Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Interview with Laird Barron

Laird Barron is one of the most exciting new (well, new to me) writers I have encountered in years (thanks, Steve!). He writes horror stories, a genre I want to love, but so often loathe. Unlike so many others, his tales are psychologically rich, well-written, and filled with nightmarish images. His Imago Sequence collection includes the fantastic The Procession of the Black Sloth story referenced below. You can also find his stories in anthologies like Poe and Lovecraft Unbound. Don't fret if you have already greedily consumed all these tales and can't find more. Next year, Night Shade Books is publishing a new collection of his tales called Occultation.

I recently requested an interview with the author and he was kind enough to agree.

1) What is it that attracts you to writing horror stories? What can the genre offer that others can't?

Hello, Tripp, and thank you for the interview.

My tastes are eclectic -- I enjoy everything from Michener ‘s historical doorstops to New Wave science fiction. There’s a special place in my heart for procedurals and crime novels. Gorky Park, Smilla’s Sense of Snow and Robert Parker’s Spenser series are some of my favorites.

The thing horror offers is the frisson that comes with fear and dread and visceral shock; frightful imagery appeals to our lizard brain in a way that is profound and immediate. Horror is an important and vital art form -- it’s rooted in primitive emotions, the animal self that resists sublimation. We’ve not evolved sufficiently as a species to turn our backs on the lizard, the wolf, the ape. Our ineluctable fascination with the gruesome, the violent, the macabre, is a gentle reminder of that.

2) How do you account for the continuing interest in and exploration of Lovecraft's mythos? What is it like to write a Mythos story?

Lovecraftian and the best Lovecraft-influenced fiction explores a mysterium tremendum et fascinans. The Mythos evokes a sense of wonder. Dreadful enigmas, the contemplation of cosmic forces, exploration of the Other at its most inscrutable and alien captivates us because of our relentless curiosity, our insatiable desire to see what vistas lie beyond the next curve in the road, over the next hill.

I’ve only written a couple of pure Mythos tales, but indeed much of my work has been inspired by Lovecraft’s cosmic horror as well as several authors who’ve contributed to the canon. It’s always enlightening to put together a Lovecraftian story. I dig deep into the subconscious well, stirring up the muck and the sediment, so to speak. There are ancient artifacts buried among the roots of the dreaming mind. I never know what I’ll uncover.

3) Your excellent story "The Procession of the Black Sloth" is driven by Asian myth, but also appears to be influenced by film. How does cinema influence your writing?

Yes, the story was inspired by Chinese mythology, particularly that of the Eighteen Hells. Cinema in general counts among my chief influences, especially aspects of cinematography and script. Asian cinema has been a revelation. Mood, pacing, dialogue -- the higher quality Asian films exhibit a rawness that Hollywood eschews. Takashi Miike, for example, imbues his pictures with edginess and a kind of tainted eroticism. He’s a master manipulator. He injects absurdity at precisely the right moment. Even at his darkest he’s playful after a macabre fashion and these elements complicate what are otherwise simple narratives.

4) In this age of smaller and smaller attention spans, do you think short stories will see a resurgence?

I don’t know. Novels reign supreme. Short story collections remain a tough sell in New York. Fortunately the independent and small presses champion the short form and there appears to be a loyal core audience, especially in the horror/weird categories. It’s also heartening to note that Ellen Datlow has steadily put forth anthologies from Dark Horse, Tor, and Solaris.

There’s also lot of great short work on the internet -- ezines such as Clarkesworld and Chizine provide high quality content. If not a resurgence, at least we’re witnessing a healthy status quo.

5) Who is the one author right now – regardless of genre – that everyone should be talking about but they are not?

Stephen Graham Jones. He’s written novels such as Demon Theory and All the Beautiful Sinners and appeared in more literary magazines than you can shake a stick at. His latest collection The Ones that Got Away will appear in 2010. His work encompasses a broad spectrum of genre categories, including the various manifestations of horror and dark fantasy. He’s a fantastic stylist. His stories are the kind that stick in your mind for weeks. Jones will shock and amaze you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this. Very cool.

Brack said...

I note that the author grew up in Alaska (according to the interweb, anyway), which seems like fruitful ground for artistic inspiration.

I would be interested to hear if there were any specific personal experiences that LB has had - in Alaska or otherwise - that have shaped him as an artist.