Tonight felt satisfactory. It wasn't a big fat adrenaline dump like last night's writing, but it went well. I could have written more, but I didn't want to leave it all in the page and flat-out exhaust myself either. A plot turn's come up though, and my outline is no longer viable for the second half of the thing, so tomorrow I'm drafting a new outline. I'm a little scared of doing it, frankly, since the writing's been going so well. I just need to stay vigilant, not let myself get a couple days out of sorts. So tomorrow there will likely be no update, as I'll be working on the outline all night tonight and most of tomorrow outside of my family commitments. It'll all be fine, right?
On nights like this, there isn't much to say. Heather had half the day off so after mending fences from last night in the earlier part of her shift and because of being on the phone near-constantly in our new Covid-normal in the second half, I started writing much earlier than my normal 9:30 PM, and so by dinnertime now I've gotten my words in and may even be able to write again later on during my normal time.
I do have a normal time to write. 999 times out of a thousand, I'm writing at 9:30 PM every night, and I write until I get to 500 words within the hour or a thousand, or sometimes, rarely, more. More often than not when it's going well, I get a thousand words, so that's what I judge by: 500 minimum, the Graham Greene prescription, as described in The End of the Affair, but a thousand marking out a good strong day's writing. More than that, the Muses are smiling on me. Last night, a bad night that made me feel shitty until I sat down to write this afternoon, like a hangover. Tonight? Something else again. The only way through is forward.
I'm going to read now, and drink coffee, and maul a cat while I do. On deck, Cocaine and Blue Eyes, by Fred Zackel, Simple Justice by John Morgan Wilson and finally, Stoneburner, by William Gay. I'm halfway through the Zackel, a third through Simple Justice and I haven't begin Stoneburner yet, though I've owned it and started it a few times. I can already tell it's not top-notch Gay, but it's interesting, as the master's minutiae often are.
Edit in: 11:23 PM. Got an extra thousand words in for over 40K now. Halfway.
Not a good night. Rough on the family, rough on me with John Prine dying, just pandemic closeness rubbing everybody, well me, the wrong way. I didn't, couldn't write last night, and I'm in a shitty mood, so I'm counting these words as desperate and pleading with the muses to give me just a few more over the next month or so. And I want to apologize to my wife publicly for being such a prick. I'm sorry, baby. That's all. You all can call this the confessional blog.
It sucks sometimes, all the time, but most of the time you have to do the work anyway. But not always. Sometimes, like last night, I couldn't imagine doing it, and I'm paying for it in guilt all day anticipating when I can get to the keyboard and make it right, and words won't come, like tonight. Waah waah wahh. I didnt have to do it. I could stop. But I'm not going to.
Tonight was a comedown. I had lots of time over the weekend and took advantage of it, and tonight–not so much. Heather and the kids are sewing masks for family and friends so there are dueling sewing machines on either end of the living room table. Challenging writing environment, but I'd rather be in the middle of things trying to write instead of the cliched lonely writer in his garret keeping company with rats and roaches but with no other distractions. I like my life occasionally, depressed and psychotic though I am most of the time. Thanks be to therapists and doctors and other miracles of pharmaceutical origins. I'm not going to go on at length except to say that I worked for my words tonight, and I can only hope the struggle doesn't show when I get to the final draft, however far off or uncertain that may be.
Hello. One of the things you'll notice that's consistent about this blog is its inconsistency. A new year or a milestone hits and I'm eager to blog it and talk to the world, most of which I've been doing lately via Instagram and Facebook, leaving this, my main site, static and uninteresting. So here I go again, pledging to update with relevant news.
What's going on here right now is my stretch run toward novel number seven, four of which have seen the gray light of publication. Number seven promises to be my most complex and longest novel yet. No more of the shortie novels, at least not this time around. What I'll say about it right now–it's called Comes the Flood–is that it's unfashionable as hell. It's a PI novel set in Revere MA, where I have lived since 1996, provides lots of local color in a time of very exciting and dynamic times, some of which I hope to comment on via the main action, though the tourist board and chamber of commerce is not very likely to point to it as a guide or pinpoint accurate representation of the absolutely lovely city in which Heather and I have chosen to raise our children.. I'm 36.5K into it, long enough to be able to see that it's sustainable over the long haul, and early enough that I remain carefully excited about the possibilities. It's time for the hard slog of the middle now, and I hope to document daily or near-daily progress reports here.
Today was a weekend day, which meant I had a little longer to write. I got 1717 words in two sessions, and what I'm most interested in is getting back to the outline. I had a productive side-spin on the plot which sustained me for couple days, and now it's time to come back to the main thrust with additional momentum. This is the first of my six, soon to be seven, novels to be outlined. I won't do another novel without one, I don't think. It's been two days of high-energy movement and promises to be even more fun going forward. I hope. So welcome to the blog, the blog with newfound purpose. I come to it as I do to many things, a day late, unfashonably so, and a dollar short, but with a lot of enthusiasm. Hit me up if you have questions.
