TLC Interview: Author Peter Curran of Breezy Point

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I recently spoke with Breezy Point’s Peter Orr, a.k.a., P. Curran, author of the Stay Out Of New Orleans Trilogy. Here’s our Q&A about life in Breezy, writing, books and more:

TLC: You grew up in Breezy Point. Has this influenced your writing in any way?

Orr: It used to, so it probably still does. I like to write about derelict buildings and ruins, and that stems directly from sneaking into the AIC, which was a fenced-off development abandoned halfway through construction. A lot of people referred to the spot as “the skeleton buildings.” The Waldbaum's had been completed to the point that they'd installed the metal counters in the deli department. I was paralyzed by heights, but I would climb into any haunted house in the dead of night. Kids who laughed at me on the Ferris wheel later paid grudging respect to my midnight dauntlessness in what we called the Cop Buildings, which were the brick ones along the road to the Silver Gull.

One summer, some non-Breezy kids were staying at a bungalow down the block from me; they were religious kooks, by which I mean non-Catholic. Their parents didn't want them intermingling with us locals. Anyway, one of the boys got infatuated with a girl who lived next door, and he exposed himself to her. Several other people saw the kid and his brother spying in the girl's window the next night. The boys' father took the tack that the girl had made it all up, and revealed that he was a high-dollar psychiatrist from the Midwest, recently relocated to a Manhattan hospital. He made his disdain evident for Breezy's indigenous Irish rabble. Big mistake. In a couple of days, this dispute concluded with the psychiatrist leading his family up Devon Walk, carting their belongings in a wagon, looking terrified, with two of his sons carrying baseball bats. That same summer, a family from Roxbury got voted out of the Cooperative because their kids had committed a slew of vandalisms. The family's father wound up pleading in vain to defend their right to stay, during a public meeting at the Breezy ball fields. I watched some of this tribunal from out in the parking lots.

Suffice to say, Breezy Point had a lot of Shirley Jackson and Patricia Highsmith in it. I didn't live there year-round, by the way.

TLC: Who/what are your favorite strange writers/stories?

Orr: Hard to pick a favorite Robert Aickman story, but let's say "Growing Boys." Peter Straub called it "uncharacteristic." I disagree. Also hard to choose one Avram Davidson story. "Now Let Us Sleep" is his Hamlet (profound content), "Negra Sum" his Macbeth (sublime form). Plus Joseph Sheridan LeFanu’s "Carmilla" and William Faulkner’s "The Leg."

TLC: Was there anything that you've experienced in New Orleans that made you want to update the genre to there?

Orr: The fact that I didn't need to.

TLC: You have written a trilogy; how do they connect? Tell us something about your Stay Out of New Orleans Trilogy.

Orr: It is a trilogy by accident rather than design. I wrote Stay Out of New Orleans between 1993 and 1999, The Breathtaking Christa P between 1997 and 2001, and Naught But a Shadow between 2001 and 2005. Then came the flood. Afterward, the books transformed into a time capsule, especially since they take place in the early, middle, and late decade, respectively. The first book combines hyperreal crime with the strange story, the second book is just the crime element (it's actually a Jim Thompson parody), and the final book is just strange. Certain locations recur between all three, and a number of characters from Stay Out turn up in Naught. The most unifying factor is that revelations in one book will affect how you view events in the others. Most obviously (though how obvious can it be if I have to point it out?), the protagonist in Naught features in a Stay Out story that reveals a traumatic experience he never mentions in Naught (although both he and another character allude to it).

TLC: What were your favorite books as a child?

Orr: No Flying in the House The Martian Chronicles, Tales of Poe (don't remember the exact title) andThe Lottery.

TLC: What were your favorite books as a teen in Breezy Point?

Orr: Still The Lottery or any Robert Bloch. Also, Richard Matheson's Shock series and I was also the first Stephen King fan any of my Science Fiction Club friends ever heard of.

TLC:  If you could place one book on a high school curriculum, what would it be?

Orr: The Real Frank Zappa Book.

TLC:  How do you organize your books?

Orr: Never.

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