Smoking With Rusty Barnes

Read the Story December 15, 2004

Where does this story come from? Where do your stories come from?

“Love and Murder” comes from the same place all my stories do, from wondering how people live with themselves and the choices they make. I have fully imagined lives for all of them at the moment I begin to type, and sometimes when I’m lucky I can see them all in front of me as on a medieval tapestry, caught in whatever they happen to be caught in, doing what they do, and I want to help them do the right thing, but they’re flawed little bastards like me and fuck up constantly. If I live—which I won’t; none of us does­—to tell a third of the stories I see I’ll be happy.

What is most important to you about the setting of a story?

Setting is always someplace I know, usually where I grew up, if for no other reason than I dislike nonspecific settings, and the place where I know the lay of the land, so to speak, is likely also the place where I know the people the best and can reveal them to a reader better than I might otherwise. I’m moving into other settings, but I feel most comfortable in writing about places I’ve been, roads I can walk down in my mind.

Names. You do come up with the oddest names. Gallow: tell us how you arrived at his.

I like unusual names, and I steal them whenever I can find them. I wanted something guttural and male here, and I stole this one—changed somewhat—from Louis L’Amour. It’s a name for a big bluff guy who just wants to know what the right thing is to do, in this case, though on reading it over I suppose you might find something symbolic in its resemblance to ‘gallows.’ If you were into that sort of thing.

Who, me? So, you’re working on a novel; you did NaNoWriMo. Tell us about it.

“Love and Murder” is adapted from my NaNoWriMo novel, though it’s not even close to one of the major events. This is just a minor blip along a very rough road for these folks, in a book that seems to be about everything I ever wanted to write about, so it’s slow and painful, heart-in-my-mouth writing that comes quickly, but bears much thinking about in between whiles.

What’s (pick one): the cheesiest, sexiest, scariest, or most exciting thing to happen to you lately?

Larry Brown dying recently scared me. It’s difficult for me to imagine him dead. I have this weird thing where I can imagine myself dead much more easily than I can others, even those on the periphery of my worldview. I’ve read and re-read all of his books, I’ve eaten them like comfort food, and now there won’t be any more of them, and I’m stunned by the silence, and don’t feel big enough to fill it myself right now with anything. I will, of course, try to fill up more pages with more words as a desperate hedge against the great black curtain coming down, but no existential death-dread ever became so real as when I sat at the Thanksgiving table with my family shortly after receiving the news and was forced to compartmentalize, as you do, as you go on, as you must, as if you have a choice, as if all those words matter.

Though apparently only a slight man physically, he looms slightly larger in my unconscious, and when I write, his books are always within arm’s length.

Thanks, Rusty. May he rest in peace.

About the Author:

Rusty Barnes co-founded and oversees Night Train, a twice-yearly fiction journal.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.