From the Mouth of the Madman
Dear Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror readers, our lives have been affected by the current events in the most “horror story” kind of way. But fortunately, we can keep connected to each other and in the process; we can connect with great authors from other places.
Today in From the Mouth of the Madman, we have the great honor to get to know a little bit about one of these great authors… And what an Author!!!
We are talking about Laird Barron, a writer, poet, editor and former wild kid who learned since his early childhood, the rules of survival in the wilderness in his native Alaska (maybe from staying isolated during cold winters in the middle of a dark forest is where his inspiration for writing scary stories comes from).
Barron’s extensive works have received important awards and distinctions like the Shirley Jackson Award, but probably his biggest input in the literary world, is the impact his stories have had not only in his fans, but in a lot of writers as well.
But let’s stop making assumptions, and see what really comes From the Mouth of the Madman!!!
Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror: Thank you so much for this honor, it is especially important for us since we are going to be discussing at our virtual reading circle the terrifying story “The men from Porlock”. How did you get the inspiration to write this tale? And, did you ever have to work in this kind of out in the woods fashion?
Laird Barron: I’m happy to be here—thank you for the conversation. My father worked as a logger in Oregon in the 1970s, so I had his many stories for inspiration. Then, a few years ago when I lived in Olympia, Washington, I went to a restaurant with old black and white photographs of loggers during the early 20thcentury. These photos were impressive and depicted large scale operations along the Olympic Peninsula. They reinforced the minuteness of man when compared to old growth giant fir trees. I’ve never logged, but have lived in the deep wilderness. The title itself is a reference to the legend that a neighbor interrupted Coleridge as he transcribed a dream into a poem.
CL&H: You started your career as a poet, and in your poems one can feel an eerie vibe much similar to your prose. Did you wanted to transmit horror stories through your poetry?
LB: My first published work was a poem that made one of the major daily papers in Anchorage Alaska when I was an adolescent. I’ve always loved poetry—read lots of Poe, Robert Service, and Shel Silverstein as a kid. I’ve written poems about serial killers, massacres, and dark forces. Generally, my poetry isn’t aimed at a specific genre; it’s more mood-based. I’m especially fond of Charles Simic and Mark Strand. It’s a tough discipline. I’d like to devote more time to improving that aspect of my work.
CL&H: Speaking of words, sometimes in your stories, we come across old fashioned terms or archaisms (especially in the dialogs of certain characters) that to some readers who are not familiar with the environment of the tale, or if English is not your native language, might be difficult to understand. Do you think it’s a good practice to make your reader take that extra step to learn something new?
LB: Much of my foundational reading is rooted in the classics and pulps from the early to mid-20th century. Admittedly a haphazard approach. That led to a vocabulary replete with archaic terminology, passé idioms, and so forth. I was raised in an environment where if you weren’t familiar with a word or idea, you broke out the Thorndike-Barnhart dictionary, or the encyclopedia of your choice, and educated yourself.
CL&H: Growing up in the wilderness you must have had all sorts of inspirations for your tales. Did you ever took night strolls in the woods alone, or were you more cautious than putting yourself at risk?
LB: During my adolescence and early teens, we tried to be inside by full dark. In my latter teens and early 20s, I traveled across much of Alaska and spent many a night under the stars. I went armed with a rifle, was well-provisioned, and usually accompanied by a team of huskies. Generally, I worried much more about hazards of weather or geography than animals or people, although the latter were always factors. Moose dislike sharing the trail if the snow is deep.
CL&H: Many of your main protagonists tend to be hard-bitten characters with a dark past and a darker behavior, maybe looking for some redemption. In your last two novels, linked by the character -Isaiah Coleridge- this comes to light. Isaiah is definitely not a good guy, but it’s not all that bad either. There is some Rambo, some Bryan Mills and some Anton Chigurh in him. What can you tell us about him?
