Biography: Brian Barr is an American author. He also writes under the pseudonym of Aghori Shaivite. He writes novels, short stories, and comic books. Brian has been published in Autumn Burning, Inanna Rising, and other anthologies. Brian collaborates with another writer, Chuck Amadori, on the comic book series Empress, along with Pencil Blue Studios, Brazilian artist Marcelo Salaza, and colorist Vicki Pittman, for the art. His first two novels, Carolina Daemonic and Psychological Revenge, will be published by J. Ellington Ashton Press in 2015.
You have a new book coming out from JEA called Carolina Daemonic, Book I: Confederate Shadows, can you tell us a little about it?
Carolina Daemonic is set in the Carolinas, during an alternative timeline where the Confederate South won the Civil War. The Carolinas are combined as one Confederate state and are no longer North and South Carolina. Slavery was ended in the late 20th century, segregation about two decades after that. The British Empire is still around under the name of Victoria, continuing to own Hong Kong and India among other territories. The Chinese Empire still exists, has a hostile relationship with Japan, and has a working relationship with the Confederacy. The story has a lot of magic from a variety of cultures, demons, and undead creatures that are quite unique. I can't call them vampires, or zombies... they're something completely different altogether, my own entity, and I can't wait to unleash them on the world.
Confederate Shadows is the first book in this series.
I started writing the book in Brighton, England. The city was just so cool and beautiful, it brought this book out of me... a book that linked back to home, thousands of miles away.
This book is set in a dystopian future where the confederates won the civil war, did you have to do a lot of research into the war and life then for your book?
I did have to do a good amount of research, mostly on individuals I use in the book, but a lot of facts I refer to are things I learned long before writing Carolina Daemonic. Figures like Paschal Beverly Randolph that appear in my book, I read a biography on him years ago. I remembered details I learned about the Civil War in high school. Since the book deals with a great deal of occult topics, I researched different things about esotericism to apply to my characters and give background information to the magic appearing in the book.
From my life, there are definitely influences. Living in South Carolina, this state is a huge influence, some locations, the look of environments, the feel. I've met many people reminiscent of characters in the book. The book deals with a lot of extreme differences in cultures, extreme views, and more moderate views, acceptable views. A lot of political influences have also come from documentaries I've watched.
I was also lucky to have an editor that knew a lot about the Civil War, and he knew how to make sure things were accurate and believable. His name is Michael Fish Fisher a great writer. If you ever get a chance, check out DC's Dead, a cool zombie novel mixed with Michael's knowledge of DC and club scenes he knows inside and out. He has a great sense of humor, too.
It’s also a blend of horror, urban fantasy, steampunk and the occult, Could you tell us a bit about how you came up with it and how you came to add these elements?
I went on a trip to England during 2013, mostly staying in the Northeast but traveling to the South as well. The entire isle really fascinated me, being in Lancaster and Blackpool, all these places that have a great mix of old architecture and new architecture. Seeing houses made in the 1600s, it made me think about where I live, South Carolina, and how there aren't as many old establishments like I saw in England. I thought about the places in the Carolinas where I've probably seen the oldest locations I could remember, and I instantly thought of Charleston. Charleston still has some streets that are made of cobblestone like I saw in Lancaster, and old slave markets still hanging around, serving as art galleries and other establishments. You can see a cannon still hanging out near the beach, around those old ports.
Seeing those old places and thinking of Victorian England made me think of steampunk. I knew little about it besides a lot of influence coming from Jules Verne, and I got curious about it. I googled steampunk and the first name that came up was China Mieville. That's when I found out about Perdido Street Station and bought a copy from Waterstones. It was a hefty book, and a challenge, but it blew my mind. I had also read a bit of Shelly's Frankenstein, which inspired me, and I thought about a steampunk world in the Carolinas. The Civil War is still a heavy part of Carolina history, so I became curious about doing an alternative history novel where the South won, every Confederate lover's fantasy. I always loved occult fiction, and have added occult elements in my stories before, so the novel was definitely going to have occult elements. I mainly wanted to set the story in Charleston, and Columbia, so the magic and the cityscape brought the urban fantasy element to the game.
Also, I love dark elements and horror. I grew up in a horror household, so I knew I wanted to through horror into the gumbo. When I was in high school, I read Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show. It changed my life, because I always liked fantasy, and horror, but he's a guy that just naturally bridges the fantastic and the horrific together. That's what I do.
Featuring some very diverse characters here, can you tell us a bit about these characters and what you like about them?
Oh yes. This book has a huge cast. The main character is Titus. He's a black bisexual engineer that works for a mainly steam based technology corporation. Philosophically, he's a multiculturalist and very progressive. He thinks out of the box of his cultural surroundings and even his background, which I love.
