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Rebecca Barry

Website: RebeccaBarry.net

Rebecca Barry lives in upstate New York with her husband and two boys. She has published non-fiction in The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post Magazine, and Details, and her fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, and The Best New American Voices, among others.

Short story collections

Later, At the Bar (Simon & Schuster, 2007) 

Reviewed by Stevan Allred

Interview with Rebecca Barry

The Short Review: How long did it take you to write all the stories in your collection?

Rebecca Barry:Seven years. (!)

TSR: Did you have a collection in mind when you were writing them?

RB: 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?

RB: 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?

RB: 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
collection, anything at all?

RB: 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?

RB: 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?

RB: 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."

TSR: What are the three most recent short story collections you've read?

RB: Winesburg, Ohio,(Sherwood Anderson), Mary and O'Neill (Justin Cronin) and All Things, All at Once, (Lee K. Abbott) and And Both Shall Row (Beth Lordan).