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.

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