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Brian Allen Carr on Beverly Cleary, Magic, Fatherhood and the Last Horror Novel in the History of the World

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Brian Allen Carr lives in the Rio Grande Valley. His short fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter, Boulevard, Hobart, McSweeney's Small Chair, The Texas Observer and other publications. His most recent books are out with Lazy Fascist Press.

Loren Kleinman (LK): How would your publisher describe you in five words or less? What's it been like collaborating with Lazy Fascist Press?

Brian Allen Carr (BAC): How would he describe me? Man, that's hard to say. I used to be the main fiction editor at Dark Sky Books, and I was lucky to work on books with some really great writers: Jensen Beach, Ryan Ridge, Nicolle Elizabeth, Michael Bible, and Gregory Sherl. I hope Cameron Pierce, my editor at LF [Lazy Fascist Press], would describe me as fondly as I'd describe all those folks. But as long as it's at least as good as "someone I wouldn't face stab," I'd be cool with that, because I love working with LF. I've loved every press I've gotten to work with. I've been super blessed by the presence of amazing people in my life.

LK: Let's talk about The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World. How did you come up with the premise of this book? Talk about how you came up with the title?

BAC: Cameron and I decided it'd be an intriguing concept for me to write a book where Texas folks encounter horrific phenomena. I think, when we first started kicking around the idea, there was this notion I'd use more standard creatures--vampires, zombies, werewolves, shit like that. But in doing research on Hollywood-friendly creatures, I decided there was nothing I could do with the style I'd decided on for the book that could really work to add to that canon--I'd just be treading in super pissed-in pool water, because so many people have done such great, extensive work with those entities, and the style of my book is very spare. I decided it'd be much more appropriate for me to introduce--or at least give some additional focus to--creatures more native to the area where the book is set: La Llorona, la mano pachona (sometimes mano peluda or negra), El Abuelito (sometimes called El Aguelito).
I don't know where the title came from.

LK: In your book you center your story in town Scrape, Texas. No one wants to visit Scrape and anyone there, doesn't leave. The townies are indulgent and then get invaded by horrific monsters, if not demons. Does this paint a picture of small-town America? Are we obsessed with things that we can't see our own demons already among us?

BAC: I think we're obsessed with the notion of our imminent demise. Americans love cataclysm stories right now because we're scared shitless our reign is ending--most likely it is. All the zombies, the apocalypses, it's this sad chest thumping metaphor. We're so fucking arrogant. We think it'll all end with us. Man, it won't. The world has been ending since as long as I can remember, has been stuffed with rapture-coming fear mongers quoting Nostradamus and the Bible and decoding Mayan calculators. My God.

What will happen?

Another culture's stories will become more important than ours. It's happening already. Scrape, Texas is a metaphor for that. What happens to Scrape is it's wiped out by characters from very old stores our culture is largely unfamiliar with.

LK: Who do you think would win in a fight and why? La Llorona, the screaming woman in white, or El Abuelo, the monster with the magical bullwhip?

BAC: They wouldn't fight. Their targets are elsewhere. La Llorona is terrifying because of what she is, not what she does. Because of what she represents--that terrible self-destructive element of human beings who think their future doesn't look good (sound familiar?). El Abuelo is the thing used to terrify children into becoming better people. See, fear is a great motivator when it's not paralyzing. I'm guessing society self polices with these sorts of apocalypse stories--we feed them to each other as deterrents. But we've gotten so good at going inside and watching the world through devices that I'm not certain these stories are doing their job.

Albert Camus said "the purpose of the writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself." But if you look at the most well known cautionary tale of the modern age, 1984, you can't help but think all the warnings just become roadmaps. Remember when that guy in Florida huffed bath salts and ate a dude's face off and broadcasters lost their shit trying to will the thing to be a zombie outbreak?

It's a popular idea, right? Have two horrific things compete. But that's not right. Our terrors are our own. Demons are meant to direct us. Godzilla, when it fights Mothra, becomes a good for humans, loses its ability to warn us of our errors in behavior toward the environment and humanity. It cheapens the creatures to have them serve as gladiators for our entertainment. It'd be like having the Vitamin A fight Vitamin C.

Unfortunately our creative attempts at deterring behaviors seem to work in our minds as inoculations -- we think because we've read 1984 we're immune to Big Brother. Nothing could be more incorrect.

