Gloria Russell received her bachelor’s degree from Texas State University and lives in San Marcos, Texas. Her previous publications include Persona and White Ash Literary Magazine. When she isn’t writing her next short story bundle, she’s planning her next road trip and heeding the whims of her cat, Ham.
The Graveyard Three is a short story bundle which follows a resurrected bog body, a teenaged arsonist, and a motorbiking vampire as they wreak havoc across Texas.
I figured out I was gay at the same time my parents got a divorce. I was fourteen, living in Houston, TX, regularly attending bible study at the local baptist church, where we confided our darkest secrets over sugar-sweet coffee. One week, I summoned enough courage to tell the girls in my youth group I was gay.
They promised to pray for my spiritual healing.
We didn’t talk about it again.
I didn’t have any gay friends where I lived. I didn’t have anyone to talk to, any examples of what it meant to be gay. I’d never even heard the word ‘lesbian’ outside of sneers about porn–it was a dirty word. I was gay, I was tired, I was lonely, and I was angry.
So I wrote about it.
The stories from this period all follow the first-person perspective of boys, as I was still afraid to write the thing itself, of looking directly into the gay sun and passing some point of no return. The boys were my age, my disposition. The girls were all beautiful. Page after page of how beautiful they were, how unlike the rest of the world they and the protagonist. In retrospect, it was a lot of ripping off John Green, but you start somewhere.
I couldn’t show these stories to anyone, except one or two long-distance friends who probably did more to keep me sane than I give them credit for. The year was 2012, and I was seeking gay solidarity in the murky depths of SuperWhoLock-era Tumblr, growing slightly more comfortable tapping out stories about girls who liked girls. This, on a loop, till college.
By the time I was wrapping up creative writing seminars in college, I thought I’d cracked it as a writer. I was writing stories about girls who liked girls, girls who plunged into the sea to be with their mermaid girlfriends, that sort of thing. I applied to MFA programs to work some more on this type of thing. I wanted to be a gay Karen Russell, basically, and I thought the MFA was going to be some final step in my transformation.
I got panned from all the programs I applied to. The thing about MFA programs that I didn’t know is that acceptance is nearly random–guessing why you didn’t get in is all conjecture, but it’s also inevitable. After a few months of self-indulgent moping about my very pretentious dreams being dead in the water, I took another look at my sample.
Not gay enough.
Not in the sense that the pairings weren’t valid. It was just tame. The monsters were beautiful, the love interests were indifferent, everyone was understanding and kind. Where was the anger? Where was the injustice? The passion? A group of my closest friends had promised to pray my gay away. My parents had told me it was a phase. Men have been calling me a dumb blonde all my life. I’d fallen head over heels for a girl wine-drunk beneath the Eiffel Tower at midnight, I’d made out with a girl in the tight space behind my unit door in a mental hospital, I’d wandered an ancient castle with a girl and vowed she’d have my shield, if I were her subject.
Where was that?
I was sanitizing myself, censoring myself, bleaching the color from my own experience and rendering it sterile. Flat. Acceptable.
My short story bundle, The Graveyard Three, marks a few major turning points for me. For one, it marks my embracement of the short story format. Trying to write a novel for years and years stunted my ability to construct a complete narrative (I’m stellar at beginnings, though), so the focus on shorter pieces has helped me hone those technical skills.
More importantly, it marks a turn toward the genuine. I guess I’m now entering the feral phase of my artistic career: welcome to it!
In The Graveyard Three, I’ve challenged myself to get mad. How do I feel, really? How would it feel to have a monster girl who wasn’t sexy, who didn’t have to be beautiful, who was angry and undead and tearing fistfuls of mud from the ground in her vengeful quest against mankind?
I’ve always really liked the idea that art is supposed to expand our understanding of ourselves and others (another thought from John Green!). Queer media helps queer people feel less alone. It makes queer people more visible to straight people who don’t think queer people really exist, and by extension, think it’s okay to hate them.
So I’m writing for myself, of course, because I’m selfish and because I wish I’d had some unhinged, unapologetic media to cling to in my adolescence. But I also hope, dearly, that what I make can be cathartic for someone else.
I’m working on the next short story bundle. I’m trying to keep a theme around them as I go, because I think it makes for a better reading experience if they complement one another. The theme for The Graveyard Three was ‘murder girls,’ and I don’t have a theme for the next one. I’m writing loads of short stories with my friends, picking the ones that have the most dramatic potential, and challenging myself to make them weirder and weirder until they’re fit to print. Soon as I get a theme, I’ll tweet about it. In the meantime, check out The Graveyard Three on my website.
Every day, I feel a little farther from my hometown. I don’t know where writing is going to take me. It’s something that I’ve always done, and I don’t know if I can stop, even if I wanted to. But if I’m going to continue to do it, I’m going to keep challenging my stories to be more challenging, less apologetic, more complicated, and infinitely, immeasurably, enormously gayer.