In this podcast Conner Habib talks about the stigma against horror, Clive Barker, and transferrable writing lessons from working as an adult performer.
About Conner Habib
Conner Habib is the host of Against Everyone with Conner Habib, the author of Hawk Mountain, a lecturer, and a sex workers’ rights advocate.
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The Demonic Brilliance Film Festival
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Horror on Main
A brand new horror convention coming soon. Guests include Tim Lebbon.
Michael David Wilson 0:07
Welcome to This Is Horror, a podcast for readers, writers and creators. I'm Michael David Wilson, and every episode alongside my co-host, Bob Pastorella, where you can't win masters of horror, about writing, life lessons, creativity, and much more. Now, today's guest is Conner Habib. He is the host of against everyone with Conner Habib is an offer a lecturer and our sex workers rights advocate. And his debut novel Hawk Mountain is out right now. And wow, what a fascinating conversation we had with Conner. I really do think you're all in for a treat today. He is such a smart and intelligent guy with so many insights into such a vast array of topics. And for anyone who's familiar with his podcast against everyone. You know that already? You know what? Well rant, an articulate gentleman Conner Habib is. And I would actually urge you if you enjoy some of the more philosophical and Easter Tarik conversations that we have on This Is Horror, then do check out against everyone. There are actually a number of horror flavored episodes of people like Ramsey Campbell and Paul Tremblay. So I think there's certainly crossover appeal. In terms of against everyone. I missed his horror. But predominantly in this conversation. We talk about Conner's writing, we talk about Hawk Mountain, which is his debut novel, although we get even more into that one in part two. But let me just tell you about the debut. It's perhaps the best debut this year. There's a lot packed into it, it is so many genres all at once it is simultaneously horror, coming of age, a literary thriller, as even an element of romance in a kind of twisted way. And you add to that the social commentary, the poignant metaphors, and it really is a must read. But don't take my word for it. Take Clive Barker's he said of a Habib's debut novel is a bleak dark adrenaline rush. Now a real strong point of fork Mountain is just a way that it'll sneak up on you with some of the twists and some of the darkness. So I do think this is a book that actually benefits from saying very little about it so that you get maximum impact as a reader. But let me just read you the two opening lions in terms of a blurb an unsettling an emotional riveting thriller, about fathers and sons, revenge and forgiveness and ghosts from our past a book not to read alone in the dark. I'll tell you, it's a book that's also available in audio format, actually narrated by Conner himself. And that's very, very well done too. So, plenty of options in terms of how you consume it. You can go for the audiobook. You can get it on Kindle. You can get the hardcover for what you must do is get it all right before we jump into the conversation, a little bit of an advert break.
Bob Pastorella 4:19
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Tim Lebbon 4:51
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Michael David Wilson 5:36
Okay, well with that said let us delay no more. It is Conner Habib on This Is Horror. Conner, welcome to This Is Horror.
Conner Habib 5:50
Hey guys, very excited to be talking with you.
Michael David Wilson 5:53
Oh, yeah, it's great to have you here. And we just both wrapped up reading Hawk Mountain. And we're absolutely blown away by it. So congratulations on a stunning debut.
Conner Habib 6:06
Thank you so much. And thanks for Thanks for reading it.
Michael David Wilson 6:12
Now, yeah, well, I know that you recently finished a bit of a mini tour of islands. So you did some events for Hawk Mountain. So how did the events go?
Conner Habib 6:24
Yeah. So I just I did I did about two, two weeks, a little over two weeks in the US. And then I came home and did a bunch of events here. I still have one as of the date of this recording tomorrow. So it's not done yet. The been great. I mean, almost all the events that I've done have been completely packed, which is untold, not a usual thing for a debut novel, which is great. And it's been, you know, I think for me, being someone who hosts, you know, his own podcast, I was really happy to be asked questions. I mean, I do other podcasts and you know, like this one, but it was, you know, when I'm researching other guests and stuff like that I'm going deep into their work and their minds and what they're up to. And so writing is so lonely, obviously. And so I've had this idea that I've been holding basically to myself for such a long time. And so yeah, then it gets out there and people read it and it's great. But then also doing a tour having people ask me, questions was really gratifying. It's not like my normal job of podcasting. So that felt amazing people asked really, really great questions. And I had really amazing people in conversation with Caitlin Dodi from Ask a Mortician in the US, Paul Tremblay, the horror writer. You know, Jared Middleton, who also wrote a horror novel, you know, in Seattle, so a bunch of other people as well. So it's just really fantastic.
Michael David Wilson 8:03
Yeah, and in terms of getting support from other writers. I mean, I know that something that was particularly affecting for you, and perhaps that's even understating it is you got a blurb from Clive Barker.
Conner Habib 8:20
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that was, that was huge for me in a lot of ways. You know, a lot of people who had blurb the book, were people that I knew or had been on the podcast, so there are, you know, other horror writers. They're Paul Tremblay, and Ramsey Campbell and Brian Evanson had all and Kelly Lincoln all given blurbs, which is great. And I did, just to preface this, I did when I sent the book out to people say to everybody, look, if you don't like the book, or even if it just doesn't hit you, please do not blurb it because I just don't think that that's really good for literature if people are blurbing books that they don't like. So you know, and some people didn't. Some people do that I never heard from again, he hoped that I kind of knew, and I was fine with that. And those people are obviously assholes. So no, no, I was totally fine. Totally fine with it. But it was really important to me. You know, say that, but you know, with Clive, I don't really know, Clive, like, we've had some email interactions back and forth that, you know, even that was really meaningful to me. But when I just said, Hey, can I send you the book? And then I spoke with him, like, he wanted to talk with me about it, and he just was sort of, like very, you know, enthusiastic and really loved it. And that was quite overwhelming. You know, first of all, having someone say, can I speak with you about your book is your idol because I had read? I've been reading Clive Barker's work since I was like, you know, I mean, a kid and even when I was very young, I would make fake book covers for the things that I was writing, because I started writing maybe when I was like eight years old, not this book, other stuff. I started, you know, writing and what I would do is I would make fake book covers. And I'd put the blurbs of authors that I liked on the back, like I would make fake blurbs because I was seeing this whole world of books, you know, where people were blurbing each other's books, and I always thought that was so cool. So I would draw the cover. And then on the back, I would make up a fake quote, and attribute it to, you know, a real author just for myself, obviously, those books weren't going anywhere. And I would always include Clive's name, the back, so, I mean, it was quite a, you know, it was like the, you know, a long game of the secret or something that happened decades later, and pretty astonishing, but it also just, it just meant so, so much to me, because he's really helped form my imagination, around horror, and the body and desire and just even writing in a very sort of, you know, feverish, but kind of almost romantic, I would say way. And I, I owe so much to him as a writer, and so that was particularly meaningful.