So it’s been some time since I updated. It’s been a hell of a year. My health went to hell in a hand-basket, and I wrote a ton of poems as a result. I read many books, and bought many more. The family went through some junk, and I went through some junk. Boy howdy.
On to the important stuff: even through the hellish landscape that has been 2019, I have gotten work done since my last update. A poem appeared in Black Coffee Review’s Fall 2019 issue called “Pissing In Public Urinals,” which was received with many quizzical looks and sidelong grins, but generated more praise than many things I’ve written more recently. My story “Easy Tiger” appeared in The Desperate and the Damned anthology. ‘The Russian’ appeared in Mystery Tribune in Summer 2019, and finally, the pieces de resistance, the two books I have that have come out this fall, Kraj the Enforcer: Stories, out in October from Shotgun Honey/Down & Out Books, and Apocalypse in A‑Minor, a miscellany of poems,from Analog Submission Press, due out on November 18th. Here is the cover copy for Kraj:
Meet Kraj—pronounced krai—a low-level errand boy and hit-man masquerading as a bouncer for Tricky Ricky Gutierrez, nefarious owner of the Twist, a club in upstate Elmira NY. A place that has both a LGBTQIA night and a cowboy country night, this cockeyed corner bar in northern Appalachia supports Ricky’s illegal schemes, and serves as a rural balm for Croatian-war refugee Kraj.
Kraj plies his trade over a short span, moving from petty theft to strong-arming tips from people at the door, breaking up redneck fights, protecting the club’s nubile female staff and collecting gambling debts owed Tricky Ricky. Kraj eventually gets sucked further and further into Ricky’s underworld plans, where he wants to be seen as a man on the come-up, but he has problems moving up in Ricky's organization will never solve. His sister Ana, missing since the Croatian War for Independence, never strays far from his mind.
Kraj, together with his sometime girlfriend Cami, newly become manager of a franchisee McDonald’s, and his manager Mikael. negotiates his way through underground fight clubs, prostitution rings, drug deals, petty thievery, and of course, murder. Tricky Ricky gives Kraj a great deal of rope and autonomy to operate.
Will he hang himself with it or swing?
As far as the future goes, I have two stories in the final stages of consideration for different anthologies, plus the story “Big Poppa” coming out in Goliad Review. I also have a novel. The Enforcer’s Revenge featuring Kraj, the protagonist of my most recent book, in edits. I said I’d given up on that one due to a number of complicating factors. but I may have found ways around. It will take time and opportunity that I don’t have right now, so it may be a year or two before I can fix it. I also have another full, if short, novel finished, one whose bones are strong, but no agents are interested, because it only runs 55K. Too short for submission. It’s called Sunset Approaching, and it hearkens back to my earlier work, a more Appalachian book in setting and tone. I hope to place that with a university or independent press sometime in the near future.
And finally, I’m in the midst of collecting a bunch of Appalachian stories that I’ve published in various journals since Mostly Redneck came out, some crime and some not. They fit pretty well as a collection, so I’ll be shopping that around soon enough too. I have a private investigator novel I’m working on sporadically. set here in Revere, where I live and write. I have high hopes for that, at least high compared with my goals for 2019, which was basically to survive. I’ve done that, despite innumerable challenges, and I remain hopeful in spite of crushing depression, anxiety, and psychosis, and I only hope I stay well enough to do the work that is in me to do.
I promised to post more during this period of time, but…stuff got away from me. On the publishing news front, I've managed to place poems in four journals over these last few months, Plumb, Ginosko, BEAT to a PULP amd FRiGG. I'll also have another Kraj story in Mystery Tribune coming up soon, and another in Goliad Review this fall.
I'll be at Bouchercon in the fall too, late October, early November, so look me up or drop me a note via social media beforehand. I'd like to get together, as I don't get to mingle very often. That's about all for now.
I pledge to post a little more, which means I have to have news to share or pertinent info. You can find two recent stories, one in Goliad Review, a long story I'm particularly proud of at 9000 words, and another in Mystery Tribune. Otherwise, I've added a page for my newest novel The Last Danger, sequel to Ridgerunner, in which Matt Rider gets into even more trouble with the renegade Pittman clan and clings to his instincts to the detriment of nearly everyone around him. Jay Gertzman wrote up a nice précis of the novel on Amazon if you care to look it up. I'll reproduce some relevant bits here.
