beyond this world, but the themes of his beloved works have much in common with modern young adult fiction. Whether the stories are familiar to readers or discovered for the first time, readers will revel in Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tales, and how they’ve been brought to life in 13 unique and unforgettable ways.

Contributors include Dahlia Adler (reimagining “Ligeia”), Kendare Blake ( “Metzengerstein”), Rin Chupeco (“The Murders in the Rue Morge”), Lamar Giles (“The Oval Portrait”), Tessa Gratton (“Annabel Lee”), Tiffany D. Jackson (“The Cask of Amontillado”), Stephanie Kuehn (“The Tell-Tale Heart”), Emily Lloyd-Jones (“The Purloined Letter”), Hillary Monahan (“The Masque of the Red Death”), Marieke Nijkamp (“Hop-Frog”), Caleb Roehrig (“The Pit and the Pendulum”), and Fran Wilde (“The Fall of the House of Usher”).

Amazon | B&N | IndieBound | Apple Books | Book Depository

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Tessa Gratton, “Night-Tide”, a retelling of “Annabel Lee”

“Annabel Lee” is one of the poems that used to get stuck in my head when I was a kid. Something about the rhythm, the longing, and the weird imagery—not to mention morbid aesthetic—spoke to thirteen year old Tessa. I used to recite it to myself in a sing-song way, letting the imagery wash over me. When I set out to write a short story inspired by it, I knew I needed a story with a refrain, and that it needed to be filled with longing and angst, and the anger I felt as a kid when adults pretended they knew better than me what I was feeling. It wasn’t until I was a few pages into writing that it occurred to me I never actively decided to make “Night-Tide” about girls in love with each other—because, to me, the poem always had been about emo teenaged lesbians. 

“Annabel-Lee” is so unapologetically passionate, and as a poem it’s unashamed of its melodramatic nature. When I was a teen I was passionate and melodramatic, but I knew shame, because the world had already taught me what I was and was not allowed to love and desire. That makes me angry, and as an adult I see more shades of anger in “Annabel-Lee” than I noticed as a teen. It’s all woven into my story “Night-Tide,” which I hope inspires passion and drama and, yes, anger, in readers. Because love is so messy, and queer people deserve the space to embrace melodrama, anger, and to confront shame. We deserve the chance to take risks as we discover and decide who we are and want to be. 

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Caleb Roehrig, “The Glittering Death,” a retelling of “The Pit and the Pendulum”

With a cast of one, “The Pit and the Pendulum” is one of Poe’s simplest narratives: an anonymous man, alone in a dungeon, tries to evade a series of inventive death traps set by the Spanish Inquisition. The sexuality of the prisoner is irrelevant to the story—and, in my opinion, that was the perfect reason to queer the character in my adaptation of it. Laura Bonelli, the central figure of “The Glittering Death,” is questioning. (Possibly bi, though she’s not sure yet.) This fact has nothing to do with how she ends up in the clutches of a villain who calls himself the Judge; it has nothing to do with the dangers she faces, or how the story eventually concludes; but it has something to do with who she is. It’s her identity, and would still be if the story was about a driving lesson, a graduation party, or a first kiss.

I balk at saying a protagonist “just happens to be queer,” because nothing about identity can be reduced to pure happenstance; but there’s power in bringing casual visibility to identity—especially when the character in question is the one to whom it matters most.

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Rin Chupeco, “The Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay,” a retelling of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

“The Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” is the story of Ogie Dupin, a Filipino-French amateur detective investigating a strange murder set in a supernatural island getaway. In keeping with the original Poe story, it’s told by an unnamed narrator, this time a young trans girl. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is not an easy story to retell – I had to write a locked room mystery believable enough for Ogie’s deductions to make sense, and yet complex enough to keep people guessing at the solution till the end. But more than that, I also wanted to write my trans narrator in a way that would give her just as much agency as Ogie, in stark contrast to how these detective stories are often written. It’s difficult to find the right balance, showing off her own intelligence without taking away from Ogie’s skills and the murder mystery, but I think I was able to pull it off!

