Recently, Puzzle Box Horror had the privilege of speaking with horror author Laird Barron about his life, his work, and his influences. Laird, an expat Alaskan, is the author of several books, including The Imago Sequence and Other Stories; Swift to Chase; and Blood Standard. Currently, Barron lives in the Rondout Valley of New York State and is at work on tales about the evil that men do.
Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?
I started writing as a kid. I was into science fiction and fantasy–Star Trek, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings. The typical pop culture stuff in the 1970s. When my family relocated from the suburbs to the wilderness, things took a darker turn. I enjoyed telling stories to my younger brothers. We spent many a winter night alone with snow and wind pressing against the cabin and our parents off to town. My siblings were particularly riveted by the spookier tales. Eventually, that translated to my writing horror. I experimented with high fantasy and various kinds of science fiction. Ultimately, it became clear that my affinity for the macabre outstripped everything else.
Has growing up in Alaska influenced your writing at all?
She left a mark. With rare exceptions, I didn’t write about Alaska until more recently. I’d gained distance but needed time. The geography and climate have always strongly influenced my work. Alaska was all about rough edges and extremes. The weather, the people, the swing between months of light and darkness…
I haven’t been back since ’96, but I dream of it often. It’s a lot of psychic pressure heaving against the bulwark of a dam. Past few years, I’ve vented more of it into my stories. Still haven’t decided how I feel about that turn of events except to acknowledge what’s done is done.
You’ve written a wealth of short stories. Do you have any favorites?
Over time, a writer’s career reveals a sort of fossil record of their obsessions. Twenty years on, I’ve published enough stories to see them as delineating several different modes. The crime/noir mode; the contemporary weird mode; the science fiction/fantasy mode. First person posthumous… Most of it horror-inflected. Which is a roundabout way of saying, it’s tough to objectively determine a favorite or most “successful” piece of work because there’s a real apples and oranges element. But…
Personal favorite: “Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees.”
Creepiest: (and for me, creepy is paramount) A forthcoming story I sold to Ellen Datlow called “Tiptoe” for her Shirley Jackson tribute anthology—When Things Get Dark.
Are there any anthologies or magazines that you are particularly excited to have been published in?
I’m grateful to every last editor who has made a place for me in their magazines and anthologies.
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction set the tone for my career. It was, and might still be, the Holy Grail for writers tilling the science fiction/fantasy/horror fields. The heavyweights were featured there since 1949. King’s Dark Tower was serialized in those pages. Zelazny and Bradbury wrote stories for the mag. I’ve only become more aware of the importance of selling my first handful of pro stories to Gordon Van Gelder—two of which were cover novellas. There are world-renowned bestselling novelists who moan and groan to this day because they were never able to crack the ToC. So, yeah, a big, big deal.
Penning introductions and afterwords for collectors’ editions of Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan; Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280; Peter Straub’s KOKO; and Michael Shea’s The Autopsy & Other Tales.
I’m also proud to have work reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s anthologies. You’re doing all right when Ellen takes an interest in your writing.
What scares you the most?
The declining state of the world should be enough to scare anyone.
What/who are some of your major influences?
Now, there’s a topic. My blood type is labeled “the ecstasy of influence.” I break down this incomplete list into three stages of life.
Adolescent: DM’s Guide, especially Appendix N; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Robert E. Howard; Roger Zelazny; Stephen King; Clive Barker; Edgar Allan Poe; Robert Service; Louis L’Amour; etc, etc.
Adult: Shirley Jackson; Jack Vance; Karl Edward Wagner; Robert Parker; John D MacDonald; Anne Sexton; Peter Straub; Michael Shea; Charles Simic; Mark Strand; etc, etc.
Old Man Winter: Livia Llewellyn; Stephen Graham Jones; John Langan; Paul Tremblay; S.P. Miskowski; Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; etc, etc.
We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?
Like plenty of other people, I’ve my share of regrets. Career missteps aren’t among them, happily. By the time I started publishing, I’d spent twenty-odd years preparing for the day. I’d done my research and had a clear vision of the writer I wanted to be. That and some career advice from Gordon Van Gelder put me in a decent position.
A sentiment I carry from childhood? If you want to make art, make art. If your family and friends are supportive, wonderful. If not, fuck ‘em. The world pays lip service to pursuing your dreams, but the cold reality is that lots of people will act as living roadblocks to your dreams. The worst of the worst will profess to hold your best interests at heart. Don’t let them steal your fire.
Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?
I’m working on a dark fantasy/horror novel and a handful of stories for upcoming anthologies. If all goes well, I’ll also hand my agent the next horror collection late this year, or early 2022.
If you’re interested in learning more about Laird Barron, check out his website at www.lairdbarron.wordpress.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@LairdBarron) and Goodreads (@Laird_Barron). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.
Ben’s love for horror began at a young age when he devoured books like the Goosebumps series and the various scary stories of Alvin Schwartz. Growing up he spent an unholy amount of time binge watching horror films and staying up till the early hours of the morning playing games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Since then his love for the genre has only increased, expanding to include all manner of subgenres and mediums. He firmly believes in the power of horror to create an imaginative space for exploring our connection to each other and the universe, but he also appreciates the pure entertainment of B movies and splatterpunk fiction.
Nowadays you can find Ben hustling his skills as a freelance writer and editor. When he’s not building his portfolio or spending time with his wife and two kids, he’s immersing himself in his reading and writing. Though he loves horror in all forms, he has a particular penchant for indie authors and publishers. He is a proud supporter of the horror community and spends much of his free time reviewing and promoting the books/comics you need to be reading right now!