The Secret Life of Laird Barron

[Yes, I know it's been forever since I've posted. But this is a special occasion. Some of the language below is taken from public-access mental health documents.]


Promote best practices in a compassionate environment

“Do you understand why it was wrong for you to eat Dr. Simon’s brains?” Barron asked.

“I…was…hungry,” the zombie replied.

“I know you’re always hungry. But we have to behave in ways that are appropriate.”


Barron sighed, tried to remember his training—what there had been of it. “Violence in any form hurts the community and adds to life crisis.”

“Good…brains?” The zombie chewed what was left of its right index fingernail. The entire tip of the finger came off with a wet crunching sound. The zombie chewed momentarily and then spit the fingertip on the floor.

Provide non-coercive, collaborative treatment that neutralizes power and control

After the virus had come and gone and the worst of it was over, there were still all those zombies to deal with. In some parts of the country they just wiped the slate clean—a tire iron to the head did just fine—but in Washington state there was an officially sanctioned desire to help the former living if possible, to see them as victims, too. But there was only so much funding available, especially given the cost of repairing Seattle. Crisis and counseling centers were established, but they weren’t very big. Counselors were recruited, but their training was minimal. Keep them from eating the living, and help them cope. But mostly, keep them from eating the living.

Create a healing environment that promotes patient involvement

“How do you feel when you kill somebody?”


“Do you remember what it was like to feel? Try to remember.”


“Good or bad. Try bad. Remember what bad felt like?”


“You don’t really want to make someone else feel like that, do you?”


Barron looked at the thing that used to be human sitting in front of him, closed his notebook, leaned forward, grateful for the ointment under his nose that fought off the smell. “Good. Let’s go with that. Let’s see what we can do, you and me, to make it not bad always.”


People’s strengths emerge when you believe in them

They recruited Barron because someone in charge had read one of his books and thought that he might understand. Someone else had a file that contained Barron’s actual history, and that sealed the deal. He hadn’t really wanted to do it, but the corpses that littered the landscape from coast to coast had, funnily enough, diminished the already-tenuous market for horror fiction of the highest literary quality. There wasn’t a lot of money, but there was enough. And his reluctance did not offset the fact that he wanted to help. Of course he wanted to help. Those poor dead bastards.

Social norms are the most useful source of power

Barron sat in a circle with six zombies. “Melinda, how has the week been for you?”


“Can you tell me something you did in the past week to make our community a safe place?”


“Great! Very good, Melinda. We’re all proud of you. Now, Jerry, what about you? Can you tell me something you did in the past week to make—”


Barron sighed. “OK, Jerry, we’ll come back to you. Now, Kim…”

Violence is not an acceptable behavior in this community.

The day Melinda walked down a street without lunging at anyone, Barron almost wept with pride, a feeling that was only slightly diminished when she paused to gnaw on a cat. Baby steps. One foot in front of the other.

Everyone shares in the responsibility of community safety. If we follow these basic beliefs, respect one another, and treat others as we wish to be treated, then we may begin to heal.

Two Musical Obituaries

Doug Fieger, 1952-2010. Lead singer for The Knack, whose "My Sharonna" was inescapable in 1979 and has managed to stick around ever after. With all due respect to the late Mr. Fieger, I was never able to regard either the band or its biggest hit as anything other than processed new-wave product. But it was a big, loud, energetic presence when I was in college. I always had fun listening to it, and I hope he had fun performing it.

Dale Hawkins, 1936-2010. Composer and performer of "Susie Q." Here, on the other hand, is the uncut stuff. The sound exemplified by Hawkins’ original performance—reverb-drenched rockabilly, recently emerged from the swamp—may be my favorite musical sound. And if you really want to get primitive, check out the original demo.

My Boskone Schedule

After having to miss last year, I'm delighted to be returning to Boskone this coming weekend. Hope to see many of you there. My schedule:

Friday 7 pm Where Did All the Ghost Stories Go?
F. Brett Cox (Moderator)
Gregory Feeley
Elaine Isaak
Faye Ringel
Darrell Schweitzer
...and why aren't very many being written today? (Although, to be
honest, "The Graveyard Book" might change the landscape: agree or
disagree?) While you're at it, take the opportunity to wax nostalgic
about the great ghost stories of the past.