_Ridgerunner_, the first novel in this proposed trilogy, showed Matt Rider as a man capable of protecting his family from the belligerent, bullying Pittmans, who control the regional drug distribution in upsate NY and PA. Matt confronts them with the steely (as in guns) resolution of a Western homesteader protecting his domain from cattlemen who want to run him off it. Perhaps the name Matt Rider is meant to suggest this kind of classic rural American independence, which came through violence. The Pittmans kill Matt’s brother and Matt has killed two of them. As _The Last Danger_ opens, Matt knows he is a hunted man. He also knows, as another fighter against criminal says, PI Phillip Marlow says, “I was part of the nastiness now.”
His brother, wife, and daughter all wonder what Matt has become. Traps are many-layered in this novel. The Pittmans have forced him to do drug runs. That at least protects wife and daughter. But Matt exposes them, and his loyal best friend, to increasing dangers as the novel proceeds. So his desperate need to protect just increases a quicksand-like immersion. His own violence increases, and he relishes it. The more he tells himself he is protecting the family (which is his chief aim), the more his behavior makes that sincere conviction a Kafkaesque entrapment.
I hope to publish even more in 2019, including a collection of Kraj stories as well as some poems and short stories. I'll attend at least two, possible three conferences in 2019, so getting to hang out and have a beer with some of you is a very real possibility. Thanks for hanging in there with me, and here's hoping for the best in 2019
What were the originating images in this novel? I imagined as I was reading it had to be the opening eight pages, where you set up the conflict beautifully, but I'm prepared to be wrong, as you could have written the Stratton chapters first.
Yeah, I was really drawn in by this idea of three very different people traveling together through a kind of overwhelming landscape. I actually spent a year commuting along that stretch of interstate that passes from western North Carolina into east Tennessee, largely in the predawn hours, so it was natural to lull into a kind of dark imagining. In a very real sense, the land gave me the story. Also, I was in the process of moving into a new state for a job and the idea of home and how that can change at different points in a life was very much on my mind as well. Those two elements naturally coalesced into what became the central conflict of the book.
When did you realize you were pitting the triumvirate–Wolf, Winter and Rain–so baldly against against convention, and what did it mean for the book, particularly for Rain,? Was it a process of discovery, this novel, or the fulfillment of a plan? It all seems inevitable, as it ought to, though not in the ways you expect, which is what I read for, mostly.
That opposition was there from the start. Part of it was my sense of the duality of wilderness. For me that word has psychological as well as physical implications, which is at the heart of the paradox in the novel’s title, i.e. how can a structure manage to be truly wild? I think Rain is the most dynamic character in the story, largely because she defies what the men around her want her to become. Yet, she still lives within a very real world that shapes how we think, feel, and act. So there’s a sense of what things must be confronted, but her sense of self makes that something that’s not necessarily easy to pin down.
What made you decide to pair up Stratton and Rain? I talked about it with my wife as I read, which I don't usually do, wondering how you were going to make it work, which I hasten to say, you did, very well.
I didn’t want it to become a clichéd May/December pairing that populates so many stories. This was about finding something of value in another person without the formula of a conventional romance. So, their convergence needed to be inextricable tied to the land. Their way of being and knowing is drawn directly from that fact.
I dig the references throughout, to the Garden and Gun article about the dog with cancer, and the Jason Isbell/DBT, and the classical music references. They give the book a good contemporary feel, but I wonder, do you worry about dating your material? Or do you just count on having picked up on the good stuff and the good stuff lasting?
I think it’s just a matter of telling the specifics of the world I care about. Good novels should document the world they’re trying to portray. If you worry about how people might react to your work down the line I’m afraid you can become too self-conscious. That’s the big danger in getting involved too deeply in writing workshops/groups. You start writing to please a certain group when you should be writing to confront them.
On page 113, Loyal acknowledges his trouble with women via the baby. A nice moment, and funny. He provides a nice counterpoint to Stratton. Did he always have as large a role to play, or did he grow into it with the writing?
He grew out of the editing decisions. That scene, as well as others, came out of a direct conversation with my editor, Gillian Berchowitz, about who he was and why he mattered to the rest of the book. I’m really grateful for this because it’s unusual to have such a thoughtful and incisive reader. I really can’t thank her enough for making the novel the best version of what it could be.
Page 117. I cringed a little at 'Obama the Reneger." Seeing those things are part of the landscape, and I find Stratton's politics interesting, though maybe not surprising, given his occupation. His university friends seem more conservative, but he doesn't. Were you setting up opposing viewpoints, or was it just the way Stratton rolls? He seems like a maverick to me.
I think he’s fairly typical for someone teaching college in Southern Appalachia. He’s a Democrat, but he also likes to drink whiskey and fish and camp. I think it seems weird to those on the outside that you can have progressive politics and a rich cultural life through the educational world while still enjoying the best parts of the rural experience. The conflict, of course, is when the unforgivably racist and jingoistic garbage turns up, which it does in very direct ways, and men like Stratton have to find a way to hold on to the things they care about while still charting an ethical course for themselves.
