"A complex man he is not. Stew lives his life in patterns, one for each block of time and obligation he must exist in the world for." from What Follows
There are always different layers to life, and there is always something below the surface. What most people see is what they choose to see, a country day on a porch doing chores, the morning routines, an innocent greeting on a sunny side street. Yet, the turmoil, the temptations, the anger that burns and bubbles just below the surface lies waiting to be exposed. Waiting for the perceptive and creative writer to dig in and break it down. There are stories inside the lives you come across every day of your life. The farmer, the banker, the guy stocking Snapple in the Supermarket, the homeless man of the corner, and CEO in the corner office, they all have a story. It is the writers job to dig a little deeper, crack open a few wounds, create a few new ones and find the complexities in life's simple moments.
Rusty Barnes tells tales of everyday life, delving deep into the subconscious of the most unlikely subjects. His new collection of short stories is entitled Breaking it Down (sunnyoutside press), and is a shining example of his work and the depths that flash fiction can reach. Rusty is also the co-founder of Night Train Magazine.
Recently, Rusty was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.
Orange Alert (OA): The nature of your fiction work leads me to believe that you might use writing as a form of release? There are so many problems and tragedies in society, is it your responsibility to filter these issues through the writer's pen?
Rusty Barnes (RB): Writing isn't a release for me, at least in the sense you mean (I think). It's not cathartic, really. I suppose it can be, but that's not and never has been my primary concern. I want to put people (my characters) in situations where I can see what they'll do. Sometimes I'm disappointed, sometimes I'm disgusted, but I'm always trying to see how human behavior leads to inevitable actions. I don't know if I believe in Fate entirely, but it certainly seems a likely possibility.
OA: In an interview last year you talked about you current interest in poetry. What does poetry provide for you as a writer that fiction might not?
RB: In fiction I'm interested more in story and rhythm and less in language. In my poetry, that's reversed. I'm more interested in bald terrible/terrifying language that falls trippingly on the tongue. Many of my poems are narrative, for instance, but I don't feel constrained by narrative the way I might when writing a story. That's an answer of sorts. I also admit I began writing poems before anything else, before I really knew what a poem was, and when my well is dry I'll nearly always turn to poetry first to fill it, then gradually work my way back into fiction.
OA: I read that your new fiction collection, Breaking it Down, was spawned initially from a desire to sell something at readings, which have increased in the last few years. Do you feel that reading your stories to an audience adds anything to your stories? Have you been pleased with your experience with Sunnyoutside press?
RB: I love readings. I love to hear how the story affects the audience, how they react to certain lines and images. I like making them uncomfortable, honestly. I think discomfort is a good honest reaction to existence. Reading aloud puts a voice in people's heads, which helps some people and disappoints others, but I've generally been received really well.
Sunnyoutside, which is David McNamara, has been absolutely great. I had input into every facet of the book, we came up with a cover I love, and the support of and belief in my writing has been incredibly sustaining.
OA: How are things going with Night Train? Six years in, do you feel the journal has been all that you imagined it might be?
RB: It’s done better than I could have imagined. Our print journal 'made the news' many times, and we published stories that other publishers would not, in many cases, stories that I loved. What could be better? If we had tons of money, that'd be great—we could do more, and prettier!—but since we don't, we'll continue to do what we do as well as we can. I love the idea of publishing something new every week, and I hope to branch out soon into chapbooks and full-length books using P-O-D technology, but that's some time off, right now.
OA: There has been some debate in regards to the legitimacy of on-line journal publication vs print journal publication. Do you feel one holds more importance?
RB: I think writers will want to be published in print journals so long as they command the attention of agents and book editors. Failing that, I think they'll want to be read, or at least browsed once in a while, and available on Google for their friends and enemies to peruse. There are differences, but at this point I don't really care about them. I'm interested in writing something good, and getting it before the widest audience possible. Very often, that means internet publication.
OA: What's next for Rusty Barnes?
RB: I'm working on a novel which I hope to have 2/3 complete by April 1st, so I can take a month off for National Poetry Writing Month and write poems exclusively, then finish the novel in May, edit and rewrite in June and July, and have it ready to send out at the same time my wife is giving birth to our third child, in late July/early August. I'm saying this in public to hold myself accountable.
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
RB: I don't drink much coffee, and when I do, it's usually a simple iced latte. What I drink, by the two-liter bottle, daily, is a lot of Diet Pepsi. My favorite spot is on our old sprung sofa with my particular ass-marks in the east side, where I write on my laptop in the midst of the TV and my family, between 9:30 PM and midnight every night.
OA: What type of music do you enjoy listening to, and who are a few of your favorites?
RB: I generally listen to single voices with acoustic guitars, and variants thereof: a lot of alt-country, cowpunk, folkie sorts. There's no way to answer this in short. Currently, I'm listening to a ton of Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam while I'm writing, and otherwise I'll just give you my top artist listings from iTunes: Damien Jurado, Steve Earle, Old 97s, Simon Joyner, Peaches, Nashville Pussy, Tom Waits, Hezekiah Jones, Richmond Fontaine, PJ Harvey, ZZ Top, Louisiana Red, Liz Phair, Outkast, Songs: Ohia
For more information on Rusty Barnes please visit his website, and to order your copy of Breaking it Down go through Sunnyoutside (it's faster).