An interview with Bram Stoker Award-winning author Laird Barron

Sean M. Thompson recently sat down with Laird Barron, the Bram Stoker Award-winning author who inspired our Shirley Jackson Award-nominated anthology The Children of Old Leech: A Tribute to the Carnivorous Cosmos of Laird Barron, to ask him a few questions.

How did it feel to hear that Ross and Word Horde wanted to publish a collection in homage to your work?

I wasn’t keen on it initially. However, I trust Ross. He and Justin Steele worked hard to put the anthology together and avoid pastiche. The contributing authors wrote great stories. It was a humbling experience and altogether fascinating to see what bits and pieces of my universe they responded to. The anthology succeeded, so all’s well, et cetera.


What do you think the role of genre is in fiction?

Genre is a default, a convention. You start with horror as a broad concept and that’s genre. Then you subdivide and subdivide, or you strike out into other territory. For an author, it’s the beginning of a conversation. For editors and publishers and booksellers, it’s often the end of a conversation.

What scares you?

My dog stood at the top of the steps yesterday, deciding. After a while she limped down and we went outside. She trotted around the yard once, then collapsed in a patch of sun and looked at me and panted. Her eyes are getting a blue tint and her face is going white. I couldn’t egg her into playing like we used to do. Back in the house, she drank some water, curled up on the couch in my office and began to snore. I sat for a long time, adding the numbers, moving them around, looking for loopholes—people years versus dog years, what I have got left versus what she has left. I couldn’t make it add up to anything equitable.

Do you have anything in particular you like to do during the fall season?

Late August through October is my favorite stretch of the year. As I write this, I’m living in the countryside in the Hudson Valley. There are massive stands of sycamore around the house, a dairy farm across the road, and farther on, fields, streams and foothills of the Catskills. Way back in the day, this was the season I’d return home from the cannery or salmon processor and start cart training my team of sled dogs. I’d hook them up to my old Ford truck or a four-wheeler and we’d cruise for miles on back country roads. These days, long walks through farmland suffices, but I admit, the smell of September dampness and cold dirt still gets me.

Would you consider a hip, new iteration of your infamous cosmic monster-deity: Young Leechy?

I think the Cartoon Network should be brought in on this.

What’s your favorite dog from a novel?

Buck from The Call of the Wild. I’m also partial to Blood from A Boy and His Dog.

What’s the scariest part of where you currently reside in upstate New York? Is it John Langan’s bear hugs? (optional to answer second part of question)

I am nimble enough to evade John’s bear hugs. It’s between him and Paul Tremblay now.

Nothing is particularly scary about the Hudson Valley, although I have a lot of exploring to do. Closing in on four years since I moved here from the west. The geography (old towns surrounded by dense forest; mountains, rivers, caves…) appeals to me as does the rich history. There’s a distinct sense of wildness at the edge of civilization. It will influence my writing in years to come. And I hope some of that will be scary.

Garrett Cook reads “Hello, Handsome” from Giallo Fantastique

Today is September 30, the 127th anniversary of one of the most brutal and audacious crimes in history, the Jack the Ripper murders known as the Double Event. The first Word Horde anthology, Tales of Jack the Ripper, explored this terrible crime in horrific detail, contemplating in multiple stories just what it is that drives someone to murder. Is it something within? Or is it something else entirely?

And so, as summer turns to fall and Halloween approaches, we thought we’d share a tale of murder and mayhem with you all. One that confronts that question head-on. With gloves off. Or on, as the case may be. Here is Garrett Cook’s “Hello, Handsome,” from Giallo Fantastique. Read live, with musical accompaniment by Erin Jane Laroue. Turn down the lights, sit back, and get ready for terror.

Photo by Nick Giampetro

Photo of Garrett Cook and Erin Jane Laroue courtesy of Nick Giampetro. Recorded live at The Hour that Stretches at the Jade Lounge, Portland, OR. Special thanks to Edward Morris.

Giallo Fantastique edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Click here to listen.

An interview with J. M. McDermott, author of We Leave Together

Recently, Sean M. Thompson had a chance to talk with J. M. McDermott about his Dogsland novel, We Leave Together.

For the readers who might not be aware, tell us about your fantasy series, the third book of which in the series is We Leave Together?

I lost an uncle many, many years ago to HIV. He was gay. As an adult, years later, right around 2005, 2006, I was living in Euless, TX. The Hurst-Euless-Bedford Metroplex was not exactly always a place that was very friendly to people who were not part of the mainstream religious right of our culture, in the places where I often found myself among the bookstores and bars and coffee shops. Creationism was openly contested and scoffed upon. Megachurches that spouted hate from the pulpit and contested science grew and grew, with evangelists all over trying to pull more people in.

When dating someone, I’d casually bring up Creationism in conversation as a form of self-protection against destructive anti-Science ideologies.

