Hello and Happy Friday Friends and Fiends:
Today in the Madhouse, I'm excited to welcome poet and author Eric Larocca to our ranks as we chat about his poetry debut, Fanged Dandelion. Larocca describes his collection as follows: "a dark and deeply wounding portrait of a young queer man on the verge of splintering apart, ‘Fanged Dandelion’ is a nightmarish odyssey that delves into the bowels of the human mind - a frightening exploration of the caskets we build inside our heads…"
Fanged Dandelion was my first read of 2021 and not only was it beautifully written, but it explores the darker parts of human nature, of our battle with identity, all while bringing light to issues of oppression, repression, and mental health. I really loved it and I hope you folks will, too, so please consider picking up your copy today and in the meantime, sit back, grab some tea, and walk with me through the gorgeous and nightmarish mind of Eric Larocca.
With barbs and thorns,
Stephanie M. Wytovich
Discussing Fanged DandelionSMW: Tell us about your book. What gave you the idea to create this collection and what does the image of the fanged dandelion symbolize to you?
EL: Fanged Dandelion was essentially my response to the quarantine restrictions imposed by the United States due to the Covid-19 pandemic. I found myself burdened by anxiety and worry every day, and I knew that I needed to distract myself with a creative project simply because the craft of writing is usually so therapeutic for me. That being said, I was uncertain what exactly to write and I knew I wouldn’t find much solace in my typical prose form. That’s when my ever-supportive partner suggested I start writing down my thoughts and crafting short poems from what I’ve written. The collection is somewhat autobiographical. It’s essentially about a young queer man who is filled with inner turmoil because he’s being bombarded by hideously pernicious intrusive thoughts – something I’ve unfortunately experienced first-hand. The collection is about coming to terms with these horrible thoughts and determining whether or not they represent me as a human being. Fanged Dandelion is essentially an exploration of my identity as a queer man. The titular symbol of the fanged dandelion refers to how I view my mind – something ornate and delicate, yet capable of horrifying destruction.
SMW: One of my favorite things about horror (especially horror poetry) is that it allows us to champion and explore our shadow selves. The beginning of the poem “Fanged Dandelion” starts out with you saying: “I am a vile thing/ made of insect hair/and broken teeth.” Can you talk a little bit about how you explore the darker parts of yourself or human nature in your poetry? And do you find this approach to writing to be cathartic?
EL: Absolutely! Writing poetry (specifically horror poetry) has been a deeply cathartic experience for me. I honestly never anticipated sharing this collection with anyone other than my partner simply because the content I was exploring was so grim, so unapologetically bleak. I was afraid of sharing these pieces with anyone simply because I thought readers might judge me or think I was unhinged because some of the intrusive thoughts I explore in this body of work are literal thoughts I had once experienced. I’ve never shared this with anyone before, but I had to visit the emergency room one evening because I was so afraid of myself, so frightened of the thoughts I was experiencing. Thankfully, I’m in a much mentally healthier state now, but I’ve always been deeply familiar with the darker aspects of my identity. It’s an intimidating experience – sharing these gruesome actualities with readers. But I’m so delighted to see people responding and reacting to this body of work. It assures me that perhaps I’m not the monster I think I am.
SMW: This collection beautifully and viscerally explores body horror and puts it on display. In your poem “Venom in Bloom” you write: “he’d drink it all if he could, / turn as sickeningly green/as seawater/his mouth/a tourniquet/for venom in bloom.” What about body horror draws you to it and why do you think this subgenre continues to grow in popularity?
EL: I have always had a deep fascination with the subgenre of body horror. One of my very first plays, Parasite, was produced by a small independent theatre company in New York City and focused on the subject of body horror. I think I’ve been drawn to the genre simply because it’s so profoundly intimate. There’s a certain level of immediacy when analyzing a work of body horror. After all, we’re all human and we all possess complex human bodies – subject to entropy, disease, and decay. There’s nothing quite as horrifying as realizing that there’s something burrowing, feeding, stirring inside your body. In fact, my debut novella, Starving Ghosts in Every Thread, was a work of body horror and explores how grief and guilt can quite literally transform a person. I think the subgenre continues to grow in popularity simply because of its unadulterated honesty. I think audiences and readers are deeply unnerved by body horror because the genre is so immediate, and we can empathize with the characters undergoing the grotesque mutation.SMW: Themes of repression, desire, and acceptance are filtered throughout the collection. We see character’s talking about secrets they’ve kept buried, hidden desires and fantasies they mediate on/with, and then we get to hear their own analysis of themselves, kind of like the doctor treating his own injuries. Can you speak to this idea of writing the wound and how horror can help us process trauma, identity, etc.
EL: Any time I sit down to work on a new project, I always consider the question: “what would upset me to write?” Moreover, “what would force me outside of my comfort zone?” Of course, there are certain traumas from my childhood that I’m not quite yet ready to tackle; however, the incentive for me is always to write from a wounded place. I’ve always been attracted to writing from the wellspring of trauma and suffering I have pumping inside me. Naturally, it’s of vital importance to monitor your mental health while working on such upsetting pieces; however, very often horror has the ability to help us better understand our trauma because it’s a safe arena in which we can confront our fears. For me, horror always has been a safe space where I can come to terms with my identity as a queer man and explore some of the traumas I’ve faced. I think that’s mainly due to the fact that all horror has to do with empathy in some way. We care about the characters in horror and when horrible things happen to them, it pains us. We suffer along with them.
