Richard Scott Larson: Growing up as a closeted kid in the lonely suburbs, I identified with the scary movies and books that seemed to be teaching me how to understand things about myself I wanted so desperately to hide. In writing about those years in my memoir, The Long Hallway, it only seemed natural to use my connection with horror to tell my story. And I was so excited to be in touch with Matt Lee (The Backwards Hand), who also turns to popular conceptions of horror and monstrosity to interrogate his coming-of-age in his beautiful new memoir.

Matt Lee: How serendipitous to bump into Richard Larson and his brilliant memoir The Long Hallway. While Richard uses horror as a lens through which to examine queerness, my own memoir, The Backwards Hand, draws a parallel between disability and monstrosity. So here we are—two debut memoirists contextualizing our perceived otherness through the horror genre. In our wide-ranging conversation, we touch on voyeurism, persona, and the implications of laying bare our most intimate thoughts and feelings.

Matt Lee: I think it’s fair to say we were both struck by the similarities between our books after becoming acquainted. We share a thematic approach (memoir through the lens of horror) but even aspects of our personal stories are parallel (paternal abandonment). We both explore the concept of monstrosity as related to otherness—you in relation to queerness, myself in relation to disability. I’m curious to know more about what monstrosity means to you. How do you define “monster,” and has that definition evolved through writing The Long Hallway?

Richard Scott Larson: During the years I write about in the memoir—mostly the transition from childhood to adolescence—I wouldn’t have used that exact word to describe myself, but that’s how I now understand what I saw as my place in the world at the time. The memoir form requires directly naming what might otherwise retreat into wordlessness, and as I began writing about my identification with horror villains as a closeted kid, I realized I’d certainly been grappling with the idea of monstrosity as I worried about how I’d eventually be received by others. I guess I’d define it as the part of myself that threatened to destabilize my environment and put those around me in danger, the way I recognized Michael Myers as a scourge in his otherwise benign small town in Halloween, which is a film I linger on throughout the book.

In The Backwards Hand, as you introduce the threads that will be braided together throughout your memoir, you write: “Pity the monster. Beneath the monster’s ugliness lies a soul, humanity masked by deformity. Within the monster we all see ourselves, what we might become.” I love this because it feels like a challenge to readers to enter into the experience of monstrosity not as voyeurs but as participants, ultimately inviting them to turn their gaze back on themselves. Can you talk about motive and how monstrosity informed the structure of your personal story?

One of the book’s central questions is: What makes a monster? By extension, I’m also wrestling with the question: Am I a monster? The book, I hope, demands the same question of readers. Structurally, my intention is that the form, which is a cacophonous, fragmented deluge of information, mimics the effect of abjection. That is, a disruption of order, a breakdown of sensibility—not unlike your anxiety surrounding identity and environmental destabilization. We equate disability with monstrosity because nothing frightens us more than to be confronted with the limits of life itself. To a certain degree, we are all complicit in this wicked conflation, this demonization of abnormal bodies and minds. Unsurprisingly, the results have often been catastrophic. My goal is to force every reader to take a hard look in the mirror, exactly as I have done, to sit together in our own mess.

Your mention of voyeur vs. participant brings up a major element of The Long Hallway. You write of being a keen observer, sometimes to an extreme degree. For instance, there’s a sequence in which you watch a sexual encounter between two neighborhood kids and get caught in the act. Later, you contextualize these voyeuristic tendencies through horror films: “horror as a reenactment of the repressed.” Unable to act, we watch. In the same way that the Peeping Tom derives his thrills from the threat of exposure, do you find that memoir writing, in attempting to lay the truth bare, evokes a similar sense of danger?

I’m glad you provided the mirror metaphor with regards to the reader’s experience, as you also write in your book that “[t]he mirror reflects, doubles, distorts. As does disability.” I think a lot about how the memoir also functions as a mirror for its writer, at least in terms of it being a finished object that claims to represent or somehow organize our lived experience. We often look into a mirror to check our appearance and make sure we’re presenting ourselves the way we want to be seen by others, and the memoir as a mirror allows us to control our self-presentation even as it also involves acknowledging our flaws, the things about ourselves that we can’t ever change. The Peeping Tom flirts with the revelation of his indiscretions from the shadows just as the memoirist has stepped directly into the light. But that presents its own kind of danger, as you imply. The willing confessor almost always has something to hide, and to insist upon one version of the story is to also reveal all the other ways it could be told. 

