DarkEcho Horror
Venus by Rick Berry

THOMAS S. ROCHE: Passion & Transcendence

By Paula Guran
First published in DarkEcho, September 1996

If you were to run into Thomas S. Roche in a dark alley (we shan't ask what YOU are doing there,) you'd most likely say "good evening." and think to yourself, "My, my what's a nice young man like that doing here with all these perverts here in this dark alley?" He has that kinda wholesome look about him and, after all, he did JUST turn 28 this year.

Once you get to know him, however, you realize he belongs not only in that alley but over at the side in the gutter with the most degenerate of the street slime. In other words, I'm pleased to know him and you would be, too. I've already literally been to the wrong side of the tracks with Roche and some of his compatriots and I intend to keep traveling in their circle.

To start with Roche is from San Francisco, the only place in America where sexuality runs amuck on the streets. He also spent the earliest portions of his professional writing career earning money by turning out pornographic novels. Being a writer of horror, dark erotica, and dark crime fiction is a step UP from that. His short stories have appeared in such anthologies as DARK ANGELS, BLOOD MUSE, SPLATTERPUNKS 2, and S/M FUTURES, and will appear this year in RAZOR KISS, GOTHIC GHOSTS, HOT BLOOD 8, NORTHERN FRIGHTS 4, GRAVE PASSIONS, BEST AMERICAN EROTICA 1996, THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF EROTICA VOLUME 2, and THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF PULP FICTION. He has also written for three of White Wolf's anthologies based on their World of Darkness: TRUTH UNTIL PARADOX, CITY OF DARKNESS: UNSEEN, and THE SPLENDOUR FALLS.

The first book he edited was NOIROTICA from Rhinoceros Books. NOIROTICA combined the voice of the pulps and noir writers like Raymond Chandler with explicit sex. Dark crime fiction traditionally conveyed its definite sexual aspect by innuendo. NOIROTICA dispensed with the innuendo. It worked. Now he is putting together a sequel as well as working on some other editorial projects.

His most recent anthology, co-edited with Michael Rowe, is SONS OF DARKNESS from Cleis Press.

DE: Thomas, I want to focus on noir, but let me ask you first a bit about SONS OF DARKNESS.

TSR: SONS OF DARKNESS is a book I edited in collaboration with Michael Rowe, the Toronto journalist and horror writer who wrote WRITING BELOW THE BELT. It is a collection of homoerotic male vampire stories -- I hesitate to say "gay vampire stories" because that seems a little silly when you're talking about undead creatures two thousand years old. Basically, the stories are not erotica, our requirement was that there be a substantial horror element, but they did turn out to have a considerable amount of sex.

We did SONS OF DARKNESS as a follow-up to two successful books of lesbian vampires that Cleis Press published in, I think, 1993 and 1995. DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS and DARK ANGELS.

DE: We'll get back to vampires one of these days, but for now let's get to "noir." Why the fascination with crime and passion ?

TSR: I've always been fascinated by crime fiction, by which I mean a broad category of literature which includes mysteries but not "just" mysteries in the classic sense. My main interest has been in the "roman noir" of the 50s and 60s, and its powerful influence not just on genre and pulp writing, but on the whole character of the country.

One of the other big things I'm interested in is sex, obviously. I think sex, and writing about sex, can be fun, but on some level at least I take it really damn seriously. I think of it as one of two (maybe three) things that drive the human experience -- the other being survival. And I may think transcendence or spirituality is an add-on to that somewhere, or perhaps the force which underlies and defines both sex and survival; where I fall on that question depends on my mood.

DE: How did you get started editing?

TSR:Noirotica was my first editing project. The way the anthology started was that it was the only genre area where someone hadn't already done a book of "Erotic stories." Circlet Press had been doing their erotic science fiction / fantasy for a few years, and Amarantha Knight was doing a series of erotic dark fantasy / horror anthologies for Masquerade; and then of course there was the huge boom in "erotic horror," with Hot Blood, etc. I had been interested in doing an anthology for some time, but couldn't really come up with a concept that I thought would be worth doing that hadn't been done before. At World Fantasy 1994, which was my first big convention -- my first pro convention, that is. Nancy Kilpatrick mentioned that she didn't think anyone had done a book of erotic mystery stories. I was skeptical at first, because when I think "mystery," I think Agatha Christie, Miss Marple, Lieutenant Plum in the dungeon with a meat cleaver. That sort of thing. Which is great, but it's not really what I do.

