Hear My Story: A GLAAD x Audible Interview Series - Part II: Roan Parrish & Timmi Meskers

GLAAD has teamed up with audio entertainment leader Audible to co-curate and produce a five-episode written interview series featuring LGBTQIA+ talent from the Audible family.

Our second interview features the creators of the new queer horror collection Strange Company, Roan Parrish and Timmi Meskers. Strange Company was written by Parrish, and features original music by Meskers.

Check out GLAAD’s interview with Parrish & Meskers below:

For many LGBTQ people, inspiration is often drawn from the role models and idols within our community who have changed the way we are seen, heard, and represented in society. Is there someone in the community who has inspired you or your work?

R: Yeah, I think I have two answers to this question. In one way, it's less individual people who have inspired me for this project and more a queering of genre itself. So seeing so many queer artists working across genres, someone like Janelle Monae who works in music, as a choreography, as an actor, all these things, but also authors who write very wild, weird stories that combine genres and combine form. And to me, that genre-and-form combination is really intrinsically queer, in and of itself.

And then in terms of actual people - for me, the biggest inspiration isn’t really so much famous people, but it's seeing so many independent queer artists and queer artists of color using all these platforms like podcasts, and YouTube and Tik Tok, to really rewrite and rethink the space of culture. It's something that's like taking off so much right now. And it's really, really exciting and inspiring for me.

T: Yeah, I love to see amazing artists like Janelle Monae, like Roan mentioned, breaking down the boundary between genres and mediums, specifically in the horror space. Huge fan of queer actresses like Kate Siegel and Sarah Paulson who are portraying these amazing queer roles with nuance and depth and humanity that they deserve. I feel like cis white gay men and cis white lesbian women have gradually been represented more over the last decade and there’s definitely still work to do whereas queer people of color, trans people, nonbinary people especially haven’t been quite as mainstream. And I’m really excited about shows like POSE, which are showcasing Black voices and hope to see that diversity in gender and sexuality in other shows like Euphoria, for example.

Congratulations on the release of your new project Strange Company, which combines music as well as spoken word stories. How has this project been different from traditional written-form projects that you’ve worked on in the past?

R: Yeah, I’ve been a long-time fan of reading art as well as listening to it and watching it. And I really do think there is a difference in the experiences. When you read, you have control over where your eye goes on the page, the speed at which you consume the story, when you stop. You can skim ahead with your eye a little to make sure nothing too scary is happening. Or you can speed up if you are too scared. But when you are watching a movie or listening to an audio production, you can’t really do that. You know you can mess with your settings but really you’re sort of at the mercy of the medium itself. And so, I think that is a different level and kind of control over the way that you’re consuming it, which really does produce, especially in horror, a different kind of fear. So, it was really really interesting to write this - what I think is pretty atmospheric kind of horror, knowing that in the audio format, both the word and the music will kind of wash over people in a way that they couldn’t really control. And so since Timmi and I were collaborating, I was really aware of how music has so much power to impact the way that words are received. It can underscore the mood of a story or it can be  in tension with it. It can lend threat to seemingly innocent moments or it can soften really dark ones. And so, since I knew that it was gonna be oral instead of visual, I just tried to create a lot of opportunities for the story and the music to parallel each other or to diverge from one another. I was paying attention to what kinds of effect the words were having, because I knew that Timmi’s music would majorly contribute to the effect of it.

Spoken word art is a strong platform for elevating diverse voices, especially within the LGBTQ community. What about Strange Company lends itself to an audio production?

T: Yeah, definitely. So as far as Strange Company being the most well-suited for an audio production, I think there is a huge amount of imagination that comes along with audiobooks and podcasts. You’re hearing words and you’re maybe hearing music - and you’re really kind of building this world in your head.

And Strange Company was really a unique project suited for audio production in that there’s a, I believe Roan used the word “dread” and kind of fear along with the pace being set by someone else. And really just creating this atmosphere that is kind of letting the fears of the listener fill in the dark places in their heads as they’re hearing it. I feel like that is what makes it so effective from my vantage point.

Did you write this story with a particular audience in mind? Who do you hope listens to Strange Company?

R: Yeah, I’m so glad you asked this question. I think for me, so much of what I create is based on what I would like to consume. You grow up and you want to have something to read or watch or listen to; and then when you have the chance to make it that’s kind of what you end up making.

My favorite kind of horror is character driven. So my first thought both as a consumer and a creator is always about the character - like, “ Why is the thing that’s happening right now particularly horrific to this specific character?” Like, “What about their past or their identity, their situation, their fears makes this the worst possible thing to happen to them in particular?”

Which means the horror is character-based and psychological. So, I wrote these stories in that vein, like for an audience who is interested in psychological horror, in atmospheric horror, and mood and character. Like the subtle dread of a place or an idea that worms its way into your head and you can’t get rid of it, more so than for people who are looking for your slasher, “blood splattering everywhere” kind of horror. You know? That’s not really the sort of project that it is. So I would be so excited for people who kind of don’t think of themselves as horror fans to listen to this project. I think that there are stories that are not too scary - like if you’re someone who thinks, “I’m interested in horror and I’d love to listen to a queer story but I don’t want to be too scared.” I think there are some stories that are much more about creeping dread than they are black-out horror. And I would love for this project to be a bit of a gateway drug for listeners who are interested in queer stories, who are interested in atmospheric stories, and maybe want to dip their toe into horror. I would love for this to be a piece that they could listen to and adore the music and adore the characters, really think about stuff but not have to come with a desire to see body parts everywhere.