Michael David Wilson 11:20
Yeah, yeah. And talking about, I mean, growing up and reading Clive's work. I mean, you were raised by an Irish American mother and a Syrian father. So I'm wondering, what was the kind of dynamic like in the home growing up, in terms of art and creativity? How encouraging were they?
Conner Habib 11:45
Yeah, it's an interesting question. I mean, I, I don't, or maybe it has an interesting answer. Like my mom was very opposed to me reading or watching anything that had violence in it. She was not really, like, ashamed of or afraid of, or tried to shield me or my sister from, like, seen anything that had any kind of sexual content. I mean, she didn't encourage it or any thing, but she didn't. It didn't really bother her. But violent content, she's always because of certain things that happened in her life, she always felt very upset about, and my father, just kind of my father couldn't really read and write English so well. So I mean, he would tell us stories from Syria when we were kids that some of them had a very sort of fairy tale esque, scary element to them. Like you often tell us these, like stories about hyenas and the village. And I mean, it's just very interesting stuff to like, grew up listening to as a kid in, you know, small town, Pennsylvania, and but my older brother and my half brother, 13 years older than me, and he was always reading, science fiction, fantasy and horror. And that's how I ended up hearing about Clive Barker. But it also really stimulated my imagination. I remember, he was reading a copy of deathbird stories by Harlan Ellison. And my mom had asked him to read my mom said, we read me a story some some time. And my brother said, Yeah, my brother has a very dark sense of humor. Yeah. So he read her this story, which I forget the name of the story, but it's in death, read stories, and it's about gargoyles. All the gargoyles in the city coming to life, and just slaughtering everybody in the city. And it you know, I mean, it's quite gory and gruesome. And so that's what do you it's my mother who didn't like stories about violence, and, and so she was even, like, fixated on, like, making sure I didn't read this book in particular, that my brother had kind of, comically, wielded against her. And I asked him about us, like, well, what is it about this book? And he said, Well, these stories, they can really change the way you think. And of course, I mean, what could what can make you want to read something more, you know, like, holy shit, you know, it's like something that, you know, you would hear Alan Moore saying, Now, you know, like, it's such a profound thing to hear, like, Oh, that's not just messing around, you know, this can really actually alter the way you walk through the world if you allow it in. And that was very appealing to me. So I think that really stimulated my imagination. My brother also liked Clive Barker, so I heard about him through my brother. And, you know, it was a lot of that, like, I would sneak books, you know, I'd go to like Brentano hills or Walden books at the time, and I would find out or novel, and I would, you know, read a chapter of it there. Or I would take it out from the library and try to hide it from my mom, she, you know, caught me reading it by Stephen King. And, you know, of course, you know, and she just read it, she picked it up, she read a few pages of it, she was like, nope. And sometimes she would sort of let some things sneak by, and, of course, no other books that you read. And this figures in the Hawk Mountain, maybe we'll talk about this a little later, too. But like all the books you read in high school as a suburban kid, and, you know, in Pennsylvania, like even rural, it's like, suburban slash rural, it's a post industrial landscape that I grew up in. was, you know, all those books are extremely violent, scary, horrifying, you know, Lord of the Flies, separate piece, the Perl, you know, Of Mice and Men, they're all they all have this, like, you know, edge of violence. And so I think that's where it was, like, all that kind of stuff blending together that informed me, as far as horror goes. I could go on and on about this, but I'll just, I'll leave it there. I don't know if I'm answering your question. Exactly. But
Michael David Wilson 16:20
I think you are, and it's certainly really interesting. So I mean, you please go on for as long as you wish to, because this is absolutely fascinating. I mean, as you're talking and even, you know, hearing that your mother read a few lines of it and made the decision there and then like, Nope, you're not seeing that. And it makes me think, yeah, making this art and these books forbidden. I mean, it must have made you crave them even more, it really is basic psychology, if you're told something, then you're gonna want it. This is making it even better.
Conner Habib 17:02
Totally. Yeah, I mean, obviously, you know, I mean, parents should, they should know that she was a little more, she was a little more lenient as I got older, because she knew, she knew I wasn't going to, you know, go away my interest in these things. So she would try to talk with me about it a bit. But, you know, it was pretty strict growing up. And I think, you know, I don't, I don't exactly begrudge her of, you know, for it, because she didn't have, like I said, there was a lot of violence in her life, you know, when she was younger. But I do think that, you know, was a bit of a disservice to me, because I really wanted to explore and understand that part of my imagination. And I was also raised without any religion in my life, I was fortunate enough to be raised without any religion, I'm quite the spiritual person now, but because horror, especially, you know, offers up so much of the kinds of drama and supernatural presence and, you know, even theological questioning that religion does, I think, it offers that, you know, and it offers some of those themes, questions, concerns in a different way. And so I think that that was part of my craving there as well. And it would have been great to be able to talk with, you know, openly with my family about that kind of stuff. There was just so much hiding, when I was growing up. I mean, there's hiding that. I was, you know, as I got older, that I realized I was attracted to guys, there was the hiding of, like, my Syrian identity and way because very racist town. So, you know, people kind of knew that I was Syrian, but didn't really know what that was, to be quite honest. They used to call me a slur that, you know, really is, I mean, it shouldn't be for anybody, but was for Indian people, they would level that against me, because they know the difference between Indian people, and Arab people. They, you know, I had to hide that I was like, intelligent, interested in books and arts and literature, and, and, you know, weird movies, and, you know, all that kind of stuff and philosophy when I was a kid, so there was just a lot of hiding going on. And so having this other thing to hide is kind of like, you know, that that was not, that was not great. It would have been better to be able to sort of explore that, you know, a bit more openly.
