We are pleased to welcome poet, fiction writer, and editor Rusty Barnes to Writers on Craft today. 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 two hundred 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 was featured in the Boston Globe, The New York Times, and on National Public Radio, ending its first ten-year-run in February 2012 and gearing up to relaunch in February 2014. Sunnyoutside Press published two collections of fiction, Breaking it Down and Mostly Redneck. MiPOesias published two chapbooks of poetry, Redneck Poems and Broke. Sunnyoutside Press will publish his novel, The Reckoning, in late 2013. Cruel Joke Press will publish his poetry collection, I AM NOT ARIEL in November 2013. If you want to know more, friend him on Facebook, or check through his recent interviews. If you’d like to read his poetry and get poetry-related news, visit Live Nude Poems.
What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or modern literature–any “go to” texts?
I have any number of go-to texts, and they’re all poetry. I pull out Bill Knott or Paul Blackburn or Kim Addonizio or William Blake, or lately, Allen Ginsberg and Clark Coolidge. Poetry is where my love of words is rooted, and I couldn’t do without a daily dose, at least. My fiction is relatively ordered by alphabet, but poetry (and thus my mind) by obsession.
If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?
Don’t mess with someone else’s writing unless you have (a) damned good reason(s).
How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?
I try to tell the truth, but I end up lying to get there inevitably. I don’t worry about the process much. I write it, it does what it does, it signifies what it signifies, and the only thing I can do is polish it. If I revise much in the traditional sense I might as well start over again, in terms of poetry. Fiction is completely different sometimes. It needs a further kick in the ass before it can be made to mean in the sense that I’d like it to.
What do you feel is the purpose of poetry/literature?
To distract us from the abyss.
As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?
I turn to Patrick Swayze for many reasons. In Roadhouse, he says to the wannabe bouncers: Be nice. It works for almost everything.
You’ve been at this art a long time, as both a writer and an editor. Can you speak to what it takes to stay motivated in the current publishing landscape, what it takes to keep giving service to the community and keeping your own creative work fueled and strong in its motivations, even when faced with critics? How, as an author, do you treat reviews and criticism that comes, when it comes, as there are few who can ever avoid such confrontations? How do you feel about self-publishing for literary authors?
I don’t speak for others, but I stay motivated by reading my peers. I buy their books, sometimes when I don’t even like them personally, because it’s important to me to keep on top of what people, i.e., my peers, are doing. If they’re doing something cool, I’m motivated to outdo them in my own mind, or at least to stay even with them if they’re really good. I don’t have critics, really. I have my friends who like my work and I suffer the assholes that don’t. I love the idea of self-publishing for that reason. Who wants to criticize someone who publishes their own work? It’s like hitting a cripple. Having said that, I admit to crippled emotions at least, because I would rather self-publish my poetry books for those who get them and let the rest of the world race by like the amoeba they are than publish with someone else with whom I have to grapple and snarl about font and cover and reviews and price. And having said THAT, there are two or three presses who still have the poetry manuscript, and if they accept it, I would be happy to have them print it. I say this only because I know and trust them. But sending your book off to someone whose work you don’t know and who you can’t trust, ye gods, why would you ever do that?
What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? Give us a sneak peek.
Rod Siino and I are discussing terms for reopening Night Train in February 2014, which I am all hyped up about. I Am Not Ariel, my self-published book of poems, is coming out in November 2013 from my own Cruel Joke Press. My novel The Reckoning is coming out from Sunnyoutside sometime after that. I have another collection of short stories making the publisher rounds and have finished one poetry chapbook of off-sonnets called Dear So-And-So. I’m working on another chapbook which details the drama of an intercontinental, very one-sided, in fact nearly one-way, love affair. It’s called I Want You Right Now! And it is already published in hell.