Next in the spotlight is the amazing Ms. Barnett who’s come by to chat with me about writing-workshops, blogging, and franken-excerpts. She’s such a natural entertainer – songs and all! Thanks so much for the fun, Barbara.
Tell us a bit about yourself. What do you do when you’re not writing?
I just finished my master’s degree in library and information science (as in my diploma only just arrived in the mail last week), and many moons before that I earned my Bachelor of Arts in music (vocal performance) and English literature. Now I work in an orchestra library, which is awesome because I get to spend my days preparing music for an amazing group of musicians.
Before that, I spent most of my non-writing professional life working for various performing arts organizations, primarily as a grant writer and database manager. But grant writing made me miserable. Hence the master’s degree in something that doesn’t make me miserable.
The rest of my non-writing time is spent on singing, theater, reading, playing piano and clarinet, obsessively organizing things, imbibing large amounts of coffee and wine (though not at the same time), bursting into maniacal monologues, and engaging in other geeky pursuits.
Wow, you sing? Can you sing something for us?
Sure. What do you want me to sing?
What do you want to sing?
I tend to jump around stylistically. Hmm, ok. Here’s one…
“Going to Heaven” from Aaron Copland’s 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson
Oh my, you have a voice of an angel’s! I could just imagine you in musicals: dancing and singing in costume. So awesome. Thanks for that 🙂
I thought your story 7:74pm was quite charming, despite the horror you put your characters in! How did this one come about?
7:74 p.m. grew out of a writing exercise where the prompt was to come up with a story inspired by what seemed to be a rather nonsensical bit of text included in a piece of spam mail:
“The visitor was no longer alone in the bedroom. The second armchair was now occupied by the creature who had materialised in the hall. He was now to be seen quite plainly–feathery moustache, one lens of his pince-nez glittering, the other missing. But worst of all was the third invader* because they’re completely incompetent. Pulling the wool over the boss’s eyes, that’s what they’ve been doing!’ ‘Drives around in a free car!’ said the cat slanderously, chewing a mushroom. Then occurred the fourth and last phenomenon at which Stepa collapsed entirely, his weakened hand scraping down the doorpost as he slid to pttsumtspkssusufshrurmrurnnqririss.”
After some recent Googling, I discovered that the spam mail text actually consists of two excerpts from an English translation of The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. But when you take two excerpts out-of-context, merge them mid-sentence (the * above marks where the first excerpt ends and the second one begins), and add a string of random letters at the end (“pttsumtspkssusufshrurmrurnnqririss” is definitely not Bulgakov), the result doesn’t make a heck of a lot sense—and fittingly, neither did my first draft of 7:74 p.m. The challenge in revisions was to create an actual story out of the weirdness the FrankenExcerpt inspired.
Wow, that’s pretty neat! You have published many audio stories, including the awesome The Girl Who Welcomed Death to Svalgearyen Tell us your thoughts about audio fiction. Did it change how you write the story when you know it will be read aloud? Where can we go to read/listen to your work?
I generally prefer reading over listening, but I’m a pretty slow reader, so when my free time is at a minimum (which is often), most of my short story “reading” gets done through podcasts. I frequently have stretches at work where I’m doing fairly routine tasks like binding music, which is a great time to put on my headphones and listen to some stories.
I’ve never written a story specifically for audio; the stories of mine that have gotten the podcast treatment were all published in print form first. But reading aloud is a big part of my revision process. Writing on the train to work has gotten me many strange looks as I sit there peering at the screen and muttering to myself. But the rhythm of the words is important to me, and speaking them aloud is the best way to hear that rhythm. Being a singer probably contributes to that.
As for where to read or listen to my work, my website is the best place to look. And I’ve got an audio reprint of my story The Swan Maiden (originally published in Flash Fiction Online) coming up this month in an episode of a new fantasy podcast called Far-Fetched Fables.
Omg, you’re an Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate! Please share your experience with writing workshops. Was it daunting to have your work thoroughly scrutinised by a live audience? Would you recommend it to budding writers out there?
Odyssey was one of the best things I could have done for myself as a writer. I had reached a point where I knew there were things I could do to improve my writing, but I just wasn’t getting the dig-to-the-guts level of story feedback I needed. Odyssey gave me that. Jeanne Cavelos, who runs the program, showed me my stories’ guts and helped me learn to dissect them so that I could see what was and wasn’t working. And when I had an “Oh my god I suck what am I doing here!?” breakdown moment, she gave me chocolate.
The whole Odyssey experience was intense and exhausting and sometimes intimidating, but it was also amazingly fun and supportive and, in the words of one of my classmates, “painfully, maddeningly illuminating.” As a bonus, I came away with some great friendships, and I’ve made even more through The Never-Ending Odyssey (aka TNEO), which is a weeklong workshop for Odyssey grads held each summer.
That said, I don’t think workshops are for everyone—we’re all different people with different processes. But for those writers who have the chance, the time, and the desire to do a workshop like Odyssey or Clarion, I will wave my workshop pom-poms and cheer them on.
I don’t think I could ever do an Odyssey, I wave my admiration pom-poms for anyone who’s ever game enough to do it, and harder for those who survived it! Anyway, let’s take a break a bit. Will you sing us another song?
Okay, here’s a pop one for you.
“Soon Love, Soon” by Vienna Teng
Awesome, thanks! Okay, you can take a break now. I won’t make you sing again 🙂 Let’s talk about your blog Writerly Wackiness. It’s so much fun! Tell us the wackiest topic you’ve blogged on (or will one day blog on when real life stops getting in the way :))
Wackiest blog topic? Probably all the posts where I have conversations with my brain as if it’s an entirely independent entity. Which I think it may be.
Yes, brain, I’m talking about you on someone else’s blog. Deal with it.
And it may even be blogging about you right now, ha! Aside from your blog, you also spend some rambling time at the star dusted sirens. Tell us about the sirens. What are your mission, and how (on earth) did you all get star-dusted?
The Star-Dusted Sirens are four Philadelphia-area writers (myself, Shveta Thakrar, Naima Johnson, and Jocelyn Koehler) who meet once a month to critique each other’s work, talk shop, offer each other support, and engage in silly shenanigans. And somewhere along the line we decided to start a blog where we could babble about the writing topics that interest us, from diversity in fiction, to the craft of writing, to poop. Because yes, I wrote about poop. I’m classy like that.
As for how we got star-dusted—you know, I’m the one who suggested the group’s name, but for the life of me I can’t remember what inspired it. So sadly, our star-dusted nature is a mystery even to us.
It sounds pretty cool, so it’s okay! I can’t see any novel in progress or published in your list, but a brick-load of short fiction in highly respectable magazines. Did you or will you ever venture into novel writing or do you consider yourself more of a short fiction person?
I’ve been in an on-again, off-again revising relationship with what I like to refer to as My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel. I have a few other novel ideas brewing as well. But, I’m easily distracted by short stories. They’re shiny. I adore writing them, and I have about a gazillion ideas all going, “Me! Write me next! I’m the shiniest!”
What are you writing now? What are your current projects?
I just finished a new short story that’s been thrown out to the critiquing wolves, and I’ve got a couple others that need revision. I also promised myself that I would get back to My Big Fat Epic Fantasy Novel after I finished grad school, so I guess I-
Ooo, look, shiny!
Barbara? Barb… hmm okay. She’s off to the stars to write more… classy things. I don’t know. Anyway thanks, girl! What a fun time we had.