Michael David Wilson 19:42
Yeah, yeah. And I wonder, was there a pivotal moment or pivotal moments when you stopped hiding and you started embracing and you're showing your identity and I imagine this came in kind of way. rather than immediately, you know, all facets.
Conner Habib 20:05
Yeah, I don't think I mean, it's still, you know, I mean, a lot of life is kind of a game of hide and go seek with the aspects of yourself that you don't feel others will understand that you feel isolated and alienated then and, you know, and sometimes that's, that wanna say hiding is appropriate, but you don't like most people don't talk about, you know, their sexual desires with their aunt, you know, like, there are certain places where we sort of Express and then and then repress, or we, you know, hide and, and then show up. But I do think like, as, as you're saying, like when I was younger, yeah, it all just sort of, you would find the right people to talk to about it, you know, I would go to punk rock shows, and that was a great place. And I used to set up punk rock shows, and I, even for a little while, started a record label, because I had a lot of friends who were in bands. When I was 18. About I started this record labels in total failure, I had no idea what I was doing. But I did put out a few records. And I would set up these punk shows all the time at this Syrian Hall in my town, there's like a Syrian, basically, is not a VFW but like a Syrian, you know, society hall that people would run out that was owned by Syrian people. And I would rent that out and set up punk shows for touring vans. And I think that that was a place where people were going for art that wasn't just about fun. I mean, it was certainly fun. But you know, you'd have these postpunk fans come and play, you know, have bands like I had have Ted Leo and his band shizzle play and the dismemberment plan. I don't know if these bands mean anything, anybody's listening to this, this memory plan and the Van Pelt and karate and, you know, so these bands that were playing real, serious music, and you would go for a reason that was more than just fun, you would go to engage with art, engage with your body, you know, and to have conversations with each other about what had happened, what you'd seen, what the music reminded you of what it made you think of. And I think that that was really, um, that was a huge saving. Grace for me was punk rock and punk music.
Michael David Wilson 22:37
Yeah. And I mean, you were saying regarding books, and I think you're the same can apply to music and to albums, that they can change the way you think. So I mean, on that note, I'm wondering if you can recall live albums, or bands or books that have fundamentally changed the way that you think or perhaps changed an aspect in terms of who you are?
Conner Habib 23:06
Oh, gosh, like, so many. I mean, I think if we're relating to that sort of music time, there's always bands that were doing something that like, I had no reference for in my sort of Sonic palette, I guess. You know, how, like, when you eat a new kind of cuisine, and like you're eating new kinds of foods and tasting new things, and you're like, What the hell is this? You know, like, the first time you have Thai food ever in your life or whatever. That's what some of these bands were like, there was no, I couldn't figure out a reference point. So like, Brainiac is a band, they there's a documentary came out about them kind of recently, and I think it became popular merely by virtue of Mark Hamill, like tweeting about it. But But Brainiac was just completely just crazed. Bam. And, and there's another band called Joan of Arc, which I was happy to have the, the front person from that band on my show. And those two bands, just to take an example, they were doing wildly experimental music that just touched slightly on pop and punk music. And I think, for me just thinking, okay, there's so much available to me, like as someone that's creating something, or someone who wants to be an artist, or even just wants to, you know, make change in the world. If I just sort of push on what I think is available, possible, doable. Like I don't have to stay in the constraints that were laid down. That was all those bands were extremely important to me in that regard. I think I mean, I could go on and on with, with music like that. But I think that sentiment I mean, in that, for me was the real punk rock sentiment. It wasn't about like, well, some of it, I think was maybe about the politics of it. Like, who was selling out? That was a big question back when I was a kid. And we talked about punk rock music, who signed a major record label deal, and they must be terrible for doing that. Which thing? Because now, like, you would even think twice about having that conversation now I'd like you would never have that conversation that you'd be like, Wow, they actually made money, you know, making music. But I think most of it has to do with are people doing things that are sort of, you know, you know, liberatory that are like, are they doing things that liberate the the medium that they're working in and redeem it, elevate it, change it, push on it, and that was always so exciting to me. And that really felt like what punk rock was. And still, to some extent, feels that way. To me, it's not like just a kind of punchy sound that stays within familiar constraints. I think for books like it might be surprising given that I loved reading horror, so much that some of the things and science fiction and fantasy that some of the things that really changed me were the kind of bridge books that I would read that led me to reading sort of more, shall we say, standard literature, but it's, I don't I don't really consider it like standard. So like I I remember a friend gave me a book of short stories by an author named Donald Barthelemy, Donnell Barthelemy write these really surrealist absurd stories. There's a, there's a great story called the school where it's very short, where like, the teacher just keeps buying the kids different kinds of pets, and they just keep dying. And then they like, adopt an orphan. And you know, it just keeps getting like worse and worse and worse. And like, a lot of the stories are like that, you know, there's a there's
