Friday, May 30, 2008

Charles Tan interview with Laird Barron

How would you describe your particular style of writing? Any notable influences?

Much of my work in The Imago Sequence & Other Stories is composed of traditional noir and thriller elements. I like to manipulate certain aspects of narrative, to play with structure, to defy reader expectations at crucial moments -- thus the supernatural intrusions, the allusions to the unknown. However, at heart these stories are powered by classic pulp and crime tropes. I admire and am influenced by John le Carré, Martin Cruz Smith, Robert Parker, and William Goldman, among a slew of others. I'm also particularly fond of Peter Hoeg's Smilla's Sense of Snow. I recall closing the book at the end and staring out the window, thinking, How did he get away with that? Here we have an elegant, yet thoroughly by the numbers mystery-thriller that suddenly turns on you and smacks you across the face with a finale straight out of Lovecraft's playbook. I decided right there this was the kind of thing I'd like to do.

Your fiction tends to feature an other-worldly horror that is reminiscent of Lovecraft. What for you is the appeal of such "alien" visions?

I experience recurring nightmares. My dreams are vivid, so I'm often able to transfer highlights to paper. "The Imago Sequence" novella originated from such a nightmare. I woke up shaking and cramping from adrenaline, as if I'd just been running for my life. This was around 4 A.M and I made my hapless wife listen to the whole nightmare; then I schlepped off to the office and jotted the details into a note pad. A few months later I had the story in the mail. Certainly the process of translating visceral and often nonsensical dream imagery into a coherent narrative is cathartic.

A measure of my fascination with externalized, macrocosmic aspects of horror is derived from youthful encounters with the more titillating passages of the Bible. When mining the Bible for the fantastical, artists usually reach for Book of Revelation. For my money, nothing in all of the dark fantastic competes with the fearsome images conjured by a rousing sermon from the Old Testament. Nor, to my way of thinking, has Lovecraft ever constructed a more alien or otherworldly pantheon than the beings which populate Christian mythology. The cosmic horror mode addresses my desire to rationalize and codify philosophical and spiritual beliefs, to make peace with my overactive subconscious.

"Procession of the Black Sloth" debuted in in your collection The Imago Sequence and Other Stories. Was this an old story (and underwent changes and revisions) or did you write it particularly for your collection? What made you decide to include it?

"Procession of the Black Sloth" is a novella written exclusively for the collection. Because The Imago Sequence and Other Stories is comprised of reprints, Night Shade Books wanted an original piece. I felt obligated to provide buyers with material more substantial than a short story, or even a middleweight novelette. The story originated from a brief passage of another, much more traditional novella of mine. A character in this unfinished novella is telling a ghost tale set in modern Hong Kong. The story threatened to become so complicated and so divergent, I lifted the passage and let it roll.

"Procession of the Black Sloth" does not follow the Lovecraftian mode prevalent throughout the rest of the collection. The story was a tremendous challenge in that it's probably my most ambitious piece from a technical perspective. Normally, my work is layered, but here I pushed myself to exceed the limitations I'd set in the noir pieces by attempting to tackle and execute a stylistically unorthodox narrative on a larger scale. On the surface I endeavored a cinematic approach in an homage to classic horror authors and filmmakers, something I think is readily apparent from the most cursory review. However, my inspiration was almost exclusively Asian horror cinema. I'm a fan of Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Miike's Audition and Gozu, and Kurosaw's Cure made an impression on me and these films acted as cynosures as I battled to hammer the novella into a comprehensible shape. I was under deadline, so after coming home from the day job I'd stick out writing until two in the morning, settling for three or four hours sleep. Weekends, I chopped away at it practically around the clock. Consequently, I submerged emotionally and cognitively into the project. Nightmarish in itself, the narrative seeped under my skin and transported me into a weird head space for the two months of its creation. I'm glad it's over.

My other motivation for including a piece divergent from the eldritch theme, was due to my conception of the book as analogous to a concept album. "Procession of the Black Sloth" is a segue into the storytelling mode I'm currently pursuing -- more intimate tales, and tales more overtly tied to the ghostly, the weird, and the psychological. Some of these new stories will explore more of the alien and the cosmic, but much of what I've had to say in the collection is out of my system. I'm excited to shift in new directions. "Procession of the Black Sloth" is a precursor to that progression.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

SJA Benefit Anthology Now Available

Jack Haringa Must Die! (104 pp) is now available from Merricat Publications. Proceeds from the book will benefit the Shirley Jackson Awards.

