Posts Tagged ‘fried chicken and coffee’

This is the first post in what will be an ongoing series of discussions with some of my favorite writers who also double as editors (or, some of my favorite editors who also double as writers). My focus will primarily be on the conflicts between these two identities and those moments of cohesion and influence.

My first post is a conversation with the ever great Rusty Barnes. I met Rusty several years ago when I attended his flash fiction and microfiction class. As a student, I was particularly impressed with the way Rusty understood the process of writing from both sides of the table, both as a successful writer and as the co-founder and editor of the well regarded Night Train. Recently, Rusty has started published Redneck Poems and has an upcoming story collection titled Mostly Redneck  as well as continuing his Fried Chicken and Coffee site, dedicated to his interests in rural and Appalachian related writing. So, it was my great pleasure to ‘chat’ for a little while with Rusty about these matters and more.

Q: Were you interested in writing or editing first? Was there any relationship between how they came about?

A: I was always interested in writing first. Although I ‘edited’ journals in high school and college and graduate school, my real introduction to editing came on the student newspaper in high school, where people started to actually remember and agree with what I had to say about their work. Most of them couldn’t write well under pressure, and the more pressure I had on me, the better the writing turned out.  That experience continued on into college where if I wasn’t writing, I wanted to be associated with writing in everything I did, so I wrote theater reviews, music reviews, editorials, small news stories and feature articles. Eventually I stopped doing that much non-fiction and turned to fiction and poetry almost exclusively. Maybe the shorter answer is that writing and editing were the only things I was interested in pursuing past a certain point, when I’d decided to get an MFA in fiction. Now it’s difficult to think of them separately. What reputation I have is as an editor, though by the end of this year I’ll have published four books and a couple hundred stories (mostly flash fiction), along with many poems and interview and essays. That’s OK with me, though I’d certainly like my stories and poems to be better known.

Q: To what extent is starting a journal or editing a creative act … a personal act? versus how much you are thinking about what will appeal to a particular audience? How does your approach change from Beacon Street to Night Train and Redneck Press?

A: I thought about the audience constantly when Rod Siino and I founded Night Train. Now I don’t think about it at all. I trust that if I do what I’m supposed do in promotion and in finding good material, readers will find what I do and support it.

I approached editing the same way in all of those projects: there were writers who deserved to be read, and I could help them find readers.

I guess I didn’t think of the magazines and journals I’ve worked at as creative acts or personal acts. I wanted exposure for my writers. I wanted to give something back to the writing community, and I wanted to know why I wasn’t getting published as well or as much as I liked. Reading for NT in particular cleared that mystery up in a hurry: I was better than most, not nearly as good as some and that was that. I found that I was good enough to get published, and eventually I was, though there’s a top tier of literary journal and small press to which my work simply doesn’t appeal. That hurts a little, but that’s OK in the long run too. Lord knows I gave them my best shot.

Q: In what ways has editing impacted your own writing?  And, in the opposite direction, how have your tastes as a writer affected your editing?

A: Editing has taught me everything I know about writing, pretty much.

My tastes were fairly wide-ranging, but editing has forced me to narrow them over the years. I own a couple thousand books again after donating many a few years ago. I read mostly poetry these days, and save room for my favorite novelists and short-story writers, and not much else. I have few to no hobbies: I read, I write, I edit. I don’t want to do anything else.

People generally don’t send my favorite kind of stories to NT, though,  so for fun I started a blogazine called Fried Chicken and Coffee which publishes only rural or Appalachian material or frankly, anything else I like. I think this has helped me keep my commitments to NT after almost ten years. Reading all those stories and poems can get to be a drag, especially as I steal time from my novels and poems to do so. Editing a journal will suck up every single bit of your time, especially if you seek grants and make decent money through donations and the like. All your time ends up spent on paperwork instead of actual editing and reading.

Q: Has there ever been any conflict between your roles as a writer and editor? Resentment?

A: Yes, there have been troubles sometimes. Not often, but sometimes you get a writer who seems OK on the page but turns into a raging editorial head case that you have to deal with months or sometimes years later.

Also, a few people have come straight out and told me people only ever published me to get themselves into NT. If that’s true, those folks could have gotten over far more easily if they’d just promised me hot sex. But, I know the editors of many journals, I have contacts everywhere, and I don’t get in everywhere I submit. So if there’s a squid pro ro (yes I know it’s quid pro quo, but I like Austin Powers’ pronunciation better) going on, I’m at the ass end of it, and terribly sad that my efforts at sucking the multi colored teats of culture failed me so badly
Q: Do you ever see yourself going with all of one or another in the future?

A: I’m on hiatus from NT until 2/2012. I’ll be working on Fried Chicken and Coffee until then. I have no plans to pick one or the other to concentrate on in the long run, but that might change. I’ve been editing for a long time.

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So, many already know Rusty Barnes is a force for contemporary rural literature. While known primarily as the founding editor of Night Train, he also publishes Fried Chicken and Coffee, a literary and social action blogazine that prints many excellent original and reprinted stories and poems with settings somewhat less than genteel. What I didn’t realize is that he also writes poetry that hits you in the face. He’s got his chapbook Redneck Poems up where you can read it free. Take advantage of this. Immediately.

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