“L. Andrew Cooper thinks the smartest people like horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Early in life, he couldn’t handle the scary stuff–he’d sneak and watch horror films and then keep his parents up all night with his nightmares. In the third grade, he finally convinced his parents to let him read grownup horror novels: he started with Stephen King’s “Firestarter,” and by grade five, he was doing book reports on “The Stand.”
When his parents weren’t being kept up late by his nightmares, they worried that his fascination with horror fiction would keep him from experiencing more respectable culture. That all changed when he transitioned from his public high school in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to uber-respectable Harvard University, where he studied English Literature. From there, he went on to get a Ph.D. in English from Princeton, turning his longstanding engagement with horror into a dissertation. The dissertation became the basis for his first book, “Gothic Realities” (2010). More recently, his obsession with horror movies turned into a book about one of his favorite directors, “Dario Argento” (2012). He also co-edited the textbook “Monsters” (2012), an attempt to infect others with the idea that scary things are worth people’s serious attention.
After living in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California, Andrew now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he teaches at the University of Louisville. “Burning the Middle Ground” is his debut novel” (Biography from Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/L.-Andrew-Cooper/e/B003N1FE36).
LC: Likewise, I’m honored by the invitation!
GL: What are your thoughts on genre mash-ups—specifically when the work is billed as a horror read, yet it clearly contains other elements (romance, for instance)? When do they work, and when don’t they work? Please give examples.
LC: A single work rarely fits neatly into a single genre, and a single genre is hard enough to define, so figuring out when a work crosses the line from being in a single genre to being a mash-up might be impossible, except works are telling us they’re mash-ups, Cowboys & Aliens, Pride and Prejudice & Zombies. The “&” is means that the mash-up is something self-conscious, and it’s kind of hip right now, but there was plenty of what we 21st-century readers would call romance in what we’d call the horror novels of the 18th century. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is the beginning of new strands in both the sci-fi and the horror traditions. When Abbot and Costello met Frankenstein, they were doing a monster mash-up, comedy and horror. Usually self-conscious mash-ups like the ones with ampersands and the word “meet” in the title mean that certain genre conventions or characters are getting tired, and both producers and audiences are hoping that different combinations will spin out something new. Sometimes it works—as with books like Michael Williams’s Trajan’s Arch, which merges the classic coming-of-age story with urban fantasy, or your Water Vamps, which merges the classic teen mystery tale with a horror bestiary. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Frankly, all Pride and Prejudice & Zombies did was remind me why I write horror but am not afraid to admit that Jane Austen is one of the greatest writers ever.
GL: What are your thoughts on ‘torture porn’? And, is there a line that should never be crossed when it comes to the horror genre?
LC: I think David Edelstein coined a very provocative and useful phrase with that one, as “torture porn” is suppler than Tom Wolfe’s “pornoviolence” (1976) and not as creepy as hearing A Clockwork Orange’s “ultraviolence” voiced by Malcolm McDowell (1971 film, from the 1962 novel). My point in piling up these references is that horror violence, especially in film, has been linked with pornography and otherwise given nifty terminology through decades of efforts to condemn and suppress the genre’s more extreme expressions, which would include some of my work. In Edelstein’s initial discussion of the phenomenon, he named as examples of torture porn Saw, Hostel, and—I love this—The Passion of the Christ. So his point wasn’t that horror was crossing lines but that films in general were showing a new fascination with ripping bodies apart on screen. My first book, Gothic Realities, discusses Saw and Hostel and argues that the spectacles of violence in those films are integral to their political and cultural significance (which, obviously, I think they have). I’m currently working on a paper about A Serbian Film, which, if you haven’t heard of it… well, let’s just say there aren’t too many lines left to cross by the time it’s done. And I find its transgressions brilliant. Some line-crossing can be silly, but in the realm of fiction, I don’t see anything as too sacred or taboo to represent.
GL: What made you decide on BlackWyrm Publishing for your “Burning the Middle Ground?”
