A question I get a lot is: why horror?
Some context: The Honeys is my third book, but my first horror. Horror is a new genre for me, and the pivot has clearly surprised many. My first book is about a gay kind battling a drag queen sorceress in an adventure spanning multiple dimensions, stories and genres. None of them are horror. And my second book is a cute queer romance about two ex boyfriends competing in a live arts and crafts competition at a comic book convention. No horror there. In fact, I sometimes worry about the readers who found me via a cute love story. (I actually am not worried, I’m wickedly amused, but when you’re in my position sometimes you have to feign concerns like this so you don’t alarm anyone). Those readers are in store for quite a shock.
So again, people ask: why horror? Why now?
I guess I have the same question. Why do we write scary stories? What’s the point in scaring ourselves? When the world is frightening enough, what’s the value in purposeful exposure to fear in such a concentrated form? Is it like a type of inoculation? A shameful curiosity about the pain of others? Or is the allure of such stories a dark reflection of some unknown impulse within each of us?
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Let me back up again. A few months ago, some friends asked me where I get my idea. How do I just invent stuff that never happened to anyone, and write about it as if it’s happened to me?
For me, writing isn’t really about invention. It’s about excavation. I have not invented the fears I write about. I’ve only found traces of them within me, and then painstakingly brushed and carved and dusted away the psychic sediment that conceals them, until their true shape is unveiled. Then I write that down.
Let me put this into an example. We all know smell is linked to memory, right? How often have you picked up a candle, or put on a friend’s lotion, or caught just the hint of a strangers perfume, and suddenly your memory is overcome with full-body recognition of something deep in your past, or totally elsewhere in your life ? It’s like being thrown into a memory, isn’t it? And how often are you able to place, with 100% accuracy, the memory itself? Maybe often, but I bet there are a few times when you still feel that sudden recognition, and that sense of being pulled backwards through time, but you’re not sure what you’re even remembering. You just feel it, a forgotten shape buried within you, and you think and think and think until a few weeks later it hits you: oh! That cleaner I used smells exactly like the gymnasium of my elementary school!
Another example of this is when you meet someone brand new, and have an immediately strong reaction to them. Your mind is telling you that you know enough about this person to warrant this reaction, but how could that be true? You’ve just met, yet that same instantaneous familiarity flashes in the back of your skull. Have you seen their picture on an ad before? Do they just look like someone famous? Or is the combination of their freckles and the way they scrunch their nose ringing some bell buried deep inside your memories?
Well, my power as a writer is unburying these things. I hardly ever let one of these sudden episodes of detection go without pursuing it. I take that flash of recognition and pin it down, inspect it, and see what clues it can give me. Eventually, it will lead me to its source.
For example, I recently really did meet someone for the first time who felt uncannily familiar. They didn’t feel like a person, though. They felt like…home. A strange melancholy overcame me when I saw them, and I had to sit with it for a little while before identifying what I was actually feeling: nostalgia. But how could someone brand new to me feel nostalgic? Why was I sad? You have to be careful to answer questions like this, or else you risk scaring away the answers.
I started my exploration with that strange feeling of homeickness. It brought me back to a hallway in the house I grew up in. The point of view of the memory was close to the ground; I was a child. Based on the way the light is falling on the floorboards, it was morning. If I’m not at school, it’s a weekend, and if it’s a weekend morning I am probably watching cartoons. That check out because I was always racing over those sunny floor boards to get back to the TV room before the commercial breaks ended (this is pre-streaming days, children).
And then it hit me: the guy I was talking to was a dead ringer for Billy, the Blue Power Ranger from the original Mighty Morphing Power Rangers. The shirt, the hair. Even the glasses. This is why it felt like I was meeting not a person, but a memory. This is why it felt nostalgic and tinged with sad reunion.
I do the same thing with my fears. When something scares me, I force myself to study it. This doesn’t always work. Some things are scarier to face than others. But let’s take bees as an example.
When I see a swarm of bees, I feel a bones-deep urge to shiver, as though they’re already crawling on me. And all those holes they create in honeycomb? Disgusting. But in all disgust there hides a kernel of fascination. I follow that fascination, and it lead me to a mess of contradictions that short-circuit the rational parts of my mind. Firstly, bees are tiny. Easily crushed. I can handle a single sting, but what happens if a million more come to take revenge? And when they clump together, more like a liquid than a swarm, I am forced to recognize that the confused chaos of a swarm isn’t confused or chaotic at all; swarms of bees are a form of intelligence that manages to live in millions of bodies at once, causing them all to work together somehow. What connects them? What commands them? As a selfish human, I can barely perceive such a thing, which means I can’t think of a way to reason with it or fight it off. I can only run.
