A red-tinged painting of a mouth open in a scream, with insects flying out of it. A blurb in the corner says "A genuinely terrifying nightmare -- N.K. Jemisin."

Chuck Tingle Has Written One of the Most Important Horror Novels of 2023

The two-time Hugo finalist Chuck Tingle has long been a beloved writer in queer geek spaces, known for irreverent erotica like Space Raptor Butt Invasion and Buttception: A Butt Within A Butt Within A Butt. Now, in his new horror novel Camp Damascus, Tingle takes a deep dive into the moral decay at the heart of conservative Christianity.

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Cover of Camp Damascus by Chuck Tingle
(Tor Nightfire)

The novel centers on Rose Darling, a high school senior who seems to be the perfect Christian girl. She’s all in on Jesus, close with her parents, and eager to live a righteous life. She recites the tenets of her church whenever she’s in doubt, and her mother quizzes her on how to bring wayward neighbors back into the flock.

Everything changes when Rose sees a terrifying apparition in the woods: a ghastly-looking figure wearing a red polo shirt. Soon, Rose is plagued by demonic entities, horrific murders, and swarms of insects. That’s when hidden memories begin to surface, and Rose discovers a terrifying secret at the heart of her community.

Conversion therapy, which seeks to stamp the queerness out of people, has a long and sordid history, and the conversion camps run by Evangelicals in the U.S., with their rustic veneers and hidden psychological torture, are a natural setting for horror. As we’ve seen in stories like Soft and Quiet and Shiny Happy People, conservative Evangelical communities broadcast love and light while hiding violence and moral rot. So many horror stories—The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby—pit Christians against demonic forces, but Camp Damascus reveals where the real demons are, both literal and supernatural.

Rose, being on the autism spectrum, has a doubly interstitial identity: Not only does she not “love right,” according to her church leaders, but her relentless curiosity makes her a liability in a community that thrives on ignorance and obedience. After decades of storytelling that has written off and infantilized neurodivergent people, Camp Damascus sparkles with the beauty of Rose’s autistic mind. It also gives Tingle a chance to show off his own encyclopedic knowledge, with the novel drawing from influences as far-flung as cognitive psychology and medieval demonology.

Camp Damascus takes its name from the road to Damascus, on which the Apostle Paul was converted to Christianity. The characters in the novel see the camp as a place where wayward queer kids are converted back to godly, straight members of the community. However, the novel is really about another kind of conversion: Rose’s transformation from a prisoner living half a life to a courageous and fully realized human being. It’s the kind of conversion that American culture badly needs, and perhaps Chuck Tingle’s gift for horror can show us the way.

(featured image: Tor Nightfire)

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Julia Glassman
Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and has been covering feminism and media since 2007. As a staff writer for The Mary Sue, Julia covers Marvel movies, folk horror, sci fi and fantasy, film and TV, comics, and all things witchy. Under the pen name Asa West, she's the author of the popular zine 'Five Principles of Green Witchcraft' (Gods & Radicals Press). You can check out more of her writing at <a href="https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/">https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/.</a>