Smoking With Rusty Barnes

Read the Story June 15, 2004

This story has such aching truth to it. Are you a parent yourself?

I am a parent of two small children, though the central idea of the story for me rests not in any ideas about parenthood, but instead that a partner can very often be someone you neither understand nor even communicate well with. The daughter is both peripheral to and the impetus for the parents, as children can sometimes be in the larger drama of a relationship, and Mathilde’s response to Warren is as lovely and primitive and necessary as Warren would choose to be, if he could choose, or even know that he was choosing.

Do you feel that all stories involving sex are erotica? Where would you draw the line?

Sex is not Eros, as anyone with a thimbleful of experience in the matter can tell you, and so the question becomes more what the market demands of the work we put before it. Frank sex bothers some people and turns on others, and the trick—the nice trick, the necessary trick— is to write a story that can tread carefully the divide between the two extremes, or you can simply say fuck it and go gleefully over the line and see what happens and be pleased with yourself for treading treacherous ground. Cross the line, redraw it, because if the line limits you, then you should probably be doing something else.

How has editing Night Train affected your writing?

Night Train stories show me something new, something to aim for, every day, and I value our submitters for that.

Editing a journal often clarifies matters when it comes to your own aims and desires. You can say to yourself after a certain amount of reading experience that no matter what your many faults, you’re significantly better than what’s out there, or conversely, that you’re not, and therefore can read with more careful attention to how the successful stories do the job.

Who are some authors nobody knows that everyone should read?

I’ve always been a relatively indiscriminate three-book-a-week reader, and for the last seventeen years or so I’ve been reading with the intent to see how it ought to be done. Not a day goes by in my life where I don’t read at least five stories completely and often as many as twenty stories in part, and still, I feel hopelessly and utterly awash in the sea of literature I will never get to read. If you’re not reading as much or more than you’re writing, you’re not doing what you ought.

Don’t read authors. Read journals, and buy the books of those whose stories you like. Step out of your comfort zone and read radically different material. Broad experience helps.

As far as specific authors go, the world is full of these writers-I-like lists, and too often they become not-so-subtle intellectual one-upmanship. Just read, read widely, read all the time.

How do you feel about Flash versus other literary forms?

It’s damned seductive to write these things in an hour as I often do, edit a bit and put them out in the world for consumption. I love writing flash, but I’m not sure who’s reading or how long they will last when compared with more substantial—i.e. longer—stories people read in journals and for pleasure. I often write a short version and then spend my time expanding what I have, and I have a huge backlog of stories now, as I often write two or more flash pieces a week. I wrote well over a hundred pages of interrelated flash over a 2-3 month period once and tried to make it a novel, but I could never sort it out sufficiently, though I still think it’s a grand idea I may pursue again someday.

I’d rather be a novelist; I aspire to novels, but for the time being, these flash pieces are what I can do and I simply have to make sure they’re not all I do, because it’s so instantly gratifying to write them I immediately mistrust the pleasure I get from the sensation.

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.