anyway, without going into the dump, all of Donald Barth Amis like, Hoover, I'll just say just go check them out. But that helped me sort of move from reading only science fiction, fantasy and horror to reading more literary fiction, which I'm really glad it did. Because nothing, you know, when you read, when you read that kind of stuff, when you read genre fiction, which is so enriching, you can end up excluding things that don't have those weird imaginal elements, because you really, you know, you can end up leaning on those, but you can end up leaning on them in a way that they just become tropes that you stop being sort of enriched by the genre, if, if that's all you read. Now, I'm not saying that that's true of everybody. I think that claim people just get whatever they need from the genre that they read. But for me, there was this whole world of literature's where it was like the rest of the bookstore that I never explored, you know, because it was like the small science fiction, fantasy and even smaller horror section, and then the rest of the literary fiction section, and I never looked at any of that other stuff. And I'm so glad that I did. And I think, another book, I just, like, hooked up with some guy who gave me a copy of play it as it lays by Joan Didion, and that book, that is, in a lot of ways. I don't want to say it's a horror novel, because it's not but it has horror elements is a very piercing, harsh book. The chapters are, and this was before really, almost anybody was doing this, the chapters are, you know, could be like a sentence long or a paragraph. Now a lot of people do that, but they weren't doing it back then. And it's all about this actress whose life is just kind of falling apart with like, you know, on Wii and just, you know, being disinterested in the world and having a few harsh things happen in our life. But it's so pointed, it's, in some ways, very mean spirited, and, and startling, and there's lots of imaginations about death and suffering in the book. And but it's so precise. And you know, Joan Didion said, this really startling thing about the book, which is something like, you know, I wanted people to forget this book as they read it. And it does feel like that there's lots of empty space in the book, lots of negative space. And so that also created this sort of bridge for me, and the bridge is really important, not because I want to leave genre behind but when you asked me what books had such an impact on me, like that was what helped me you know, really develop style develop, you know, an understanding of horror as truly having a place in in just the array healer critically acclaimed literary world because horror was and remains to some extent really stigmatized, you know, critically at least. And, you know, but I loved it. And I loved all I, you know, I loved all genres, including this the realistic literary genre, and it sort of helped me figure out how they all kind of fit together. So, you know, to sum all that up, you know, the music, like, on the one hand was just pushing the absolute boundaries of my imagination, in a way that, in some ways, like, even a lot of the books I was reading couldn't do, because it was really, really, really challenging me. And the, and the, the books were the ones that were creating bridges and connections between all kinds of writing.
Michael David Wilson 30:49
Yeah. And in terms of that stigma, what do you think it is that we can do as both readers and creatives to fight against the stigma against horror?
Conner Habib 31:04
You know, it's a, it's a tough one because No, people have rightly pointed out that like, when we say that, like, no one takes science fiction seriously, or comic books seriously, or whatever, like, obviously, they are the biggest moneymakers ever now, you know, like, far beyond any other kind of like film or books or whatever. You know, but, you know, with horror. So in some ways, I want to say like, look, horror films aren't stigmatized, like, a lot of horror films will do great, even if they're critically panned. And then if they're critically acclaimed, though, people will be like, that transcends the genre, like that. And I always find that like, well, that's not really great. I think that the way I always look at it, is, you know, the same way, honestly, that I look at pornography, which is something else that lots of people enjoy, but is highly stigmatized, and like horror and uncertain imagery. They're like, also regulated in ways that other kinds of art isn't regulated, and yet also wildly popular. And, and the lesson is to say, like, what does this have to offer the rest of the world? Not like, what can horror learn from literature? But what can the rest of the literary world learn from horror? And I think, to the extent that we look into that and offer it back, I think that we kind of smooth out that, you know, that fold, which seems like a chasm, but as you know, still sort of connected at the bottom there, you know, like, it's, we can sort of smooth it out. Because I think, you know, I think like, in the same way that I feel like a lot of movies actually just want to be porn. I think a lot of novels actually want to be horror novels, but are afraid to go there. I know that in I realize I'm being a little vague here. But I know that in my own way, because when I was running Hawk Mountain, I was really stuck. Even though I had a lot of it basically laid out I was really stuck on how to sort of pull off certain parts of it. And then I was hanging out with my friend, the young adult writer, Holly Black, who's mostly known for reading the Spiderwick Chronicles, and she just said, Oh, you're reading a horror novel. And it just sort of everything opened up in that moment. I was like, Duh, yes, I'm writing a horror novel. Why am I trying to keep this not being a horror novel, when like, that's all I want to do is write a horror novel. Now, I know a lot of people and I'm sure you guys will bring this up. But like, I know, a lot of people probably read this book and not think it's a horror novel. And that's fine. I mean, the people can take it however they want. I mean, I've, I'm a little sad sometimes hearing that people are disappointed that it's not delivering horror in the way that say, well, like it or, you know, the troupe or something like that, or, you know, delivering horror, but it is a horror novel for me. And it is also a literary novel, and is also a crime novel. And I think that one I understood though, what horror had to offer me as a writer, then I really was able to pursue it. And so just to say, like, it's horror in its own right, that we should take seriously and then and then just say, Okay, well, this has a lot to offer. the literary world is the literary world, the literary fiction world, listening, because there's a lot to be taken seriously here, and we can talk about what all those things are in a minute. But I just want to say, like, if you're a horror writer or creator, whatever, like, don't ever accept that. Like, you need to just be listening to what literature has to offer you. That's great too, because some, like I said, some people just get stuck. So in genre that it can make their imaginations quite contracted, but or claustrophobic. But for those of us, most of us who enjoy horror that that's not happening to just understand you really have something to offer, so don't self stigmatize. Just actually try to figure out what it is that's valuable there. I feel like there's so much more of a scope to the question you asked, though. So maybe I'm going to step back from my long answer. And let you say, like, Am I missing something from responding here? Because I feel like maybe I'm not being so specific?
