Arts & Entertainment
1 min

The phantasmal engine

James K Moran’s horror novel features queer heroes and an ominous train

James K Moran

James K Moran’s debut horror novel, Town & Train, has been decades in the making, but one thing has remained clear to him for most of that time: it had to have a queer hero.

The story is set in the summer of 1990 in a small Ontario town, because that’s when and where Moran started writing it, when he was 17 years old. He had his influences — his favourite authors, his strong desire to leave the town — but more than that, he “wanted to write a horror novel that would be the type of adventure a kid in any small town would love to be in.”

Moran says he’s captured the best of the teen years: the insights that you have only when you’re that age and that few people think to record. He gave the story a 17-year-old named John Daniel and a 25- or 26-year-old police officer hero named David Forester. And he gave it an antique steam engine that arrives in the night.

Then Moran went away to university, grew as a writer and as a person — he realized he’s bisexual — and when he revisited the story in his 20s, he realized that Forester is also bisexual (or should be made so).

He ended up creating several other queer characters, too, including a villain. “I wanted characters I could sympathize with but didn’t want to mimic the horror tropes I’d seen,” he says. “So, there is a queer villain, but he’s not the only queer character, so it’s not a pulpy book where the only queer characters are horrible monsters.”

Meanwhile, people are disappearing from the town, but nobody notices at first because people were already moving away in droves — it’s the recession, businesses are closing down, and dreams are dying. But Daniel and Forester soon suspect that something sinister is going on and it’s linked to an ominous train.