I received the exciting opportunity to pick the brain of one of bizarro fiction’s most unique voices, author David W. Barbee.
You can find my review of his novel Laser House on the Prairie here
ZÉ BURNS: When did you start writing?
DAVID W. BARBEE: I started writing as a teenager, basically trying to write in prose the sort of stories I’d see on my favorite TV shows like Tales from the Crypt. I let a few girls read them, which was a terrible move since the writing wasn’t great and girls aren’t impressed by a guy who likes monsters and killer robots. So I was figuring out story structure as a teen, then in college I started working on developing my style (which I’m still developing, naturally). I finished school about twelve years ago now, and I’ve been trying to learn the publishing game ever since.
ZB: Who are your influences?
DWB: Like a lot of kids, I was raised by television and movies. They were like my third parent, absent of any gender or humanity but always there for me. I’d watch anything science fiction or horror, and I read a ton of Vertigo Comics, which lead me to my literary north star: Joe R. Lansdale. I always knew him as the guy who did the Jonah Hex comics, then it turned out he was a writer of books, so I got into those, too. The man’s a national treasure, and his work is so unique that it always made me feel like I could and should write the weird stuff I wanted to write. When I got into the small press world, I discovered more authors even weirder than Lansdale, guys like Carlton Mellick III and Cody Goodfellow. Guys who bend genres and make what they want. I don’t want to write the same types of stories as those guys, but I try to take inspiration from their unabashed, unapologetic weirdness. I try to fuse that enthusiasm and risk-taking into my own old fashioned style of storytelling.
ZB: How did you discover bizarro fiction?
DWB: I first discovered Carlton Mellick back when he was going viral for Satan Burger. Through him, and Eraserhead Press, I learned about other weird writers like D. Harlan Wilson, Mykle Hansen, and especially Jeffrey Thomas. All of those guys were being published within the bizarro scene. Bizarro itself looked like the perfect avenue to get into publishing, and so I joined in and learned as much as I could from them. The genre is full of beautiful people and they’re truly dedicated to putting out quality literature that’s weirder than anything else on the market. They published a bunch of my books and I’ll always be grateful to Rose and her gang of misfit toys.
ZB: What are you reading right now?
DWB: I just finished Triple Axe by Scott Cole. Very entertaining horror-comedy. Now I’m reading Nightbird by David Busboom, which is the sort of book I wish I’d had as a teenager. It captures something desolate and ominous (and intensely perverted) about that time in my life.
ZB: What was the inspiration behind Laser House on the Prairie?
DWB: Originally the concept was some aging outlaws team up to steal something that only one of them can actually have, leading to massive amounts of betrayal and treachery. But then I started to think about the people they’re stealing from, and how they should be somehow more dangerous than the outlaws. And the last few years, I’ve been thinking a lot about fan culture. How, no matter what it is that we love, we express that love in a lot of toxic ways. We bicker and bullshit about these things, and whether its politics or My Little Pony, our relationship to it is that of a consumer. I wanted those outlaws I created to encounter a vicious culture shock when faced with flashy, shining utopia full of intensely dedicated fans. That was the overarching theme of the story, and after I got that down it became a roller coaster ride of laser cowboys and petulant geeks.
ZB: Geek/nerd culture is prevalent throughout all of Laser House. Would you consider yourself part of that culture or a spectator?
DWB: Oh, I’m definitely a part of it. I love a lot of geeky stuff that often has my wife rolling her eyes at me. My generation is generally pretty childish, or at least our childishness manifests itself as a love of cartoons and comic books instead of crashing the nation’s economy a bunch of times. Geekdom is inherently silly, but the passion is real. Like for me, my healthiest relationship growing up was probably with comics, and any male role model lived in a movie somewhere. So, I get it. These things have played a huge part in so many of our lives that they can’t help but mean something to us. But I’m also too self-aware to not question and examine this stuff, especially when I’m immersed in it. That passion can easily metastasize into a quasi-religious fervor, all over what amounts to fictional trivia, until you’ve got a guy who’s seriously pissed off that you said Batman couldn’t beat up Darth Maul.
ZB: What can we expect to see from you in the future?
DWB: I just had a story published in Breaking Bizarro, out soon from Death’s Head Press. The story’s called “Snakes in her Head,” which is a title I’ve been wanting to use for a long time. I’m really proud of that story. And I’m even more proud of this other story that I can’t talk about yet until it’s announced. In the long term, I’ve been planning things out more. I’m currently planning three or four weird novellas, but instead of spitting them out as fast as I can, I’m taking my time. I’m going to be working more with Excession Press in the future, trying to spread my books around to more publishers. I’d say something clever about hustling, but I’m honestly too tired.
Thank you to David Barbee for his time! Check out these awesome books:
Laser House on the Prairie, now available from Excession Press:
Breaking Bizarro from Death’s Head Press, featuring his story “Snakes in Her Head”: