How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Barry:Seven years. (!)
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
Sort of. Originally, I wanted to write one
short story, get it published in The New Yorker or Harper's, and then
be done with writing altogether. But they kept rejecting my stories,
and I kept writing more stories about the same people that they also
didn't want, and after a while I had a collection. (So all those
rejections were a good thing, really.) I was also really inspired by
Winesburg, Ohio, because I loved the way he captured vignettes and
moments in different people's lives in a small place. I've always been
much more interested in prose poems or vignettes and short stories than
novels, and I loved the way he skirted around the constraints of a
strong narrative arc. So I think I wanted to write something like that,
although in the end what I wrote ended up being quite different.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
So having said everything I just did about
avoiding the narrative arc, I actually ended up with a narrative arc
connecting my stories. (Although it's a loose one.) The collection
starts with a death and ends with a death, so that solved the beginning
and the end, and then there's one couple whose relationship spans the
book, so once I had those pieces in place, it was pretty easy to see
where the rest of them fit. But I've heard a lot of people say you
start with the best story, end with the next best one, and throw all
the rest in the middle. I think that's a pretty good rule.
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
Not really. I guess when I was writing these stories I really wanted to
reach people who, like me, see the beauty in small towns and bars and
reckless behavior. I grew up in a small town, close to the place where
I did all my "research" (drinking), so I think for a while I was just
writing for people I drank with. But to tell you the truth, it's not
really helpful for me to have an audience in mind when I'm writing
because I start hearing what they might say, like, "That's not the way
it happened," or "What the f-- kind of an ending is that?!," or "I
don't like what you did on page 78" etc. In the end, I just write
because there's something in me that wants to get out, and I just try
to get it down in the best way I can.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
No way. I've gotten to the point where I don't want to hear anything
anyone thinks except, "I really loved your collection." Once you start
asking people questions about your collection (unless it's "Would you
like to tell me again how much you loved my collection?") you start
hearing things that you might not want to know. I would like to be a
healthy, thick-skinned writer who has more distance from my work than
this, but then I would have to invent a whole new personality.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
Great! So great! And so scary! (See above.) It's also interesting to
have something out in the world that you are very connected to on one
level, but are finished with on another, running around and having its
own life. It must be like sending a kid to college. You want to keep
mothering it, but you also want it to make it on its own. And you kind
of want it to leave you alone sometimes. I keep thinking about how
Sinead O'Connor must have felt after she had that mega world-wide hit
"Nothing Compares to You," which was such an anthem about heartache.
Was it annoying, after a while to hear herself pining over this person
on half of the radios in the world, long after she got over him/her and
moved on? My book has nowhere near that audience and I don't get
annoyed talking to people about it, but it is a very personal book, and
it's a little odd to have people currently reacting to something I
experienced, wrote about, and finished several years ago.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
I have a blog called The Main Street Diaries which is about raising my
children, and which I'm really enjoying. I'm also working on a novel
about Linda Hartley, the tipsy advice columnist in "Later, At the Bar."