Friday 9 pm Zombie Readings
F. Brett Cox
Jack M. Haringa
John Langan (Moderator)
Paul G. Tremblay
As part of the Zombie Casino, we're having an open reading of
(hopefully horrific!) zombie-oriented material, either written or
selected by our participants. Bring your own selections and join the
hideous hilarity....

Saturday 1 pm The Banality of the Future
F. Brett Cox
Charles Gannon
Walter H. Hunt (Moderator)
Allen M. Steele
Vernor Vinge
Lots of exciting stuff that was supposed to happen by now ...
didn't. No interplanetary travel. No rocket packs. Not even any
sexbots! What if this kind of thing goes on? What factors make it
likely that the coming decades will be really dull? (Frankly, do you
really want to live in ..."interesting"...times?)

Saturday 3 pm Is Fantasy Displacing SF?
F. Brett Cox
Justine Graykin
David G. Hartwell (Moderator)
Daniel Hatch
Mary Kay Kare

Sunday 10 am Reading (0.5 hrs)
F. Brett Cox

Sunday 1 pm Where is Horror Now?
F. Brett Cox
Jack M. Haringa (Moderator)
John Langan
Paul G. Tremblay
An up-to-the-minute look at the field...and where it's going.

J.D. Salinger, 1919-2010

The Catcher in the Rye was pretty much the first 20th-century novel written for adults I ever read. I was eleven. I immediately read Salinger’s other three books--Nine Stories, Franny and Zooey, and Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction--and reread them periodically over the next decade or so. Except for Nine Stories, which I’ve taught a couple of times, I haven’t read any of them in a very long time.

Many find Catcher’s narrator, Holden Caulfield, utterly insufferable. If Holden had been 30, or even in his 20s, I would agree. But he was 16, and so, eventually, was I, and I knew exactly how he felt. Not that I ever mourned for the lost innocence of childhood. But, as Holden might have put it, I knew goddam good and well that those phonies who said they knew what was what knew no such goddam thing. And even the first time I read it I was astonished by how Salinger was telling this story. Catcher remains, for my money, the most pitch-perfect first-person novel in American literature (yes, including Huckleberry Finn).

All that said, my main affection for Salinger’s work rests on his stories of the Glass family, all of whom are, I suspect, as insufferable to some as Holden, but whom I adored. As a young reader, Franny and Zooey was my favorite—when I got to the description of Seymour and Buddy’s childhood room looking as if it were occupied by “two struggling twelve-year-old lawyers,” I suddenly knew what I wanted from the world. As an adult, however, I turned back to Nine Stories. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esme, with Love and Squalor” get all the attention, and they are brilliant, but “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” is right there with F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited” and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” in the select company of perfect short stories. Had Salinger permitted any of them to be reprinted, they would be staples of undergraduate anthologies, and Salinger would be as widely taught in universities as he is in high schools.

But he didn’t. Instead he retreated to the New Hampshire woods (not far from where I live), became at once stone silent and barking mad, emerging for the occasional affair with someone young enough to be his granddaughter, or the occasional legal action to shut down some hapless biographer or small-press publisher. Whether he spent the next half-century stuffing a vault with more stories, or sitting in an orgone box, or both, is hardly the point. We have those four books. It would probably be an exaggeration to say, had I not read those books at an early age, I would never have become a writer. But maybe not much of one.

And if I hadn’t read them at an early age, I might not have begun tracking myself into a career as an English teacher, which means I would not have had the out-of-class, stopping-by-my-office-about-something-else conversation I had last year with a student who, apropos of nothing, went on at length about how much he loved Salinger, whom he had never read in the specific classes he took with me. That student is now, I believe, heading for Afghanistan. I can only hope that his love and fascination with Salinger will serve him well. Maybe a copy of Nine Stories is floating around the base, and my student will reread, or somebody else’s student will read for the first time, “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” or “For Esme, with Love and Squalor,” and think about what’s what.