Wei is also a major character. She's a concubine visiting the Confederacy for the Emperor of China, meeting with a major corporation, OrbTech, which holds a monopoly on technology, food produce, and other markets around the world, especially in the Confederacy. She's my favorite character. She's very honest and calls out bullshit. She stands up against tyrants, and she's very intelligent.
Zevulun Khodhorov is another important character in Carolina Daemonic, and perhaps the most mysterious. He's a Russian Jewish Kabbalist from 19th Century Charleston. He was one of many magicians commissioned by the Union to combat Confederate magicians and use his occult knowledge to assist Union soldiers as well. I can't reveal too much about him other than he's a bad ass at magic and very heroic. Along with his heroism and occult wisdom, I love how he faces his challenges head on. He's very pragmatic with his magic and thinks through situations carefully.
None of the characters are one hundred percent likable, but many of them are easy to hate. I have racist cult leaders, both black and white, and I address human hatred from sexism, racism, homophobia, and even religious discrimination. I write the book without upholding anyone as hero or villain in an outright fashion because I wanted to get into the mindsets of these different types of people, see what makes them tick, why they hate, and why it's so logical for them to hate.
This is the first in a series, how many more do you think there might be with it? Have you started the next book?
I have started the next book. It continues and builds up on the intensity from the first book. The second book is called Rebel Hell. The third book will be called Heritage of Hate.
I'm not setting a number of books to the series because I want to make sure I connect the dots as I go. I do know there will be a minimum of three books. The main goal I'm setting for myself is to not rush to an end and make sure I tie up as many ends in the book series as possible. I'm working to make Carolina Daemonic a very complex work with a lot of detail and characters, so I want to be cautious in making everything flow and fit.
After reading Tad William's Otherland, which became one of my favorite books, I was impressed how well he tied up the story. It's four volumes, filled with material, but he worked to address everything. Best writer I've ever read, along with maybe R. R. Martin. That's how I want to write, especially with books with multiple volumes.
Psychological Revenge is also with JEA, can you tell us a bit about this book?
Psychological Revenge is the first Super Inc. novel. Super Inc. is a crusader team I came up with, living in a dystopian future. I was inspired a few years ago by Pheonix Jones, this MMA fighter that became a real life superhero in Seattle. I thought it was fun, so I wanted to create a crusader team that existed in a future where vigilantism was outlawed and crusaders had to be registered by the government.
Super Inc. is made up of 5 heroes. In Psychological Revenge, they have to apprehend two criminals- Principal Mind and Brain Surgeon. Brain Surgeon is an alien that feeds on the energy that radiates from people's brains. Principal Mind is a telekinetic misanthrope that has been hiding from the same government that used to experiment on him as a child. Brain Surgeon tries to feed on Principal Mind's brain matter and a rivalry ensues between the villains. The Super Inc. race against time to capture the villains before they kill each other and anyone else around them.
Super Inc. shows the softer, campier side of Brian Barr, way less heavy and more pulp than Carolina Daemonic. I love writing silly escapist fiction as much as I like writing serious stuff. I grew up being a big Batman fan. The 60's show, the cartoon, etc. I like the dark stuff, and I like the goofy stuff as well. I was a big comics fan, liked X-Men, The Maxx, etc. I also love Watchmen, Dr. Who, The Avengers from the 60s. Some modern comic book writers hate cornball camp in comics and try to distance themselves away from it in this elitist way. I embrace it, from the cliche troupes to the slapstick humor. Psychological Revenge isn't really a comedic novel, and it's quite serious for being a pulp fiction/comic influenced novel, but it's not Dostoevsky or Masterpiece Theatre. It's meant to be fun.
Psychological Revenge is more sci-fi than Carolina Demonic, do you often write in multiple genres?
Yes. I love to write in different genres, mostly speculative. I never want to be regulated to writing only one kind of book. I got to have diversity.
Which character was your favorite in the book, The Brain Surgeon or Principle Mind?
Principle Mind. I sympathize with him more. Both are villains, and both have their reasons for being evil or doing evil things. Principle Mind just has better reasons. His childhood and circumstances have hurt him to the point that he is a recluse. He just wants to be alone, but he has so much rage. He feels wronged by society and thirsts for vengeance.
Brain Surgeon only thinks about one thing: food. Unfortunately, our brains are on the menu.
How did you come up with the pseudonym Aghori Shiavite? Do you use it for any particular projects? Does it pose any trouble using multiple writing names?
I randomly came up with the name years ago when I joined art forums. I came up with it because I wanted to write dark, weird stories and the Aghoris, a group of Indian Hindu holy men in India, are legendary for having dark, weird rites that turn off even a lot of Hindus. It was just a handle I had fun with. I never thought I would do anything serious with it, like publish books or comics. It served me well for fun, and I publish under it from time to time, but now I'm comfortable publishing under my real name. The only time it poses problems is every now and then, publishers don't know which name to publish a story under. That's resolved quickly after they ask me, just to make sure. I usually like to use the pen name for some comic projects or super weird and goofy stories.
