I am a horror fanatic. If there’s one constant in my life that predates even my affection for ladies, it’s an insatiable hunger for everything related to vampires, zombies, serial killers, haunted houses, and evil puppets. So when I heard about Bleeding Earth, a new YA horror novel by Kaitlin Ward with a lesbian protagonist, I knew I had to get my hands on it–and I was not disappointed.
The scenario in Bleeding Earth is both fiendishly inventive and terribly simple: One day, with no explanation, blood begins to ooze from the earth. It’s human blood, it’s everywhere, and it doesn’t go away–instead, it slowly rises, contaminating the water supply, flooding the roads, and causing all manner of other problems. Like any good apocalypse, this doesn’t just endanger the world’s population; it drives people to extreme measures to save themselves and their loved ones, revealing the true strength and ugliness at their cores. Ward’s novel brilliantly evokes both revulsion and a less obvious, but more ominous, sense of dread, as everything we take for granted is called into question.
The reader sees all this through the eyes of a teenage narrator named Lea, who begins the book with an extremely relatable problem: Lea is out, but her girlfriend Aracely isn’t, so they can only be together when no one else is around. As the blood rises, however, concerns about keeping their relationship from Aracely’s father are replaced with the struggle to stay together and stay alive when the very earth under their feet seems to want to destroy them.
It’s incredibly refreshing to read a story with a queer protagonist that highlights experiences other than coming out and discrimination. Lea is out when the story begins and has the acceptance and support of her friends and family; Aracely’s coming out is so far from being the main point of the book that when it eventually happens, it’s offscreen and only mentioned in passing. Being gay is just one facet of who these characters are, and, as they struggle to survive in an ever-changing hellscape, far from the most important facet. Ward depicts LGBTQ people as we are in real life–complicated, nuanced, and not excited about wading to school through ankle-deep blood.
I was fortunate enough to get to interview Kaitlin Ward about Bleeding Earth, which has quickly become one of my favorite horror novels.
AfterEllen.com: My first question has to be: How do you feel about spoilers? Is it okay to tell people that the lesbians don’t die? We’re so inundated with media where the queer love story ends in tragedy that I feel like “the lesbians don’t die” is a huge selling point for Bleeding Earth!
Kaitlin Ward: I’m fine with you mentioning that! It was a deliberate choice I made for exactly the reason you mentioned, and I think it was absolutely the right choice for the story.
AE: It’s always a relief to read a book where the queer characters get to do more than worry about coming out. What made you choose to write an apocalyptic horror story with a queer main character? How did you decide that Lea should already be out before the story began?
KW: When I started writing Bleeding Earth, the plot came to me first (it always does, for me!) and when I started writing some of the early scenes before I’d figured out much about the characters, Aracely (Lea’s girlfriend) just kept showing up. I realized that the two characters had chemistry, and it just developed from there. The main reason I decided that Lea should already be out when the story began is that while I do think coming out stories are very important, they’re also much easier to find than stories where a queer main character is already out and fairly comfortable with it—especially in speculative fiction, where queer leads are pretty hard to find altogether. I wanted Lea’s conflict to center around the apocalypse, because while her sexuality is always going to be a presence for her in a way that a straight person’s sexuality isn’t, her sexuality does not singularly define her. It is just one part of the whole, as it is for everyone, and I think that it’s really important for there to be stories with queer leads where some of those other parts of the whole get to be more in the forefront. I hope that there are readers who see a bit of themselves in Lea and feel encouraged.