LK: I'm a major horror nerd. What's your favorite horror and why? Do you think the horror movie is dead in mainstream cinema?

BAC: In cinema? Nah, I mean, there will always be the desire to experience (from the safety of movie theaters and couch cushions), that which terrifies us.

The second scariest thing I ever saw was a dead cat near a swimming pool that had turned black with stagnation. The scariest thing I've ever seen is a woman across the street with some kind of dementia, and her son walks her up and down the street at dusk for exercise, and he seems mad if anyone else is on the street when this occurs.

I don't really know what my favorite horror film is. I love the work of Ray Harryhausen, who didn't do horror per se, but who did create amazing creatures. I grew up watching his Sinbad films and Clash of the Titans. I'll take Harryhausen over CGI any day.

LK: Sometimes I think horror gets a bad rap because it gets associated with random killing. I think horror represents the other or the unknown, the things we shun when we don't understand them. What do you think audiences can learn from horror?

BAC: Random killing is the American way. What's more American than that? Why would anyone in our country dislike that? We're the kings of random killing. We invented the best version of it: we're the only ones who've used the nastiest version. If horror gets a bad rap it's because it shows us what we really are -- really nasty fucks.

Well, that and because some would argue that it is formulaic. Right, it's kind of a marginalized genre. But the human condition is just as present, if not more so, in Frankenstein as it is in The Sun Also Rises. (In one book a man loses his ability to procreate and is tortured by it: in the other, a man learns to unnaturally procreate and is tortured by it). Really, the earliest examples of literature function more like today's "genre" works than "literary" works. The Odyssey, The Bible, Aesop's Fable, many of the Greek tragedies. People who think you can learn more from "literary fiction" than "genre fiction" don't fucking understand the history of literature and should saw off their heads and pack them up their asses. Sure there are differences, but there are differences between movies filmed in black and white and movies filmed in color, too.

LK: You're also the author of the Short Bus (2011, Texas Review Press), Vampire Conditions (2012, Holler Presents), Edie & the Low-Hung Hands (2013, Small Doggie Press) and Motherfucking Sharks (2013, Lazy Fascist Press). What's been your favorite book to write and why? Who are your favorite characters?

BAC: I don't think I have a favorite book. They're all so different. These past two, the Lazy Fascist books, they've been the most fun to write because the way they came about was new to me. As far as character, I really like Marlet from Edie and Crick from Sharks. I like characters who feel like they don't belong but who really belong the most.

LK: You're a dad too. How do your kids influence your writing?

BAC: Being a dad has changed me in a couple of ways. C.S. Lewis famously said "someday you'll be old enough to start to reading fairy tales again," and while I've always read fairy tales, reading them with my daughter Georgia has allowed me to relive the magic of them in a way that I thought was gone for me. Every other night, because my wife and I take turns, I get to hop in bed with my daughter and read Roald Dahl or Dr. Seuss or Peter Pan or Beverly Cleary, and I get to see, again, the joy of the early reader, feel, again, that warm magic that first calls people to love books.

The other way it's changed me, because I have daughters, is I'm starting to see, more accurately, how we look for ourselves in books. My daughter looks for female characters. She wants to know what's happening with the girls. When I was a boy, I must have been the same way. You get older. You forget. I think I've become more sensitive to that notion as a writer. At least, I hope I am.

We are all more complicated than the war of the sexes would lead you to believe.
Since having kids, I've tried to put more magic in my books. I've tried to put more strong females.

LK: Would you live in Scrape? Ever?

BAC: Of course. I love small-town Texas. Some reviewer recently "hoped" it was a fake place. Okay. Why? It's a shit hole, but so are most places.

I've noticed that there's this thing, at least in America, where we all want to believe we live in the "better" places. Well, we don't. The two premiere cities in this country are San Francisco and New York. New York houses the financial sector of our universe, therefore houses the worst part of humanity. Both places basically price out all of the "others," makes them live like rats who just do chores for the elites, or have them exist merely as people whose dreams are breaking until they're forced to flee. Then, these top-notch folks in these shiny-ass places assume the role of moral authority. Okay. Fine. You're the greatest. We all just go to segregated churches and pray to be like you.

LK: What's next for Brian Allen Carr?

BAC: My daughter and I are going to go fly a kite.