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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A survey of 1960’s and ’70s gay pulp fiction reveals that sequels were scarce. Many of these books had impressive print runs (over 100,000) but rarely did any one title warrant a narrative continuation. The plots and characters weren’t exactly designed for posterity. Instead, their pleasures were often of a disposable nature, to the level of being tossed out with garbage upon reaching aphrodisiacal fulfillment. The idea that people might read, collect and obsess over pulp fifty years later probably sounded laughable at the time.
Nevertheless, there were fan favorites and landmark publications among this ocean of cheap, sleazy paperbacks. Some titles generated multi-book series, spin-offs, parodies and, of course, sequels. Notable examples of the era include the 2069 trilogy (1969-1970) by Larry Townsend, The Man from C.A.M.P. series (1966-1968) by Don Holliday, and Richard Amory’s bestselling Song of the Loon trilogy (1966-1968). Amory’s books sold in the millions and even had a movie adaptation.
Demon’s Coronation (1971) by William J. Lambert, III, is another example, being the dramatic second half of Demon’s Stalk (1970). If you’ve read my review of the first book, you know I’m a fan and would consider it not only a fabulous example of queer pulp, but also the horror genre at large.
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“Going to Hell” has always been a part of my existence. I’ve been told it constantly. From the pulpit, from family, from strangers on the street. I suspect every religious gay person decides at some point to either embrace their inevitable damnation, or believe that organized religion is a lie. Friends and allies are forced into a similar conundrum, fearing their soul will turn to salt should they dare sympathize with such “deviants.”
But I was born in 1989 and have it lucky. In 1970, when Demon’s Stalk was published, you didn’t just have the church to worry about. You could be sent to jail. You were thought to suffer from a “mental disorder.” You were an assumed pedophile. You were beaten—maybe killed—in the street. Rarely would anyone care. They saw your death as a public service. It wasn’t just God against you, it was everyone.
It’s within this historical context that I read Demon’s Stalk in awe. It remains edgy and unnerving these fifty years later, arguably deserving of classic status within the horror genre, but also revolutionary for its handling of queer characters within a religious storyline. Which is to say that none of these things matter.
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Reading rare and obscure books has become my obsession, and this is the rarest one yet. Considered the first gay werewolf novel, it has significance to queer horror fans, but its appearance in 1971, amid a swirl of gay socio-political turmoil, interests me even more. I can’t read it and not imagine myself as a groovy gay man, the possibility of equal rights newly in my head after the Stonewall Riots, but knowing actual equality is so far off as to be unimaginable. My existence is considered monstrous to almost everyone. I know because they told me. Maybe not me specifically, because of course I’m in the closet, but they’ve said it out loud. Many times.
In 1971 you could be jailed for writing books like this, and reading them wasn’t always safer. Obscenity laws still percolated in the Supreme Court and Greenleaf Classics, Lambert’s publisher, faced endless legal battles.
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William Maltese, everyone! An absolute honor to have you spend time with us.
For those unfamiliar, Maltese is the author of 200+ pulp novels from 1969 to 2020, some gay, some straight, and all spread wide under the guise of an astounding 36 pseudonyms. His oeuvre includes the world’s first gay werewolf novel, Valley of the Damned (1971), a sexy gay anti-Christ series starting with Demon’s Stalk (1970), and a naughty intergalactic romp called Starship Intercourse (1971). Though his vintage pulps are now collector’s gold (Starship Intercourse was spotted online at $1,500), his recent novels are plentiful and readily available.
JUSTIN: Let’s start with sex. You’ve written about doing the dirty during the free-lovin ’60s, the AIDS epidemic, into the technology age of Grindr and everything in between. What, if anything, has changed about sex?
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