Barry Brennessel Interview and Giveaway
Today, On Top Down Under would like to welcome one of Kazza’s favourite authors, Barry Brennessel. It is lovely to have him as part of our 2nd year blog anniversary celebrations. Barry’s writing is a cut above and for anyone who loves beautiful words, thoughts, and characters, plus diversity in their LGBT reading, Barry Brennessel is a must for your reading shelf.
Barry has also been involved in writing screenplays and television scripts. This interview looks at some of his amazing success over the last year in many acclaimed competitions. He is very humble about it all but I have made sure links are supplied below for those interested. Particularly if you are keen on broadening your own writing career to other mediums.
Kazza: The first writing I ever read of yours was 1909 AD. It was part of the Lust in Time Anthology. I remember it stood out in a very strong anthology – Lust in Time was on my Books of the Year List, 2013. It is an incredibly sweet coming-of-age story set in 1909. Then I read Running Up That Hill – thanks to Kate Bush for that wonderful song – set in the 80’s. Funnily enough, it was also from an anthology, Mixed Tape. I feel that I (possibly) may not have found you as an author without those anthologies. That is my opinion, but how do you find writing shorter stories for an anthology? Do you personally feel they help you get noticed by readers as an author? Or do you simply see the call for an anthology and believe you have ‘just the story’ to go in there?
Barry: When I saw the submission call for Lust in Time, I thought this was just the greatest concept for an anthology. I didn’t have a story idea at first, but knew I had to write one. It seemed like such a fun challenge, and whenever there’s a challenge and a deadline looming over my head, the muse really kicks into overdrive. The same thing happened with the Mixed Tape anthology. Another great concept, another fun challenge.
I do think short stories can get an author noticed. (Hey, you’re proof! So glad you found me.) I’ve never written a short story with that in mind though. I just have always loved the short story structure. The brevity means that the author has to make each word, line, and scene count. I also like that the endings aren’t necessarily concrete. As with a really powerful poem, the short story impacts each reader in a different way, leaves some things open to interpretation, and—I think—compels the reader to revisit the story again and again.
Kazza: I agree with that statement- The brevity means that the author has to make each word, line, and scene count. I’ve noted on several novellas short stories that I am totally in awe with authors who can say so much in such a small wordcount.
Kazza: From the two anthologies stories I took the leap into Paradise at Main & Elm. I’m so glad I did as it was my Book of the Year last year. I still remember Adrian and Ezra. They are like part of my family to me and I know I will never forget them. I sometimes think, ‘how are they doing?’ ‘Are they still visiting that apple orchard?’ I believe making a reader feel that sort of connection to a book and its characters says a lot about the quality of the writing, the ability to connect with readers at a deeply visceral and cerebral level leaving an indelible impact. We all have those books as readers. Having said that, were there any other accolades for “Paradise?” Is there anything else that may come from that book?
Barry: When you chose Paradise at Main & Elm as your 2013 book of the year, I admit I was so thrilled. And shocked. Really shocked. I experimented with the structure of the novel, but I didn’t do it as an experiment (if that makes any sense). It’s just the way the novel had to take shape for this group of very complex characters.
A lot of writers say that the characters are like their children. I feel that way too. And there’s something about Adrian and Ezra that touched me on an inexplicably deep level to the point where I have to let them be okay in my mind. With my other stories, it’s like sending the kids off to college. I think about them, but they’re off living their own lives now. With Adrian and Ezra, I have to drive past their apartment once a week and make sure they’re okay. And you know what? They are okay. They’re always going to be okay. These two needed to meet. They’ll grow old together. Their love for each other will never wane.
Paradise at Main & Elm was a Finalist in the 2013 ForeWord Book of the Year Awards, and is a Rainbow Awards Finalist, and well, it was your 2013 Book of the Year, so, yeah, I think it turned out okay. And I’m working on a screenplay version just for fun, so we’ll see where that goes. I haven’t contemplated any sequels, per se, because I think I have to let Adrian and Ezra just…be. (With my weekly drive-by checkups, of course.)
Kazza: I must admit that I’m glad you are not writing a sequel. I have good thoughts about where Adrian and Ezra are as well. But a screenplay version sounds good.
Kazza: From there I read A Special Kind of Folk, and that is such a departure from anything else of yours I have read. There are six stories and they are all different from one another but share a commonality within the book’s title. I also think the cover is utterly gorgeous and the writing mirrors that. Tell us a bit about A Special Kind of Folk, where it came from?
The stories in A Special Kind of Folk have had a long history. The title story was inspired after I’d read Truman Capote’s Music for Chameleons many years ago. Eccentric characters, dark settings, twists and turns, and things that make you scratch your head. I just started writing a group of stories that featured everyday people finding themselves painted into the most fantastical corners, and resorting to extreme measures (and sometimes a little magic) to get themselves out.
I’m a huge fan of the macabre. And I adore eccentricity. So I had a lot of fun with this collection. It was a way for me, I think, to exercise the creative mind. If I write the same style of story again and again, it gets stale and boring. And I’d hate to bore the reader. (They may throw the book at the wall in frustration sometimes, but I at least hope they’re never bored.)
Kazza: I have since read, and loved, The Celestial – a book I feel can be enjoyed from Young Adult readers up. The Celestial was well received as a book. I believe it won a Lambda Literary Award? The subject matter was very interesting – interracial characters in a time when that was more than frowned upon as well as same-sex attracted mane, again not easy, but the book is not melodramatic. Can you tell readers a bit about The Celestial?
