Today I have as my guest, the horror writer Steve Barber. I recently read his collection of short stories, Blob and the Sous-Chef and Other Stories, and felt the immediate desire to find out what kind of wonderful weirdo wrote this stuff. He writes a certain flavor of horror that I can’t get enough of and never find enough of: the delicious mix of the macabre imbued with dark humor. Oh, yum. It goes down particularly well accompanied by a vodka tonic with a nice juicy hunk of lime. Or two. Or three.
But, anyway, back to the weirdo. Steve, not me. I’m not weird for liking his stuff, but he IS weird for writing it. So I tracked him down and asked the weirdo some questions:
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Dooley: Why horror? Why humor? What the hell is wrong with you, man?
Barber: There’s plenty wrong with me, Dooley. May I call you Dooley? No?
But SRSLY, why not horror and humor? I mean, essentially they’re the same thing. They both sneak up on you from behind. The only difference is that humor smashes a banana cream pie in your face, while horror gnaws huge holes in your abdomen and sucks up your insides. Humor and horror are both about anticipation and misdirection. It’s awesome when it works. When it doesn’t, we call it literary fiction.
Oh, crap. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m in trouble now.
Dooley: You were in trouble the moment you agreed to this interview, Steve. So, if I ran into you in a sleazy bar, what would you be drinking? And, more importantly, what drink would you be buying me?
Barber: Chances are I’d be drinking the only imported beer they serve in that sleazy bar. Hopefully it would be German, Belgian or British. I know damn well they wouldn’t have anything a good, local brewpub might put out. If push comes to shove, they can pour me a Johnny Walker Red. It might be the best thing in the house.
As far as what I might be buying you? “No hablo English.”
Dooley: Just as I thought: a cheap bastard. What’s a book that you’ve read and that you’ve never met anyone else who has read it and that you think is so awesome that everybody should read it? Also, how many times did you have to read this question before you understood it?
Barber: Robert McCammon is probably my favorite horror author. I don’t know if he’d consider himself a horror author, but I don’t really care. He’s written some books I consider horror, so that’s good enough for me. My horror peeps are probably familiar with the guy, and are aware of his book, Swan Song. Swan Song is the best dystopian novel I’ve ever read, flat out, full stop, period! In my opinion, it leaves The Stand in the dust. But my favorite McCammon book is Boys Life. And I’m less certain most horror peeps have read that. I won’t say why everybody should read it, because (1) you didn’t ask me to and (b) I’m a lousy book reviewer anyhow. But you just should. That’s all. You’ll thank me.
Oh. And I only had to read the question once to understand it. I know that’s hard to believe, but I ain’t normal.
Dooley: Speaking of normal, which three songs do you want played at your funeral? And, picking from anyone in the world who ever lived, who would you choose to give your eulogy?
Barber: I am so way ahead of you here you wouldn’t believe it. A lot of my work–most of it, actually–focuses on death, so it’s only natural I’d have considered my own and what I’d want done to celebrate my demise.
I have a file on my desktop called “Mort.” It contains mp3s of the songs I want played at my memorial service along with a poem or two and a few quotes from some of my favorite authors. But you asked for songs, not poems or quotes, so here you go.
Blood, Sweat and Tears’ And When I Die had to be there. It’s the first song I thought of when I began putting the list together. The second song is by Tom Paxton. He’s a guy the young peeps might not know, but us old folks should remember him from the 60s. The song’s called Forest Lawn, and if you want to understand my love for the funeral industry, all you have to do is click the link and listen. Finally, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans combined to make a song from my youth, probably in the late 40s or early 50s called Happy Trails To You. I think it’s the perfect send off, and I think it’s something I’d like my kids, friends and loved ones to focus on while my ashes are being dumped onto my patch of mojito mint.
Shhh. Don’t tell the authorities.
And before I forget, I want two people giving my eulogy–Mark Twain and Winston Churchill. Twain because nobody ever told better lies and Churchill because nobody was ever as inspiring a speaker. They both smoked and drank too, which is a big plus in my book.
