Prism Book Alliance® would like to thank Kate Ledbetter for stopping by today.
Author: Kate Ledbetter
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Horror, Lesbian
A deadly presence torments two families, leaving bloody fingerprints on their lives.
The murder of a young mother haunts the conscience of her surviving son, Tyler, but when the haunting becomes real and threatens the lives of the people closest to him, Tyler may just be the last to know.
Set in the floodwaters of rural Tennessee, Anagnorisis is a novella of real-world horrors carrying over to the supernatural. It’s written in a solid voice, and told with raw, unflinching honesty.
Content Warning: This book contains graphic depictions of gore and domestic violence.
I’ll be honest. I started writing horror because of Stephen King.
When I was thirteen I had a friend down the street called Jennifer who was obsessed with horror everything. She watched every scary movie that was out on VHS and thought the Scream movies were the funniest thing around. Her parents had no issue with this. Their theory was that if she ever watched a movie she couldn’t handle, well, she was just learning her limits. This theory extended to books. Mostly she read Anne Rice. Given that at one point she thought herself Cleopatra reincarnated, maybe a bit too much Anne Rice. But she also read Stephen King. These were the books I coveted.
In my own home there was nearly an entire shelf full of King. Every copy was battered, the spine broken. Both of my parents re-read these over the years and I wanted to read them myself.
Particularly I wanted to read Bag of Bones. Not because I had any real idea what it was about above and beyond the back cover, but because it was the most worn out book on our shelf. My mother was too avid a reader to keep thumbing the pages of a bad book, and I wanted to read it for myself. I wanted to know what was so interesting that it was worth reading dozens of times.
But I wasn’t allowed. My parents said I was too young to read King and I would have to wait till I was eighteen. Now, as much as I envied her, I was not Jennifer. Had I read Bag of Bones at thirteen, Jennifer’s parents’ theory would have worked delightfully well. I would have scared the ever-loving shit out of myself maybe a hundred pages in and never finished it.
Instead, I waited until the summer after I’d turned eighteen to read it, because I was both obedient and because I was finally unburdened from school work and college applications. And I did scare the shit out of myself. But I also loved it. I read everything we had of King’s on the shelf, delighted, horrified and sleeping precious little.
When I went to college I read more of his work. I read Misery and Full Dark, No Stars. I tried to read The Dark Half but found it was too much to handle and returned it via the library drop box at 2 a.m.. I did have my limits.
After graduating with my poetry emphasis in creative writing, I went back to King, more for comfort than anything else. I didn’t know what to write anymore. I graduated knowing that my poetry wasn’t going to make the cut. It wasn’t bad, per se, but I had never excelled. I felt the same way about my fiction. The only thing I felt I wrote truly well was mostly for my journalism classes, and those are hard jobs to come by. I’d hit a wall.
So I got a retail job that paid the rent and I kept reading horror while writing almost nothing. But somehow reading horror helped, partially as a form of escapism but also because when I read King, the good guy always won. Usually they had to do something decidedly distasteful to get there, but they did win.
Several months went by this way before I got an idea to write an embellished form of a recurring dream I’d had. It wasn’t much, only four pages in all, but it was the first time I’d written anything that I didn’t want to throw away. I wasn’t ashamed of that four pages of creepy, reality-bending prose. As I edited, I felt exonerated of the reams of bad poetry and not quite right fiction. In horror I felt sure-footed and energetic. Suddenly writing for hours was a joy again and not a chore. I was hooked.
That was when I started reading King as a form of research instead of for leisure. And that was when I realized I didn’t like him so much after all.
Stylistically, King is worth reading. He’s detailed and gritty without spending too much time in any one place. But when it comes to content, King has become the figurehead of the stories I refuse to write. Namely, he uses me, a queer person, as cannon fodder.
The best example I have of this is IT.
The story opens with the death of a straight, young boy who becomes, in many ways, the force behind the narrative. His death spurs his brother, Bill Denborough, on toward defeating the monster and saving the day, not once but twice.
Fifteen pages later a gay man called Adrian Mellon is slaughtered, first being beaten nearly to death by a group of homophobic, small town rednecks and then half eaten by an evil clown.
