photo courtesy of JD Busch
I’ve always been a fan of finding out about the creator behind the creations. Most of my favorite writers seem like people I’d love to read about, even if they didn’t write compelling stories. King, Barker, Crichton, Ketchum, Oates, and look, these are just the ones off the top of my head.
The thing about Laird Barron is, he’s one of those writer’s who makes you want to write. Barron is one of those people that makes you want to create, and that goes out of his way to spread the word about other writers, and influences on his work.
A lot of people may mistakenly assume what I’m talking about when I say “people I’d love to read about,” in reference to Barron means I’m talking about his years of dog racing, or the growing up in Alaska part. And here’s where I spill the beans: yeah, that’s certainly intriguing, but I don’t mean that. Oh, of course, when I first heard about his upbringing, his history, I read up on it. But, this research was in the same way I’d read up about any writer. I like to learn what people have done, what has informed their art.
What I mean, specifically, is when you hear the man in an interview, he seems like a cool person, a good dude. He seems like a man who doesn’t let his reputation go to his head. And make no fucking mistake, Barron will soon be an even larger looming shadow over the horizon, being the genre giant he is.
But fuck all the genre stuff. Fuck all the stuff about how he combines genres, and cross-blends, and how he has this sensibility, and how this, and that, and on, and on. No, I say, let’s strip all the genre bullshit for right now, and look at Laird Barron as a writer.
Simply put, Laird Barron is an incredible writer, and it doesn’t matter worth a damn what he chooses to write about. He has a quality about his work, where you can pick any page at random, and usually find something wonderfully poetic, or frightening, or funny. The point is, the man can move you, and what more could you ask for in a writer?
So, of course, I chose to ask him about swears, Hello Kitty, and made terrible Old Leech puns.
Have you always considered yourself very science-minded, or is it something you have to work at for your stories?
I’m an abstract thinker. Nuts and bolts, granular science frustrates me. The big stuff, where it transcends math and morphs into conceptual fantasy, is more my speed. I’m less interested in cold facts and more so in potentiality.
Favorite pizza topping?
Skis or a snowboard?
Skis. I’m no good on either, but skis appeal to my sense of tradition.
When each was in their primes, who do you think would win in a fight, Cormac McCarthy, or James Dickey?
Two of my favorite writers. Both gave a lot of thought to violence. Dickey was a big, mean guy. His cameo in Deliverance? Holy shit. Menacing. Look at those enormous murderer’s hands. He’d be difficult. But maybe, maybe they’d belt some tequila and hold each other close to a Hank Williams song.
Connery. Accept no substitutes.
“Don’t Fear the Reaper,” Blue Oyster Cult; “Buenos Tardes, Amigo” Ween; “Big Iron” Marty Robbins; “Sixteen Tons” Tennessee Ernie Ford; “Ruby” Roger Miller
Favorite Bond songs?
“Live and Let Die,” and “Nobody Does It Better”
What if your doppelgänger was actually you from the future? What does that even, like, mean, man?
Past selves are actually doubles of your future selves.
If dogs could talk, what do you think they’d say?
Nothing. They know too much. We’d be forced to silence them forever.
You seem to have a love of art? Goya, in particular. What drew you to art, and incorporating it into your stories?
My mother was an artist. She had a lot of natural talent and I wish she’d been encouraged to cultivate it. Sometimes the trick in solving a problem is to look away and refocus— the answer is always there if you’re patient enough to reframe the question. Photography and painting, as examples, music would be another, distract my consciousness and permit my subconscious to do the heavy lifting.
Would you be upset if I tried to get a campaign off the ground, which is essentially a series of rip-off Chuck Norris jokes, except with an emphasis on cosmic horror, with your name involved?
No, but Chuck might be.
Follow up: I heard Old Leech traveled to another dimension, after one time when you drank a bottle of expensive Scotch, and punched it in its slimy face, after it insulted your dancing abilities.
Is this true?
Old Leech would not insult my dancing abilities.
Have you heard about the story in which the children of Cheech Marin have to smoke a lot of strange pot, and put on a rock show, to pay for their rent?
It’s entitled “The Children of Old Cheech: Up in Ineffable Smoke.”
Please send applicable royalties to my agent.
Do you ever go to a gun range?
Who do you think would win in a fight, Johnny Cope (from Hand of Glory) or Conrad Navarro (from The Light is the Darkness)?
Navarro is an immortal. Lacking divine intervention or some supernatural edge from the Corning Sisters, Cope would be up Shit Creek if it came to blows. On the other hand, Jessica Mace would find a way to destroy both of them.
You ever watched The X-Files? It occurred to me the other day most of that show was filmed in the woods of the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, specifically.
I enjoyed “The X-Files,” particularly the monster-of-the-week episodes. One of those shows that isn’t very good (and the writers had no problem ripping off source material), yet succeeds due to a miraculous chemistry between the leads and to a lesser extent the supporting cast. It’s a classic.
You ever thought about writing a fantasy novel at some point down the road?