LB: My characters are often composite images of real people. I figured out early on that there’s infinite variety even within the spectrum of a limited subject such as tough guy fiction. Isaiah Coleridge is basically a perfection of all those noir and hardboiled characters I’ve written about for 20 or so years. In some respects, he’s a bag of contradictions, just like everybody else. But this is fiction and fiction, especially commercial fiction, demands clearer definitions and delineations than life does. Coleridge was an exceptionally talented hitman and enforcer due to his size and propensity for violence. Something awakened within him; perhaps something larger than himself. These days he deploys his skills in service of righting wrongs. He knows redemption is a fool’s game, but is determined to balance the right side of the scales however much he is able. From a writerly perspective, I don’t envision him as a tarnished knight in the tradition of Marlowe or Spenser. Coleridge is more Beowulf or Achilles.
CL&H: Speaking of Chigurh, a reviewer in one of your anthologies said he felt some of your tales were part of the Cormac McCarthy universe from the woods perspective. We don’t like to compare, however I understand the feeling of despair and helplessness. Is McCarthy an influence? And what other writers are in your pantheon?
LB: McCarthy is an influence, or perhaps a kindred spirit. Blood Meridian andChild of God are two of my favorite books. They capture the essential tension between light and darkness. They illustrate that man is merely a component of nature, not its ordained master. Early days I overdosed on Poe, Louis L’Amour, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Service, and Robert E Howard. Then came my single greatest influence, Roger Zelazny. I count his Amber series and Lord of Light as my desert island books. Peter Straub is a contemporary I admire. Obviously, I favor Lovecraft. Although, I prefer the implications of Lovecraft’s stories more so than the stories themselves. Cosmic horror precedes the man and it will undoubtedly succeed the rest of us.
CL&H: One of the strangest stories on your catalog is “More Dark”. Where not only you use (I presume) yourself as narrator, but a bunch of your colleagues appear as cameos as well. Including the mythic and elusive writer Thomas Ligotti (who is the main subject of the tale). Honestly the way you describe “Mr. L” in the stage with a puppet it’s scary in a David Lynch kind of nerve-wracking atmosphere. Did you ever meet Ligotti? And how did your fellow writers take the fact you used them in your story?
LB: “More Dark” is a quasi-roman a clef. For the most part, my intentions were benign. The majority of authors who were fictionalized took it in the spirit it was offered. On the other hand, it was a deadly serious criticism of a couple of people who received it poorly. I’d be disappointed if they’d approved. No, I’ve never met Ligotti. I respect him as an artist. MD is not a dig at Ligotti himself, but a criticism of the cultish, guru-veneration that surrounds him. As someone who suffers extreme mental depression, I’m not sanguine in regard to the valorization of mental illness as a special power.
CL&H: There are similar events regarding disappearing or kidnappings in first two novels; in “The Light in the Darkness” Navarro’s sister is lost in Mexico and in “The Croning” Don’s wife appears to be kidnapped in… MEXICO!!! Do you consider our country dangerous, or you’d be willing to come here? (We can offer you a kidnap-free tour around the country).
LB: No, that’s a coincidence. Really. I hope to visit Mexico one day.
CL&H: We like to know if our favorite authors believe or not in the supernatural world. In your case, coming from a region I presume full of folk tales of the paranormal occurrences, what is your take on this subject?
LB: I’m an open-minded skeptic. The universe is vast and we know very little. While I don’t put stock in angels or devils, I suspect the operating parameters of reality are varied and contradictory. I’ve had several experiences that seem inexplicable on the face. Whatever the case, it’s a subject that fascinates me and motivates me as a writer.
CL&H: Little is known about your private life, but we know you did a lot of dangerous things back in Alaska, fishing in the Bering Sea, trail sled dog races. Where you ever involved in a situation that put you in real danger? And if so, have you reflect that episode in some of your tales?