Go here for more information concerning the book and how to order a copy.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shirley Jackson Awards fund raiser at KGB bar


Press Release
For Immediate Release
Contact: JoAnn F. Cox
Awards Administrator

Leading authors read from Shirley Jackson canon to commemorate 60th anniversary of “The Lottery”
Event takes place July 23rd at KGB Bar in New York City
Peter Straub and Jack Ketchum among readers

Boston, MA (May 200 – In honor of Shirley Jackson, Ellen Datlow will be hosting a reading of Shirley Jackson’s work by award-winning and leading authors of the dark fantastic and horror on July 23rd at the KGB Bar in New York City. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Shirley Jackson Awards.

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” “The Lottery” was first published on June 28, 1948 in The New Yorker.

Ms. Jackson’s work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem has called Jackson “one of this century’s most luminous and strange American writers,” and multiple generations of authors would agree.

Authors who will read from Ms. Jackson’s work are:

F. Brett Cox's most recent stories appeared in Black Static and Postscripts. His newest story, "She Hears Music Up Above," is forthcoming in the original anthology from Prime Books, Phantom. With Andy Duncan, he co-edited Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic. He is a juror for the 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards.

Jeffrey Ford is author of the novels The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque and The Girl in the Glass, and the story collection, The Empire of Ice Cream. In 2008 he will have out a new novel, The Shadow Year, and a new collection, The Drowned Life.

Jack Ketchum is the author of many novels, including Joyride, Red, Only Child, and Hide and Seek. His book of two novellas was just released by Leisure, and his collection of memoirs, titled Book of Souls, is about to be published by Bloodletting Press.

Carrie Laben’s story “Something in the Mermaid Way,” is a nominee in the short story category for the 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards. Another story is just out in the anthology Phantom. She is currently working on her first novel, in which most of the nicer characters are rats.

John Langan's collection, Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters, is forthcoming from Prime Books. His novella, "How the Day Runs Down," or, as he likes to call it, "my zombie Our Town," will appear in John Joseph Adams's massive zombie anthology, The Living Dead, in September. He is a juror for the 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards.

Sarah Langan’s first novel, The Keeper, was a New York Times Editor's Pick. Her second novel, The Missing, won the Stoker Award for outstanding novel of 2007. Her third novel, Audrey's
Door, is slated for publication in early 2009. She's currently at work on a collection of short stories. She is a juror for the 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards.

Peter Straub is the author of seventeen novels, including Ghost Story, Koko, Mr. X, In the Night Room, and two collaborations with Stephen King. He also has written two volumes of poetry and two collections of short fiction, and he edited the Library of America’s edition of H. P. Lovecraft’s Tales. He has won many awards for his writing and in 1998, was named Grand Master at the World Horror Convention. In 2006, he was given the Horror Writers Association’s Life Achievement Award.

David Wellington is the author of Monster Island, 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins, and the forthcoming Vampire Zero. His work is serialized online for free at

Jack Womack is the author of Ambient, Terraplane, Heathern, Elvissey, Random Acts of Senseless Violence, Let’s Put the Future Behind Us, and Going, Going, Gone. He was in 1994 a co-winner of the Philip K. Dick Award for Elvissey.

An evening of live readings from Ms. Jackson’s work is sure to unsettle audience members. The event will take place at KGB Bar, well-known for its regularly held readings of poetry and non-fiction, and for the Fantastic Fiction reading series, co-hosted by Ellen Datlow and Matthew Kressel. KGB is located at 85 East 4th Street (just off 2nd Ave) New York City.

Readings from Shirley Jackson’s work will begin at 7pm and end by 9pm. The cover charge is $5 per person.

In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. The 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards will be presented on Sunday, July 20th 2008, at Readercon 19, Conference on Imaginative Literature, in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Media representatives who are seeking further information or interviews should contact JoAnn F. Cox.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Charles Tan interviews Lucius Shepard

How did the story "Vacancy" come about?

