Eric LaRocca is a name you may have heard buzz about as a fan of dark or strange literature. He’s a wordsmith in the broad sense: he writes fiction and poetry, as well as for theater and screen.
His upcoming novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, is out next month from Weirdpunk Books. Babou 691 was lucky enough to chat with him about the book, as well as a bit about his history with writing and his process.
Evan St. Jones: I know that writing horror is often used to work through trauma or to exorcise personal demons, and reading through Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, I feel like I was witnessing some of that. Do you go through personal transformation or healing when you write and did you do with that with this novel?
Eric LaRocca: Yeah, absolutely. Writing for me has always been an escape. Writing has always been an outlet for me to channel my trauma, my grief, any type of suffering that I’ve gone through. Writing for me has just always been that. Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke was a hugely cathartic experience for me. I wrote that piece in probably, like, five days. . . . Prior to that, it was maybe a couple weeks of just outlining and constructing the narrative, and what I wanted to tell, but for the most part, it was five days of a fever dream of writing this piece. And after any piece that I write, I always feel like I’ve left a part of myself on the page. You know, you give and you give, and your writing—I feel like, if you do kind of allow yourself to be vulnerable with your readers and connect with them in a really honest and open way, I feel like you will achieve some sort of transformation and catharsis while you’re writing. I would definitely say that writing for me has just always been hugely cathartic and this piece especially was difficult to write at times, but it was something that I felt very compelled to write.
ESJ: I grew up in the early 2000s on online message boards and communities like that, and that’s where I made some of my closest friends at the time, and still to this day. But especially then, whenever I was in middle school and even younger, anyone that gave me any sort of attention, I felt like I had to do whatever I could to keep that relationship going. Not to say that I would necessarily change myself, but to an extent, I think we all do that. Whenever we’re looking for acceptance and someone gives that to us, you don’t want to lose it.
EL: And that’s exactly what happens in the book. That’s the huge thing with Agnes is that she’s been so disenfranchised and left out of society. The whole crux of the book really is about unchecked mental health and how there are people in our society that are struggling with mental health issues and we don’t treat them properly, we kind of push them aside. A lot of these people end up homeless or what have you. The whole crux of the book really is about unchecked mental health and how dangerous it can be, but I totally hear you on wanting to kind of keep that attention close and not let it go.
ESJ: Let’s talk about the cover a little bit. The artwork itself is by Kim Jakobsson and the typeset’s done by Filthy Loot’s Ira Rat. I love it. Can you tell me how it relates to the story?
EL: I will say that this particular piece by Kim Jakobsson is a painting that already existed. This piece wasn’t specifically done for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, so basically what happened was, [Sam and I] were going back and forth over email on what we want the cover art to be like and he had suggested, “Why don’t you just look at some cover artists on Instagram or through Google. Just see what strikes your fancy, and what you find compelling.” I don’t know how, but I came across Kim Jakobsson’s work and I was just completely taken with that piece, which is called Passing Oxygen, the original title for the painting. I feel like it relates to the piece in two ways: there’s a literal way, the way that I see it, literally, and then there’s a more figurative way of how it relates to the piece, and I would say that the literal way is kind of just the fact that you have this portrait of a young woman and she’s standing there, and she’s kind of posing for whoever’s doing the painting, and you see her essence, her aura, her bloody aura, kind of drift up into the corner of the painting. For me, it was like a visual representation of “Things are getting worse. Things are gradually getting worse.” It’s not necessarily a painful thing that she’s going through, it seems almost peaceful. It’s not violent. It’s not brutal. It’s just a peaceful transformation she’s going through. That to me is the literal illustration of this story. The more figurative, I would say, would be kind of just how this transformation occurs in the story and how Agnes kind of goes through an arc of things gradually becoming worse and worse with her job, with her relationships with people around her. It’s just things constantly getting worse. I would say it works in two different ways, the cover art. But I’m really glad that people seem to take to it. I was just so struck when I originally saw the painting. I know this needs to be the cover art.
ESJ: Would the relationship between Zoe and Agnes have worked differently had Agnes been in a better mindset?
EL: That’s definitely a possibility. It kind of goes back to what I was saying about unchecked mental health. Agnes, from the start of the piece, was completely disenfranchised, and very removed from people. And just very kind of on the outside looking in. So I definitely think her mental health had a huge effect on why she went through what she went through. It’s interesting you bring that up because one of the very kind people that I often send my work to for like beta reading before I submit it to a publisher, he had said that basically the story of Agnes going through this transformation it’s not uncommon for specifically queer people to go through something like this because a lot of times our families abandon us and we have to seek out family that’s not of blood relation. Typically we find out about sexuality online because it’s not taught in public schools.
ESJ: Did Zoe know what she was doing the entire time, or did she not realize that Agnes’ mental health was as bad as it was? When I first read it, I saw it as being completely Zoe doing the manipulation. Like she’s the one who ruined Agnes. I hadn’t seen it from the (perspective that) Agnes’ mental health is just getting worse and worse. I just saw it as she’s being manipulated by this person. So, I’m looking at it from a different lens now.
EL: It’s interesting that you bring that up, and I almost don’t want to say if I have a definitive answer. Obviously while I was writing it, I knew what I was doing, and I had an answer in my head of who was manipulating who and who’s the real cause behind this whole catastrophe that goes on in the book, but I almost don’t want to really get into that because for me the whole joy of being an author is giving this book as a gift to readers and letting them interpret what they will of it. Coming up with different answers. Maybe they start a book club and they just analyze the text, that to me is like the pinnacle of what you can do as a writer, is to make people think. If I just gave an answer right now, I feel like I’d be ruining the book for a lot of people.