Barry: The Celestial was pretty well received. It was a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and won the Gold Medal for Gay & Lesbian Fiction in the ForeWord Book of the Year Awards. And I just found out recently that my screenplay version is a Finalist in the Great Gay Screenplay Contest (with a stage performance scheduled on November 15th in Chicago!)
This is another story that came from wanting to challenge myself. I’m a railroad fanatic, and was reading about the U.S. railroad industry in the 1800s. I was shocked to find out how horribly the Chinese immigrants were treated in the U.S. at that time. They’d done so much to help get the railroads built, but when the job was finished, suddenly they were blamed for all of society’s ills. (History does repeat itself, doesn’t it?) So I started wondering, what if there was a young Chinese immigrant and a young American who encountered one another purely by chance, and found they were attracted to one another? So many problems, so many challenges! Yet I knew these two characters, Todd Webster Morgan and Lao Jian, would triumph over everything they faced.
Kazza: Another book of yours I read earlier this year is Wellsping. Set primarily through the Great Depression, it is an historical piece, a romance, a mystery. Is historical writing something you enjoy? Is there a story behind Wellsrping? The Spa at the centre seems to have a life of its own, I feel like there was more.
Barry: Yeah, I do kind of like historicals. 😉 ! I love—LOVE!—doing the research for them. I also like crafting the story. It’s important to drop in the details, but do so subtly. For example, you have a character simply making a phone call, and add just a few of the necessary little descriptions—the earpiece, the operator, some static—rather than launch into a catalogue description of a Stromberg-Carlson candlestick phone and its schematics and how the telephone company was organized, etc.
Wellspring was inspired by an old health spa in my hometown of Dansville, New York. It was built to look like a castle, and still sits on the hillside today, though it’s vacant and crumbling now. It was another case of “what if’s”—what if some guest staying there years ago was using the grounds in some nefarious way, and there was something buried on the decaying grounds that people were still after?
Kazza: Since Wellspring I believe you have been incredibly busy with teleplays and screenplays, submitting to some well-known and prestigious competitions. Can you tell us what you have submitted and the results? Is writing for theatre, television, the silver screen something you would like to do? And will books always be a part of what you write?
Barry: I’ll always write novels and short stores. It’s in my blood. But, yes, stage plays, teleplays, and screenplays? I’m just passionate about them. I get a thrill out of reading them (I think everyone should read the Citizen Kane screenplay at least once, and The Philadelphia Story stage play twice). I get an even bigger thrill from writing them.
This year I really went a little crazy writing screenplays and teleplays, and I entered them in a wide range of contests, and…well, it’s turned out pretty well.
My screenplay for The Celestial, as I mentioned earlier, is a Finalist in the Great Gay Screenplay Contest – http://pridefilmsandplays.com/5-finalists-named-in-the-great-gay-screenplay-contest/ It’s also a semi-finalist in the Rhode Island International Film Festival, and it won a Gold Medal in the International Independent Film Awards.
A screenplay version of my linked story collection Reunion won a Silver Medal in the International Independent Film Awards.
A screenplay based on my short story “Nagasaki” won 2nd prize in the 1st annual Chicago Screenplay Festival, and a spec script I did for the The Simpsons was a finalist in this same contest- https://www.chicagoscreenplaycontest.com/winners
Another script I wrote for The Simpsons won 3rd prize in the Scriptapalooza TV writing contest this year – http://www.scriptapaloozatv.com/winners/
And pilot TV script I wrote, The Gifted, has advanced in the Final Draft Big Break Contest and the Austin Film Festival Script contest.
So, heck, not terrible. ☺
Kazza: I would say pretty amazing!
Kazza: One question I ask most people interviewed on the blog at some stage – if you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?
Barry: Vietnam. I just want to soak in its rich history and culture. And iced coffee.
Kazza: What works in progress are you currently working on? Anything that readers should be on the look-out for in the not too distant future?
I just finished a collection of linked stories, Sideways Down the Sky. It features a couple of characters from my collection Reunion.
Here’s the blurb:
In the land of snow monsters and steam baths, complex characters as diverse as the Japanese terrain experience lust, loss, and love.
A young boy performs a daring rescue. A woman loses her old life to face an uncertain new one. A teenager suffers through a cataclysmic event. Unusual bonds form at the Tokyo Olympics. A rent boy’s hardened heart melts when he meets a sexy, buoyant stranger.
Much like the Japanese islands themselves, there is commonality to be found among myriad differences. The poet, the musician, the artist, the tortured mother, the bankrupt father, the protective brother—they all know that there’s a new day awaiting them after the moon slips sideways down the sky.
Up next I’m working on a short story set in Vietnam during World War I.
Kazza: Thank you to Barry Brennessel for joining us today at On Top Down Under
Barry: Thank you for a having me. It’s truly (truly!!) an honor to be part of your anniversary celebration. Happy 2nd Anniversary and here’s to many, many more!
**GIVEAWAY IS OVER. CONGRATULATIONS TO DEVON. **
As part of our 2nd year Blog-Versary, Barry Brennessel is offering a choice of any of his e-books. Simply leave a comment below before midnight, October 26th, US Eastern Standard Time. (**If you receive a spam message don’t worry, we will see it and add it to comments.)