Father, prolific writer, and general superstar. If you’re at all familiar with e-zines you’ve probably seen David Barringer’s work – it’s everywhere. In the last two years he’s released two short-story compilations – The Leap & Other Mistakes and The Human Case. You can peruse a large body of his published work at www.davidbarringer.com.
RRM: So let me get this straight: you had enough guts to abandon a legal career and become a writer? Was this before or after you achieved a degree of literary success?
DB: I didn’t get far enough to have a legal career to abandon. The only quasi-legal career I had after passing the bar was as a freelancer scribbling features for The American Bar Association Journal. In 1996, a year out of law school, with a wife and a newborn and an ulcer-inducing amount of law-school debt, I turned down the one law-firm job offer I ever got so I could keep freelancing for magazines. Did I have guts or was I nuts? Both, I think. Freelancing connections eventually led to a full-time job.
RRM: How long did it take you to write and compile your first story collection?
DB: An agent interested in my novel once phoned me to ask how many stories I’d published. It was the year 2000, and my answer was: none. That was bad. It meant I had no audience. It spurred me to put a story collection together in about four months. It’s 300 pages. Half included stuff I excised from my novel. The other half consisted of new stories I wrote for the collection. Only one was a story I’d written as an undergrad and rewritten for the collection.
RRM: Do you have a literary agent?
DB: No. I tried to find one for my novel, but that search was the greatest crime against Time I have ever willingly perpetrated. Will I ever look for one again? POLICE LINE – DO NOT CROSS.
RRM: You have been called the “hardest working writer on the literary e-zine scene today” and indeed have written and placed an enormous amount of work within the past few years. Is this the product of a regular writing schedule, a daily word-count goal, or do you simply write as fast as your inspiration?
DB: My kids are my schedule. I work at home and type at my desk throughout the day or night (the convenience is a blessing and a curse). I usually have intense bouts of creativity that last a couple months. For a few years now, forces have aligned in the summers, and during those honeymoons, I’ve written a story a day, more or less. I always edit and rewrite everything, but I ride the waves of this output like I’m afraid it’s the last time I’ll ever be able to write. Then, like some kind of manic-depressive, I hate it all. I stop. I get moody. Everything sucks, and nothing is worth doing. I wait for this to pass. It has every time so far. One day, it won’t.
RRM: How do you usually compose your writing – computer or pen and paper?
DB: Notes, notebooks, scrap paper, newspaper clippings, marginalia, torn magazines, envelopes. That’s the compost heap. I draw on it when I sit down at the computer to write. I prefer the computer because I can type much faster than I can write illegibly.
RRM: Do you write full-time?
DB: In my day job, I write, take photos, travel, edit, project manage, and design layouts for print material. Writing is a large part of it. My job and my kids make full-time fiction-writing impossible, but that’s a good thing. I like the constant interruption, the distractions, the horse of experience nuzzling me for a gallop. It also preserves an urgency in my writing life – write now because you won’t have time later.
RRM: Who are your favorite authors? How often do you read?
DB: I read every day, dozens of books and magazines all at once. Zipping among them like treats on an antipasto tray might be a bad habit, but I can’t help it. Half-started magazines folded open here and there, bookmarked novels stacked by the desk, the bed, the couch. Authors: Rabelais, Nietzsche, Diderot, Chekhov, Kafka, Gogol, Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas Berger, Thomas Hardy, Flann O’Brien, E.B. White, Donald Barthelme, Grace Paley, Carole Maso, Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, D.F. Wallace, Amy Hempel, etc. I try to support young contemporary writers, and I’ve recently bought books by Steve Almond, Adam Johnson, Adam Haslett, Michael Kimball, and Ben Marcus. And I subscribe to Sweet Fancy Moses.
RRM: Both The Leap and Other Mistakes and the forthcoming The Human Caseare being published POD [print-on-demand], has your experience with this system been positive?
DB: Mostly. For one thing, POD lets me make books in the here and now. Otherwise, I’d be grumbling bitterly waiting for someone at Nan A. Talese or Farrar, Straus and Giroux to believe in me. And the books, thank god, are quality products. The main difficulty is getting a competitive price. I managed to get The Human Case down to $10, which I’m thrilled with, and The Leap is now $16 through Alibris.com (I still don’t know how they’re getting it that low). The second difficulty is sales and marketing. My publisher, Brainpan Publishing, and I are working to get The Human Case in stores, but POD books are purchased primarily online. As easy as it is to point and click, people still need to be motivated to spend $10 on your book, even though they just spent $15 on a pound of French Roast.
RRM: How do you feel the advent of the e-zine has changed the literary scene if at all?
DB: The e-zine has expanded the literary scene, made publication feasible for so many more writers than in the past, established communities of encouragement for those writers, and proven that thousands of readers unsatisfied with the status quo were waiting for ezines in all sorts of niches. The ezine has also moved the crotchety giants of the lit-journal world to make pretty faces online and smile for the zeitgeist. That continues to amuse.
RRM: Do you feel it is possible for a non-commercial writer to make a modest living writing in today’s marketplace?
DB: No. If you don’t want to teach, write for a periodical, or work for an ad agency, you need to be independently wealthy. To write how I want to write, to do what I do, I need a day job. Period.
RRM: Many of your stories tend to reflect the degradation of modern society and its effects on the individual. Do you consciously choose socio-political themes and compose a story to illustrate those ideas or are they simply stories with socio-political themes?
DB: I write about all sorts of things, but one thing my story collections do not have is any consciously unifying theme. In my satires and parodies, I do unquestionably parry and thrust with politics and corporate culture. I also like to give my characters something to talk about, and politics, social critique, even legal issues are great topics for conversation. But all ideas are fair game and fair play. I have no agenda.
RRM: Have e-zines created a solid literary community, or merely a loose collaboration between largely isolated publishers and writers?
DB: Without the reading events that e-zines are now sponsoring in big cities all over the country, I think writers might still feel unconnected, adrift and alone, despite virtual participation in an e-community. Putting faces to names, hearing voices, getting up to read your stuff in front of a supportive crowd: this provides a necessary dynamic, a grounding. Online, there are, generally speaking, no membership cards, no mean alliances and stubborn loyalties. The fluidity of e-zine communities preserves openness. The affiliations may be so loose as to feel nonexistent, but I think this e-playground of ideas is invaluable, and irreproducible, so far, in any other medium. The willingness of readers and writers to travel to other cities and hang out with fellow e-ziners is really a testament to the strength of online communities, and it will be these social events that keep the blood pumping and the body alive.
RRM: Do you think G.W.Bush is being slowly made, through a series of surgical techniques, to resemble Harrison Ford?
DB: If so, the surgeons keep missing the ears.
About the author:
Ryan Robert Mullen is the author of Naughty, Sweet Boy (Word Riot Press) and a columnist at Get Underground. He maintains a website at ryanrobertmullen.net.