Liza fascinated me throughout the book, someone the whole novel turned around, someone we know well, yet she's never in the book as a POV character, though her photos stand in for her. Stratton's loss is palpable, though, on nearly every page he appears. Can you talk about her, and the decisions you made about her? Was she always in the book, or did the idea develop as you wrote?
Liza was meant to be a ghost, but like all ghosts she was there to shape the world by her absence. Despite never appearing in the “now” of the story, she is a crucial part of it. Not only for Stratton but Rain as well. I thought this was an interesting dynamic that tried to show what deep grief does to people, even those to whom they’re indirectly connected.
Wolf reminds me of the old man, Wade, in Larry Brown's Joe, but where Wade was just plain evil, almost a caricature, Wolf is someone more complicated. Did you worry throughout about that, about making someone so bad, so charismatic at the same time?
I think most of my baddies are like this. It’s like Milton’s Satan. How convincing would he be if he failed to seduce the reader with his heroic rhetoric? I think it’s perilous to underestimate evil, to try to reduce it to something that’s facile. When you do that you lose an awareness of how threatening it can be.
The ending reminds me of the best kind of inevitability, the knowledge that no matter how things go, they can always get worse. Yet there's some hope too, as there ought to be but often isn' t (I've been reading a lot of noir lately). Without revealing the ending, I'd say it's hopeful, but complicated. How would you describe it?
I think, like in all stories, things have to change to remain interesting.
Did you have other books you were in conversation with during the writing of this novel? What kind of book do you think you set out to write, and what did you end up with?
I think those conversations are ongoing. There’s clearly some McCarthy and Larry Brown in there, but also some Carson McCullers, James Salter, and Bonnie Jo Campbell. If you’re not thinking about other books as you work, even on a subliminal level, I think you’ve traded away a significant piece of what you’re trying to do.
Charles Dodd White lives in eastern Tennessee. He is a recipient of the Thomas and Lillie D. Chaffin Award for excellence in Appalachian Literature, a Jean Ritchie Fellowship from Lincoln Memorial University, and an individual artist’s grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. He is author of the novels, IN THE HOUSE OF WILDERNESS (Forthcoming 2018), A SHELTER OF OTHERS (2014), LAMBS OF MEN (2010), and the story collection, SINNERS OF SANCTION COUNTY (2011). He is also editor of the contemporary Appalachian story anthologies, DEGREES OF ELEVATION (2010) and APPALACHIA NOW (2015). His work has appeared in Red Holler: Contemporary Appalachian Writing, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia, Appalachian Heritage, The Louisville Review, North Carolina Literary Review, The Rumpus, Tusculum Review and others. He is an Associate Professor at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Hi all. Zvi Sesling wrote a short review of Jesus in the Ghost Room over on Doug Holder's Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. I'm pleased to say he found it worth reading, and I hope you do too.
If you're still on the fence about it after Zvi's word, here's what Bill Soldan had to say about it in a recent Amazon review:
As Barnes grapples with what it’s like to be an individual, to feel lonely in a world of difference and contention and uncertainty, to reconcile one’s roots to one’s present circumstance, and to process the imminent death of our loved ones, among other universal crises of the heart, he leaves in each honed line a piece of himself, and we’re damn lucky to have him.
You can purchase a copy through Nixes Mate Books, via Amazon, or your local indie bookseller. In other poetry news, I'll have a rhyming poem coming up in the Five-Two, your weekly dose of crime poetry, and I'll blast the link on social media when the time comes.
My recent Kraj novel has shuffled off its mortal coil. I just can't do the sections set in the past justice to my satisfaction, nor afford to travel to Croatia to research further, and I'm not even entirely sure it's my story to tell anymore. I've written a lot of Kraj stories set in the present, but writing the events of his formative years, during the very complex wars in the region, despite all my research, is beyond my capability right now. It may not always be so. I'm still reading about the time period, still seeking out other novels, all in all still very much interested. But the writing has ground to a not unwelcome halt. I bitched on Facebook about it already, so no need to commiserate; besides, I've another novel in progress already, it's just too early to talk about it.
Having said that, I'm concentrating on poetry for the time being, drafting three or four poems a day and hoping one of them will end up a keeper, and researching new markets for the stuff. I also have some short stories in the works, and another one available in the recent Switchblade. If dark and nasty trips your trigger, this one may be for you. As one Amazon reviewer put it, "Rusty Barnes nailed it with an unexpected tale of bad guys who did badder things–things I couldn't believe. And the skank in that story…wow." You can find Switchblade Sixx on Amazon in print or Kindle form.