Michael David Wilson 35:54
Well, I mean, I think in terms of what you're saying, here when, you know, people, perhaps criticizing it, because Oh, it's not it, or it's not the truth. And well, for people who want those books, they can read them. That's the good news on the shelf. But I mean, it sounds like your approach to writing. And I would imagine, you know, your approach to all your artistic endeavors, whether it's writing, whether it's working as an adult performer, whether it's podcasting is to almost have that punk aesthetic, you spoke about where you're liberating it, and you're going beyond the familiar constraints. And I mean, I think that's a good thing. And that's something that should be celebrated. We don't want to have, you know, clones and carbon copies and bad versions of Stephen King and Nick Cutter, we want original Conner Habibs.
Conner Habib 36:51
Right. Right. Thanks. I hope so. I hope that that's what people want. I mean, I do think a lot of people Yes, want to be sort of pushed on and and challenge. And I think like, you know, just to sort of reiterate, I don't, I don't like when people say transcends the genre, what I think is, and so for writers who are maybe a little frustrated, like, well, I want to write a horror novel, but I want it to be sad. Or I want it to be beautiful, or I want it to be uplifting at the end or whatever. These things that we don't normally associate with horror, like I'm thinking here of one of my favorite horror movies of all time, which is called Eclipse was not, not the Twilight movie, it's this Irish, maybe that is like a ghost story that takes place in an Irish Literary Festival, which is a quite unknown movie, but it's one of the, I think, when the best horror movies ever made, was very sad. It's very beautiful. And so I'm just sort of thinking of that as I as I speak. So I wanted to give it a shout out. But I think like, people think that they have to break out of genre. But I think a better way to say it is like, well, what is meaningful to me in this like, and how do I use that meaning? Like, rather than conforming to the way that that meaning usually, or the trope or the, you know, the sort of rules play themselves out? What is it here, that holds value for me? I remember when I first was about to move to LA, I won't say who this person was. But I was really good friends with a huge producer who had made like massive TV shows, and two of them were actually I think three of them are horror based TV shows. And it was it wasn't Joss Whedon, just to be clear about that. But like, when I when we were hanging out, he just sort of said kind of mean, the guy's like, has so much money. It's ridiculous. And he was just like, hey, why don't you just like, be in the writers room for now. And just you in the writers room, you can be a writer for you know? And I, like I didn't have any, like, dream about writing for TV or anything at the time or whatever. And I was like, oh, no, that's all right. This is this like completely, like, ridiculously privilege, like hilarious conversation where someone just offered me a job and a Writing Room at as a TV writer with no experience at all. And I was like, yeah, no, it's fine. And I look back on that moment all the time. The reason I'm bringing it up now is because, you know, it took me a little while, but maybe it was like a year later or something. I didn't like wake up in the middle of night coin. Like what the fuck did I just do? But I did like, I was just sort of like, I don't know, going through my day. And I was like, why don't I do that? Why did I just say no. What I should have done was think about TV, think about the shows that he was making, and ask myself what's meaningful to me here and worked with that, like really run with that. And so I tell that story, just say that like when we try to conform to what we think the rules are, or what we think the genre is, or what we think the themes and tropes are, you know, we're missing the opportunity to actually look at what's meaningful to us about all of those. So like, maybe you're sick of vampires, like everybody got sick of vampires for a while, maybe they're not so sick of them now anymore, but for why they're just fucking everywhere, so people are sick of it. But could you ask yourself, like, what is it here, though, that does resonate with me? What does this you know? What does this theme or construct? Or type of monster? What does that give to me? What's interesting about it, and how could I write from there? Even if I'm writing a novel that actually isn't going to be considered a horror novel? How can I bring that into it? And I think that's it's just sort of finding these points that we can bring forward with us. If that makes sense.
Michael David Wilson 41:04
It does make sense. And I think not only can you apply it to art, but actually, if you apply this to all facets of life, then you're probably going to live with much more gratitude, and just see the world as a more kind of uplifting and inspiring play live in Syria. So I mean, if you're asking, and everything, what is meaningful about this, I think it's gonna be a better lens to view the world through and I mean, obviously, there's gonna be extreme examples of things where it's like, well, definitely the meaningful does not outweigh the fucking atrocious, but you know, we're not really talking about that here.
Conner Habib 41:49
Yeah, like, I'm not saying, like, just find meaning in the horrible thing that happened to your entire family. But the fact is, like, but but the truth is, though, actually, even with that, like, sooner or later, you'll have to, yeah, I mean, there's, there's no way to go on without going through this process. At some point anyway, so you know, it's like, I've had people who are very close to me, including my mom died when I was 23. And like, I just, you know, like, you have to make meaning out of it, not because you want to live in delusion, but because it has to fit into the context of being alive. And that is, you know, sooner or later, you will undergo the process of making meaning of the things that happen to you. Or you'll probably end up becoming like, you know, psychotic, you know, murderer, which I think it's better to the to the to the former than the latter, you know,
Michael David Wilson 42:46
yeah, yeah, I think on balance, I'll probably agree with you there, Conner.
Bob Pastorella 42:53
I feel that this is something that I've been hitting on with people for a while. And it's, it's, it kind of taps into writing fearlessly. And I think we need to write fearlessly, now, more than ever before. And that means, you know, pushing, pushing yourself pushing boundaries. But you made an interesting point. It's something I've never really thought about, than a lot of the properties and books and movies and TV series that we've seen lately, that I've hit really hard, are using to me and I hate I'm kind of dumbing it down a little bit, but literary tricks to make their horror, even scarier, if that makes any kind of sense. In other words, like they've taken a trope, and they've instilled wouldn't, you know, more dramatic elements to it? And is when you when you when you were talking? I was like, Oh, mate, that makes sense. It's like, it's almost like, well, are things coming full circle? No, not necessarily. But what's happening is that we're pulling from, from all kinds of aspects of storytelling to make horror, even scarier. And is there a way that you can analyze that or you can, you know, I'm not trying to, you know, to me, it's like, okay, you can you can sit there and think about it all you want. But this is this, as soon as you start to think about and try to figure out how it works, then that's when it's going to actually break down and not work for you. So it has to be organic, it has to be natural. And so, but yeah, it all ties into to writing fearlessly pushing boundaries. And I think that that's something that's really important. Especially, you know, we're in a in a horror boom right now and the people that are that are making waves with horror. They're, they're not, you know, they push down walls, with their own stories. And that's, I think that's important, and I think that's inspiring. During that, and I think that that's something that we should embrace rather than, you know, push away from.