Dooley: Let’s get on to the really important stuff. The best whiskey: Scottish, Irish, American or…And tell us why.
Barber: I only do Irish on or around St. Paddy’s day and I never touch bourbon any more. I ODd on it when I was a young pup and I can’t even stand the smell of it. This does not mean it’s not good, only that I don’t drink it. My liquor of choice is scotch whisky, preferably anIslay. Something nice and smoky. Something very pricy. Something somebody else buys for me.
Dooley: I love a man that only drinks expensive scotch that someone else has paid for. Not. Time to test the old brain cells, Steve. Who are the three greatest women who ever lived?
Barber: Come on, Dooley. You never told me you were gonna make me work.
Dooley: Stop whining, man. What are you? A chihuahua?
Barber: Okay, two came to mind immediately–Margaret Meade and Julia Child. Meade investigated sexuality during a time when women weren’t even supposed to know what the word meant. She’s flat out one of the main reasons I wound up being an Anthropology major and one reason I’m still interested in it today. Julia is on the list because, well, she’s Julia. Another woman who never let her sex get in the way of her being who she chose to be. A beautiful, beautiful lady and, man, she left us some great recipes.
This last one’s been hard for me to name. I strongly considered Abigail Adams for her ability to get along with John. I thought of Dolly Madison who pretty much set the tone for the non-office of First Lady. Amelia Earhart, Harriet Tubman, and Madame C.J. Walker all came to mind. And I wanted to name Mary Shelley because she gave the world Frankenstein’s monster, and I really needed a non-American. But I finally settled on Babe Didrickson Zaharias. Babe was one hell of an athlete, excelling in everything she tried including basketball, track and field and golf. She’s still remembered more today as an athlete than a female athlete, which, I think says it all.
Dooley: Full marks for a most excellent answer. Next up: what is your writing process? All the gruesome details, please.
Barber: I usually limit my writing times to the weekend so I can put several consecutive hours together. It’s simply no good to be on a roll then have to stop because you either have to go to work or you have to go to sleep. And, no, homey don’t give up his sleep for no writing. Sometimes I will do some writing during the week. Then it’s generally quick notes, handwritten and hard to decipher later. Many of my blogs start out that way.
I’m not an outliner. I come up with an idea or a phrase or a name or a sentence and go from there. Usually, I have five or ten stories going at a time. When one slows down I grab another and work on that for a while. Sometimes I even finish one. On occasion I’ll write one from start to finish without interruption, but that’s rare.
Oh, and there’ll be coffee, beer, ice water or something to drink at my desk. There used to be an ashtray but there’s not much point in that any more, what with my not smoking and all.
I guess that’s it.
Dooley: Have you ever been beaten up? If yes, what did you do to deserve it? If no, how the hell have you managed to avoid it?
Barber: Oh, sure. And I deserved it because I was stupid.
Back when I was a little kid we had not one but two bullies living in the neighborhood and I got pounded regularly. One day it occurred to me that it was okay to fight back. I did. They stopped beating me up. It seems they didn’t like getting hit themselves. Go figure.
Dooley: What does the immediate future hold for Steve Barber?
Barber: I figure a 22 ounce mug of Bass Ale. Maybe two three. And Cheetos. The crunchy kind, not the puffy kind.
Dooley: Thank you, Steve, for submitting yourself to my endlessly curious nature. You might be a weirdo, but you’re obviously a complete sweetheart too.
Barber: Thanks for having me, Dooley. You’re pretty weird yourself.
And don’t I know it! If you want a free taste of Steve Barber’s twisted fiction you can read Fangs for Nothing here and They Wait here. Blob and the Sous-Chef you’ll have to pay for. It’s available from Aspen Mountain Press in various e-formats. Buy it here and you’ll also get a free Steve Barber action figure. Kidding. But it’s still a great price. Here is my review of Blob and I’m providing a link to another review here, just ‘cos I’m nice like that.