Interview: Carrie Laben

It’s the first Wednesday in March, so that means it’s time for another Interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This interview is with horror author (and birder!) Carrie Laben.

Carrie Laben Author Photo

Hello Carrie! I’m super excited to be interviewing you on my blog today! I’m going to start off today with the ultimate softball request: tell us a little bit about yourself! What made you want to be a writer?

Thank you! It’s a very exciting time, as I’m sure you can imagine, and I always appreciate the opportunity to get the word out about my work.

As far as wanting to be a writer: My parents had a dairy farm and I’m the oldest of seven children – I wanted a job that I could do indoors, sitting down, and no manure anywhere. But I still wanted to feel that I was producing something real and tangible and satisfying, and that narrowed the field of office jobs down quite a bit. Then there’s the fact that I just plain like writing and find it fun.

While scrolling through your Publications page on your website, I noticed that one of your hobbies happens to be bird-watching, which I think is pretty cool! What does bird-watching entail? And what attracts you to the hobby?

I like to say I’ve been birding since I was a toddler – my mom started teaching me the names of birds at the feeders when I was two or three. It’s the perfect combination of the collector’s impulse with appreciation of nature.

There’s hardly any wrong way to bird-watch, so long as you’re looking at birds (if you look at a butterfly or a frog by mistake, don’t worry, those are legit hobbies too!) Some birders travel all over the world trying to see as many species as possible. Some do ‘patch birding’ – where you try to spot the most species in your own backyard or local park. Others don’t focus on numbers but try to get a better understanding of local patterns – when the birds migrate, which species breed where, etc. If you’re interested, one great place to get more information is the blog 10,000 Birds, where I am a semi-regular guest blogger.

At the end of this month, Word Horde will be putting out your debut novel, A Hawk in the Woods. It sounds like the perfect ‘cosmic horror road-trip’ novel that we all need right now. What can you tell us about your book? How did it come to be?

The Hawk in the woods

A Hawk in the Woods is a combination of aspects of the genre that fascinate me, from folk horror to Lovecraftian cosmic horror to the quiet psychological horror that families inflict on each other down the generations – even when they’re trying to break free of the past. The main characters are twin sisters and as the story opens, one is gravely ill and the other is in jail. The reader gets to ride along as they go on the lam and confront their legacy, and also see how they grew up caught in a power struggle between their grandfather, their mother, and a community that knows there’s something just not right about the whole family.

The first seed of the novel was a folk song called The Cruel Mother, in which a woman is threatened with supernatural vengeance for a wrong she did to her children. There are a number of excellent, haunting versions available but I’m particularly fond of Emily Smith’s rendition, and Fiona Hunter’s.

A lot of young writers I talk to get discouraged with the grind (sending stories out on submission, etc.) and the constant struggle that is the publishing world. Do you have any general advice for any writers looking to get published?

For young writers in our genre in particular, my best advice is not to let yourself be boxed in. I’ve seen too many people get caught up in the notion that a few markets, editors, and awards are the end-all and be-all, and that the regard of a small handful of people is the key to success. This leads to cliquishness when things go well and despair when they don’t. Make friends, have fun, but remember that any particular corner of the genre is not the world and no one person has the power to make or break your career (not even you!) If you can’t get into some particular market read widely and try to find something that works a bit better with your style – as well as writing and revising like a fiend, of course!

As a corollary, I still tend to see the received wisdom that genre writers need to stick together because the literary establishment despises us. This is much less true than it was in the past. I went to an MFA program myself (at the University of Montana) and while it’s certainly not the best path for everyone, I shared classes with both students and professors who were not only open to genre work but doing it themselves. There was even a workshop completely dedicated to supernatural fiction, where I shared the first few chapters of Hawk and got a lot of valuable advice. So don’t wall yourself off from possibilities out of defensiveness or fear!

Let’s talk about books for a moment. What’s in your To Be Read pile right now? Any books you’re looking forward to in the future?

I’m pretty sure that my TBR pile is longer than my actual expected lifespan at this point, and I’m a fast reader! That said, some recent fiction I’m really looking forward to digging into includes Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, Mothlight by Adam Scovell, and the latest from Marlon James and S.P. Miskowski. I also read a lot of nonfiction and on that front I can’t wait to open up The Secret Lives of Glaciers by my old classmate M. Jackson, which recounts a year in the lives of Icelanders living on the front lines of climate change. That’s going to be the real-life horror that the next generation has to live with, if we don’t act fast.

Where can people find you online?

My website is at http://www.carrielaben.com, which is nice and easy to remember. I also have a Twitter presence, @pinguinus, and a Facebook author page (https://www.facebook.com/Carrie-Laben-2256476324631738/) if you want up-to-the-minute updates.


Don’t forget to purchase Carrie Laben’s debut novel on the 26th of March! Thank you for joining me for this month’s Interview, and I’ll see everyone again soon!

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