Conner Habib 45:08
Yeah, I yeah, I love that you say that. I mean, I, I'm thinking of maybe examples that are a little older when you say that, like I'm thinking of funny games, which is one of the most horrific movies ever actually do much much prefer the shot by shot shot for shot remake with Naomi Watts. But, so don't, don't get mad at me. Everybody just heard me say that. But I do think like, you know, that uses the elements of cinema, and, you know, breaking down the wall between the audience and the characters, and just sort of a kind of tech viewing power. And the ideas of horror, you know, like to really, and what horror is to, like, really, really get at the audience really implicate the audience in a way that's quite uncomfortable. I'm also thinking of House of Leaves, you know, which is like, well, I'm going to, you know, I'm going to use architecture, and I'm going to use everything that's available to me in a sort of postmodern, in this sort of postmodern philosophy, aesthetics, critical theory, way to sort of infuse this book with what's, you know, with a different form that will really freaked people out. And, you know, even, that's in the, that's in the story of the book, as well, because the whole premise, which is just such a fucking creepy premise is, you know, someone measures his house, and it's a foot bigger on the inside than it is, you know, on the outside. And, and that just shows you that there's like, okay, there's this disjoint, like, I'm going to show you something bigger inside this book than you thought was possible to have between two covers. And also, I'm going to blend these two paradoxical things, this sort of literary Critical Theory culture with a horror novel and see what happens. And it's obvious that that book has had extremely lasting power. It's made a real dent in the psyche in a way that a lot of, you know, horror novels that are great, but they just, they don't have the staying power of a book like that. And it's even if they have sort of gimmicks or tricks or whatever, because it's really just done. It's done really intensely and as you say, fearlessly really just goes for it. I'm even you know, I'm thinking about a lot of Paul trim lays, you know, stories especially but then also the pallbearers club but head full of ghosts, that things that sort of formally bring in logs and, and memoir and, you know, different forms of writing. And I think all that's brilliant, I think that, you know, when we, when we encounter stuff like that, think it reminds us that, you know, horror can be anywhere that it can creep into any space, and that everything has the potential being horrific. And I mean, I love that. I mean, like, just take it like a crazy moment, how many kids were probably really fucked up by seeing Christopher Lloyd dunk an animated shoe into a vat of acid and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, right? Like, you can find her anywhere, you can be horrified and messed up by, you know, in a productive way, by anything. So why are we again, sort of limiting ourselves? We shouldn't do that. And I'm not saying we shouldn't you know what, like, I shouldn't say we shouldn't do that. Because a lot of people just write these like, really tight, well written, you know, great. horror books, you know, that are like, they're just so well put together. There's a great horror novel called weeping season by Sean O'Connor. He's a, an Irish writer. And he wrote another novel that was about werewolves. I didn't think it was as successful. But But we, and that was just sort of a trope kind of novel. But weaving season is very sort of Hunger Games, the kind of book but he constructed so well that you just it's just so compelling, and you just race from start to finish in that book. So I'm not saying everybody needs to do something weird or sort of out of, you know, what standard or whatever. But, like, go, like you're saying, like, really just go for it. You can look around the room and see something that horrifies you. I mean, if even if you just I mean name is a bit, sort of socialist for everybody. But if you sit in a room and think about everything around you was created by someone else's labor. Every object in the room has a story. And at some point, there's a horror story connected to that. And you're sitting in it. There's nowhere that you can escape from horror, if you trace the story to the horrific point. And so I think, you know, you can do that with literary styles and philosophies and songs and everything as well.
Bob Pastorella 50:43
I think I think a good point, too, is that that a lot of people they want, they want to try to measure things. And you know, that's like, hey, what's the yardstick we use for her? And so mine is a little bit different. And I think I think a lot of people kind of do the same thing, too. But mine is, is are the characters of the story scared? And do you care about the characters? Because if they're scared, and you care about them, you're going to be scared, too. That's how you create fear. That's how you do that. And so it goes back to these these arguments such as, like, JAWS is not a horror movie. I'm like, Oh, really, the three guys on the boat were scared to death. So that's a fucking horror movie. Just because you weren't scared? Does it? Take that away from it's like, well, it didn't scare me. I thought it was funny. It was like common. You know?
Conner Habib 51:36
What's your justification for St. John's is in a horror movie. How would they say that? Well,
Bob Pastorella 51:41
there's, there's, I think there's, there's part of it that they don't they don't realize that like, it's classic film structure, basically. I mean, if you look at horror movies in the way that they're made, especially films, it follows in like, you can take a horror movie and say, Hey, this is a template, this is how it works. And you put jobs in there, and it's like, oh, fuck, it fits, we're doing another movie that fits, is Oliver Stones, Nixon. So, you know, it's basically filled as a horror movie, ya know, long shadows, and, you know, weird angles and things like that, you know? And then you could, you could have a similar argument that it's filmed as, you know, classic film door. So, you know, a lot of things fit. But the point of it is, is that you, you care about the characters, and you give a shit, what happens to them. And they're scared that that fear is going to transfer to the person experiencing the person reading it. And so, and that's a sliding scale. So it's like, it's okay, if it didn't scare you. That's all right. But it doesn't change what it is.