SMW: There’s a violent spirit both to human nature and to the poems in this book. In your poem “Handle with Care” you end the piece by saying: “it’s my way of thanking her/for giving me things like/the teeth of the moon/something I never asked for.” First off, those are some of my favorite lines in the entire collection, but secondly, I’m wondering if you can speak to the lessons we learn about violence and rage in horror genre. What do you hope readers takeaway from this book, from these meditations within?
EL: Thank you so much for your kind words! Those were some of my partner’s favorite lines as well. There’s definitely an undercurrent of violence surging throughout the poems in Fanged Dandelion. I think violence and rage are integral aspects of the horror genre because horror is so heavily imbued with emotions. I suppose what I most desperately want to say with this collection is that these horrible intrusive thoughts do not define me. Your trauma does not define you. Your past does not indicate your future. More than anything, I hope people read this collection and recognize the fact that their pain, suffering, sadness will not last forever. I once lived as if I were stuck in a horror film. Everything petrified me. In fact, the world around me began to change. But it didn’t last forever and eventually I was free. I want that same thing for my readers – I want them to be free from what troubles them, what disturbs them. If you’re reading this, I truly wish that for you.
SMW: How did you come to writing and who are some of your influences?
EL: I began telling stories at a very early age. I was inherently a very creative child. I would draw pictures and narrate the illustrations to my mother and father. Finally, when I began to learn to read and write, I immediately took to writing. Most of my early work were crude imitations of stories I had read or films I had seen. It wasn’t long before I took an interest in theater, specifically the work of Tennessee Williams. I was completely enchanted with the world he created on the stage. I devoured everything from his celebrated successes like The Glass Menagerie to his more obscure work Eccentricities of a Nightingale. From there, I soon developed a love of horror and devoted myself entirely to studying the genre. I was, of course, a dedicated reader of traditional writers like Bloch and Matheson; however, it wasn’t until I came across the work of Clive Barker that I realized how brutally fearless I could be while writing horror. Not to mention, I always felt remarkably empowered while reading Barker as he was an open and proud gay man.
SMW: Can you give us an insight into your writing process? Any habits when you sit down to write?
EL: I’m very militant when it comes to my writing process. I’m somewhat superstitious and I prefer to keep in line with my routine. Usually I’ll get up in the morning, have a cup of tea, and check email or do little things around the house. Then, I’ll sit down, strap myself to the keyboard and I usually won’t give myself a break until I reach a certain word count goal. If I’m writing a novel, I typically commit to writing one chapter a day so that I don’t overwhelm myself.
SMW: What books are sitting in your TBR pile?
EL: I have a ton of books currently sitting in my TBR pile. The most noteworthy books I can immediately think of are Valancourt titles I had purchased at my favorite independent bookshop, The Green Hand in Portland, Maine. I had picked up a copy of In the Eyes of Mr. Fury by Philip Ridley, and I’m so excited to start reading. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Mr. Ridley’s work, I wholeheartedly encourage you to check out his impressive catalog. He’s written works for the stage as well as film and literature. He wrote and directed one of my favorite films of all time, The Reflecting Skin starring Viggo Mortensen. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about In the Eyes of Mr. Fury, so I’m very eager to start reading soon. I also have a copy of Michael McDowell’s The Amulet that has been glaring at me from my nightstand for several weeks now.
SMW: What is next in store for your readers?
EL: I have a bunch of exciting releases planned for 2021!
I also recently announced on Twitter that I have partnered with Weirdpunk Books as they will be publishing my brand-new queer horror novella, Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, in late Spring/early Summer of 2021. I am so ecstatic to be working with Sam Richard (Weirdpunk’s owner) and I suspect this will be a truly sensational release. We have a few exciting surprises we’re currently in the process of developing, but I can’t divulge anything yet, unfortunately. Although there’s no preorder link for Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke, I encourage readers to follow me on Twitter (@ejlarocca) to stay up to date with my current projects. In the meantime, I sincerely encourage readers to check out Weirdpunk and order directly from their website: https://www.weirdpunkbooks.com/.
SMW: What advice do you have for writers working in poetry?
I’m not certain if I’m qualified to give advice to aspiring poets considering the fact that Fanged Dandelion was my first attempt at writing poetry and I feel as though I’m still learning and will always be learning no matter what; however, if pressed, I would simply encourage poets to write what upsets them. I would encourage them to write from the wound that never healed, to write from their suffering and their pain. Poetry is a deeply intimate and raw art form. Be vulnerable with your readers. They will respect you.
What Cina Pelayo, author of poetry collections Poems of My Night and Into the Forest and All the Way Through, had to say about Fanged Dandelion:
"The beautiful and dark vivid visuals, dreamscapes and
memories that Eric LaRocca paints masterfully in Fanged Dandelion offer
a deep intensity. LaRocca’s compelling poetry demands our attention, to look at
the lovely dandelion in our hands, its cheerful and bright petals and to then
submit as it sinks its sharp teeth into our skin. This is a collection by a
fantastic and emerging voice in horror poetry, one that all of us should be