August 17, 2011 by markstani
Mostly Redneck, the new short story collection by Rusty Barnes – author, poet and proprietor of the superb Fried Chicken and Coffee website – is out via Sunnyoutside Press on August 18. You can get it from the publishers here, or from Amazon here. Check back for an excerpt from one of the stories tomorrow. In the meantime, Rusty lays bare his upbringing and inspirations in a great, candid interview right here:
1. Sum up ‘Mostly Redneck’, and the inspirations behind it?
The title pretty much says it all. I write a lot of stories about rednecks, but a few other subjects too: ergo, Mostly Redneck. I thought the words described me, my book, and my people.
2. I haven’t read the book yet, but I loved this excerpt in newpages –
Once when Bob looked up, they were – all of those girls – standing in a line with their shirts off and their boobies pointed at him. When they saw that he saw them, they broke and ran, laughing, except for Matalia, who looked like a movie person to Bob; long brown hair, vinyl-blue eyes; her thick glassses hid nothing from Bob
– please tell me that bit’s based on truth?
Well. Sort of. My family was camping, it was very late at night/early in the AM, and I’d just finished some pond swimming. As I pulled weeds from my armpits and crotch, two of the girls I didn’t know that well came out from the water and saw me where I was drying off and dressing behind an open car door. They flashed me. It became a magical night, and twenty years later I gave the memory to Bob. He deserves it.
3. The word ‘redneck’ conjures a specific stereotype – broadly, I suppose, a negative one. Do those folk commonly regarded as rednecks get a raw deal in fiction? Is there an element within your collection of trying to redress the balance?
I think rednecks get a raw deal in that there aren’t that many well-known writers writing from within, if you’ll pardon the term, the redneck class. Many writers have written about rednecks or white trash, but few from deep within the culture. Lots of upper and middle class writers think they know the redneck poor, but they don’t. I do.
Hooboy, I hope my family and my extended family reading this don’t feel betrayed by what I’m about to say; my extended family means a great deal to me, in more ways than one. There have been Barnes families in the two contiguous counties I grew up in for more than two hundred years and I lost something when I moved away, but that’s a subject for another time.
Anyway. I grew up in an old crappy house with a largely absentee landlord, a house that was falling apart steadily in the years we lived in it. As soon as my parents moved out a few years ago it was destroyed as uninhabitable by new landlords. The house had no doors inside. Not on the bedrooms, nor on the bathroom. We hung curtains in the doorways to give a semblance of privacy, but the fact was very few things were private in that house. There was a hole in the ceiling of my room that led directly to the outside. We covered it in plastic and duct tape and when the wind rolled at night the plastic would fill and empty as if the house was breathing around me. Squirrels and other rodents ran through the walls all night. My mother canned everything vegetable along with venison and stored it in the hallway between our rooms upstairs; we ate mostly venison all winter. I assume at least some of those deer were shot out of season — how else to explain? – but I never once saw evidence of it.
Also, I never once went hungry, the way many poor people do, but that was because my dad worked six to eight months out of the year, depending on weather, busting his ass in 50-60-70-80 hour weeks in the hottest times of the year running heavy equipment like loaders and draglines and belly-dumps, while my mother cleaned houses and baby-sat for extra money. I’m not bitter about this; far from it. It’s my life, the only one I’ve got, and I want to tell the truth about it, and remain proud at what my parents did to keep me and my brother and sister alive. But you can’t tell me you understand me or where I come from, or write about it adequately if your experience doesn’t include something similar. Few writers come from my social class, anyway; everyone’s too busy trying to make a living in places with little opportunity and less pay to think of anything frivolous like writing.
I don’t suppose I even qualify as redneck anymore — in fact in some ways I feel as if I betrayed my class by getting educated and moving away – but it’ll be in my subject matter as long as I live, because my first instincts are to write about things I saw during the first 22 years of my life. I think like a redneck still, and I’ll likely never stop, nor exhaust that subject matter.
It took me a long time to stumble on writers who used subject matter and characters I could relate to my life growing up. Appalachian and some southern fiction fit the bill for me, and still do. So the answer to your question is yes: I am trying to redress a balance, in my own way.
4. This is your second short story collection; you’ve also published poetry and are, I believe, working on a novel. Which process do you most prefer?
I prefer poetry, but it doesn’t come to me as readily as fiction does. That’s not entirely true either. It’s all about equal. I couldn’t write at all without being able to read poetry for inspiration, but when it comes to writing I simply decide what I’m going to write and write it. There’s no writer’s block, it’s just whether I feel lazy or not, or whether I have time to do fiction. If I have an hour free, I can get a thousand words out, or a full draft of a poem. I prefer having at least an hour at hand, too, but it rarely works out that way these days with homeschooling three kids.
5. Also, you’ve been involved with online and digital publishing for some time, with Night Train and the Fried Chicken and Coffee blog. As far as you as a writer are concerned, is the digital publishing revolution all good?
All good, yes. The only ones who don’t think so are the academics whose tenure depends on publication being a ‘measurable’ factor in bringing attention to and promoting the university they work for and the disciplines they work in. Between online and on-demand publishing, the literary scenery looks pretty good to me.
6. How do you see it in, say, five, ten years’ time?
More and more publishers will keep their backlist in print via on-demand printing, most university-sponsored journals will switch to some combination of on-demand and online publishing, technology will continue to evolve and improve the way our work looks online, and new modes of writing will find an audience, maybe in hyper-text, maybe something else we have no inkling about yet.
7. What is it about Appalachia that throws out such much great, dark, visceral fiction: not just the likes of Ron Rash and Donald Ray Pollock, but some of the stuff that crops up on ‘Fried Chicken’ on a regular basis in particular?
Appalachia is a place that until recently was mostly ignored except for the natural resources it could provide. Coal and timber and other industries took what they wanted and moved on, and the recovery will take decades. Most of Appalachian literature is considered southern literature, as well, and one of the reasons the south is unique in literature is that they were — not getting into right or wrong -defeated and occupied by an opposing force, and the emotional makeup of the people in it — the south shall rise again — lends itself to a somewhat dark and twisty literature. But for every dark novel in Appalachian lit there are two about other things that matter: the family, church, community, the Appalachian diaspora, so to speak.
8. What new things have you enjoyed reading recently?
Oh man. Frank Bill’s Crimes in Southern Indiana is a great recent book I’ll be reviewing soon, You Can’t Win, by Jack Black, Scott Phillips’ books. I’m rereading John McManus’s books to prep for an interview, rereading Dogs of God by Pinckney Benedict, Blood Clay by Valerie Nieman was great, the new Donald Ray Pollock. That’s just a start. It’s a great time to be a writer and reader. If you’re bored by your reading, you’re not paying enough attention.