“The Closet Game” harkens back to the days when silly games played by silly children become much more real when the lights go out. Tell us something about the inspiration behind the story.
About a decade ago, I was sitting around at a convention with some other writer types, and we were talking about urban legends and creepy kids’ games and the like. Someone (I don’t remember who) mentioned there was one of these types of games called “The Closet Game,” and because I write spooky stuff and also queer stuff, my writerly brain immediately paired the name with a metaphor for someone struggling with life in the closet. It wasn’t until many years later that I wrote the beginning of the story as a flash piece, and many years after that initial start that I fully fleshed out the rest.
I love the story’s voice, the detached POV that still manages to draw us deeper into Jesse’s truth. From the closet and the wake to the spiral of shadows cast in the dim light of a match, you manage to capture the chill uncertainty of past choices. How did you find the voice for this story? Did it come naturally or did you have to search for the perfect tone?
First, thank you. I wanted to covertly reproduce the effect of being simultaneously inside and outside of one’s own head, which is just one of the many deleterious effects of living an inauthentic life. In this way, I hoped the reader would become both observer and participant in Jesse’s world the very same way he himself becomes a fractured human being, to illustrate how the stories we tell about ourselves are sometimes lies that lead us further away from the light. The closet, as we know, is a very dangerous place to be.
Would you be willing to close the closet door and strike that match?
Absolutely not. I don’t play with demons.
How do you feel the portrayal of homosexuality has changed in genre fiction over the years? What would you say to younger writers about the importance of representation both in fiction and as writers?
Thankfully, it’s changed quite a bit in recent years, where you can feel comfortable submitting and selling stories with queer content and characters at just about any relevant publisher without freaking anyone out. I’m a bit leery about some aspects of this trend, first of all because I’m not yet convinced it’s going to last forever, and also because there’s often an emphasis on “hopeful” and “empowering” stories that I frankly find unseemly. Look, I almost exclusively write dark fiction—hope and empowerment simply aren’t my bag.
Do I understand the need and desire for those stories? Absolutely. But I feel very strongly that writers should be given the freedom to write whatever they want outside the oppressive eye of social convention. People may not like it, and that’s fine. At the end of the day, however, we’re all beholden to our own truth and no one else’s, and that goes double for artists.
What can we look forward to from Robert Levy in the latter half of 2022?
Not to get too heavy, but my husband of twenty years died after a long illness a few days prior to this interview, so to be honest the future is somewhat unclear. I can say that I have another creepy story out this month in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, a piece called “Ceremonials” that I somewhat jokingly call my “maenads go to summer camp” story. It’s a great feeling to have both stories published in such prestigious venues—my first time cracking either market—at such an otherwise grim time.
Other than that? I’m not entirely certain. As the Magic 8-Ball says: Reply hazy. Try again later.
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