I’m interested in how you approached revealing the struggles faced by your younger self in the service of telling this story now at a later point in your life. You write about periods of drug and alcohol abuse, battles with depression and uncontrolled anger, suicidal ideation, and the mistreatment of various people who you loved, all as a result of the inner turmoil that you tried to drown out through various forms of self-destruction. Was there a sense that you were challenging the reader to remain on your side even after encountering these sometimes ugly admissions? Is that part of internalized monstrosity, too—the implicit understanding that revealing our true selves might cause others to immediately look away?

I felt that if I was going to embark on this project, I needed to be unflinching with my story. Harry Crews, who wrote one of my favorite memoirs, A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, talks about the writer’s duty to “get naked,” to lay oneself bare in search of the truth. Maybe it’s the lapsed Catholic in me, but I was compelled to confess, to be explicit in depicting the darkest aspects of my life. In a way, I position myself more like the book’s antagonist, and I don’t expect readers to always sympathize with me.      

You’re absolutely correct that our fear of outside judgment stems from internalized monstrosity and self-loathing. This is why the monster wears a mask, right? In hiding from others, he hides from himself. The courage of other memoirists I’ve read and known, like my mentor Jeannie Vanasco, helped assuage the unease of exposing myself. Writing retrospectively from a place where I’d found peace and maturity also enabled me to acknowledge my wrongdoing and reconcile with lingering shame. The concept of absolution fascinates me, especially since becoming a father. In researching and writing the book, I was forced to practice extreme forms of empathy as a means to understand not only myself, but also these monsters, both real and imagined. Take someone like Tsutomu Miyazaki, a child murderer, pedophile, necrophiliac, cannibal who never expressed remorse: Does he deserve forgiveness? At what point is a person beyond redemption? I was conscious not to answer this question. The reader must decide.

You likewise do not shy away from revealing your struggles with anger, violence, sexuality. The Long Hallway grapples with all these harrowing instances of a young boy being forced to encounter a very adult world—your parent’s divorce, your father’s illness and death, the brutal murder of a schoolmate, the predatory advances of an older man. All these traumatic experiences are compounded by the fact that you’re hiding your true identity, even from the people closest to you. You write: “The experience of adolescence as a closeted queer boy is one of constantly attempting to imitate the expression of desire you do not feel.” How do you feel the tension between repression, performance, and authenticity has shaped your work? Was there a sense of liberation in writing the book and being free to tell your story so openly?

I completely relate to the implicit understanding that we need to be unflinching with revealing personal flaws, mistakes, and instances of wrongdoing to gain the trust of readers who might be suspicious of generous self-assessment. For us as narrators in these books, it seems like the impulse is to show readers not just the damaging experience of internalized otherness, but also how it manifests in behaviors that can themselves also become sources of shame. I’m drawn to the pieces of your book—which is this gorgeous montage of so many disparate yet connected threads that support and deepen the one about your personal journey—where you present yourself very critically in the service of reaching at some broader truth about the harm we do to ourselves and others because of how the world treats difference. 

Thanks for quoting that sentence from my book, because I think there’s a lot to unpack about performance both in the experience of the closet specifically and with the motive behind memoir more generally. You write about your disability that “nobody knew until I was a toddler,” so your experience of keeping what made you different to yourself was short-lived due to what’s visible on the body. But the queer person can perhaps hide longer, and in that way life itself becomes an ongoing performance, the version of yourself that you put in front of others amounting to nothing more than a persona. The self in memoir is also obviously a persona, but one created with the explicit intention to disclose rather than to conceal. And for me there was certainly a sense of liberation, as you movingly suggest, in repurposing that exhausting experience of concealment into a performance of almost aggressive disclosure, giving a sense of purpose to those years of hiding by making them worth something after all this time has passed.

My book makes almost exclusive use of Halloween and Michael Myers as its primary touchstones, but The Backwards Hand employs an almost dizzying array of references in its narrative mosaic, and the effect is breathtaking. How did you ultimately arrive at this form?

