My paternal grandfather was a failed novelist. He stacked boxes of rejected manuscripts in a closet. I didn't realize this until much later in life, after I'd written half a million words of my own; didn't appreciate this fact until after he died in 1993, alone on a gold claim in the Yukon wilderness. We couldn't say whether it was a grizzly that did him in, only that one ate him and left the bones for the Mounties to recover. Grandfather was a Zane Grey, Max Brand, Louis L'Amour man. In retrospect, it seems grimly fitting that Grandfather disappeared into the great beyond in the manner he did. The old man didn't inspire me to write. I never really got a chance to know him. No, I believe my pulp aesthetic, my drive to create, is a blood inheritance, as was his.
During my adolescence our family dwelt in rural Alaska. We were dirt poor, Depression-era poor. Tarpaper shack and kerosene lamps. In those days I read because that's all I had. I wrote because that's all I had.
Mom and Dad were bibliophiles. Dad shared his father's love of westerns, Mom favored the likes of Zelazny and Heinlein, Howard and Burroughs. We owned several hundred books stored in trunks that comprised our portable library. I read the covers off those flimsy paperbacks, read them to tatters. I also wrote like a fiend. I lifted plots, characters, and literary devices wholesale, incorporating everything from Red Nails to The Dying Earth in service of my stories and novels. I poached from the Bible, too.
Mom was all about hellfire and brimstone. Her Old Testament God was a colossal, ancient brute, a maelstrom of blood and fire, of appetite and wrath. Perhaps I inherited the will to write, and my environment may have driven me to pursue the avocation as a method of escape, but the awful, gory terrors of the Good Book certainly influenced my evolution into a horror author.
Ultimately, I discovered some Lovecraft stories in an anthology stuck near the bottom of a trunk. The Call of Cthulhu. At the Mountains of Madness. The Dunwich Horror. The Whisperer in the Darkness. The Shadow Out of Time. Dead and gone 50 years, the man from Providence put it into perspective. He'd tackled the biggest questions of them all while dying by inches in abject poverty that I recognized quite intimately. Nyarlathotep and Jesus. Cthulhu and God. The Bible and the Necronomicon were the greatest horror stories ever told. Against the illimitable blackness of the cosmic ocean, my puny hardships were as the travails of a flea. We all have our bad patches, even the supreme and inscrutable overlords who exist beyond known reality. For the first time in a long time, I felt a little better about everything.
The universe caught up with Lovecraft. It reached out and killed my grandfather. It'll get around to me one fine day, as it will do for everybody everywhere. Meanwhile, I write. I used to write as an escape. There's no escape. There's just me sending my voice into the dark, waiting for an echo.
Laird Barron is the author of two collections, The Imago Sequence & Other Stories and Occultation, both from Night Shade Books. An expatriate Alaskan, Barron currently is at large in Washington State.