LC: I’ll give you two reasons, one general, one specific. General: right now the market for horror is dominated by YA, paranormal romance, and zombies. Those things are cool, and BlackWyrm has great titles in those areas, but it does more, too. BlackWyrm is the sort of house that of course wouldn’t mind finding the next Hunger Games, but it spends its energy looking for quality and diversity, for voices that have the potential to help the genres and the craft as a whole evolve. Specific: Michael Williams, whom I mentioned earlier, is a colleague of mine. I read his work and figured that if BlackWyrm attracts that kind of talent, I want to be on board.
GL: Please give readers a synopsis of “Burning the Middle Ground” and what genre(s) it can be accurately grouped into.
LC: Here’s the official synopsis, which builds in some genre words for the search engines:
Burning the Middle Ground is a dark fantasy about small-town America that transforms readers’ fears about the country’s direction into a tale of religious conspiracy and supernatural mind control. A character-driven sensibility like Stephen King’s and a flair for the bizarre like Bentley Little’s deliver as much appeal for dedicated fans of fantasy and horror as for mainstream readers looking for an exciting ride. Brian McCullough comes home from school and discovers that his ten-year-old sister has murdered their parents. Five years later, a journalist, Ronald Glassner, finds Brian living in the same house in the small town of Kenning, Georgia. Planning a book on the McCullough Tragedy, Ronald stumbles into a struggle between Kenning’s First Church, run by the mysterious Reverend Michael Cox, and the New Church, run by the rebellious Jeanne Harper. At the same time, Kenning’s pets go berserk, and dead bodies, with the eyes and tongues removed from their heads, begin to appear.
In sum: Horror, Dark Fantasy, Thriller, Supernatural Thriller, Paranormal, Conspiracy
GL: In your “Gothic Realities” you expose how horror was blamed on “creating” reality, correct? If so, then exactly how? Please tell readers what else they’ll find in this read.
LC: The idea for Gothic Realities started after Columbine, but it could have been a more recent tragedy: an unbalanced person shoots a lot of people, and someone insists that violent media, especially horror films and the like, are to blame. I soon discovered that pundits have been playing that particular blame game since the 18th century, when the Gothic novel, ancestor of horror in novels and films, was born. Looking at lots of sources from the period, I discovered that pundits and critics thought reading Gothic novels would create deviant sexuality, heretical beliefs, and anti-establishment violence, especially among the young. After looking at how these critics expressed their ideas and used them to judge Gothic novels as either appropriate or awful, I go on to look at how Gothic novels may indeed have participated in the construction of what some people would call deviant sexuality, heretical beliefs in things like ghosts and hauntings, and violence like the tragedies at Columbine and Virginia Tech. While I grant the involvement of horror texts, that’s not the same as blame: ultimately, Gothic Realities argues that horror texts have the capacity for involvement in “creating” reality for good or ill, but a book or a movie just doesn’t have what it takes to be responsible for what people do to each other.
GL: You’ve been to quite a few conventions this year. What purpose do they serve in helping authors sell their works?
LC: Since my first novel has been out less than a year, I’m still learning about the impact of conventioneering, but so far it seems to be doing what it’s supposed to do. First, conventions are opportunities to sell a few copies, but more important, they’re places to see and be seen, meet and be met. The word “networking” feels kind of icky, especially when you’re trying to leave your day job behind and enjoy feeling like an artist, but it’s all about networking. When people go shopping for books, they usually look for names they’ve heard of. Going to conventions, getting your name out there, is how people hear of you.
GL: Which upcoming conventions will you be attending? Which of your books will you be promoting at them?
LC: As I write this, I’m gearing up for FandomFest in Louisville, where I’ll be focusing primarily on Burning the Middle Ground but also showing Dario Argento, about the legendary Italian director of Suspiria and other cult horror films, for the movie crowd. By the time this reaches your readers, I’m probably getting ready for DragonCon in Atlanta over Labor Day weekend, where I’ll emphasize the same novel and perhaps begin promotion of another project (stay tuned!).
GL: Where can readers go to connect with you and your wonderful work? (Social networking sites, etc.)
Thank you, GL!