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 over a hundred fifty journals and anthologies. After editing fiction for the Beacon Street Review (now Redivider) and Zoetrope All-Story Extra, he co-founded Night Train, a literary journal which has been featured in the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and on National Public Radio. Sunnyoutside Press published a collection of his flash fiction, Breaking it Down, in November 2007. MiPOesias published his poetry chapbook Redneck Poems in October 2010. In August 2011, Sunnyoutside will publish his collection of traditional fiction, Mostly Redneck.
He is a nationally recognized and oft-solicited authority on flash fiction under all its various names and permutations, and serves on writing conference faculties and panels throughout the country, including recently with Associated Writing Programs, Somerville News Writers Festival, Writers@Work, The Parlor, and Grub Street Writers, as well as their annual Muse & Marketplace conference. He taught composition, fiction writing, and literature for over ten years in New England universities such as Emerson College and Northeastern University. His stories have been translated into Finnish, French, Polish, and Russian. His recently completed novel, tentatively titled “Three of a Kind,” is about northern Appalachia, family and community dynamics, sex, drugs, and not so much rock ‘n’ roll.
What is your feeling about having mentors as a writer? Talk about the mentor relationship if you will, its importance to a writer…
I didn’t have a mentor per se. DeWitt Henry at Emerson is probably the closest I came to one. I was about to bag the MFA program, but being in his workshop and having gotten some kind words from another teacher, Chris Tilghman, I felt inspired enough to continue.
I like the idea of mentors, though. After my MFA, I wrote a lot and read even more, and eventually got published. A mentor to point the way would have been nice. I depended on peer evaluation, which has a lot of drawbacks.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working? (ie unblocking things/mental ex-lax)
I’m never really stuck, I’m just not writing. If I’m feeling iffy about the process, I just jump in and starting reading what’s come in from Night Train and FCAC. Eventually I’m motivated to write. In the past, I did a lot of writing to prompts, but since I’m writing mostly on my novel or the occasional poem, that doesn’t seem to work well anymore.
Any favorite writing exercises you can share with us here?
One exercise I’ve used in class to great effect is to have people map their home ground, or even just a place they remember well. Take 20 minutes to a half hour and draw out everything you can remember about your home when you were a child. Keep going into further detail, or do maps of every place you’ve ever lived, then start associating people with these places. Sooner or later, usually sooner, you’ll find your way into a story or poem.
Suggestions for making characters live? Do you know who they are before you write or do you find out who they are in the writing?
I never know who they are; I discover them along the way. I try to detail them as much as possible without running over the thread of narrative. Sometimes I’d rather create characters than write the story. I find it incredibly rewarding to create a character that readers can relate to. As for suggestions, concrete and specific detail do the trick almost every time for the kinds of stories I write.
What are some good habits for a writer to develop?
Persistence and stubbornness.
What’s the best writing advice you ever got?
Put your ass in the chair.
Please tell us about a bit about “Redneck Press” and “Fried Chicken and Coffee”
What else is going on, and what is next for you?
My new book, Mostly Redneck, comes out from Sunnyoutside Press on 8/18. I’m looking forward to that. I have a novel making the rounds of agents, and I’m writing another one.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.