I love this book. I worked very very very diligently on it, and to me it’s very special, I hope it’s special to a lot of readers. It’s a very dark piece, and distributing and upsetting, but I do hope that people find some light in it.
ESJ: I know that you have a master’s degree in writing in film and television—have you always wanted to be a writer, and how did you go from writing for film and television to writing fiction?
EL: Writing has always been just innate in me. I’ve always been a storyteller from when I was really little. I used to draw pictures and then eventually, when I learned how to read and write, I’d write stories. I first started out really writing plays—like plays for theatre. I had a couple produced in my hometown in Connecticut. I had some great mentors that really guided me and showed me what my life could be like if I stayed true to my artistic vision and really dedicated myself to the craft, and then eventually I went to college, and that’s when I really started writing fiction. All the while, I was still very interested in film and theatre. I went and got my master’s degree at Emerson College in Boston, and that was just a wonderful experience.
It’s been a natural progression for me in writing. I just want to be able to tell stories in as many different mediums as possible. Whatever the story demands. There are some concepts that I have that might work better for film, and I write them as screenplays. There are some concepts, like this particular piece, where I was like, “I know immediately that this has to be a novella.” You know what I mean? It just depends on the project.
ESJ: Are you working on any screenplays right now, as well?
EL: Yeah. I am working on a screenplay right now. I just can’t talk about it, unfortunately. It’s with my manager and nothing has been announced or anything yet, but I am working on something that I think is going to be very very special. I’m excited about that. And then, after that, I have some really dynamic concepts that would be great for fiction and I’d really like to explore them. I’m just open to any creative projects and whatever they demand, I’ll pursue it. If I come up with a great idea for a play, I’m not going to just say, “Oh well I need to write a novella now.” I’m just going to write what the story needs it to be.
ESJ: You seem like a very busy person. You’ve had a lot of releases almost back-to-back over the past six months or so. How has that been?
EL: It’s been amazing—it’s been awesome. I’ve loved it. This is really the kind of life that I always wanted, being able to release fiction and just work on creative projects. I work with my manager, Ryan Lewis, on different projects, and he guides me and gives me notes. I have some other projects that are in the publishing world that I actually just got some really great news the other day about and I can’t announce it until I sign the contract, but I feel like I’ve got enough projects to last me until like 2023, as far as, like, releases go.
ESJ: All the while, writing others.
EL: Yeah, exactly.
EL: Yeah. A lot of the writers that I admire, like, I don’t know if you know Michael McDowell. He wrote the screenplay for Beetlejuice. He was super prolific, and writers like him; he was open gay, too. Writers like Clive Barker. A lot of the people that I admire seem to kind of have consistency when it comes to releasing material. I want it to be of good quality of course, but releasing material is definitely important to me.
ESJ: Let’s talk about Weirdpunk Books—they are doing amazing things. Really high-quality work. Mostly from queer people, and a lot of is about queer people. How did you come to be involved with WPB and what was it like to work with them?
EL: I just have to say, my experience with Weirdpunk has been A+. It’s just been absolutely amazing. Sam Richard, who’s the editor-in-chief at WP, is just one of the kindest, most thoughtful and most intelligent editors I’ve worked with. He gave me such great notes on the book and little things to add in. It’s been just such a dream to work with him. I’ve always wanted to work with WP. I love their releases. I loved The Wingspan of Severed Hands. That was an amazing book. They really are doing such amazing work right now and I just kept telling Sam, I want this book to be as successful as possible. I don’t want it to just kind of slip away. I want it to be a lucrative venture for him and for both of us. I feel really good about where it’s going right now. I feel like the book is doing really well, we’ve got a lot of buzz around it and it just seems to be doing really, really well.
WP has been awesome to work with and I basically just reached out to Sam on Twitter through DM. It was one of those Twitter pitch sessions where all the Twitter writers will pitch a project that they’re working on, or they have completed, and Sam had Tweeted that if any writers had any projects that they were working on, he opened up a call for pitches in his DMs. I just DMed him and I was like, “I have this book. It’s like a cross between JG Ballard and David Cronenberg and Dennis Cooper and I feel you’d really like it.” I gave him a pitch and he said, “That sounds awesome, I’d love to read it.” And then a couple months later he emailed me again: “I love this book, and I want to publish it.”
ESJ: It seems like everyone who’s read it so far really loves it.
EL: That makes me really happy. Your five-star [rating] was so sweet. Sadie Hartmann (Mother Horror) read it recently. She texted my manager and said, “This book is so awesome.” It’s been really, really cool. I’ve loved the response so far.
You can order his novellas Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke from Weirdpunk Books and Starving Ghosts in Every Thread directly. His poetry collection, Fanged Dandelion, is available from Demain Publishing. Some of his anthologized short stories can be purchased at Godless.
Evan St. Jones does non-profit work by day and book stuff by night. Their short stories and novella are unpublished as of yet, but they have a few pieces of flash fiction around if you know where to look. They’re a co-creator of LGBTQIA+ organization, QUEERPORT and co-owner of Vessel Vintage in Shreveport, Louisiana, where they live with their partner and three-legged dog.