Rusty Barnes grew up in rural northern
Appalachia. He received his B.A. from Mansfield University of
Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Emerson College. His fiction, poetry
and non-fiction have appeared in many journals. After editing fiction
for the Beacon Street Review (now Redivider) and Zoetrope All-Story
Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a recently reinvented literary
journal, which has been featured in the Boston Globe, The New York
Times, and on National Public Radio.
with Rusty Barnes
How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?
Barnes: These stories
were written between 1999 and 2006. During those years (and still) I
participated in a number of online workshops in which participants
challenged each other to write complete stories within an hour. So in
one sense, it took years. In another sense, it took hours.
TSR: Did you
have a collection in mind when you were writing them?
didn't have a
collection in mind, no. I knew short story collections were difficult
to publish and a collection of flash fiction would be even more
difficult. I had a vague idea of publishing them as interstitial pieces
within a more traditional collection, but that's as far as it went. I
wanted to self-publish a chapbook of stories to sell at the readings
I'm doing more and more frequently, and went to David McNamara from
Sunnyoutside to ask advice, as I knew little to nothing about the
mechanics and costs of doing chapbooks. By the end of the talk he
offered to do the chapbook through Sunnyoutside and eventually in
discussion the chapbook morphed into the somewhat larger in scope, if not in size, traditional paperback.
TSR: How did
you choose which stories to include and in what order?
had a backlog
of material, maybe two hundred and fifty completed flashes, so I
winnowed those down to fifty or so, including what I thought was the
best of my already-published material, and sent those to
my publisher, who made the initial choice of sixteen for the book. We
later added two stories, mostly because I really wanted to see them in
the collection. As far as ordering went, once we had the stories
chosen, it was a matter of putting what I felt were stronger stories at
the beginning and end, though feedback I've gotten suggests more people
choose the middle stories as their favorites, so who knows if the
positioning of stories makes a difference? I know I tend to skip
around,especially in collections, and maybe this means everyone else
TSR: Do you
have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?
Not really. I
write to be read, yes — I love to be read above all things
now — but I write only to please myself. I mean, I have my
obsessions, my concerns, and a good sense of what's out there in the
world being written, and I think what I write has a place in that
world, and it's up to me to figure out ways to get it out there, to get
it to readers. But that's not something I think about during the
writing, except to say, sometimes, ruefully, "no one in the
world is ever going to touch that one." And those stories are even more
gratifying to publish if you can, knowing that you felt so dim about
their prospects to begin with.
TSR: Is there
anything you'd like to ask someone who has read your
anything at all?
Hmmmm. I'd like to ask them for help, to please spread the word about it, if they liked it. Tiny books from tiny publishers need all the help they can get.
TSR: How does it feel knowing that people are buying your book?
It feels great,
actually. It feels incredible to know that the book and the stories are
out there for people to read and comment on amongst their friends. It's
better than great when people I don't know write me emails out of the
blue to say how much they enjoyed it, or to ask me where a particular story came from. It's just a cool feeling.
TSR: What are
you working on now?
I have three
full-length stories and a couple poems nearing completion, which I'll
finish by the first week in January, I hope, and I continue to write
flashes a couple times a week, but the majority of my time in 2008 is
going to be spent on longer projects. I'll probably take a month off
from the larger projects during NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing
Month) so I can continue my quest toward publishing a book of my poetry.
TSR: What are
the three most recent short story collections you've read?
RB: Ooh, nice. I
eight or nine books at a time generally, switching between them as the
mood strikes me, and the collections I'm into right now are all three
strikingly good in their own ways. Road of Five Churches,
by Stephanie Dickinson, is a book I've been looking forward to for some
time. I've followed her career on the 'nets and elsewhere for years
now, and it's nice to finally have a collection of her work in my
Wrecking Yard by Pinckney Benedict is a collection I
should have gotten to years ago, since I liked his collection Town// Smokes
so much. It's a collection of rough and tough Appalachian stories that
reminds me of home in Pennsylvania. I also read a collection by Patrick
Somerville called Trouble,
legitimately funny stories that hit you sidelong a few hours after you
finish them. Next in the queue are collections by Steve Yarbrough, Tao
Lin, Jack Pendarvis,Bo Ball, and Ron Rash.