Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Lee Thomas

“The Lord of Corrosion” is really focused on family, and a lot of time is invested in building and exploring different facets and kinds of familial relationships. How does this story represent your experiences, feelings, and beliefs around family?

I suppose the primary family relationship in the story is a bit of wishful thinking on my part. I was never close to my family. It’s not an issue of animosity or resentment. We were just brought up with an “every person for him/herself” kind of vibe, and we all had extremely different interests. The kind of family connection that many people inherently understand is lost on me, so occasionally I try to explore family dynamics in my work. At times, the characters are disconnected from one other in a way I can relate to, and other times they operate in a more “traditional,” cohesive manner, as they do in this story.

One of the most startling and relatable moments for me was the scene where Sofia asks, “What’s wrong with me?” It’s a deft demonstration of the internalization of hate. What were the challenges of writing a piece so carefully focused on hate, and how did you deal with them?

Well, that’s exactly it. One insidious aspect of prejudice is the effect it has on a person’s self-worth. That’s the metaphor behind “The Lord of Corrosion.” Not only does the title represent a monster, but it also represents the cultural messaging that can eat away at a person’s self-esteem. For a child like Sofia, she has no concept of being different, because her fathers didn’t raise her to think in prejudicial terms. Then an outside influence arrives that acts as her first introduction to this kind of hate. In her mind, the influence (Gundy Morgan) is an adult, a power figure, and she is too young to know that power figures aren’t always right. She’s never learned to question such attacks, just as most children haven’t. The emotional abuse she endures in a very direct manner represents both the blatant and the subtle destructive messaging that comes from our culture.

Growing up gay and having spent no real time in the closet, I was constantly struggling to keep negative messaging out, or at the very least, trying to view it objectively. I had to believe that if I was “an abomination,” “a perversion,” “a second class citizen,” it had nothing to do with me, but rather was the result of a cultural construct and a set of definitions that benefited certain groups. I figured it was a given people were going to victimize me, but that didn’t mean I had to accept the role of victim, because the minute I claimed that role, they would win. I would have defined myself as weak, as “lesser.” Fortunately, we’ve made some progress away from the mindset I encountered as a young adult, but the negative messaging, whether in regard to the LGBTQ community or in regard to race, is far from gone.

Daddy Gundy strikes me as a really great larger-than-life antagonist, with a name and personality that I can easily visualize growing in power and reappearing in sequels or longer works. The ending is wonderful but also potentially ambiguous—especially in the horror field! Is this a character you plan to revisit? Was he inspired by real people or events?

I might not be done with Gundy Morgan yet. I couldn’t fit all of him into this story. It was already at novelette length, and I didn’t think additional details about the character were necessary to effectively tell the tale. My initial approach to the material was significantly different. It started out as a story that blossomed into a novella-length work, which I had to put aside because it was running far beyond the word count Wendy [Wagner] had requested. “The Lord of Corrosion” was my second run at the material, in which I refocused the action and pushed Gundy further into the background. There’s a lot to explore with this premise and these characters, and I intend to return to all of this in a longer form so I can dig deeper into some of the ideas. I just need to let it simmer a little longer before diving in. As for my inspiration, Gundy is simply a composite—a personification of racist hypocrisy and social power structures that support intolerance. Real world personalities that informed Gundy’s character are easy enough to find. Many of them are running for office.

I really enjoyed this story and I’m looking forward to reading more of your work. What are you working on now, and what can we anticipate seeing from you in the future?

Thank you! My most recent release is a mini-collection from Cemetery Dance, called Cemetery Dance Selects: Lee Thomas. It’s a kind of “Greatest Hits” of my previously published short fiction. Plus, I have several short stories appearing in the near future, including “The Grief Frequency” in Unspeakable Horror II, and “Pincushion” in Vicious Circle. I’ve just completed a novella about a gay mobster, facing supernatural forces, called Minotaur, and I’m deep into the first draft of a Young Adult novel set during the Great Depression, which also deals with gangsters and a magic system based in ancient metal objects.

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Arley Sorg

Arley SorgArley Sorg grew up in England, Hawaii and Colorado. He went to Pitzer College and studied Asian Religions. He lives in Oakland, and most often writes in local coffee shops. He has a number of short stories out at various markets and is hammering out a novel. A 2014 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, he works at Locus Magazine. He’s soldering together a novel, has thrown a few short stories into orbit, and hopes to launch more.