Conner Habib 53:00
Yeah, I mean, it's a big, it's a big question. Like, I'm thinking also of this movie called Krisha. Which is, you know, by all standards of the content. I forget, the guy actually didn't make a horror movie, the guy who wrote and directed that did make a horror movie after which was not as good as Krisha which is about a woman going home to see her family on Thanksgiving. But she's, you know, an addict. And her life just kind of falls apart in the reunion and they're all kind of weary of her and but it's directed like a horror movie. It's in quite intentionally, like all the shots are like, drawn around, like how people direct so it gives us horrifying, I mean, is a really freaky movie because you're watching just sort of a regular drama on Play unfold itself, but it like because of the way it's directed in this claustrophobic, jumpy, dark, scary way. It has a completely different effect. And so, you know, you could ask yourself, is that a horror movie? You know, you could even ask, like, is the latest Batman a horror movie? It's certainly directed like a horror film. You know, it's, you know, it's not it's not a far cry from seven or, you know, some other movies that we might consider horror, but I think yeah, for me, this question of what horror is on This Is Horror, is you know, it's a really great question. Someone asked me that during one of the readings. I was talking with Andrew Lawler in Amherst and Andrew has written this amazing book which I would not consider a horror novel and I don't think they would either called politics the form of immortal girl which is just about someone that this person Paul who can change to look like any person. And like just uses the power just to have sex with whoever goes to like all these like different places. is, you know, across the US and everything is just like basically changing to look like a man or woman, non binary person, whatever, and just having sex with whomever they please. And it's a great novel. But someone asked in the audience, you know, what, what do you consider to the horror? What is horror? And I was so shocked by how deeply fundamental The question was, because we were asking great questions, but they didn't go that deep, you know, sometimes these questions which are very, you know, just simple are actually the deepest questions. So I love that you're offering up your definition. And I really had to consider mine. I mean, I really liked your definition. And I don't think obviously, there's not going to be a right definition. Although we all will think that our definitions are correct. So mine is the right one, obviously. But I think yours is pretty great. Actually, I like you talking about the kind of like mirroring of response, a kind of care, like an involvement in the movie in a certain way or the book in a certain way. And I love that. I think, for me, horror is usually usually has a, an element that makes you question what's real and what's not real. And that's why I said before that I think horror is it's kind of a theological art. It's, it's almost a religious or spiritual art form, which is why I think actually a lot of people crave it because it's one of the only art forms where you encounter religious or spiritual themes in a almost blatant way anymore. There's a great book about this called home. Scared sacred, I think, if I got the name wrong, I'm so sorry. I was just very limited edition run about this. But book about this. But I think like,
the the idea being like, when you see a werewolf, or even when you see a murderer, or whatever, it shocks you into thinking, Whoa, is everything I know about the world wrong? It makes you ask a reality question, in a way. And that's part of what's frightening about it. I don't think all horror works that way. But that's a theme I see a lot of the time where the kind of lawfulness of the world that you knew falls away. Now, that can obviously not be horror to like, I don't think, well, maybe it is. But as you say, I don't think Jurassic Park is a horror movie. But I also don't think that like, you know, The Lion, the Witch, and the wardrobe is a horror book or film, you know, I think sometimes things can happen that make you rearrange your idea about reality. And it's not horror. But it's the shock and the rupture of it, that just keeps following you and pursuing you, I think, and just keeps echoing out and out and out in in certain ways. Like, you can escape the rupture, you can escape the thing that's taken away your connection to the world that you knew, I think that that is a horror quality. I think there are lots of different ways I can answer the question too. So that's just one of them. I have like five different ways of answering it. But that's something that maybe I would add, because, you know, in, in Jaws, like that is a great example of what you know, horror movie, and is the best, you know, performing horror film of all time, of course. And I think that, like, if you want to consider it horror, and I think that there's so much disbelief, and belief, and like, what's real and what's not real struggle in that movie? I think it brings it into, you know, the, the kind of realm that I was talking about.
Michael David Wilson 58:48
And I think there's such a thin line between what is and isn't horror, particularly because of these very death definitions. And I mean, another definition that I've heard before, I think it was when we were talking to Simon strand says, and he will say that horror is a lens in which you view the world through. And so if you were to take that definition, and there's actually perhaps an argument that crease shear is, indeed a horror film. And, in fact, when you're looking at the credentials and the people behind creature, it's not difficult to see why people have come to that conclusion. I mean, it's directed by Trey Edward Schultz, who directed it comes at night, it's distributed by a 24, who have put out some amazing horror films such as midsummer, so all the pieces are kind of coming together there.
Conner Habib 59:45
Yeah, and that is that's actually an old definition of pornography to that was a sort of a sort of Iosco, Walter Kendrick, who wrote a great book called The Secret Museum, which is pornography as a way of looking. I don't totally agree with him. there but I do I think it's a really helpful way to consider things because like, like Bob was saying, like, everybody gets scared of different things. So, you know, if you're afraid of spiders, but I'm not spiders are going to represent horror in our fear to you in a way that like, it's not going to mean I'm not going to look at them with a sense of horror. So you know, seeing arachnophobia is going to be more of a comedy experience for me than a horror experience was one of the great things about that movie, I think, by the way, it was like, it really could divide audiences into, you know, like, how are how are you viewing it? And like, what kind of feeling does it give you? So, it's also interesting that we're talking a lot about films and not books, because I think books do lean a little more heavily into, you know, like, you don't get, you don't get that sort of divided experience quite as much when you're reading. But I do think like, you're right, that it is a way of viewing. And I say that a lot of time, like you can, you can turn on or turn it off. If you want. There's a quote by, I'm gonna mess up the quote, but there's this philosopher Walter Binyamin, who says, you know, basically, we always live in a state of emergency, and there's just sort of rest between emergencies. And I think we always live in a state of horror. And there's just rest between horrors, like, you know, when you talk to somebody, all their organs are, you know, moving in them, their liver is producing bile, there's like shit in their guts, there's like, their tongues are producing sludge, and I could go on and on until I grossed you out about what was happening in them. And that's happening every time you shake someone's hand or talk to somebody, you know. And that's, you know, getting in touch with that kind of body horror. Or you can just sort of step back and be like, No, I'm just talking to my friend, you know, or you could look at anybody as a baby knows that every moment can be turned into a horror moment if they wanted to, because the baby could choke the baby could fall, the baby could get electrocuted, the baby could drown the baby could, you know, like, the precarity of life, when you know, that can bring horror to you. So it's sort of like, are you going to engage in that way of viewing or not? And it's also interesting to look at what things actually force you into that way of viewing that you feel like you have no control over what turns the anxiety on right away? Is it going to the beach, and get in the water? Because you can't stop thinking of jaws? You know? Or, or is it something much more mundane like and weird to others? Like do you not like walking past mirrors for some reason? Because people told you bloody Mother Mary stories when you're a kid or Candyman stories for that matter, you know,
Michael David Wilson 1:02:53
and it's unsurprising that we keep coming back to the commonalities between horror and pornography. Obviously, both genres that have been stigmatized a lot, both genres. I mean, we're not gonna say, you can easily transcend because you fucking both hate that term, but you can expand it is it's adaptable, it's malleable. And so I'm wondering, too, I mean, working as an adult performer, what do you think are some of the transferable lessons that then helped you as a horror writer?