Discovering writers like David Markson or Renata Adler, who used nonlinear, fragmentary forms, was a real jolt, almost like I’d been resuscitated. I recognized these texts as mimicking the way my brain functioned, so I began to experiment with narrative assemblages. I developed this “text as collage” style in my first book, Crisis Actor, which began as a stack of index cards that I used to record anecdotes, scenes, quotations. I am an absolute information junkie, and my tastes are eclectic, so I’ve cultivated this kaleidoscopic encyclopedia inside my head. The fun part is then taking all the seemingly disparate pieces and figuring out how they connect. The collage form allows for strange juxtapositions and adds an element of unpredictability. It keeps the research and writing process exciting for me (and uniquely engages readers too, I suspect). With the book being a memoir, I was also able to contextualize and complicate my story by reflecting it off the experience of others. The subjects I explore, disability and monstrosity, do not fit neatly into boxes, so I lean into the slippage.

We’d be remiss to discuss The Long Hallway without touching on John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s a massively influential film and has been widely written about, but until reading your book, I’d (ignorantly) never considered a queer interpretation. You write, “The opening of Halloween is a coming-out story.” I admired how you weaved together ekphrasis, criticism, and fantasy in your treatment of Halloween. Had you always planned to incorporate the film as a central part of your book or did it organically find its way in there as you were writing? Do the tropes of slasher movies like Halloween complement or inform your work in any way?

Slasher tropes are certainly important to the way I discuss a childhood spent in fear, mostly because of how deceptively simple the binary of killer and victim can seem. I consciously created a montage of images and scenes from Halloween with those from my own life and grafted fiction onto reality in the way that I experienced horror as a child during the years I dwell upon in the book. I was so afraid of being discovered as queer that the unmasking of Michael Myers as a child in the opening scene—after he’s just brutally murdered his sister—stuck with me because of what it symbolized for me at the time: a monster being revealed to the world in the form of a seemingly innocent child. The film was always going to be a touchstone for the book because of how it connected me to my father during his descent into alcoholism, which I explore as his own journey through the dark that happened to coincide with mine. I’d visit his house on weekends and the one piece of entertainment on hand there was an old VHS of Halloween that he’d never returned to the video store, so my endless rewatchings formed some of my most vivid memories from those times I spent in his company during those final years.

The slippage in The Backwards Hand involves blurring fiction and nonfiction in the sources you bring in as evidence for the claims being made by your personal story, but since we’ve already discussed the form more generally, I wonder if you could speak to the intimacy of representing the experiences of people you love as other ongoing threads. I was also extremely moved by the ambivalence throughout the book toward becoming a parent because of what you imagine you might pass on, and then of course you give the book’s closing passages to the possibilities represented by the arrival of your newborn son. What do you think a book about monstrosity can offer the people in our lives who see us differently than we see ourselves? What questions do you hope your son will have when he eventually reads the memoir?

Writing about others is a delicate but necessary task of the memoirist. I’m certain there are people I’ve included in the book who hold a less-than-amicable opinion of me, and some I haven’t seen or spoken to in many years, including my father. Others, like my wife, perhaps know me better than I know myself. Maybe the book will offer these people a glimpse of an interior life that I’ve often kept hidden, even from those closest to me. What they do with this evidence, however, is outside my control. If anything, I hope the book provides space for readers to interrogate their own capacity for monstrosity, their prejudices toward disability, and the ways in which we might collectively resist these forces.

I’m glad you mentioned how the book traffics in ambivalence, as I always strive to bring a sense of ambiguity to my work. Before my son was born, I was filled with anxiety about how he might turn out but more so surrounding my perceived role as parent. I wasn’t sure I deserved the privilege—and it is a privilege. Raising my son Umberto has challenged me like nothing before. At the same time, learning to be his father has enriched me beyond measure. When the day comes that he reads The Backwards Hand, he might ask, “What made you want you to change, to do better, to go on living?” and I would reply, “To spite the monster within me.”

Richard Scott Larson a queer writer and critic whose work has earned fellowships from MacDowell and the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is the author of the memoir The Long Hallway (University of Wisconsin Press, 2024), and his writing has also appeared in The Sun Magazine, Los Angeles Review of Books, Harvard Review, Electric Literature, and other journals and anthologies. He lives in Brooklyn. Visit him at

Matt Lee is the author of a memoir, The Backwards Hand (Curbstone Books, 2024), and a novel, Crisis Actor (tragickal, 2020). His writing has been featured in Barrelhouse, X-R-A-Y, Bruiser, Always Crashing, and elsewhere. Lee is a founding editor of Ligeia Magazine. He has also written and produced numerous works for the stage. He lives in Maryland with his wife and son. Learn more at

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