Interview: Robert Devereaux, Author of Santa Steps Out

Interview by Justin Tate

Robert Devereaux has been terrifying readers since the late 1980’s, when his short fiction appeared in the hallowed pages of Pulphouse magazine, Crank! and Weird Tales. Since then he has authored several mass market horror novels and found his name on the final ballot for Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Awards.

Arguably he is most famous (infamous?) for his 1998 novel, Santa Steps Out, which reimagines all our favorite holiday icons as lascivious beings, fueled by personal desire and capable of macabre treachery. Aided by the early days of Internet message boards and word-of-mouth, Santa quickly became a legendary classic of holiday horror. To this day, not a Christmas goes by without fans reflecting on their virgin experience—the time when Devereaux’s Santa first altered their perception of everything they hold sacred.

Robert was kind enough to take time away from his writing schedule to discuss his long career and how Santa came to be.

JUSTIN: Robert, an honor to chat with you!! Santa Steps Out is among my all-time favorite novels and I have so many questions. Of course I have to ask first—how did this bizarre book get inside your head?

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R.L. Stine – Goodnight Kiss + Goodnight Kiss 2 + “The Vampire Club” (1992-1997)

Review by Justin Tate

Mom didn’t censor me from Fear Street books, but she did ban this one due to its sultry cover. In consequence, I’ve been eager to read it since I was 8. At long last the day has finally come! Take that, Ma.

The restful beach babe with dripping vampire bites is, of course, far more alluring than the PG content within. Still, it’s a vampire novel, so of course sexuality plays a role. The premise involves two attractive teen “eternal ones” who are running low on “nectar” and need a refill. They decide to make it a competition and each picks out a victim for the other to seduce and drain. Enter a group of unsuspecting Shadyside teens on vacation and you have yet another horror encounter for youthful Ohioans.

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Bram Stoker – Dracula + “Dracula’s Guest” (1897)

Review by Justin Tate

Dracula seems to be one of those love-it or hate-it type books, but for me it is all love! The opening chapters alone provide some of the most gripping, suspense-inducing, edge-of-seat anxieties I’ve ever read, all leading up to a delightfully queer twist with a male character stepping in for the traditional Gothic heroine.

Jonathan Harker fulfills the damsel in distress role quite suitably, being locked away in a remote castle and forced to navigate the domineering personality of his captor. Dracula is reminiscent of Montoni from Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, particularly in the way he has control over Jonathan’s sexual well-being. When the three weird sisters close in on an unaccompanied Jonathan, Dracula stops them at the last second, saying “This man belongs to me!” before Harker “sank down unconscious.”

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Joseph Sheridan le Fanu – Carmilla (1872)

Review by Justin Tate

Lesbian vampire novel that pre-dates Dracula by 25 years? Sign me up! Carmilla (1872) was in fact a huge influence on Bram Stoker, as shown by many subtle references in Dracula (1897) and more obvious ones in “Dracula’s Guest”. Largely a forgotten classic, today Carmilla is receiving something of a revival thanks to an increased academic interest in queer artifacts and this new edition that’s edited by Carmen Maria Machado.

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J.X. Williams – Goodbye, My Lover (1966)

Review by Justin Tate

Historically significant gay murder mystery! Today Goodbye, My Lover merely reads like the campy whodunit that it is, but when it was originally published in 1966 it must’ve been a life-changing experience for gay readers seeking evidence that they deserve a place in the world.

The characters are happily gay and living their best life—even as they navigate an intricate murder plot. Rather than resent their sexuality or commit suicide by the end, they are more reaffirmed than ever to have long-term gay relationships in their future. Homophobia is largely absent and certainly not dwelled upon. Possibly because the novel takes place in Los Angeles, which was fantastically more liberated than the rest of the country, but generally queer pulp fiction was eager to explore a post-homophobic fantasy world where gay men were free from oppression.

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Mary Elizabeth Braddon – Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)

Review by Justin Tate

Lady Audley’s Secret is a gorgeous example of the Victorian ‘Sensation Novel’ which dominated Great Britain during the 1860’s and ’70s. It includes a unique female mastermind of evil, while also presenting enough evidence for a lively counter argument over who the real villain is. The prose is top-notch and very modern. At times it reads more like the latest literary prize-winner and not something that was published over a hundred and fifty years ago. There’s plenty of mystery and suspense to keep the pages turning, but intriguing characters are what really keep you glued. It’s a shame this classic no longer enjoys the massive popularity it once carried well into the early 20th century. It holds up extremely well.

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Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (1859)

Review by Justin Tate

Over 150 years later, The Woman in White still deserves its status as one of the most beloved and influential novels written in English. The combination of Gothic aesthetics, penny dreadful scandal, domestic drama and Victorian true crime makes it a mainstream delight for all readers, then and now. There’s even classic detective work that would, no doubt, go on to inspire the Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

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Richard Brautigan – The Hawkline Monster (1974)

Review by Justin Tate

First published in 1974, this “Gothic Western” endures as an offbeat classic. Tim Burton almost directed a movie adaptation starring Clint Eastwood and Jack Nicholson, but Eastwood backed out and Burton went with Mars Attacks! instead. Smart decision.

The Hawkline Monster is a problematic story that fluctuates between pure spoof and legitimate horror. Most of the comedy comes from witty word choices and bizarre happenings, such as characters with little respect for the dead, human transformation into inanimate objects, and impromptu sex spurred on by supernatural forces.

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Matthew Lewis – The Monk (1796)

Review by Justin Tate

Among the controversial literary works published throughout world history, few have sparked the level of outrage and obsession associated with Matthew Lewis’ 1796 novel The Monk. Even before his book bugged out eyes all across London, the patriarch was feeling hesitant toward Gothic plots. On one hand, Ann Radcliffe’s narrative puzzleboxes were charmingly written. But on the other, her female characters were too pushy against their fathers, too resistant of assigned husbands, and too eager to run off on exotic adventures. A girl could get ideas reading such folly. What a mess that would be!

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Catherine Smith – Barozzi (1815)

Review by Justin Tate

A Gothic rollercoaster! Action is launched with the first line and doesn’t hold back until the twist-filled resolution. Smith was an actress by trade and her dramatic experiences fit well within the genre, where characters are encouraged to speak in the operatic tones of Shakespearean tragedy.

First published in 1815 and largely out-of-print until 2006, Barozzi would have likely been a mainstream publication in its day, but not splash-worthy. The tyrannical ruler willing to embrace any evil to maintain power is highly reminiscent of Manfred in Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and, by extension, Macbeth (1606). The sections which deal with demon conjuring reflect Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1796). And the magician’s reveal of a conclusion is very much in line with the tradition of Ann Radcliffe. In other words, Smith played all the hits but nothing edgy enough to cause a stir.

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