Recently I had the opportunity to interview Brandon Barrows, whose exciting new novel, Burn Me Out, was released September 2 from Black Rose Writing. Here’s what he had to say:
Q. Tell us about Burn Me Out. How did you get the idea for writing it?
BURN ME OUT is actually a story I started back around 2012. I had the idea for the characters and the basic situation at least that far back. It started as a short story, but it didn’t work the way I wanted/needed it to. I put it away for a long time and when I finally went back to it, writing the novel was actually surprisingly easy. A lot changed in my life in the nearly six years the story sat fallow, much of it not great, and I think I needed those feelings and experiences to tell this story the way it needed to be told.
Q. Do you identify with the main character, Al Vacarro? If so, in what way. Tell us a little bit about him.
Very much. I think many people who read the book will, too. Al Vacarro is a man who’s made his own bed and has been lying in it for decades, and hating it most of the time. We all make decisions on a daily basis, but sometimes it’s years before the cumulative effect of those decisions are recognizable. We can’t go back and make those decisions again, and as a result, I think many of us feel trapped in the situations we’ve created for ourselves. Perhaps not as dramatically as Al Vacarro has trapped himself, but the feelings are the same.
Q. You write in a variety of genres, horror, detective fiction, and Westerns. As for the latter, you’re a fan of Louis L’Amour, who grew up in North Dakota in the final days of the American frontier. He used stories told to him by his older relatives as background in writing his many novels. How did you research Burn Me Out? Unless we’re very much mistaken you don’t have personal knowledge of what it’s like to be a member of an organized crime family, so how did you make Al and his associates seem believable?
Well, to be perfectly honest, I can’t say I did any research at all. I purposely left much of the setting vague so that it could seem to take place most anywhere. That aside, I think most people fit into certain archetypes regardless of what they do for a living, and I really don’t think the average organized crime syndicate is that different from your average workplace in terms of the personalities you’ll meet. I didn’t directly base any of the characters on any specific people, but all of the personalities in the Castella organization are personality types you’ll find just about anywhere. How those aspects of their personalities are expressed may vary, depending on the situation, but as I said, I believe people are people.
Q. What is one thing you hope readers will take away from Burn Me Out?
That there’s always a way forward. It may not be the way forward you’d pick in an ideal world, but we always have a choice.
Q. You read a lot of books. By that we mean a staggering amount of books, more than seems humanly possible. How many books a month would you say you read? Have you always been a voracious reader?
Strictly prose, I read an average of 25-30 books a month. I also read a lot of manga, and if you take tankōbon (individual manga volumes) into account, as well, it’s at least double that.
Q. Who’s your favorite author, and why?
That answer will change over time, of course, but for the last six or seven years, at least, it’s been Gil Brewer. The majority of his career is largely compacted into less than a decade, but he was of the first generation of paperback original authors and an absolute giant of noir. From 1951 to 1960, he wrote about thirty novels and hundreds of short stories, and they cover just about every aspect of crime and mystery fiction that I love. His characters struggle with themselves and the problems they’ve (usually) created for themselves and they rarely have happy endings, but even knowing they’re doomed, they don’t give up or give in. They’re not good people, usually, but they’re very human. That’s something I tried very hard to do with BURN ME OUT.
Q. Tell us about your cats.
They’re monsters, but they’re my monsters. Flip is a cranky old man. Rosco is a gentle giant who occasionally, inexplicably, goes on misbehavior jags, like eating all my plants or stealing a random loaf of bread. Mochi is an adorable little squishy ball of sweetness who has more energy than any other cat I’ve ever known.