Mini-Interview with Barbara Byar

Why do you write flash? What makes it different for you?

I started writing flash before I knew what it was. In 2015, I started a writers’ group here in Kerry and set weekly prompts for members. The target word count of around 500 words was dictated by how long it would take to read and critique everyone’s piece each week. At the time, I was mostly focused on my novel, but the prompts were creative jump starts and I grew to love writing very short stories.

All our pieces were a bit messy at first but through honest, constructive feedback, we fine-tuned them and learned what worked and what didn’t. I submitted my first piece for publication in Jan 2017 and it was accepted the first place I subbed. That was easy, I thought. Little did I know.

The beauty of flash is it a mechanism to tell epic stories in a minimum of words. And by epic, I don’t necessarily mean the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, but anything from a character study to a thriller; flash’s length belies its enormity. It’s about distillation—a word perfume, with distinct notes forming an overall essence which will hopefully linger long after reading.

Some say you can’t tell a proper story in less than 1,000 words but I say nothing will improve your overall writing craft more than mastering this art of distillation.  

What’s your writerly lifejacket: character or plot?

Oh, plot all the way. To me, the story is key and always a transformative experience for my characters who are frequently just along for the ride.

How my characters react to the circumstances they find themselves in determines either their evolution or demise. Ultimately, the reader learns more about my characters from their actions than anything I can ever say about them. My adage is—you are what you do, not what you say.

Writing style: Quick and messy or slow and precise?

Slow and precise sounds like a death sentence to me. My best pieces usually flood straight out. I may fiddle with bits here and there to tighten the prose but if an interesting idea resonates with me emotionally, a piece writes itself.

For example, Bear which was published by Fictive Dream for Flash Fiction February 2019. I envisioned a child whose only friend was her stuffed Bear. It began innocuously enough but I immediately tapped into the well of impotent rage and confusion I felt as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I wrote it in about five minutes.

If you are writing truth as you see it, the words will come dynamically and with power. It is only when we tamper and tone, embellish and prettify that it all goes to shit.

What element or part of your “real life” do you think most influences your writing?

All of it. Anything and everything is material, even if it’s just plucked from the dark recesses of my imagination.  All good stories are rooted in reality—from literary to genre—doesn’t matter, when you read it, you always hear the tenor of truth.

If you could recommend a few flash stories or writers, who/what would it be?

Currently, I’m digging: the bubbling, tragic-comic rage of Gaynor Jones; the hypnotic, raw rhythms of Meg Pillow; and Donna Greenwood’s strange and compelling lyricism.

I’m a fan of the magical realism of Cheryl Pearson and Anita Goveas. Also, the quietly tragic narratives of Chris Drew.  I just finished Peter Jordan’s collection Calls from Distant Places and loved it.

From my writers’ group, Ashling Denney and Davena O’Neill are two to keep an eye on.

What story of yours do you wish got more recognition?

Porcelain – this was the first story I ever published and no one took much notice at the time. It’s an alternative-view piece about the Dresden bombing; a romance with the obligatory tragic Byar take.

Bio: Barbara Byar is an American immigrant into Ireland who lives in County Kerry with her two sons and two dogs. A previous Irish Writers’ Centre Novel Fair winner, she’s had pieces in various zines, including: Ghost Parachute, Anti-Heroin Chic, Flash Fiction February, Spelk, The Corridor, EllipsisZine, Litro, and Cabinet of Heed. She was short-listed for the 2017 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year Award and long listed for the 2017 Bare Fiction Prize. Barbara is also a reader and Senior Editor for TSS Publishing, UK and Virtual Zine.

Her debut collection Some Days Are Better Than Ours: A Collection of Tragedies will be published by Reflex Press UK on November 5th, 2019. Pre-order here:  https://www.reflex.press/product/some-days-are-better-than-ours/

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