On the way home from New Orleans I got started thinking aimlessly about Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford, Charles Williams, Chandler, Hammett -- and suddenly it was like the light went on. There's a powerful subtext of sex going through all that stuff, and there was all this noise at the time about Quentin Tarantino and PULP FICTION, and Hong Kong gangster movies, and that sort of thing. And so I came up with this idea for NOIROTICA, which was crime fiction but with the noir voice I loved so much, and involved all the sex they always hinted at in the great noir novels but which was always sort of obscured.

I sent a proposal to Richard Kasak at Masquerade Books, and he called me right away and said he wanted to publish it. When I started getting stories like "Wanted" and "Silencer" and "The Anatomy of Love," I knew I was on to something. Then I got this one called "Dick Death, Punk Detective," and I imagined for a moment that all of my sleazy interests had been come together in one project.

DE: Do you believe, like Chandler said, that the man who tells the stories of the mean streets must be neither mean nor tarnished?

TSR: Hm, that's a big question.

I love writing from the streets, from people who lived there and know its taste and texture, but I don't pretend to know their realities or be able to tell them in the way that someone like Jim Carroll (The Basketball Diaries, Forced Entries) or Bruce Benderson (User) or James Fogle (Drugstore Cowboy) or Leslie Feinberg (Stone Butch Blues, perhaps a bit of a reach in genre but not at all in style) or some other excellent writers could.

So where I do write from, is from a world of archetypes and constructs which reflect cultural thinking and, therefore, "reality." Chandler was writing a myth, or more appropriately an "anti-myth," which is what I try to do. Chandler was also writing in a much different time, when the streets were pretty fucking mean but maybe on a smaller level then they are nowadays, and he foresaw a lot of the disappointment and distrust that people in my generation (twennynuthin's) feel in authority, the government, etc, which is why he is the prophet of our doom.

The true gift of someone like Chandler is to look out from a relatively comfortable, middle-class life, and see the rot underneath that supports it all -- the exploitation of poor by rich, the racial prejudice, the colonialism, the murders by those in power, the corruption -- etc.etc.etc. I'm taking my politics WAY beyond Chandler's, I think, by the way, maybe blowing his world-view a little out of proportion, but that's the way I look at it from my comfy mid-90s perch.

Unfortunately, a lot of latter-day crime writers, especially through the 70s and 80s, used that noir voice to talk about how bad the criminal justice system is -- i.e., that we should license cops and vigilantes to go blow people away and throw criminals into prison for ever. And that queers and perverts and people into SM and drugs are all just plain bad people and the detectives who go around beating the shit out of them are the good guys. And of course all these detectives have wives and kids at home. This setting of the "mean streets" has often been used to make the suburban family home with a dog and a Buick and a happy heterosexual couple look infinitely more appealing, which is something I have absolutely no interest in -- sure the suburban home is appealing when you're on the streets, but that doesn't make it OK! In recent years crime fiction has more often than not served to support this kind of right-wing reaction to the liberal 60s and 70s, these kind of (to my mind) demented ideas about how to "solve" the problems of crime and corruption.

But I think that noir writing is about telling the truth, and some bullshit macho posturing is not where you tell the story of the streets and their infinite hazards and heartbreaks. You tell that story by looking reality in the face and trying to understand.

So in an infinitely mean world, the man or woman or other who walks down these mean streets must be that much less mean, that much more aware of the infinite purity under all the levels of bullshit the daily world buries us under. To tell a story that means anything about how fucked up the world is, it's important to me to come from a place not of bitterness and resentment, but of purity, transcendence, and hope -- not because hope springs eternal or any such crap, but because when I face how shitty things are, when I tell the story of how everything went to to hell and how fucked up I am about it, there's some sort of transcendence in that very act, even if everything goes to hell in the end. And by telling that story, maybe one can no longer be afraid. Even if I'm not telling the truths of my own life in a real sense, if I can tell the symbolic truth inside this mythic construct, that's how I get at the truth of the real world. Or try to.

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Copyright © 1996, 2002 by Paula Guran. All Rights Reserved.