Saturday, October 11, 2014

Interview with Barbara A. Barnett

My guest today is another contributor to the Unburied Treasures anthology, writer and musician Barbara A. Barnett.

Many thanks for agreeing to appear on my blog. Can you tell us something about yourself? Who is Barbara when she's not writing?

Thanks for having me!

Non-writing Barbara can probably best be summed up thusly: orchestra librarian, singer, theater nerd, mediocre pianist, mediocre clarinet player, coffee addict, wine lover, bad movie mocker, obsessive organizer, and all-around geek.

Well, that'll do to be going on with. So how long have you been writing, and what kinds of things do you like writing best?

I've been writing since I was a kid. When I was about 8 years old, I wanted my mom to come watch an adventure I had concocted for my stuffed animals to act out, but she was busy and told me to go write it down. So I did. After that, writing down every nutty idea that popped into my head seemed the natural thing to do. But it wasn't until about a decade ago that I got truly serious about it and started writing on a regular basis.

Most of my work falls under the speculative fiction umbrella—fantasy and horror and a smattering of science fiction. The occasional quirky mainstream piece has been known to sneak in there as well. That's what I love about writing short fiction: from piece to piece, I can jump all over the place in regards to genre, tone, topic, and style.

Your mother sounds like a wise woman. I wonder if she knew what she was starting.
Your story in the Unburied Treasures anthology, 7:74 pm, is certainly an example of jumping all over the place: a strange tale, part SF and part surrealism. What inspired you to write it?

"7:74 p.m." grew out of a writing exercise where the prompt was to come up with a story inspired by what seemed to be a rather nonsensical bit of text included in a piece of spam mail:

"The visitor was no longer alone in the bedroom. The second armchair was now occupied by the creature who had materialised in the hall. He was now to be seen quite plainly–feathery moustache, one lens of his pince-nez glittering, the other missing. But worst of all was the third invader because they’re completely incompetent. Pulling the wool over the boss’s eyes, that’s what they’ve been doing!’ ‘Drives around in a free car!’ said the cat slanderously, chewing a mushroom. Then occurred the fourth and last phenomenon at which Stepa collapsed entirely, his weakened hand scraping down the doorpost as he slid to pttsumtspkssusufshrurmrurnnqririss."

After some Googling, I discovered that the spam mail text actually consists of two excerpts from an English translation of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. But when you take two excerpts out-of-context, mash them together mid-sentence, and add a string of random letters at the end ("pttsumtspkssusufshrurmrurnnqririss" is definitely not Bulgakov), the result doesn’t make a heck of a lot sense—and fittingly, neither did my first draft of "7:74 p.m." The challenge in revisions was to create an actual story out of the weirdness the FrankenExcerpt inspired.

An entirely new genre, perhaps — nonsense-spam fiction.

Your stories have appeared in several publications that turn me green with envy. Can you tell us something about your publications and what's coming up?

I have a flash story called "Dream Logic" that will be appearing in Daily Science Fiction sometime in the near future (exact publication date TBA). And last month my story "The Girl Who Welcomed Death to Svalgearyen" was published as part of The Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies Online Magazine, Year Five, which I'm thrilled about since BCS is one of my favorite fantasy mags.

Absolutely. I'm curious about your select writers' group Star-Dusted Sirens is intriguing. How did that come to be, and what's its mission (apart from domination of the universe, of course)?

A friend of mine wanted to start a small critique group, so she asked me and two other Philadelphia-area writer friends, and thus the Star-Dusted Sirens were born. We meet once a month to critique each other’s work, talk shop, offer each other support, and engage in silly shenanigans. And somewhere along the line we decided to start a blog where we could babble about the writing topics that interest us, from diversity in fiction, to the craft of writing, to poop. Because yes, I wrote about poop. I’m classy like that.

Well, I'm sure it was classy poop.

And, speaking of class (not poop), I see from your bio in Unburied Treasures that you've attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop. That must have been awesome. Can you tell us something about it?

Odyssey was intense, amazing, exhausting, intimidating, invigorating, loads of fun, and and one of the best things I could have done for myself as a writer. I applied because I felt like I had hit a peak in my writing and needed some serious dig-to-the-guts feedback in order to up my game. What I learned about the craft and my strengths and weaknesses as a writer was exactly the kind of experience I was after. And as a bonus, I came away with some great friendships and continue to make more as I meet Odyssey graduates from other years of the program.

What are you writing at the moment (besides this blog, obviously)?

Right now I've got a few short story revisions on my plate: a fantasy story inspired by a NOVA special I watched on Iron Age bog bodies found in Ireland and elsewhere, a horror story involving a puppet farm, and a surreal magical realism sort of thing that keeps threatening to break my brain. I also have a major novel rewrite that I keep threatening to get back to. But short story ideas keep distracting me, because they're shiny and pretty and I like to play with them.

I know the feeling. Many thanks for talking about yourself and you work on my blog.

If you want to find out more about Barbara and her writing, you can read all about her on her website, as well as on the aforementioned Star-Dusted Sirens.

Details of where you can buy a copy of Unburied Treasures can be found on this page.

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