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Marieke Nijkamp, “Changeling,” a retelling of “Hop-Frog”

“Hop-Frog” is, in its essence, a story about monsters. About who gets to be human and who is considered a monstrosity. About how we can be monstrous in our humanity–or our inhumanity. It’s a story about disability, too. Historically those two–disability and monster narratives–intersect quite often. (After all, every changeling story is a disability story at heart.) So when I brainstormed reimagining Hop-Frog I knew I wanted to include both those elements. I wanted to center it on disabled characters, my two queer, broken girls who are both looking for revenge—or perhaps belonging. I wanted to throw in an element of historicity (which Poe alludes but never quite commits to). And I wanted to play with monsters. I’ll just leave it up to you to decide who the monsters are: the fae, the unseelie folk, or the humans?

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Emily Lloyd-Jones, “A Drop of Stolen Ink,” a retelling of “The Purloined Letter”

“A Drop of Stolen Ink” came about the way so many of my stories do: with a weird sequence of events. I was at work, thinking about Poe because the always-lovely Dahlia had mentioned how awesome it would be to rewrite those tales for a modern audience. (I believe I responded with, “OH PLEASE PLEASE LET ME DO THE PURLOINED LETTER.”) I’ve always adored mysteries – and Poe created the detective archetype with his character of C. Auguste Dupin.

And then I reached beneath a cash register scanner. Which would have been fine and normal – up until the scanner beeped and brought up a number on the computer. I made a joke about someone equipping my arm with a barcode and then my brain immediately jumped on the possibilities.

I adored working on this short story because it’s about how much of ourselves we share with the world. There are some characters’ names who are never revealed and others who put all of themselves out there. It’s about identities, both stolen and reclaimed. And I also just wanted to write an adorable budding f/f romance set in a cyberpunk near-future world, I’ll admit it. I’m really excited to share this story with both new and old readers of Poe.

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Dahlia Adler, “Lygia,” a retelling of “Ligeia”

People ask me how I chose to retell “Ligeia” in particular, and the truth is that it basically chose me. I don’t share the horror/thriller strengths of my co-authors here, and I knew that whatever I did was going to have a sort of romantic contemporary sensibility, just a lot more Gothic and tragic than my usual.

“Ligeia” is a story about a man who loses his first wife to illness and remarries, but never quite finds that same love for his second wife before losing her to illness as well. The second wife, however, is the one who returns from the dead…but she returns as his first wife, Ligeia.

Knowing I didn’t want to go paranormal, I knew this was going to be a story about turning a new girlfriend into an old one, trying to revive something that couldn’t be revived and going to mad, toxic lengths to do it. It’s a story that requires praying on insecurities in a way teenage girls have truly mastered, a story I knew would thrive on a specifically female main character. Add that to the perennial queer problem of never quite being sure when your next possibility can or will come along in an area where so few people are out, making the narrator’s loss all the more dramatic and her new venture feel all the more necessary, and you have so many of the components that created “Lygia.”

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Fave Five: Queer Filipino MCs

Don’t Tell My Mother and You, Me. U.S. by Brigitte Bautista

Another Word for Happy by Agay Llanera

Start Here ed. by Ronald S. Lim and Brigitte Bautista

Wander This World by G.L. Tomas

No Two Ways by Chi Yu Rodriguez

Bonus: Coming September 10, 2019, His Hideous Heart contains a story called “Murders at the Rue Apartelle, Boracay” by Rin Chupeco that stars a Filipina trans girl

Better Know an Author: Caleb Roehrig

I’m wildly excited for this month’s featured author, who’s written one of my favorite gay YAs ever, which is also one of my favorite mystery/thriller novels ever, and who just released his sophomore novel on April 24. He’s also got some killer (no pun intended) work coming up and one of my favorite accounts on Instagram, so basically, yeah, he’s a good guy to know! Get to know Caleb Roehrig and you’ll become a huge fan too!

New book! New book! I haven’t gotten to read it yet, but by all accounts, White Rabbit is nooo victim of the Sophomore Slump, and you know I’m a massive fan of your debut, Last Seen Leaving. Can you tell us a little about White Rabbit and what it was like to write book 2?

34499210White Rabbit is about a boy named Rufus Holt who has one night to prove his sister is being framed for murder, with no allies to trust or count on but the ex-boyfriend who crushed his heart. The entire story unfolds over the course of about eight hours, and I call it my tribute to Agatha Christie—a murder mystery with a small pool of suspects, all of whom have something to hide.