Adrian is the only adult killed by It who was not directly attacking It. In this way, he is singularly punished. More than that, he is punished in a way that negates the logic of the novel, because adults are not supposed to be able to see the mirages It creates. The book spends a great deal of time explaining this and then creating an elaborate ritual so that when our heroes return to take on It a second time, they can see what they’re fighting.
Adrian sees hundreds of thousands of balloons when he dies, as does his partner Don Hagarty. No one else sees them, including the police called to the crime scene. Why is that? Why are these two gay men somehow less adult? The book offers no explanation.
In the meantime, the police force in Derry, Maine make sure to say that they dislike “them queers” as much as anyone else, but murder is murder. This is written in a way that makes it seem like the practical stance to take.
The book also spends an enormous amount of time explaining why there are gay people in Derry at all, presuming our presence is somehow always unnatural and unexpected. As if there might have been an oversized gay bug zapper posted at every road into town had it not been for this singular gay bar.
Because of course we don’t exist until some kindly, blundering straight person introduces us to an area like an invasive species of fish. Which is exactly what happens. A straight man opens a bar and gay men infest it like rats, only so lucky that the proprieter wants their money more than their heads.
But what hurts more is that Adrian Mellon is not a real character. He’s a shadow. Because his only purpose in IT is to be killed, he has no past and no discernable hopes for the future aside from moving in with his boyfriend. He was created simply to be gay and to be killed.
That, in and of itself, was hurtful. I read the section about Adrian and nearly put the book in my Goodwill bag unfinished. It wasn’t that I couldn’t believe King would use me as clown fodder. I’d read entirely too much of his work to think that. It was that he had been so blatant in his attitude toward gay people that even in the passages justifying our existence, he was homophobic and frankly disgusting. This was not the kind of horror that was a balm to read and a joy to write. This was something other entirely.
But I did finish IT. Mostly because I’d known going in that it wasn’t King’s best work. I’d been warned that the ending was trash and giant swaths of it were laughable. So I read on, just wanting to get it over with. Instead of getting to the bleeding bits I’d been hoping for, I found another section that was both repulsive and alarming. Namely the sexualization of children.
There were early warning signs. There was an in-depth description of an eleven year girl’s underwear and too-small clothing. I frankly thought that was repulsive enough. As far as I’m concerned, there is no context in which a grown man should be writing about a child’s body as sexual, regardless of the context and again, I wanted to put the book down.
But then I remembered King never describes anything that lacks importance. If he was sexualizing this girl, he was doing it on purpose and I wanted to know why. I have regrets about that now.
I’m not sure if there’s a gentle or polite way to say that Stephen King wrote an orgy of eleven-year-olds held in a sewer system, but that’s exactly what happened. It was the female heroine’s idea of drawing their group back together after they’d defeated It. To sleep with seven eleven-year-old boys in succession.
I could talk all day about how disgusting that is, or about how King misrepresented childhood sexuality in a way that was so far-fetched and repulsive I felt simultaneously ill and like burning his shitty little book at once, but I won’t. Because what was most repulsive and most horrific was that as written, it’s made to be beautiful.
Somehow to Stephen King, a group of eleven-year-old children having sex in a sewer is beautiful, but gay men should be beaten to death and never spoken of again.
I love horror, but it’s fraught with authors who see me as either a faceless, voiceless murder victim or else, because I’m also mentally ill, the “insane sociopath” doing the killing. I’m neither. And I won’t write those characters. I won’t write those stories.
Instead, I write queer characters who are the voice of reason, who sleep with a night light, who are terrified of bugs, and who always feed their pets before they eat their own dinner. And if I have to kill them it will be with empathy, and not in a way that denies them their basic humanity and beauty. In short, I want to write gay characters and not gay shadows. I’m tired of being cannon fodder, or clown fodder in this particular case. I think it’s time someone did better. I think that someone can be me.
About the Author
Kate Ledbetter is a lesbian horror author from Louisville, Ky. She is the author of Anagnorisis, poetry editor for Vitality, and contributing author for Murder You Vote. She enjoys ghost stories, true crime, and fluffy animals. You can follow her on Twitter at @katefrets.
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