Christina Ladd has Eric LaRocca in the hot seat today, chatting about LaRocca’s latest work, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke.
Christina Ladd: Thank you so much for agreeing to answer some questions for Dark Dispatch! I absolutely adored Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, although—or especially because—it’s not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. For those who haven’t read it yet, this is a visceral, gripping novella of both body and psychological horror, a true feat of writing. Get your copy from Weirdpunk Books or in the wild from your local indie retailer!
CL: We’ll start with the usual: where, if anywhere identifiable, did this story come from? Was there a character or scene that started you off?
Eric LaRocca: The story developed from my fascination with our culture heavily influenced by the internet and mythic lore surrounding certain infamous videos and posts circulating the interweb. I grew up in the early 2000s, so I’ve always had the internet and technology at my disposal. Although I’m skilled when it comes to navigating technology because I was exposed to it at such a young age, I’ve always been frightened of coming across sensitive information that I wasn’t supposed to access. I’ve explored this fear in various other published short stories like “miss_vertebrae” or “The Strange Thing We Become,” but this novella seemed like an excellent opportunity to venture further down the rabbit hole and expose myself to some deeply upsetting material.
CL: You’ve drawn some interesting connections between anonymity and intimacy. It definitely feels like the intense relationship in this book is only possible because of the paradoxical distance that the internet provides, but do you think the tragedy arises from Zoe and Agnes knowing too much about each other, or too little?
ER: That’s an interesting question. I think the novella raises a very dynamic and compelling question: How well can you possibly know the stranger you’re interacting with–the stranger on the other side of the screen? Some readers have expressed their dissatisfaction with the book because they thought I was going to reveal that Zoe was catfishing Agnes the entire time and that it was possibly a man writing those emails. Others have argued that the writing styles of both parties sound identical, so they were expecting the reveal to revolve around Agnes’ mental frailty. I think those are interesting (somewhat contrived) scenarios and that doesn’t really fit with the book I was trying to write. I attempted to write a book about co-dependency and the isolation of technology. Whether I succeeded is up for the readers to decide.
CL: There’s the unspoken fear that queerness must be benign or relatable to be accepted, a Leave-It-to-Beaver respectability with two moms (or dads). And in THGWSWLS you even have the working parent and the stay-at-home parent! (Until things, you know, get worse.) I liked that you subverted the vision of the nuclear family, was that a deliberate critique or did that arise from your larger points about intimacy?
ER: Subverting the image of the nuclear family wasn’t something I necessarily strived to explore while writing this piece, but as I reflect on the story, I realize that the narrative does venture in that direction. I think more than anything I wanted to write about trauma and loneliness–two things that are fundamental to me as a writer. Subverting the nuclear family wasn’t a deliberate critique, so I think it simply naturally arose from my larger points about intimacy and what it means to be in a long-distance relationship.
CL: “People like to eat other people.” (Emphasis mine.) That’s a chilling line even for a book full of chilling lines, and you repeatedly destabilize our impression of who might be devouring whom. Do you see love (or obsession) as a kind of hunger, and is it hunger for someone who is the same, or for the Other?
ER: I’ve always viewed love as exploitative. I’m quite pessimistic when it comes to relationships and love in general. My poor outlook on intimacy is seemingly unfounded because I’ve been in a very healthy relationship for the past two years with my partner, Ali. However, for some reason, I’m still not as optimistic when I consider love in a general sense. I’ve seen how love can destroy a human being–how it can hollow them out until they’re an unrecognizable shell of who they once were. To be in love is to be a carnivore.
CL: Another unnerving line: “What have you done to deserve your eyes today?” I love the menacing twist on what might other be some kind of Instagram inspirational quote. Is this a question you ask yourself, or that you want your readers to ask?
ER: The origin for this particular line doesn’t have an exciting story, regrettably. It was something I conjured while outlining the piece and I felt as though it fit perfectly with the narrative I was constructing. Losing my eyesight is one of my greatest fears, so I think the line comes from a place of fear deep inside me. I’m not sure how I would process anything if I suddenly lost my ability to see and view the world with my unique perspective.
CL: I don’t know about you, but I have always found horror to be a quietly but persistently queer place, with authors like Caitlin R. Kiernan and Poppy Z. Brite telling stories that many other genres wouldn’t go for. Did you also find some welcome in horror, or are you creating a space now that you didn’t see previously?
ER: Horror is absolutely a queer space. Whether it’s embraced its queerness or has left breadcrumbs for more discerning viewers to recognize the coded queerness, we have always been here, and we will continue to be here. I’m certainly not a pioneer when it comes to queer horror. Countless writers have gone before and deftly executed compelling queer storylines in their horror fiction. That being said, I felt immediately welcomed when I entered the online horror community in spring of 2020. What I’m hoping to create is my own brand of queer horror–a type of horror that is immediately identifiable as belonging to Eric LaRocca.
CL: Who or what inspires you in your writing? (Doesn’t have to be authors!)
ER: I’m inspired by many things. Of course, books and films are at the top of the list. But I’m also heavily inspired by art and photography. I am a devoted admirer of the work of Polish painter Zdzisław Beksiński. Their work is always so captivating and so otherworldly. Seeing their paintings is like viewing a nightmare.
CL: What’s the latest book you read that thrilled you?
ER: The latest book I read that really resonated deeply with me was actually a memoir written by Carmen Maria Machado and titled In the Dream House. Countless friends have encouraged me to read the book, but I was always so hesitant to pick it up because I’m not a huge fan of memoirs. Regardless, I devoured the book and was so captivated throughout. It’s easily one of my favorite reads of all time.
CL: I see you have a short story collection coming up in the fall of this year, The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales. How would you characterize your new work for people who have started off with THGWSWLS?
ER: Although I might argue The Strange Thing We Become and Other Dark Tales is a departure from the material I explored in Things Have Gotten Worse…, I’m slowly realizing that both pieces are very much aligned in the methods I use to explore love and human identity. The Strange Thing We Become is quieter, more reflective literary horror as opposed to the visceral, “in-your-face” type of material highlighted in Things Have Gotten Worse… Regardless, both books are tethered to the fact that they both inherently know the destructive language of love.
CL: What other project(s) are you working on?
ER: Currently I’m working on a bunch of different projects; however, the project I’m most excited about is what I hope will eventually become my debut novel. I had been frightened to explore longer length work and had typically loitered in “novella land” because writing a novel seemed like such an arduous (perhaps even impossible) task. But, thankfully, I’m being shepherded by some amazing people in the industry as I begin to work on this project. I consider myself very fortunate and I hope readers will enjoy the book when I’m able to finally share it with the world.
Check out Christina Ladd’s review of Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke here.
Christina Ladd is a writer, reviewer, and librarian who lives in Boston, MA. She will eventually die crushed under a pile of books, but until then she survives on a worrisome amount of tea and pizza. You can find her at @OLaddieGirl on twitter, or her work on Strange Horizons, Speculative North, The Dread Machine, The Nerd Daily, and more.