Vacancy grew slowly at first, like most of my stories. Five years back, I had a kind of video clip image of a man sitting on one of those lounging chairs with an aluminum frame at night in a used car lot on Ridgewood Ave in South Daytona where I used to live. He would look up now and again and stare at something across the street.

The image stuck with me and a couple of weeks later I wrote the first few pages, trying to fix Cliff's character, using a friend of mine, a minor Hollywood actor who I went to high school with as the model, and deciding that what he was staring at was the Vacancy sign of the Celeste Motel; but beyond that I could not go. I set it aside and didn't come back to it for a year or so. Then I wrote a few more pages and figured out two or three more things. Then I stalled again.

I picked up the story now and again over the next few years and just couldn't finish it. Then Ellen Datlow called me up and asked if I could write her a novella in two weeks. Sure, I said, and picked up Vacancy again. This time I seemed to know a lot more about the story--not everything, there were still surprises, but a lot. And after that it went fairly easily.

In some of your stories, you've mentioned the Philippines but it plays a bigger role in "Vacancy". Why that particular country and did you have to do much research or was it based on personal experience?

I was in Manila once for about a week, waiting for friend to meet me and then go on to Thailand together. I stayed in very cheap hotel with a zoo of lizards and bugs in every room. I did a lot of walking around and the city appealed to me. I walked through one neighborhood where almost every morning they had shit-fights, hurling feces at each other over back fences. It impressed me as a very effective and reasonable way of settling one's differences. I drank a lot, got hustled by bar girls, and was able to use my Spanish. What's not to like? My friend arrived and we went off to Thailand, I thought I'd return to Manila, but India took too much of my time--maybe that frustration is why it pops up in my fiction now and then. And maybe my experience in Manila played into Vacancy.

What in your opinion are the elements that make a story not only good but powerful and effective?

I really don't know how to answer that and I'm not sure I want to know. For me, I guess, every story that works well is grounded in experience--in those stories there's a depth that comes across, a surety with the basic materials, a substantiality that speaks through the characters and gives the story weight, even when I'm writing about something that couldn't possibly happen. But I don't think about my work analytically. I just try to write until the emotions of the characters impinge upon me, until I get a hit of emotion. Then I know I'm there, where the story wanted to me to take it.

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Charles Tan interviews with the Shirley Jackson Nominees

Charles Tan is conducting interviews with some of our Shirley Jackson Awards nominees. Tomorrow night, (Monday, May 26th) we'll post the first of the interviews.

Watch this space!

(Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Please e-mail to order a copy. Price: $10.)

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Note from a Juror on the SJA

Dear friends of the SJA,

With the SJA final ballot announced (phew!), now seems like a good time to talk about the Shirley Jackson Awards, why they were established, how they work, and what our goals are.

Over the last few years, dark fiction has returned, and is even popping up on the best-seller lists. Big publishers are paying attention, and acquiring titles they wouldn’t have touched with ten-foot poles in the 90s and early 00’s. Dark fiction is getting serious critical attention. The New York Times’ Book Review initiated a semi-annual column devoted to horror. So, now seemed like a good time to start an award honoring those works of fiction that would likely be overlooked by Booker Awards and Pen-Faulkner Awards as well as Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, but whose merit, often brilliance, is undeniable.

And so, the Shirley Jackson Awards. Ms. Jackson’s work represents everything we seek in our nominees. Smart, dark, and able to tread the line between psychological and visceral with aplomb. Not only was her short story “The Lottery” published in The New Yorker, but it also elicited the most hate mail that magazine has ever received. Now that’s a writer.

A few of us got together and decided that such a new award might draw more attention to our vibrant, dynamic genre. The Stokers (happily for me) honor a slightly different kind of horror fiction, and I suspect that the final ballot of IHG, the other juried award, will look quite different from our own. All the finalists for all the awards deserve the recognition they receive, and it is our earnest hope that the SJA will expand dark fiction readers’ conceptions of horror. In fact, we hope people who’ve never read what’s traditionally considered horror will seek out our nominees, because it’s not about the confines of genre. It’s about these splendid works that transcend their labels. The dark fiction market is growing, and fortunately, there is more than enough room for all of us.