LB: Life in the Alaskan wilderness was usually humdrum, punctuated by hair-raising moments. The greatest day-today risk was illness due to poor diet and inadequate medicine/shelter. This was followed closely by the danger of injury while chopping wood and traveling with the dog team. What made such events potentially threatening was simply our remote location. Even a minor wound could easily lead to complications or death.
More dramatic incidents were encounters with moose and black bears, and almost falling through river ice with the dog team. This latter was one of the immediate dangers. Big rivers and lakes freeze over by December and provide avenues of travel for people with snowmobiles and teams of huskies. Alas, some winters the ice would become unstable and collapse or form soft spots that opened into deep water. Extremely hazardous and not always apparent until it was too late. My team and I went through a couple of times; luckily, we escaped intact. Colleagues of mine were not so lucky. I’ve also been trampled by moose. Again, I escaped without serious consequence. Scary situations, though.
CL&H: We usually request our interviewed to give us a micro story; Langan and Tremblay tried to beat each other in this. It doesn’t have to be long, a few lines will suffice. I give you the start:
“Tired of the life up north, Laird decided to spend the rest of his life in a warmer area, he gave his desk globe a good spin and stopped it with his fingertip finding out his new place was Monterrey, Mexico.
Two weeks after, he is at the cantina sitting by himself while drinking a Corona, when a waitress with a wooden leg approaches him…”
LB: “The cantina is dim; he is the lone customer. The woman’s nametag glows in a stray beam of lamplight.
It says, Rosa.
She sits across from him and reaches down and unscrews the wooden leg without breaking eye contact. She lays the prosthetic upon the table. She pushes it to him, almost contemptuous. The leg is hollow and heavy; it gurgles when it shifts.
Her tag says, Rita.
He touches the roll of cash in his breast pocket, but she shakes her head. It has been taken care of. The lamp flickers rapidly, dizzyingly. As she rises, something dark unfolds from the stump of her left leg and she stands there a moment, regarding him with a half-smile.
Her tag says, Ramira.
He averts his gaze as she departs. Her steps are uneven; one hard, one soft.
Later, in his hotel room, he lies naked in the tub, cradling the wooden leg. Darkness presses all around. He presses a catch and a panel opens. Warm, vile water drips, then trickles, then pours. The first few leeches are small. Shiny and slick, he places them between his toes, across his shins, his thighs. The next specimens are broader, roughly the length of his hand. These greedily adhere to his groin, his belly, and one under each armpit. He extends his tongue for the last of them. Much of the leech extends beyond his lips; it gleams wet against his chin, fattening.
The floorboards creak near dawn. He is a gray mannequin positioned in a sort of crucifix at the bottom of the tub. With long, long nails, the woman from the cantina flicks the leeches into the black cavity of her hollow leg. They are gravid and helpless. She loves them. Dreaming, he mutters, Ronda? She chuckles and then she’s gone.”
CL&H: We know you are a tough guy with lots of outdoors experience, but can you tell us something nobody knows about you? Maybe you secretly play some instrument, or enjoy watching cartoons…
LB: I do enjoy cartoons. Jonny Quest, Thundarr the Barbarian, and The Herculoids were staples of my youth. These days, I dig Archer and BoJack Horseman. I’m also a fan of musicals. Had a bit of a crush on Julie Andrews, back in the day. Some people know this already, but video games are my Kryptonite. Particularly fond of RPG and strategy titles—namely The Elder Scrolls series and Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic.
CL&H: Do you have some final words for your Mexican readers at Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror?
LB: It was nice speaking with you. My appreciation for your support of the horrific and the weird. All my best to you—be safe.
Thanks to Mr. Laird Barron for this nice session and don’t forget to visit his official site https://lairdbarron.wordpress.com/to know more about his works and ordering books.
Thanks to all our readers, keep in touch for the upcoming event online (https://www.facebook.com/events/596132451030816/- in Spanish-) where we will be discussing Barron’s tale “The men from Porlock”. See you on the next edition “From the mouth of the Madman”.