Today, I have the pleasure of featuring the pride of the Midwest, Mr. Chris Larsen, as the first interview here in The Library. Larsen has an eclectic resume that includes radio host, high school teacher and author. When he isn’t writing, he’s enjoying Guns N Roses reunion concerts and celebrating the world of weird.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Chris Larsen…
CHRIS LARSEN: That’s the first time anyone has referred to me or anything I’ve done as “distinguished”, so thank you! I got my first job in radio at WEFT-FM when I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois in Champaign and bounced around some Central Illinois stations, before producing for Steve Cochran (now mornings at WGN-AM). After that, I hosted evenings at 95 WIIL ROCK until 2009, at which point I left to become a high school English teacher.
LoT: Readers all over the world are thankful you made the crossover! Did you grow up a fan of horror?
CL: I grew up reading high fantasy, mostly J.R.R. Tolkien, Piers Anthony, and Terry Brooks, and I liked the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, too, but I didn’t start reading horror until I was in college when I tackled Stephen King’s The Stand. But I did like to watch horror movies. I grew up on the B-horror and Universal monster flicks on Svengoolie back when it was known as Son of Svengoolie. I also remember convincing my dad to rent Return of the Living Dead when I was eleven. I scarfed down a big bag of Butterfinger bars and terrified the living shit out of myself for years. When I watch that movie now, I see more humor in it, but it still scares me, too.
LoT: Who are some of your favorite horror authors (past and/or present)?
CL: Even though it’s as much fantasy and sci-fi as it is horror, anyone who wrote for The Twilight Zone zooms to the top of my list with Rod Serling, Richard Matheson, Charles Beaumont, George Clayton Johnson, Earl Hamner, Jr., and Ray Bradbury leading the pack. Hamner was the last to go in March, but there are plenty of active writers out there still turning out new work that I really dig.
LoT: Why is horror such a comfortable genre for you and your writing?
CL: I suppose horror offers me certain freedoms. My stories almost always have some sort of fantastical element to them, but people expect blood and guts with horror—they expect to be disturbed. Between the victories, life is disturbing. You don’t have to PG it down with horror. Readers expect things to be unvarnished. You don’t have to apologize for it.
CL: Post Mortem Press has published both of my novels, Losing Touch and The Blackening of Flesh, and they’ve done a great job. One of the things that attracted me to them was the fact that they’re always out there selling books. Physically handling books at places like Printer’s Row in Chicago, Texas Frightmare in Dallas, and other places. I’ve modeled what they’re doing and sell on my own at book festivals and pop culture conventions. I think the hardest thing for me is to find the shows that work, and not get discouraged by the ones that don’t. It’s very hit-or-miss, and a bad weekend can be very discouraging if you let it. I’m not even talking dollars and cents, although that matters, I’m talking about the sense of a gut-punching, why-am-I-even-bothering sense of failure. A failure to reach new readers.
LoT: The Blackening of Flesh has enjoyed a lot of positive feedback and buzz, and it’s well deserved. Congratulations! What inspired this story?
CL: I was in between projects and started reading up on crime in my hometown. Park Ridge, Illinois has always been a very safe place—almost too safe. Insular. But there was an actual crime there the year I was born that was the germ for Blackening. I won’t say what it was, because it will spoil the end. But the book explores the notion of right and wrong, and it kind of turns it on its head. In broad terms: what if the good guy was the bad guy, or vice versa? History doesn’t always get it right. Plus, throw in some ghosts and some Prohibition-era gangsters, because who doesn’t like those?
CL: I grew up a couple of miles from the Robinson Family Burial grounds in Norridge. Chief Robinson was a Native American who was given a big stretch of land for helping settlers survive the Fort Dearborn Massacre. His family lived there until the mid-50s, when a fire razed the house. People say you can hear “Indian toms” and smell lilac there, even in the middle of winter. Not long after, Kenneth Hansen murdered three boys right around that same place. The Schuessler-Peterson murders. My grandpa used to print hat tags for Schuessler Knitting Mills, so my mom knew John and Anton Schuessler. Even though the murders happened 20 years before I was born, it still hits close to home. I wrote a story based on both Chief Robinson and the murders called “Chief Chatzahoaken” in 44 Lies By 22 Liars.
LoT: You will be at the 1st annual Lake County AuthorFest at The Cultural and Civic Center of Round Lake (Illinois) on July 30. What can fans of yours expect when they arrive to meet you? (Will you have books and merchandise for sale? Where can fans get tickets?)
CL: Look for the guy who looks like he woke up at a bus stop. That’s me. I’ll have books for sale, of course, including my novels and some of my newest and more popular anthologies. But I won’t be there alone. There’s going to be something like 20 authors there. One of them is a New York Times bestseller, I hear. My sources tell me the event is totally free, and besides books up for sale, there will be author readings, stuff for kids to do, stuff to eat and drink, and a live band will be playing.
LoT: If you could sit down with one author, past or present, who would it be and why?
CL: That’s a tough one. I could give you an answer like Tolkien, Lovecraft, or Poe, (and I would love to have a chance to talk to all of them) but if I was really being honest, I would want to talk with Mohammad or St. Mark or Moses and just ask them about their scholarship and writing processes. Whatever the answer and whatever you believe, I can’t imagine a more important revelation to Western or even world culture.
LoT: What are you currently working on?
CL: I wanted to tell you that I was in the middle of a groundbreaking future bestseller, but I’d be lying. I haven’t written anything of substance in months, and I owe people stuff. I’m working a lot, which is a good thing. The Day Job pays the bills. But it’s all just writer’s block. I’m in a tough stretch, and I keep saying I need to get back at it, but you know, the longer you stay away, the harder it is to go back. I should know, I haven’t been to the gym in 12 years.