You’re in several anthologies at JEA as well, can you tell us which ones and which stories were your favorite ones to write for them?
I am in Autumn Burning and Inanna Rising, both of which have been published. I'm also in a metal anthology that will be republished from JEA.
I'm in lots of books that will be coming from JEA pretty soon: Under the Bridge, Fearotica, Weird New England Fiction, Cherry Nose Nightmares, Lost Gods and Forgotten Cities.. so many!
My favorite story I wrote so far is Dead Woman's Hand in Inanna Rising, an anthology based on strong female characters, warriors and heroines. Dead Woman's Hand is an occult horror story, starring a swashbuckling female Taino pirate who survived Columbus's genocide of the native people of Hispanola and a Haitian Voodoo priestess. The short story is just one of many historical occult horror short stories I wrote connecting to the Carolina Daemonic story line. I plan on releasing a collection of Carolina Daemonic short stories one day entitled Daemonic I, then maybe a II, or how many more, depending on how many shorts I write for it. The short stories I wrote for Carolina Daemonic have formed a lot of the background and history for the novel series, so it's pretty complex.
My second favorite story is in Autumn Burning, a Halloween horror anthology. I wrote a story called Song of the Hallow Saints, a sword and sorcery tale set in Ireland on Samhain.
You also work on the comic Empress, how did you get involved with comics? How is it different working on them versus writing novels nad short stories/ Do you prefer any one of these three things?
I got involved in comics a little over half a decade ago. My friend, Matt Rowe, used to do an underground LGBT punk zine called Fag Mag. He would write stories, narratives, do art, all sorts of things in these zeroxed booklets. He inspired me, because I had stopped drawing and writing for years after high school in some lame attempt to grow up. Seeing him be creative for the sake of loving it, being DIY... I realized that was what I needed to do, my own art, my own writing, for fun.
I started a comic called Serpent King, about an alien mystic named Zian Ur. He's half reptilian, half djinn. After creating Serpent King, I haven't looked back since. I love doing comics and I did a disservice to myself leaving them alone for so long.
For comics, I have to write scripts. I collaborate with an artist, and have to write a good story, but give the artist enough creative license for him to add to the story with pictures.
For novels and short stories, I get to be more descriptive than with comics. I have to paint the pictures with my words. Novels allow me to build a bigger story over time, but short stories challenge me to tell a concise but entertaining story with less words. I love writing all three, but I may like short stories a little more than comics due to the responsibility of being more descriptive and visual with words. I like novels the most of all because you have to do so much to tie everything together, keep track of everything, and there's more you can fit into a novel. It can be as short or as long as you want. Comics can be any length, but its common to have 22 pages or 48 pages, set page limits where you have to decide how you tell a story and how much you'll fit in that space.
The thing I love the most out of the comics that I don't get from the novels and short stories is the collaboration. It's amazing seeing what an artist does with your work, and I love working with another author, seeing the ideas they come up with as well. I write Empress with Chuck Amadori and he's an amazing writer. Best comic writer I've met so far. He knows how to create characters, how to build mystery, and he loves what he does. He doesn't just do an explosion here and put a prostitute there because it's 'extreme'. I met a few comic book writers who are more obsessed with building their resume or using people as stepping stones to get to the top of Mt. Everest. They'll write in a genre just because it is popular and it will get them fans, not out of a love of writing. They're more businessmen than creators, which is fine because I think there should be a balance, but I'm more about the creativity than bland business. It's my nature.
A writer once told me I should write "mainstream comics" just to get more attention, whatever that means. He meant well, but it was bad, sell out advice for me. I would like my audience to be people that really like what I do as an individual, not people I fool into liking my stuff because I write some fake story I'm not even into writing. I write the type of stories I want, and Chuck is the same way. That's why Empress is so unique, and the other comic titles Chuck writes under his IsleSquaredComics, from Pale Dark to Tether, are some of the most unique comics I've read in a long time. They come from stories he cares about, and nurtured over time, not something he looked at the New York Bestseller list and said "Ah, ha! I'll write a mimic of #1 today!" He inspires me to write better, to do my best. I'm a better writer from working with Chuck on Empress.
What other projects do you have going and hope to see out in the next year or so?
I am writing a Serpent King novel, a second Super Inc. novel, and a second Carolina Daemonic novel. I hope that one of those will be done within the next twelve months. I'm working on tons of short stories, and pushing those out often. Empress is on issue 5, and we started publishing less than a year ago. At that rate, I think we can get to Empress 10 before the end of July 2016.