And the honeycomb. So inorganic in its perfection, yet pliant to the touch. Sticky. For a long time I didn’t understand why it unnerved me, and then I realized what it looked like to me: a magnification of human skin, pores wide and weeping with oil.
Even typing that causes me to reel backwards, horrified. I’m so sorry!
My point is that everything about bees represented uncomfortable truths to me that had to be painstakingly unpacked. Doing so caused me to fall in love with the animal. Consider this: a single bee alone is often used as an emblem of pastoral loveliness. There is a bee in every kindergarten classroom representing the second letter of the alphabet on a chart hung on the wall, over the white board. Sometimes we see several drawn onto jars of honey, or signs at farmer’s markets, but usually no more than a handful at once. And we love to shout about saving the bees! We understand their ecological importance as pollinators. We view their decline as an indication that our world is about to collapse, and in a way that also means we are hopeful that they’ll save us in some way. We are okay with bees as symbols. And we are okay with them in meek numbers. But when they swarm, something strange transforms them into this alien force that unnerves even the bravest of us. When faced with 10,000 of those crawling insects, I guarantee you are not shouting about saving the bees. You are shouting about saving yourself.
And I love that.
This is why I write horror. I am riddle with fears like this, and I have found that the only way I can overcome them is to pin them out on paper and study them until my disgust balances against uncomfortable comprehension.
We can’t always understand the things that scare us, but scary stories are the safest places to experience our fears again and again, as many times as it takes for them to become comfortably familiar. In books, we get the benefit of a character encountering monsters we hope we never face, and we follow them on a journey we will never go on. But still, at the end, there is this sense of conquering something, or at least surviving something. What we are conquering and surviving isn’t what’s in the book—not some alien swarm or a killer with a machete—but shadow puppets of those things, projected onto the screens of our own mind by our imagination. So really, what we’re overcoming is our own mind, and our own instincts to turn away, run, and hide.
Right now, there’s a lot I want to run away from. Real life has more monsters than I imagined it would. But now, when something scares me, I will sit down with it until I am brave enough to understand it.
And then I’m going to write it all down.
Meet the author
Ryan La Sala writes about surreal things happening to queer people.
Ryan resides in New York City, but only physically. Flighty to a fault, he spends most of his time in the astral planes and only takes up corporeal form for special occasions, like brunch and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral planes).
Ryan La Sala writes about surreal things happening to queer people. He is the author behind the riotously imaginative Reverieand the brilliantly constructed Be Dazzled, both of which made the Kids’ Indie Next List. He has been featured in Entertainment Weekly, NPR, Tor.com, Cosmopolitan, and one time Shangela from RuPaul’s Drag Race called him cute! Ryan is the host of the monthly La Sala Writers Salon, the co-host the Bad Author Book Club Podcast, and a frequent speaker at events/conferences. When not writing, Ryan does arts and crafts and lifts weights.
Ryan grew up in a quaint suburb of Connecticut with his three siblings and three parents. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University in Boston before working a recruiter, then a project manager at a web design agency. He lives in Manhattan.
Ryan’s books are represented by Peter Knapp at Park & Fine.
Ryan’s TV/Film projects are represented by Debbie Deuble Hill at APA.
About The Honeys
From Ryan La Sala, the wildly popular author of Reveriecomes a twisted and tantalizing horror novel set amidst the bucolic splendor of a secluded summer retreat.
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Mars has always been the lesser twin, the shadow to his sister Caroline’s radiance. But when Caroline dies under horrific circumstances, Mars is propelled to learn all he can about his once-inseparable sister who’d grown tragically distant.
Mars’s genderfluidity means he’s often excluded from the traditions — and expectations — of his politically-connected family. This includes attendance at the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy where his sister poured so much of her time. But with his grief still fresh, he insists on attending in her place.
What Mars finds is a bucolic fairytale not meant for him. Folksy charm and sun-drenched festivities camouflage old-fashioned gender roles and a toxic preparatory rigor. Mars seeks out his sister’s old friends: a group of girls dubbed the Honeys, named for the beehives they maintain behind their cabin. They are beautiful and terrifying — and Mars is certain they’re connected to Caroline’s death.
But the longer he stays at Aspen, the more the sweet mountain breezes give way to hints of decay. Mars’s memories begin to falter, bleached beneath the relentless summer sun. Something is hunting him in broad daylight, toying with his mind. If Mars can’t find it soon, it will eat him alive.
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date: 08/16/2022
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Guest Post