I trunked a grimdark fantasy novel sixteen years ago. Fantasy is an appealing genre. It is the mother of science fiction and horror and it kept me alive as a kid. I’ve begun working on a weird, fantastical alternate Earth. Paula Guran recently acquired a short story from that setting. I plan to write more. If these are well-received I’d like to take a swing at writing a novel based on characters and places in that universe.
Would you ever put poems into a short story collection, and or release a collection of poetry?
Comedy is hard. So is poetry. No to mixing poems into a short story collection. I’d need to get better at poetry before contemplating a book of them. I love the discipline and years ago wrote a significant number of poems. It improved my prose and sharpened how I think about prose.
How do I know you aren’t in cahoots with your doppelgänger, and he isn’t actually answering this right now? In fact, how do I know he doesn’t handle all of your public appearance stuff?
I might be the doppelganger’s doppelganger. It gets confusing for everyone.
Do you believe in any cryptids, i.e. The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, etc.?
I’m skeptical regarding Bigfoot and Nessie. Deep sea cryptids and cryptids purported to dwell in jungle regions seem more plausible. I’m open to the notion of interdimensional entities— ghosts, or what we call ghosts. Reality is a band on a radio dial. Sometimes there’s overlap.
Would you ever think about owning land, so you could change your title to: Laird Barron, Land Baron?
My name pretty much means that already. I’ll take some land, though. A farmhouse near the Catskills would do fine.
Do you think people will figure out I just use random questions to pad out my interviews, amidst completely legitimate, in fact not random at all questions?
It’s more a question of whether they care.
Better band, Foghat, or Styx?
“Foghat,” all day.
When it comes to swearing I don’t play favorites.
If you could be any monster, which would you be?
Wait, does that mean… uh, nevermind.
Have you ever thought about writing a Western novel, with no horror or science fiction elements?
I’ve considered writing in many genres. My grandfather was a failed novelist. Westerns were his favorite. If I do it, and I just might, it would be a sprawling epic in the spirit of Leone and Peckinpah, full of bloody revenge, heaving bosoms, and men who love gold and horses and guns and come to bad ends. And there’d be something fucking weird going on in the periphery. Sorry.
Hello Kitty, or Teletubbies?
Why are most post it notes yellow? Is it because they’re easier to find? Or, because usually, you write completely mad things on them, and yellow is the color of madness.
Post it notes originally came in pink, blue, and green. Yellow post-it notes were discovered bundled in variety packs several years later. No one knows the exact details of the yellow post-it note’s provenance. A detective specializing in industrial security reported that a miss-filed USPS pickup address matched an abandoned corporate office complex of Gale Research in Florida. The detective’s voluminous report was recorded on several hundred yellow post-it notes stuck to every available interior surface of a rusted out Airstream trailer. The detective is unavailable for comment.
Damn. That’s heavy.
You ever want to be in a rock band? I know I did/ still want to.
No, that’s never been on my wish list.
How the Hell do you write for twelve hours a day? Do you do breaks every couple of hours or so? Break down a twelve-hour writing day for us?
Five or six hours a day goes into fiction. The rest is non-fiction and editing. It’s every day, week after week, month after month. Bukowski said to let it kill me, so I did.
Maybe it’s best to frame my life (and I don’t separate writing from life) this way: You move somewhere remote and primitive. Every day, you look out your window and there’s a mountain. In the winter it has a snow cover. In the summer it doesn’t. The mountain is always there and after a while you become accustomed to its presence. After a longer while, you accept its presence. Sometimes a visitor will say, “My god! Look at that mountain!” And you won’t know what the fuck they are talking about for a second.
Your blog has a lot of great advice for writers. Do you think the best advice for a writer is simply to write, and ultimately to do what works for each writer individually?
Prescriptive advice may be fatal if swallowed. Best practices? Read widely, read critically. Everybody always lists the dead white guy gallery of literary inspiration. Take a look at what people are doing right now—Stephen Graham Jones, Livia Llewellyn, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, Jeff VanderMeer, Sofia Samatar, S.P Miskowski, Usman Malik, David Nickle, Victor LaValle, Kelly Link, Anna Tambour, Adam Nevill, Gemma Files, and Ian Rogers. And on and on.
Write. Train your subconscious to provide material. You train it by feeding it and heeding even the craziest ideas that surface. Always be writing, even when you’re not. The youth I wasted makes me a better writer today. The hours you spend living and not bolted to a desk are important. Toughen up. If you’re serious, you’ll never be tough enough. Toughen up anyhow.
Possibly, there are shortcuts to getting published. There isn’t a shortcut to writing anything worth a damn.
Thanks for agreeing to do this interview. Anything coming out soon you want to plug, and or your doppelgänger wants to plug?
My next collection, “Swift to Chase,” will appear in mid to late 2016. This one is largely set in Alaska. In addition to stories of ultra-ghouls, genius loci vampires, Black Dogs, and black magicians and their retinues of flat affect psychopaths, it gathers several tales in the Jessica Mace saga, including an original slasher novella about her parents during their senior year in high school. Meanwhile, keep an eye out over the next year for around seventeen new stories in anthologies such as “Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond”; “Autumn Cthulhu”; “I Am the Abyss”; “The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft,” and “Seize the Night.”