At the time, I imagined what it must be like to be gay in a world openly hostile to that way of being, and having to stay sort of hidden about it. Going to work, going to the store, going home, and always with the specter of the revelation containing an edge of potential violence: verbal abuse or even genuine, physical danger — and God save the transgendered person discovered in parts of that town!

I imagined back into history, and across history, where for so long so many people didn’t even have the word to express what they felt about other people, knowing only the fear of being discovered. I imagined the police officers going around and raiding gay bars, beating up homeless gay and lesbian people who had been kicked out of their homes — rendered homeless — for just being themselves. People around me at the time — not my friends, mind, just people — talked openly with such pride in their voice about the poison of homosexuality and all sorts of awful, spitefulness. And, they talked this way while the very people they openly reviled were probably just a few tables down in the coffee shops, going to a different, more tolerant church around the corner, and/or sitting at the edge of the bar. Hatred is such an awful thing. I hate hatred.

So, I can go on at length about this, because this subject can piss me off something fierce, and I carried that anger quietly for a long time. My uncle was a good person, and he didn’t deserve to be called all kinds of poison, and he didn’t deserve to die of such a poison as that awful disease, and to be separated from his family and community because of their hatred of him. He passed in ‘93, when I was just 13, and I was only just learning the meaning of the word that people called him in my cloistered childhood. Again, as an adult and an author, that was in the neighborhood of 2005, 2006, gay marriage was not even something the average person would know about, much less consider viable to become a law of this land. Tolerance was just not the way things were done, then, for a large portion of our country. It wasn’t even imagined. The only thing that was imagined was the evil and sin of the orientation.

I figured with fantasy I could make this imaginary poison real. I could invent a world where there were people who actually had this poison in them as infectious as others seem to think the gay is, in its way. And, as I would reveal in the books, it wouldn’t matter if the demon stain was real, because they’d still be humans. As well, treating people like monsters has a great way of creating monsters out of people. I thought about the larger message of tolerance, and injustice, and how cities and communities eat themselves, and how it is all connected in cycles of misery and suffering.

I thought that if I wrote about two gay men in love, the people who most need to read about the humanity of the other would assume the book wasn’t for them. So, I wrote a heterosexual love story, instead, with Jona, the disgraced lord of a noble house fallen into poverty and ruin, and a Rachel Nolander, a mystic woman who never believes that she will find peace, much less love. Both carry a stain that makes the very blood and sweat and tears of them a toxin to everyone around them. I wrote about the city that eats their poor, as the large cities of Texas do. I wrote about a lot of things that angered me that I saw in the world around me. I wrote about nature and the city and the relationship between what is natural and what is cultural.


What do you think the role of genre is in fiction?

I don’t know in the slightest, and the older I get, the less I know.

Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?

Whenever I take D&D personality tests, and I’ve taken a few, I actually test as a True Neutral Druid nine out of ten, and a True Neutral Monk, for that lingering one.

Beyond that, I will say only ‘Yes’.

How long did it take you to write We Leave Together? Have you ever had a faster turn around on a book you’ve written?

I don’t remember.

I prefer to forget as much as possible about the books that I have written, because it makes it more likely that I will write another one. It is like going to the dentist. If I think about the procedures too much, I’ll never go back.

I also try to write a new kind of book every time, to make sure I don’t write the same things over and over. Every new book is starting over brand new, and I learn how to write again every time.

Who are some of the writers that you admire?

Lately, I have been enthralled with Julian Graq, Haldor Laxness, and Zachary Jernigan. I am writing a lot of science fiction, of late, and I have a very difficult time, I feel, escaping the shadow that Maureen McHugh spreads across my imagined futures.

If demons existed, what do you think their end game would be on Earth?

Demons exist on earth, but we don’t call them that. Daemons of pure energy, pure sin, that exist only to consume and corrupt are here. They have no corporeal form, but they pollute the corporeal with their energy and corruption of human will. We call them corporations, and I think the end game is consumption of all things, a sort of uber-monopolistic entity that touches every industry, extracting everything from them, where the system of extraction is more important than the people who live and work inside the system.

I have written about this twice, in fact. In the short story ‘Hestia’ in my collection Women and Monsters, the only way to preserve endangered species and homeless men is to devour them and turn them into shit. In my novel, Straggletaggle, the end game of industry is splayed out, a perfect rule of corporate law and efficiency, devouring everything until nothing is left of man and soul and green grass and birdsong, and it is the most terrible and frightening thing in the world.

Corporations are daemonic. They don’t have to be evil, but self-interest and self-interested actors make them so far too often for my taste and comfort.

What are you working on currently?

I am nearly finished with a deep space colony of quantum clones, and their unillustrious Astral Navigator. It is a novella heavily influenced by The Opposing Shore by Julian Graq, and The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati. In my opinion, much of military science fiction details very exciting things, and much of the actual experience of most military personnel is terribly dull and sort of theatrical in nature, pretending to be at war, or pretending to be warriors, so to speak. The vast majority of soldiers never even fire an epithet, much less a gun, in the direction of an enemy. I thought I should write a military science fiction piece about that, for a change.