As for writing Book 2, let me assure you that Second Book Syndrome is no joke! I actually completed a manuscript in between Last Seen Leaving and White Rabbit, but was in such a weird head space that I never felt comfortable with it. Once it was done, I shelved the project and started all over again. It was absolutely the right choice; the new story—this one—felt right from the very beginning, and I’m so excited to share it with the world!

You also recently announced a new book called Death Prefers Blondes, which I am so excited about. What can you share about it, and in what ways is it a departure from your previous work?

What I can say about Death Prefers Blondes is this: it’s my take on Hamlet, wherein Hamlet is a rebel heiress and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a pack of kickboxing drag queens. It’s a story I’ve told myself in one form or another since I was a teenager, and in many ways it feels surreal to finally have it captured in a manuscript. I tell everyone my signature content is Murder, Mayhem, & Make-outs, and Blondes has all of that in spades; but otherwise, it’s a huge departure for me. It’s less a whodunit than an action/adventure story, and I’ve never written a character quite like my protagonist, Margo—a wise-cracking, death-defying, face-punching socialite, hell-bent on revenge!

As a thriller master, you’ve got to get yourself into some pretty dark places, and do some really twisted plotting. What are your favorites ways to both get yourself into those modes and pull yourself back out as needed?

This is probably going to be an unsatisfying answer, but once upon a time, I was a professional actor; and as such, I have long experience with finding my way in and out of dark places. Acting is storytelling, of course—conjuring emotions out of words, and communicating that journey to the audience. The difference is that now I get to choose the tale that’s told, and how my reader will enter and exit the more intense scenes. To be honest, getting myself in and out of those frames of mind is easier than you might think; I get a lot of satisfaction when I feel like the mood is working right. In a way, creating misery is perversely rewarding.

Talk to me about your main characters. What do you see as common threads between Caleb Roehrig leads, and in what ways do they differ? How much do their very different romantic situations play into that?

I think my protagonists tend to be sarcastic, self-righteous, and prone to overthinking things. As for their differences, Flynn is definitely more of a joiner, and Rufus is more of A16Tc4VnzSLa proud outcast. In terms of their respective journeys, Rufus has been out for a couple of years before the events White Rabbit, while Flynn is only just embarking on that journey in Last Seen Leaving, which definitely plays into their respective attitudes.

It’s hard to explain how being closeted affects a person, but the best way I can describe it is to say that it’s like living with a ten-second delay. Every word that comes out of your mouth has to clear the censors first, to be sure it won’t give away your secret. A lot of Flynn’s actions and interests are directed by what he thinks will best help him fit in with his friend group; on the flipside, Rufus has had more time to accept and embrace what makes him different, which is, in part, what helps him find his friend group.

As a result, Flynn’s romance is complicated by the fact that he’s put so much time and effort into resisting what he really wants, so that breaking through that shell is a challenge. For Rufus, knowing what he wants isn’t enough—because the boy he wants it with runs in a different social circle, and is going through a difficult journey of his own.

Anyone who doesn’t follow you on Instagram might not know that you take some seriously gorgeous travel photography, and are a hell of a traveler. What are your top 3 travel spots, and what are the top 3 on your travel bucket list? (Also, so everyone can see what I’m talking about, please share a fave travel photo!)

This one is hard! I’ve been a lot of places, but mostly in Europe, because I lived there for four years. That said, I think my top three might be: Venice, Italy; literally anywhere in Norway; and Vevey, Switzerland.

My bucket list includes: Tokyo, Marrakesh, and Rio de Janeiro. And Machu Picchu. And Australia.

As for a fave travel photo, please enjoy the attached snapshot I took of Silvaplana, a town in the Swiss canton of Graubünden, while hiking the Alps!

And as long as we’re discussing travel, if you were going to set a book outside the US, where would it be and why?

Without giving too much away, there’s a sequence in Death Prefers Blondes that takes place in Europe; but as for setting an entire novel outside the US, I definitely have every intention to do so! I was so fortunate to live in Finland for a while, and to get to know that part of the world in an intimate way, and I would love to set a book there. It would mean a lot to me to bring that country alive on the page as a personal love letter.

I would also love to set something in Stockholm. It’s another of my favorite world cities, and I have kind of an affinity for Swedish culture. I’ve been low-key studying the language for the past seven years, which involves reading tons of gritty, Nordic crime fiction, and it’s been making my imagination run wild.

