Rob Costello is Dancing with Bears in His Eyes.

Recently, we enjoyed conversing with horror author Rob Costello to celebrate the launch of his new collection, Dancing Bears. We discussed his inspiration for writing horror stories and the creative process he goes through while writing his books. Rob also shared some fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about his new collection, giving us a glimpse into the exciting world of horror literature. Read on for an enlightening and engaging conversation.

Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

I’m pretty damn boring, to be honest. A homebody who enjoys reading, listening to Kate Bush and lots of dance music, walking my dogs, and taking care of my husband. I have one foot in the horror community and the other firmly planted in kid’s lit, which makes for a pretty wild mix of people in my writing community. I enjoy working with other writers and have made teaching, book coaching, and editing a significant part of my writing life.

Which one of your characters would you least like to meet in real life?

Probably the titular hole in my short story, “The Hole of Dark Kill Hollow,” featured in The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times. Sure, it’s more of a sinister wishing well than an actual character, but it does have a personality of sorts and a pretty black sense of humor. I know myself too well: I wouldn’t be able to resist its temptations and would end up paying a grim price for whatever foolish wish I made.

Other than the horror genre, what else has been a major influence on your writing?

As I said, I have one foot in children’s literature, so that’s been a huge influence on my writing. Kids books can be pretty horrific! A personal favorite is The Folk Keeper, by Franny Billingsley, a brooding and gorgeously written dark fantasy middle grade novel filled with mystery, longing, ravenous subterranean beasties, and selkies.

The term horror, especially when applied to fiction, always carries such heavy connotations. What’s your feeling on the term “horror” and what do you think we can do to break past these assumptions?

I feel like horror is experiencing a renaissance in respectability right now. Writers like Stephen Graham Jones, Victor LaValle, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Catriona Ward, Eric LaRocca, and Tananarive Due (among others) have helped to transform and elevate the public’s perception of the genre, publishing work that’s blazing new trails and appealing to a broader audience than we’ve seen in the past. I feel like people take horror more seriously now as art and literature than they did even ten or fifteen years ago. Some of the old negative stereotypes are breaking down. It’s an exciting time to work in the field!

A lot of good horror movements have arisen as a direct result of the socio/political climate. Considering the current state of the world where do you see horror going in the next few years? 

The rise of Christofascism in the U.S. and Europe is far more frightening to me than anything we write about in our books. I feel like the horror community will continue to respond to this threat—both collectively and in our work—but especially writers of color, and queer and trans writers. To be honest, though, I think we all have targets on our backs. It’s only a matter of time before the book banners come after our stories, too. 

Given the dark, violent and at times grotesque nature of the horror genre, why do you think so many people enjoy reading it? 

People naturally identify with survivors, and most horror stories are about survival on some level. I think of horror as the Worst-Case-Scenario genre, where readers can safely project themselves into the nastiest, most traumatizing situations and live to tell the tale. There’s something cathartic about going through the wringer with a character and coming out the other end in one piece. Even from the comfort of your easy chair, you can learn a lot about yourself and your limits. In this way, reading horror can feel remarkably empowering.
What, if anything, is currently missing from the horror genre?

I would not presume to suggest that anything is missing. However, I do feel like there is plenty of room to expand the tent and bring in more stories from voices and communities we haven’t heard enough from. 

What new and upcoming authors do you think we should take notice off? 

I have to say I’m really excited for Corey Farrenkopf’s debut novel, Living in Cemeteries. Corey is a fantastic writer (and a great guy) whose work I admire enormously. I think he has a big career ahead of him.

Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?

I once received a 1-star Goodreads review (that has since been deleted) for my story “Whatever Happened to the Boy Who Fell Into the Lake,” featured in The Dancing Bears. The reviewer was horrified by what I’d put my main character through and vowed never to read another word I wrote. I was delighted that something I’d written had such a visceral effect on someone. 

What aspects of writing do you find the most difficult?

The early stages of a first draft when I’m still trying to figure out what the hell I’m actually writing about. It’s always a hot mess.

Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? 

I’m a big proponent of the idea of staying in my lane as a writer (or at least what I perceive as my lane). That means there are lots of subjects and experiences, cultures and identities I won’t write about. I don’t keep a list, but I know in my gut when a story is right for me to tell and when it isn’t. 

Writing is not a static process. How have you developed as a writer over the years?

When I first started writing, I had delusions of literary grandeur. I hope I’ve learned to prioritize telling the story over writing pretty sentences. I hope I’ve learned to get out the story’s way.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received with regards to your writing?

To leave room for the reader. 

Which of your characters is your favourite?

