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Old Leech Speaks: An Interview with Laird Barron
By Julian Drury
Laird Barron is among this era’s most gifted conjurers of the weird tale. Playing heavy on Lovecraftian and noir horror, he has created his own terrifying mythos that invites readers to both shudder and perhaps grin in an ironic way. Laird Barron allows us to glance into mundane settings, with gritty characters, who uncover the true horrors just beyond the senses of mankind. He has several books published, including the short story collections The Imago Sequence, Occultation, The Beautiful Thing that Awaits Us All, as well as the novels The Light is the Darkness and my personal favorite The Croning.
I can say Laird Barron has been a huge inspiration in my reading and writing, and many others as well. He was kind enough to take some time to have a brief discussion with us at Quail Bell Magazine, sharing his thoughts on various topics ranging from Lovecraft to his writing endeavors.
Thanks again, Laird.
When were you first inspired to write weird/horror fiction? Who or what was your best inspiration?
I began writing around age five. I suppose it was in my blood. Roger Zelazny was an early inspiration and continues to influence me all these years gone. Lovecraft is an obvious one. Much stronger though is Robert E Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Edgar Allan Poe. I have been terribly remiss over the years in neglecting to acknowledge him. Part of the problem is, Poe is so damned ubiquitous that he fades into woodwork of his own making. He’s the shadow who lurks behind the modern macabre.
What is the lure of Lovecraft to you? Why does Lovecraft’s fiction endure the way it has, in your opinion?
Lovecraft’s vision has always intrigued me. I don’t mind his baroque style. But it’s the way he grapples with the alien and the other, for good or ill—and lamentably it’s for ill all too often. One needn’t condone HPL’s views to engage with him. Nor must one love his prose to admire the virtuosity of his imagination. He endures because his preoccupations are timeless.
I always enjoyed your gritty take on the Cthulhu Mythos. In a way you seem to have created your own parallel mythos that shares much of the same themes, though tends to focus on more average-Joe characters. What are the best aspects of writing in this way? Are your tales inspired by events from your life, or is there something more going on here?
That old saw, write what you know, is close to the mark, but off-center. What you know, what you experience, should inform your writing. If you have had an unusual life full of strange adventures, flaunt it. Between blue collar jobs, training sled dogs, and traveling extensively in the wilderness, I met unusual people and lived an unusual lifestyle. A wide swath of my characters are drawn from individuals I’ve known. I’m sympathetic to hard bitten folks because they work hard and tend to honor their commitments, from stubbornness if nothing else.
Such a past isn’t necessary. An author can succeed with limited experience as long as he or she possesses empathy. Pay attention to the people around you; listen to their stories.
Do you consider yourself a strictly genre writer? What (if any) classification could you place on your style?
I’m a writer who specializes in horror, crime, and noir. That’s a big, big umbrella.
Why is Cthulhu such an icon? What does this cosmic beast represent to you, and how has he affected your dreams?
People need symbols. Cthulhu is an interesting case—it’s definitively massive and couched in secret history of the world. It’s a silhouette that allows dread and uncertainty to bleed through without a full reveal. Cthulhu seldom does anything directly. Agents, followers, and lesser beings enact its will. So it’s more of an idea, a threat. Horror is usually most thrilling during the threat phase while there’s yet some mystery to the proceedings. Cthulhu doesn’t visit me. I’ve dreamed of gargantuan lizards and toddlers.
The dynamic of publishing weird and/or horror fiction these days seems to be changing. Do you think that this genre has become more accessible to wider audiences, or is it still marginalized to a certain degree? What is your experience in this field?
As usual, writing for a living is a tough gig. Television, video games, and a diverse array of physical media presents stiff competition. If the weird genre has become more accessible that’s because more authors and filmmakers are introducing a wider spectrum of interpretations of the mode. More publishers are taking risks. Basically, we’re seeing more of everything, not only horror and weird. Nonetheless, I hold out hope that the success of True Detective and the imminent return of Twin Peaks signal a positive, long-term trend.
Can you recommend any authors for our readers? Who are your contemporary favorites in the weird/horror field today?
I’ll confine myself to a list of five authors and a specific work by each. John Langan, The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies—he reworks classic monsters like nobody’s business. Paul Tremblay, A Head Full of Ghosts—a terrific entry in the possession genre; his work in general has defined excellence in the genre for a long time. Stephen Graham Jones, After the People Lights Have Gone Off—one of the elite horror writers alive. Livia Llewellyn, Engines of Desire—does sex, violence, and weirdness with panache. Yoko Ogawa, Revenge—her weird is truly weird.
What does Laird Barron do on Halloween? Any cosmic abominations you plan to summon?
I prefer to lie low on the major holidays. I’ll likely shut off the lights as soon as decently possible, eat all the candy, drink some booze, and screen Carpenter’s The Thing yet again.
Last but not least, I would like to thank you on behalf of Quail Bell Magazine, for taking time to share your thoughts with our readers. My final question will pertain to your current and upcoming work. Where can our readers expect to find more of Laird Barron and his fantastic phantasms in the near future?
Thank you for the chat.
Numerous short stories are scheduled to appear over the next nine months in anthologies such as The Gods of H.P. Lovecraft, Limbus III and Licence Expired: The Unauthorized James Bond. A novella, X’s for Eyes, lands in December from JournalStone and Bizarro Pulp Press. The biggest news: JournalStone is publishing my next collection, Swift to Chase, due autumn of 2016.
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