And onto the manner in which nominees were selected. The jury (F. Brett Cox, John Langan, Paul Tremblay, and I) read widely and often. We read until our eyes were bleary. We read the recommendations of the advisory board, we read the submissions from publishers, we solicited material, heard about somebody who heard from somebody about a good book, and tracked it down. We begged, borrowed, and stole material. Okay, we didn’t steal. Well, maybe that other Langan. Anyway, we’re writers, too, so we took it seriously, because it’s important.

When we were ready, we voted privately among the four of us, and arrived at our stellar final ballot. We disqualified our own fiction, but we did consider the fiction written or edited by advisors. Ellen Datlow volunteered to withdraw her anthology Inferno in order to preserve the reputation of the award, and prevent catcalls of favoritism, but we jurors agreed that the disqualification of such a work from consideration would ultimately harm the reputation of the SJA. It’s too good not to consider, and if we truly want our final ballot to reflect the best work of the year, our consciences could not allow us to disqualify it.

I imagine this will happen again, and often. Our excellent and growing list of advisors will no doubt edit and produce some of the best fiction of the year—that’s why they’re our advisors. While jurors will rotate over the years to keep the award fresh, our commitment to impartiality will remain constant, and we take that job seriously.

And so, this year, we’ve come out with what, collaboratively, we believe is the best fiction in the tradition of Shirley Jackson, to be published in 2007. Read the nominees. I dare you to disagree!

Thanks again for your support; it means a lot.

Sarah Langan

Friday, May 2, 2008

2007 Shirley Jackson Awards Finalists and Award Ceremony Location Announced

Nominees Announced for Inaugural Year of The Shirley Jackson Awards

Boston, MA (May 2008) -- In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson's writing, and with permission of the author's estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.

The Shirley Jackson Awards will be voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. The awards will be given for the best work published in the preceding calendar year in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.

The nominees for the 2007 Shirley Jackson Awards are:


Baltimore, Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden (Bantam Spectra)
Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer Press)
Sharp Teeth, Toby Barlow (William Heinemann Ltd)
The Terror, Dan Simmons (Little, Brown)
Tokyo Year Zero, David Peace (Knopf)


12 Collections, Zoran Zivkovic (PS Publishing)
Illyria, Elizabeth Hand (PS Publishing)
The Mermaids, Robert Edric (PS Publishing)
"Procession of the Black Sloth," Laird Barron (The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, Night Shade Books)
The Scalding Rooms, Conrad Williams (PS Publishing)
"Vacancy," Lucius Shepard (Subterranean #7, September 2007)


"The Forest," Laird Barron (Inferno, Tor)
"The Janus Tree," Glen Hirshberg (Inferno, Tor)
"The Swing," Don Tumasonis (At Ease with the Dead, Ash-Tree Press)
"The Tenth Muse," William Browning Spencer (Subterranean #6, February 2007)
"Thumbprint," Joe Hill (Postscripts #10, March 2007)


"Holiday," M. Rickert (Subterranean #7, September 2007)
"The Monsters of Heaven," Nathan Ballingrud (Inferno, Tor)
"A Murder of Crows," Elizabeth Ziemska (Tin House 31, Spring 2007)
"Something in the Mermaid Way," Carrie Laben (Clarkesworld, March 2007)
"The Third Bear," Jeff VanderMeer (Clarkesworld, April 2007)
"Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse," Andy Duncan (Eclipse One, Night Shade Books)


The Bone Key, Sarah Monette (Prime Books)
The Entire Predicament, Lucy Corin (Tin House)
The Imago Sequence and Other Stories, Laird Barron (Night Shade Books)
Like You'd Understand, Anyway, Jim Shepard (Knopf)
Old Devil Moon, Christopher Fowler (Serpent’s Tail)


At Ease with the Dead, edited by Barbara and Christopher Roden (Ash-Tree Press)
Dark Delicacies 2, edited by Del Howison and Jeff Gelb (Running Press)
Inferno (Tor), edited by Ellen Datlow (Tor)
Logorrhea, edited by John Klima (Bantam Spectra)
Wizards, edited by Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois (Berkley)

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, "The Lottery." Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novelist Jonathan Lethem has called Jackson "one of this century’s most luminous and strange American writers," and multiple generations of authors would agree.

The Shirley Jackson Awards will be presented on Sunday, July 20th 2008, at Readercon 19, Conference on Imaginative Literature, in Burlington, Massachusetts.


Media representatives who are seeking further information or interviews should contact JoAnn F. Cox.