In The Dancing Bears, probably the beautiful, debauched, doomed ex-child star, Benji McCabe, who’s the main character in “The Thing with Chains.” That story was my first foray into decadent horror, and he was a lot of fun to write — so much so, he’s getting his own novel. 

Which of your books best represents you?

The Dancing Bears is certainly best representative of where I’ve come from as a writer. It’s the culmination of the past ten years of my work, and the stories in it touch on many of my chief artistic obsessions. 

Do you have a favorite line or passage from your work, and would you like to share it with us? 

“But here’s the thing: Sometimes magic changes nothing.” 

I feel like this line from “Whatever Happened to the Boy Who Fell into the Lake” sums up The Dancing Bears in a lot of ways. For me, the book is all about the nightmare of disillusionment and the empty promise of desire. Disappointment is a kind of horror that interests me a lot.

Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?

The Dancing Bears is my debut collection from Lethe Press featuring eleven new and previously published dark fiction stories loosely linked around the theme of thwarted desire.

Up next is my debut YA anthology as contributing editor, called We Mostly Come out at Night: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures, which is coming from Running Press Teens on May 21st. The book celebrates the monster as an empowering metaphor for the otherness of being queer.

After that, I’m working on a gay, #metoo, cosmic horror/haunted house novel set in the hedonistic Hollywood of the late 1970s. And I just sent my agent my first middle grade horror novel about a broken family and ghost horses in the wilds of northern New York State.

If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?

I hate all the misogynistic and sexist horror clichés, but especially the ones that punish beautiful women for having sex. 

What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?

I won’t trash another writer’s work, but the last great book I read was an ARC my publisher sent me for Will Ludwigsen’s forthcoming novella, A Scout Is Brave. What a fantastic book! It reminded me of Robert R. McCammon’s A Boy’s Life (one of my favorites), only transported from Alabama to Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. It was somehow creepy and charming at the same time. I could not put it down. Highly recommended!

What’s the one question you wish you would get asked but never do?  And what would be the answer?

What’s my dream IP to write for—and the answer would be the Alien franchise. I have no obvious qualifications for this, since I’ve never really written sci-fi horror before. But if somebody at Fox is reading this, I am 100% ready to give it my all. Just putting this out into the universe…

The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times

The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times

In the heartbreak fairytales of The Dancing Bears, Rob Costello braves the deeps of loss and the fury of endurance, and invites us to dance in that darkness too.” -Kathe Koja, author of DARK FACTORY and THE CIPHER

“Hauntingly moving and evocative, this collection’s got teeth… The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times will linger with readers long after they reach the final page.” -Aden Polydoros, author of The City Beautiful and Wrath Becomes Her, and finalist for the World Fantasy and Lambda Awards

“Costello’s dark debut presents a wide spectrum of grisly queer supernatural shorts.”Publishers Weekly

A lost boy under the spell of a seductive killer suffers the sting of betrayal while on the hunt for fresh blood. 

A misanthrope obsessed with death carries on a torrid affair with the malevolent spirit haunting the house in his favorite novel. 

The dead son of an abusive horror novelist returns from the grave to tell his father what really happened the night he died.

An ex-child star desperate for a comeback meets a sinister stranger who reveals the terrible price of attaining his heart’s desire. 

A headstrong girl determined to seduce her gay ex-boyfriend discovers what being trapped in the closet really means. 

The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times showcases eleven dark tales of the queer and uncanny. With eight previously published and three brand new stories, this debut collection features young queer characters grappling with love and desire in a heartless world hurtling toward the abyss.

Rob Costello

Rob Costello (he/him) writes dark fiction with a queer bent for and about young people. He’s the contributing editor of We Mostly Come Out at Night: 15 Queer Tales of Monsters, Angels & Other Creatures (Running Press Teens, 2024) and author of the story collection The Dancing Bears: Queer Fables for the End Times (Lethe Press, 2024). His stories have appeared in The Dark, The NoSleep Podcast, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hunger Mountain, Stone Canoe, Narrative, and Rural Voices: 15 Authors Challenge Assumptions About Small-Town America (Candlewick, 2020). An alumnus of the Millay Colony of the Arts, he holds an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and has served on the faculty of the Highlights Foundation since 2014. He is co-founder (with Lesa Cline-Ransome, Jo Knowles, and Jennifer Richard Jacobson) of the R(ev)ise and Shine! writing community, and he lives in upstate NY with his husband and their four-legged overlords.




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  • Jim Mcleod

    Jim "The Don" Mcleod has been reading horror for over 35 years, and reviewing horror for over 16 years. When he is not spending his time promoting the horror genre, he is either annoying his family or mucking about with his two dogs Casper and Molly.

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