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 Rusty Barnes

Website: RustyBarnes.com

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.   

Short story collections

Breaking it Down (Sunnyoutside Press, 2007)

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Interview with Rusty Barnes

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

Rusty 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?

RB: I 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?

RB: I 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 does too.

TSR: Do you have a "reader" in mind when you write stories?

RB: 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
collection, anything at all?

RB: Good question. 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?

RB: 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?

RB: 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 read 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 hands. The 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.