It’s just now September, which means we are arms length away from autumn. But summer isn’t done yet, so let’s fill some of the time with a new Author interview! Every month I’ll be interviewing authors and creators about their newest works, their lives, and what influences them. This month I’m chatting with the king of horror-noir, Laird Barron!
Photo Credit by Ellen Datlow
Hello Laird! Thank you for joining me for this interview! For my first question, I want to go back to your origin story. What made you want to be a writer? What lead you to lay out words on paper for a living?
Hi, Logan. Thank you for the conversation.
I was interested in writing before I knew the alphabet. Wrote three novels by my early teens and filled a few boxes with stories, story fragments, and poetry. The idea of appearing in anthologies and magazines alongside my favorite authors was an ambition that floated around on the periphery. I recall poring over Harlan Ellison’s introductions to his Dangerous Visions books and was impressed that so many famous authors corresponded or hung out. That collegiality seemed pretty swell to a kid living in isolation in Alaska. Writing as a means to earn money didn’t coalesce until I actually started selling stories in 2000.
Your new novel Black Mountain released back in May. Both that book and your previous one (Blood Standard) feature ex-mob enforcer turned P.I., Isaiah Coleridge. When creating this character, did you draw inspiration from other books or films of the genre?
I’ve written hardboiled characters for many years to maneuver myself into position to depict Isaiah Coleridge. He’s not a regular person, even by pulp standards. Achilles, Beowulf, Hercules, and Krishna, among others, sleep in his blood. Hunters from the Stone Age dream in his hindbrain. I’ve long thought Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction and Hawk from the Spenser series were fascinating. Some of my inspiration for Coleridge’s baseline aesthetic draws from that well, and the wells of John D. MacDonald, Roger Zelazny, and on the darker end of the first-person narrator spectrum, Jim Thompson.
On the film front, Takashi Miike’s general tone is influential. Peckinpah and Bergman, same. Watch it all and be awed. Michael Caine’s Carter in Get Carter. Peter Fonda was such an effective force of banal evil in The Limey. Refn’s Only God Forgives and Too Old to Die Young are way up there. I’m anticipating Destroyer with Nicole Kidman
As I read both Blood Standard and Black Mountain, I felt like I could see the groundwork for future threats that Isaiah may come up against. I’m excited to see how it all plays out! Will we be seeing more of Isaiah in the near future?
I’m working on the third chapter in Coleridge’s saga. It’s called Worse Angels and will hit shelves in 2020. He glimpsed the darkness that underlies the daylight world in Black Mountain. Unfortunately, the darkness has also seen him.
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?
I don’t have any advice that isn’t out there. Here’s how I look at it.
The places where you are really, really hot to get published are rejecting 98 to 99% of all comers. A significant number of writers can’t sell a second story or a second or third book to the same publisher. It’s a game designed to make you quit. Learn to manage your expectations accordingly. You’ll be happier.
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 have read or am reading manuscripts by several authors. I’m also revisiting crime and noir novels from my youth. Chandler, MacDonald, Leonard. J. Todd Scott and Hilary Davidson have excellent crime novels out. Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss is a classic I overlooked until recently. Glad to have rectified that. Will be switching gears and hitting up thrillers soon—Martin Cruz Smith and Frederick Forsyth come to mind.
Last question: if you woke up tomorrow in a Laird Barron story, how do you think you would fare? If you came across a copy of The Black Guide, would you take it home with you? And how long would it take you to abandon your place at the Frazier Estate Apartments?
A Laird Barron story is merely a possible outcome of everyday existence. We have a border collie. Smart as a whip. I frequently hide somewhere in the house and she searches for me. The best trick is to challenge her a little. So, I hide when she is unaware and then wait for her to notice.
The other night I had the great idea to crouch in the dark under the dining room table. I waited patiently. Five minutes, ten minutes, now I’m a bit uncomfortable, fifteen…I figured out later that doggo and girlfriend had gone off and fallen asleep. Somebody hiding under a table to surprise his or her dog might be a Laird Barron story detail.
Yet another insightful interview! I’d like to thank Laird for his time, and thank you dear reader for joining me! If you want to pick up any of Laird Barron’s work, go through his website here: firstname.lastname@example.org.
And if interviews are your thing, please check out the rest of my Interview series!