Conner Habib 1:03:34
Hmm. Transferable lessons? That's a good, that's a good question. Because I don't know that I ever sat down was like, porn is like this. And therefore I can bring this to horror. Except to say that a lot of the stigma is the same. You know, a lot of the stigma and regulation and all that, which means that both genres must be it and I don't know that I would actually call porn genre, I might call it its own medium. Because it's so unlike any other art form, it does take place on film, but we're not film anymore, but you know what I mean, but I think like it, I think that both of them Yeah, are just they experienced the same kinds of stigma. And and that means that they must be considering something very important that they must be considering and helping people express explore and understand a part of their lives that is, for some reason, dangerous to the status quo. That is also very deep and and usually sort of brushed under the carpet or not talked about and And, you know, it's not as simple with horror saying that's a death because there are lots of horror movies that aren't about death, per se. And it's maybe not as simple even as saying that pornography is just about sex and sexuality, because there are a lot of aspects of porn that affect people that aren't just about sex and sexuality. It can be about, like, desire in different ways or seeing certain, like, key, you know, themes? Like, why is it that certain themes like construction workers, or, like, offices, or whatever our sites were, you know, that are depicted in porn as like sites of like, desire, like, what can you learn about sort of power or the way culture and politics work or whatever, I think that both of these forms, like, allow people to self actualize, in profound ways. And they're both like, deeply reliant on, you know, defending freedom of speech. You know, and if one goes, and the other is really fucked. So, you know, they, they have this kind of alliance with each other that's unspoken, and I'm sure there are probably lots of horror people that, you know, horror fans that are like anti pornography, but probably less so than a lot of other genres. And probably also, you know, some porn performers and watchers that think horror is horrible. But there is this kind of handshake there in a way. I don't. But all that is to say, though, that like, I don't really know, like, I don't think I looked at porn and was like, this applies to this. Except, I don't know, such a good question. I might have to come back to it. Because I need to really think like, what directly applied from one to the other as a performer and as someone who thought and talked about sex and culture, you know, with sex workers and people aren't sex workers alike for a long, long time. Yeah, I don't. I don't exactly. I don't exactly know. But it's really funny. I think maybe maybe the one thing though, actually, I think I just said it, though. Like when I was talking about horror been everywhere, like, basic lesson of sex of Freud and psychoanalysis is that sex is everywhere, and it is everything. It's our own Big Bang story, so to speak. Everybody has a personal Big Bang that led to their existence. And so sex is sort of pulsing and everything and you can eroticized anything, and anybody can eroticized you and I do think that that sort of pervasiveness, I think that that probably is there. And I also think there intertwine. I mean, there's a moment in my book where something horrific happens, and it comes across I think is very sexual as well. Because I think when you tap into that thing, where you're like, what are the forces that are making the world, and sex is one, and you know, fear is another, and there are others as well. But like, you can notice the ways that they're entangled.
Michael David Wilson 1:08:31
Wow, what a fascinating guy Conner Habib is. And if you like that, and you want more of that, well, good news, there is a second part and it's coming up next episode. And in that one, we really delve into Hawk Mountain. We talk about the genesis of Hawk Mountain as a short story. We also talk about the difficulty in categorizing it and putting it in a genre box and whether or not that's actually important. And we also tackle a fantastic question from Villanueva, in which she asks about a cultists that are relevant to modern horror readers and writers. So plenty to look forward to in that episode. But if you want to listen to it right now, if you want to get it ahead of the crowd, you can just become a firstname.lastname@example.org forward slash, This Is Horror. And we really would love it. If you could support us it helps keep the podcast alive. It shows that you really value what we're doing what we've been doing for getting on for 500 episodes in a decade. So if you want to show your support for This Is Horror. If you want to register that approval with your wallet, it's patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror. And not only do you get Connors episode ahead of the crowd, you get every single episode of This Is Horror early You also get to become part of the writers forum over on Discord. A lot of us have taken part in writing challenges now it is a fantastic way to level up your craft and productivity. And you also get story on bops the horror podcast on the craft of writing. We just released the first part of our unboxing give Takashi Miike Kay's first love, and we also put out a recent patrons q&a episode. So a load of posts in terms of becoming a patron. So head over to patreon.com forward slash This Is Horror and see if it's a good fit for you. Okay, before I wrap up, a little bit of an advert break,
Bob Pastorella 1:10:45
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Michael David Wilson 1:11:53
As always, I like to end each episode with a quote and see and as he blurbed Conner's book and Conner is such a big fan. I know that it will be apropos to end with a little quote from Clive Barker. So here it is. Be yourself. Avoid self censorship. Love your failures. I'll see you in the next episode of the podcast for part two with Conner Habib, but until then, take care yourself. Be good to one another. Read horror. Keep on writing and have a great, great day