Several years ago, when I was still living in Southeastern Idaho and suffering from the throes of depression related to not only an undiagnosed mental disorder but also due to my sexuality, I stumbled across an author whose work had been described as ‘homoerotically disturbing’ and whose last official ‘horror’ novel was hailed as ‘the most disturbing thing ever written’ by several individuals in the sphere of writers I know. Known as a young and upcoming talent in the prime of her career, Poppy Z. Brite would later go on to become widely-recognized within the horror community and garner a cult following. Though after Katrina she decided to stop writing, and through perseverance and acceptance she began her transition to become Billy Martin, her true, male identity.
Regardless of the fact that Billy no longer writes, the things he did write during the early part of his career were truly haunting, disturbing, and—surprisingly, for a horror author—truly emotional.
The book in question that I read of Billy Martin’s was perhaps the book he is most famous for: Lost Souls.
Twig, Zillah and Molochai — the three main vampires in Lost Souls. Art by Anna Shellkova
Lost Souls, the vampire novel that would eventually become eponymous identity of the young author, tells the story of a group of people who live in Missing Mile, North Carolina – most particularly, a young pair of twenty-somethings who aspire to make it big with their music career and eventually free themselves from the situations they are in. Through it all there comes the hardship that often does in small towns with strange lineages. When vampires arrive in North Carolina, and when Ghost and Steve (our heroes) become intertwined in the lives of said vampires and a new ‘fledgling’ that has just been made by them, things begin to go to hell – quite literally.
For me to say that one of the favorite lines that I have ever read came from a horror novel may be somewhat surprising to people.
Horror is not often a genre that is considered to be in the high ranks of the literary classes. Instead, it is seen as one of the low genres – a work of fiction that relies on elements of ‘overt shock’ and ‘gruesome suspense’ in order to entice interest in the reader. That, though, has been proven to be false. Authors such as Stephen King, Anne Rice and Dean Koontz (all prominent within the horror world) have written astounding works that are filled with literary symbolism and deep personal meaning that anyone can connect to, and there are dozens, hundreds of others who have written similar things that have gone on to win prestigious awards. For that, I can easily say that horrific fiction is a high genre, and in his career, Billy Martin was one of those individuals who wrote in that genre.
You might be wondering, though – what is my favorite line?
My favorite line comes during a scene in which two of the characters, at the height of the stress of their lives and in a situation where they could very easily die, share an intimate moment together—not sex, not passionate love, but a kiss.
The line is as follows:
That golden flavor on [his] tongue, that was not Dixie beer. It was the taste of childhood summers long gone, and laced through it was the dark taste of fear.
– Excerpt from Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite, 1992. Bracketed text edited to remove spoiler.
There is an unbelievable amount of power within that line that I could spend hours trying to decipher. Most obviously, it speaks of fragility – of the moment in which you are on the brink of something that could end part of your existence or change it altogether and with you there is another person whom you care about more than anyone else in the world. The matter of the kiss could be removed in this instance and be inserted into almost any situation. There exists within the line the metaphor of tangible fear – of a knowledge that things had once been glorious in the past and that now the terror is present. It, in my mind, describes a first – a love, a kiss, a heartbreak, a move, a step toward something strange and a pace away from something you know is safe.
There are few people whose work has truly moved me to the extent that Billy’s has. That scene hasn’t only haunted me, though. Anyone who’s read Lost Souls will hold onto that moment forever, just as they will the amazing literary power Billy was during his career.