Words by Harlin Anderson, Image by Erin Rambo
We recently cornered local novelist, Darin Bradley, as he sipped a beer by the smoker and stoked the coals under a batch of his special recipe Lemon Pepper Chicken. Talk inevitably turned to his critically-acclaimed debut novel, Noise, but damned if we weren’t distracted by the smell of that yard bird. Lucky for you, we got the whole chat transcribed all fancy like.
Noise is one of the most horrifying books we’ve ever read. What drove you to embark on such a dark literary undertaking?
It wasn't always so disturbing. The original idea was simple:
two young men who rise to power in an unstable U.S. based solely on their wits
and resourcefulness. It wasn't an overly sophisticated concept, and I carried
it around in the back of my mind for several years while I worked on other
projects. When I finally decided it was time to write Noise (it was called Amaranth
back then), I decided that I needed to know the architecture behind re-making
the U.S. (Was there a "right way" to do something like this? Should
my characters follow some Plan?) As the story came together, and international financial
collapse became the stage, the earliest tenets of "The Book" began to surface (the guide the characters assemble
in the novel to help them establish their nation-state). It became clear very
quickly that I needed to actually write the entire "Book" before approaching
the story, so I asked myself straightforward questions about what I would do to
survive and protect my loved ones if the rule of law collapsed. I didn't always
like the answers I came up with, but I felt they were true to the spirit of the
exercise. It's this hard-line, no-exceptions, survival-at-all-costs program
that made the novel as dark as it became. My characters adhered to my
"Book" with dangerous, obsessive exactitude, and the results were pretty
You created sympathetic, likable characters and then put them through absolute hell. Does that take its toll on you in real life?
Absolutely. The characters in Noise are portraits of real people—myself included. Many of Hiram's memories are my own, so to revisit them under circumstances that twisted their meanings and contexts wasn't exactly pleasant. I had to surprise myself with the cold, surgical violence in order to later surprise my readers with it—there's a fine line between believable shock value and engineered shtick, and staying on the right side of it, for me, involves not really knowing what you're doing at every given moment. My characters are young (early twenties) and angry and confused—just as most of us are at that age. The apocalypse occurring around them becomes just a giant metaphor for their tumultuous inner lives as they try to make the world work the way they want it to. When the world pushes back, it's difficult to just powerlessly read about the psycho-social damage this must be doing to those kids. In the real world, I'm a tolerant, progressive Denton townie—it definitely felt weird to borrow sociopathy and Fascism as I wrote the novel.
The town in Noise seems eerily familiar. Any truth to the rumor that it's actually set in a fictionalized Denton?
Ha! Yes: completely true. Here's the very duplex I lived in that appears in the novel: I renamed it Slade, and I moved a few things around, but it's absolutely supposed to be Denton. I didn't want to be restricted by the actual layout of Denton, in case I needed to take creative license, so I just rebranded it. Some of the streets even retain their real names, but some were jazzed up a bit for the fiction: Carroll became "Broadway" (even though Denton already has a Broadway), and Hickory became "Meyer." In a way, the book dates itself by the portrait it paints of Denton. In Noise, there are still longhorns grazing in the old Rayzor pasture, and Fry St. looks like it did before the recent developments (including a fragment of a burned-down pizza place). If you remember what the parking lot behind Cool Bean's looked like five years ago, then you've got the perfect mental stage for Hiram's gruesome act of vehicular assault against the "Strip Rat"—see, even Fry Rats made their way in.
What’s your connection to this area?
I moved to Denton in 1999, earned all three degrees
here, burned through a fair portion of my twenties, and then my wife and I
moved to the Carolinas in 2007. I had just finished a Ph.D. in cognitive theory
and experimental literature, so I was positively buzzing with, quite possibly,
the most sophisticated trains of thought I'll ever have in my lifetime. And I
was unemployed. And homesick. Noise
arose from this miasma and became, in many ways, a lament for the city I didn't
think we'd ever come back to. I burned it down—a sort of exorcism so I could
move on with the next chapter of my life. Luckily, though, we came back in
2010, and now we're here to stay.
What items should be in everyone’s bug out bag?
Mundane things. The first thing everyone wants to reach for is an AK or a sword or a shoulder-mounted anti-tank weapon. But you're going to need water purification technology, bandages, food, and fire starters. (Unless you want to cheat, like Hiram, and just beat people up and steal their stuff.) But, to be fair, I'm not bugging out without my revolver . . .
What are you working on these days?
I'm writing the third book of what I think of as the Noise Cluster. The books don't comprise a trilogy, but they do represent three different experiments in the worlds of collapse, depression, and identity. With each new book, I try to challenge myself to write something more compelling--more contemplative—so I hope this final title will hold to that tradition. We'll see. I'm supposed to be writing it right now, but thank god you came along with these questions because I was really just staring out the window. You know: "writing."
EXCERPT from Noise
We got the jump because we lived near the square. Walking distance. Slade was like most small Texas towns--it radiated outward from the old courthouse. At some point, someone had paved the original hitching yards and erected a cenotaph for the Civil War dead. There were water fountains on each pillar, each with its own inscription: White. Colored. They both still worked. There were pecan trees with dubious histories.
Livery posts, hardware stores, and hotels had clustered slowly around the squared avenue--the buildings still stared at the courthouse-turned-museum, the remnants of their painted-brick signs now protected by city codes. Those businesses were all something else now--candy shops, bars, high-end boutiques. But they had several signs each. Meyer's Pawn was the most important to us. Guitars and drum sets and stereos filled its storefront windows--the ejecta of the nearby university. Its bread-and-butter music program, mostly. Slade still lived because the university owned most of it. Sweet Pine, Siwash, and Minnie Falls, all nearby, had dried up when they were supposed to, half a century before. When Slade should’ve gone.
But we didn't care about instruments. Meyer's had tools, too.
We got the jump. We’d been watching Salvage for months, so we knew what to do.
We knew enough.
Novelist, Eagle Scout, documentarian, linguist, video game writer, brew master, and student of the smoker, Darin Bradley is a true Renaissance Man who makes his home right here in the heart of Denton. Keep an eye out for his next project, and if you haven’t yet read Noise – turn off the television and crack a damn fine book. We guarantee you won’t regret it.
Harlin Anderson is the underground BBQ champion of Denton, Texas. When he's not digging through crates of vinyl at Recycled Books or Mad World Records, he can be found manning the smoker on the back patio at Dan's Silver Leaf - or wherever there are hungry musicians. His lives with his wife, Ashley, and their three furry children: Earl, Jake, and Nanette the Pocket Beagle. He prefers to stay comfortably within the Denton city limits at all times.