CINDY SOMERS Citizen Staff Writer
Athletes know “the zone’ – that place where mistakes can’t be made and everything touched is golden. So do writers.
“We go into that zone just like Michael Jordan does, and some writers even live in the zone,’ writer Brian Andrew Laird said. “And some of us know we don’t live in the zone. But every once in a while, if we keep our head down and keep working hard, we might find ourselves in the zone and be able to slip in the game.
“That’s what writing is all about. It’s about keeping yourself ready for that moment when you’re really lucky and happen to have a pen in hand on the day when all the stars align just right and the story comes together within you.’
At 31, with one published novel, “Bowman’s Line,’ and another, “To Bury the Dead,’ (to be released this winter) to his name, Laird does not see himself as a “zone writer.’ But he’d like to try.
“I hope someday to write one good book,’ Laird said. “I can’t explain why it is I need to do this. It’s a compulsion, a strange, undefined compulsion that I can’t control.’
“All I do know is that I will write, no mater what. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. Mysteries? Who knows. So far, that’s the only writing I’ve been successful at, so I’ll keep at it for now.”
A near-native Tucsonan – his family moved here when he was 5 year old – Laird graduated from Catalina High School and earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Arizona. Because he’s always been a ravenous reader, he felt it only natural to become an obsessive writer.
“The only way you learn to write is to read. And then the more you write, the better you write – hopefully,’ Laird said. “I always look at writing as my default occupation. I couldn’t do anything else because I was so focused on writing. All I could do was read, write and then read some more. And then write some more. . . .’
Both “Bowman’s Line” and “To Bury the Dead” (which will be released this winter) are mysteries that feature guns and violence. It’s a necessary evil of the genre, Laird admits, but one not without its own values. A movie buff, Laird has refined his views regarding violence as entertainment while gauging his own reaction – and the audiences’ – to films by Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorcese. “Violence releases tension. In moments of violence, the consequences are so high, the story becomes that much more gripping,’ Laird said. “And in that way, violence is essential to some stories. But you need to use it right. Someone like Scorcese uses violence almost like a documentarian; it’s to turn your stomach. Violence, for him, is an object lesson in life.
“But Tarantino uses violence for comedic effect. In his violent scenes, the audience laughs. I think that’s sick. With stuff I’m writing now, if someone is murdered, I want the reader to go, `That’s awful.’ I want it to turn your stomach. I don’t want you to feel good. That’s using violence in a good way.’
Laird jokes about the philosophy of mystery writer Raymond Chandler, who once suggested that whenever things got slow, a good mystery writer simply had two guys kick the door down (see Laird’s tribute in the accompanying chapter) . But the fear of what may happen next, when it could be anything, is exactly what makes the genre so compelling, he said.
“As long as there is some kind of suspense, you hold the audience,’ Laird said. “My challenge as a writer is to envision a scenario, decide an ending and then figure out how to move backward from one point to the other, creating as much suspense as possible. It’s like a big puzzle and, written well, it can be a very wonderful genre.’
Laird isn’t afraid to experiment in his writing. He isn’t afraid to approach other writers and ask for help or their opinions. With his shaved bald head and appreciation for guns and violence, Laird makes a statement with any group – and it’s almost always an intimidating one.
“Hey, I started going bald when I was 17 years old,’ he said with a laugh. “I don’t feel insecure about anything in my life. Not after that. I never was the guy who flopped his hair over the bald spot. Not me.
“Because the one thing I know that the guys who flop don’t is that there’s always going to be a wind. So you might as well be what you are and don’t try to fake it. The wind will always get you.’
Yet, despite his bravado, this is a man who would not have finished his first book if not for the love of one woman.
“I was about two-thirds finished with `Bowman’s Line’ when Wendy and I broke up and separated for about eight months,’ Laird said. “This was the longest I’d ever worked on one book and things felt pretty good. But when we separated, I was distraught and couldn’t handle anything. It was the hardest thing in my life.
“I had gone up for a hike on the trail to Finger Rock and I was looking at the sheer cliffs across the way and had pretty much decided that it hurt too much to live and that I was going to throw myself off of them. But I felt I had not finished one thing in my life and I decided I was going to finish this book which had been my lifeline – my connection to Wendy. I wanted to finish it for her.
“Funny thing was, by finishing it, it pushed all thoughts of the cliffs away. It showed me what I wanted to do with my life and what was important to me.
Brian Andrew Laird
What he’s written: “Bowman’s Line.’
What’s next: “To Bury the Dead,’ due from St. Martin’s Press this winter.
What he’s working on: A mystery set in Tijuana introducing Mexicano detective E.Z. James, cowritten with close friend Luis Alberto Urrea; a novel set in Tucson.
What he’s reading: “By the Lake of Sleeping Children,’ the new book by Urrea; books by Elmore Leonard and James Lee Burke; “Bones of Coral’ by James W. Hall; “Mozart’ by Wolfgang Hildesheimer.
What books/authors influenced his life: Laird’s chronological list: “The Hobbit’ by J.R. Tolkein (“I am a hobbit. This book was so fun and playful and full of the joy this little old man had.’); “The Catcher in the Rye’ by J.D. Salinger (“This was the first inkling I had as a teen-ager that there was someone else out there like me.’); “The Fountainhead’ by Ayn Rand (“This book defined thoughts of morality for me.’); “The Monkeywrench Gang’ by Edward Abbey; the works of Charles Bowden; “Blood Meridian’ by Cormac McCarthy (“The greatest novel of the American West.’); “Absalom, Absalom’ by William Faulkner (“This book took me three years to read and I am so, so glad I stuck with it. This is one of the greatest stories ever written.’); Lawrence Clark Powell (“Of all the writers I’ve known, he has shown me the way.’)
PHOTO: XAVIER GALLEGOS/Tucson Citizen
Brian Andrew Laird