We’ve been seeing some more discussion lately about the importance of queer-guy YA written by queer guys, and as one of my favorite authors bringing #ownvoices gay YA to the canon, what are some books/voices you’d love to see get some more attention? And what milestones would you still like to see hit?

One of my absolute favorite #ownvoices novels is Adam Silvera’s History is All You Left Me, and I think it deserve more love. It’s a beautifully-written work about some very ugly emotions, and digs its fingers into some situations that are very specific to the gay experience, and which ring with an authenticity that gay readers deserve. I’m also really fond of Tim Floreen’s Willful Machines, Cale Dietrich’s The Love Interest, and Simon Curtis’s Boy Robot, all of which are SciFi/Spec Fic stories with thriller sentimentalities and queer protagonists. I am 110% here for books about kids who navigate their queerness as only one element of a more expansive plot, because that’s how it works in real life, too.

As for milestones I’d like to see hit, well…there are so many. I’d love for more queer writers to hit The List with #OV fiction, of course, but beyond that I would love to see readers really engage with queer art. When we express ourselves in our own words, we communicate truths that can get lost in translation when others tell our stories for us, and sometimes those borrowed narratives deliberately misrepresent the queer experience to appeal to non-queer readers. (I want to add here: writing outside your lane with respect and accuracy is absolutely possible, and I’ve got a list of an incredibly well-done books in that vein to rec as well!)

Honestly, I could talk for ages about this, but to keep it short, I’ll go with this: a milestone I would love to see hit is for #OV gay YA writers to earn awards and recognition based on genre as much as on category. I’d love to see readers abandon their preconceptions and embrace a fuller representation of what queerness is.

Heading back to the root of my fandom, now that you’re a ways away from publication of Last Seen Leaving, what have your takeaways been from the experience, especially with gay YA thrillers being so rare?

My experience has so far been great. It’s funny…I always thought of myself as a thriller writer, because I’ve been telling murder mysteries since long before I ever believed I could sell a book with a gay protagonist. Last Seen Leaving was actually my first attempt at an #OwnVoices novel, and when I first started it, I didn’t actually expect it to go anywhere. So it took me a while to internalize that I’m also a queer lit writer.

I’m really lucky, I think, because with one foot in the genre world and another in the growing field of queer rep for young readers, I get the opportunity to speak on a number of topics that I’m really passionate about. And what’s so great is to know that the gay YA thriller is a growing subcategory right now. I’m not sure where it comes from, but most of the gay men I know love horror movies, and I think—I hope—that more and more OV books are on their way about queer teens fighting monsters and busting crime!

For better or for worse, what’s the earliest LGBTQIAP+ representation you remember reading or seeing onscreen?

I think the very first time that I saw definitively queer rep (something more than subtext) it was in excerpts of Madonna: Truth or Dare, the controversial documentary of the 1991 music tour, Blonde Ambition. I remember these black-and-white clips being played on the news, showing Madonna sitting around with her flamboyant and unapologetically gay back-up dancers, speaking in blunt, provocative terms. Everything featured on the news was heavily censored, of course, but they were there. Madonna was one of the most influential artists in the world at the time, and I’m not sure people can really appreciate what her deliberate and highly visible acceptance of the queer community meant at the time.

Other than Death Prefers Blondes, what’s up next for you? (This is only slightly leading for an HHH plug. Really.)

So, in addition to Death Prefers Blondes, I have a fourth book scheduled with Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, and then I’m contributing a short story to an anthology of Edgar Allen Poe retellings, entitled His Hideous Heart, edited by one Dahlia Adler! (For those keeping score, I’ll be tackling The Pit and the Pendulum.) I’m also contributing to a second anthology, which has not been announced yet, and tweaking an adult fiction project I’ve been working on for a while. So…I think I have a busy year ahead!

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Caleb Roehrig is a writer and television producer originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. Having also lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Helsinki, Finland, he has a chronic case of wanderlust, and can recommend the best sights to see on a shoestring budget in over thirty countries. A former actor, Roehrig has experience on both sides of the camera, with a résumé that includes appearances on film and TV—as well as seven years in the stranger-than-fiction salt mines of reality television. In the name of earning a paycheck, he has: hung around a frozen cornfield in his underwear, partied with an actual rock-star, chatted with a scandal-plagued politician, and been menaced by a disgruntled ostrich.