T: As an addendum to that, as a queer trans person who loves movies and tv and audio books, I’m always excited to see folks from the community in the films, TV, music that I consume. I really hope that queer folks will hear and kind of  feel themselves in the work to some extent. I also think that the universality of the human experience can transcend gender and sexuality. I don’t think you have to be queer to enjoy the kind of chilling stories that Roan has crafted and I really hope that anyone who is interested in atmosphere and character are open to checking it out.

What do you hope listeners take away from Strange Company?

R: Well, Timmi and I were actually talking about that before this interview because for me this is the hardest question.

I honestly don’t think so much about always what I hope people take away from the art but when we sat down to think it through I think that one of the things that I hope people take away is that in each of the stories, I think there really are some moments that are about beauty and romance and love and dreams, and are not horrific at all. And so I think that those moments really stand out - the beauty in the face of horror. Those moments really stand out in the stories and are such a reminder, I hope, of the way that you can’t have one without the other. That you can’t have beauty without horror and darkness and despair, and you can’t have horror without the contrasting beauty of love. So I think that those moments hopefully stand out and they remind you that like even in our darkest moments, there are still things to love and be grateful for.

And for context my background is I write queer romance usually - so I’ve written and published about 15 queer romance novels, and people are often really surprised to hear that I am a huge horror fan and also I write romance. I think people think of them as antithetical somehow; whereas for me, they’re really just two sides of the same coin. They both capture human beings in these moments of extremity. In romance, those capture people at their most vulnerable, opening themselves up to falling in love with someone. That’s a really vulnerable and extreme experience. Where in a horror, people are at their most vulnerable because they are experiencing something really frightening or devastating. And to me you learn so much about yourself in those moments of extremity. Like you learn about your limits or you push past them. Your beliefs, or your ethics, or in horror sometimes your survival itself are really tested. And so I think that is what I hope people take away is the stories can cut across genres to make people think about the world, themselves, and what these real moments of extremity might reveal.

T: I think that is a really beautiful summary and I do think that Roan’s prose just to call it “horror” is kind of limiting and I hope that folks really do take away that holistic emotional experience.

R: And if I can just chime in: Timmi's music for this piece is so beautiful, and it is going to be released actually as a record as an album. I feel like if people could listen to that music and be transported into many stories, not just this story. I do love the idea for horror fans or people who are interested in horror, there's "horror" but there's "more than horror." And obviously, at the risk of being crass, we also really hope that a lot of people listen to the project and love it and give us more opportunities to create more work - like queer horror made by queer creators. So yeah, we hope it gets some traction and a little bit of attention.

Timmi - how has it been for you to combine storytelling and music in this unique way? Did the stories inspire the music or did the music inspire the stories?

This is a great question, thank you! This has probably been one of the most exciting and unique artistic projects that I’ve ever worked on and that it was really a collaboration. There were some stories where I would share songs and from the songs the stories would come. Kind of inversely, sometimes there would be stories that would be in progress or finished and I would kind of pick up. I think we both inspired each other in that way. I can say from my vantage point, the work definitely wouldn’t have turned out the way it did if it weren’t for the stories and I think that, I don’t know if Roan would agree but, I think that to some extent some of the stories probably took the shape they did because some of the music that I shared.

It’s been just a general joy to experience the process in all of its different stages. It’s come a long way from dreaming about this while doing dishes.  And now we got this very cool project with Audible.

R: And I totally agree with that. We often would work in the studio at the same time on this project. So Timmi would be working on the music, and I would be writing at the same time. So I would hear the music that she was working on and composing while I was writing. And sometimes we would stop and take a break, and I would read her little bits of the story that I was working on. So I really agree that it was a total collaboration. And I don't know if anyone cares, but we actually started dating while we were creating this project!

Thanks to services like Audible, access to LGBTQ stories & content is now easier than ever. What kind of LGBTQ story still needs to be told / heard?

R: I think that I would love to see more queer people of color in stories, just in general. I think that for so long queerness or non-witness has been an either/or. People were willing to produce stories by white queer people or by non-white straight cis people and we are just getting to the point where, at the risk of sounding crass, creators are allowed to have more than one identity. So I think going further down that lane, getting people with different types of life experiences, and also stories where characters' queerness is valid and present but it’s not a coming out story or a "getting kicked out of your house" story, not a soul-inciting dramatic incident, that would be great.

T: I personally would love to see more gender diversity outside of the binary spectrum as Roan was saying -  Black, Indigenous, people of color folks previously haven’t had access to storytelling tools being given the opportunity to share their experiences as well. I think there’s so much power in having that platform and representation and it’s really critical that their stories are heard. I know speaking for us, I am thrilled that we have progressive allies like Audible who are willing to support and amplify marginalized voices and stories.