Interview with Henry Baum

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I was born in New York City and grew up in Los Angeles. L.A. has influenced me hugely, as it's where I've set every novel I've written. Both my parents worked in Hollywood so my first two novels are about Hollywood. I went to high school with Jack Nicholson's kid, Cher's kid, and others, and I see Hollywood like an American religion, which is why the two novels after that have focused on religion itself.
When did you first start writing?
I wrote my first novel when I was 18. My father's a writer, and as an alienated adolescent the way to rebel was to turn my back on books and writing. When I left home for college, I realized it was something I loved doing, and came fairly easily. My first novel was terrible - a rip-off of Richard Yates' Easter Parade. My 3rd novel became the first novel I ever published - also kind of a rip-off of "Taxi Driver," but a better one.
What's the story behind your latest book?
After 9-11 I got heavily obsessed with conspiracy theories. I was living in downtown New York at the time and saw everything hit in real time. I started investigating esoteric ideas - the occult, UFOs - as well as feeling a sense of impending apocalypse after being a part of a war zone. My latest novel is part of a trilogy, The American Book of the Dead, which is about World War III, fundamentalist religion, UFO contact, and other bits of crazy thinking.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
My first novel came out with a small press, Soft Skull Press, with editions in the U.K. and France. I've had a few different agents over the years, and I was getting rejected for mostly marketing-based reasons. Even my agents had some poor ideas about how to sell my book to publishers. It just felt like my fate was being put in the hands of people who cared more about money than my artistic well-being. I'm also fairly anti-mainstream, so it's a good way to give the finger to a corrupt system and have complete artistic control.
Who are your favorite authors?
Richard Yates, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Philip K. Dick, Robert Anton Wilson, Charles Bukowski, Jim Thompson...
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I write music. I'm also a songwriter. See: I'm currently writing a song for every chapter in The American Book of the Dead.
Published 2013-08-21.
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