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Author Q&A: Tyler Steven Barton

Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT. He’s an MFA fiction student at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he serves as a fiction editor for the Blue Earth Review and a host for KMSU’s The Weekly Reader. His fiction has appeared in Monkeybicycle, NANO Fiction, Mud Season Review, and others. Find his stories at tsbarton.com. Find his jokes at@goftyler.

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TBL Author Q&A Series: Tyler Barton

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What compelled you to become a writer? What jumpstarted your career?

I wrote poems to girls who could stand me in high school. I wrote a short story senior year that my English teacher never read. I helped the vocalist in my hardcore band fix his lyrics when he couldn’t remember how they went. But I didn’t start taking any of it seriously until I met Eliot White in college at Millersville University. We started trading poems and stories, and we eventually started an official writing club. The Creative Writers Guild was a weekly meeting for the misfits at the state/party school at which we’d all found ourselves. I started submitting my work to publications in 2014 and learning about rejection. Rejection was probably the most motivating thing. My partner Erin is also a writer, and in the days since the infamous Writer’s Guild, she’s been my biggest advocate, editor, and inspiration.

Your fiction has appeared in publications such as Hobart, Nailed Magazine, Smokelong Quarterly, and Five Quarterly. What changes have you noticed in publishing and what’s been your experience with finding the right publication for your stories?

I usually don’t know a publication is the right fit until I’ve already been accepted by them. That sounds stupid, but it’s true. After acceptance, you learn how hard the editors and staff are willing to work in the areas of revisions, communications, promotion, and respect for the work. It’s my favorite thing when an editor says “We love this but we want to talk about {this part}.” Because then I know they care. Sometimes it simple things like details (this was my experience with Monkeybicycle) or story-wide revisions (this was my experience with Mud Season Review) or just cutting all my pointless similes (this was my experience with Hobart) or just talking through decisions with an editor (Nailed). There is nothing more fun than working with smart people to make a good story better.

I have learned in the past year how true it really is that you should “familiarize” yourself with a journal. But that takes time. I’d been reading Hobart weekly for two years before a story of mine finally clicked with them.

What topics interest you? Do you find you write in a particular genre? How has your writing changed throughout your career?

My topics currently are: comedians, irony, community, and amateurs. My favorite place to be is in a room full of amateurs doing their art and making people laugh, because that combines all four of those things. Open Mic Comedy Nights are basically the perfect environment for my stories right now.

My writing has changed in that I’ve read a lot more than I’d read when I started. And I know the most important rule is that you cannot be boring. I think I learned that from Scott McLanahan or Lindsay Hunter or both.

Also idk if you can call my writing a career. I have made a total of $120 from publishing short stories, and I currently work at a Children’s Museum, picking up stuffed carrots and re-planting them in the stuffed garden.

What other writers have influenced your love of the craft?

Age 12-16: C.S. Lewis

Age 17: Kurt Vonnegut

Age 18: J.D. Salinger

Age 19: Herman Hesse

Age 20: V.S. Napaul

Age 21: Scott McLanahan

Age 22: Lindsay Hunter

Age 23: George Saunders

Age 24: Amelia Grey

Age 25: Jenny Offill

What are your opinions on the elements of a successful story? How concrete are these elements to you?

I wish I had enough writing experience, knowledge, and understanding of craft to give an excellent answer, but I’ll be a smartass and say:

  • a part that makes you laugh
  • a part that makes you feel something you remember
  • a part that makes you feel something you don’t remember.

By “you” I mean the writer. You can hope like hell the “you” also ends up being the reader.

Tell me about your story “You’ll Have to Forgive Me” that was recently published on the Monkeybicycle website. What compelled you to write it?

I’m obsessed with this idea of young, creative amateurs growing up into restless, disappointed adults with bigger problems than their passions and ambitions (kids, spouse, house, career). I like to explore the unhappiness that stems from not having achieved creative goals because that’s my current reality. What happens to that desire?

This story was one that started with a sentence and a voice. “The day my father left he took the dog but not me,” I think was the first draft first sentence. I could just hear it.

Also I love to write about dogs and comedians. I spend a lot of time at dog parks and I spend a lot of time thinking of jokes. (follow me @goftyler to read some)

Does the topic of the tragic side of comedy often come up in your writing?

Probably, yes. I just like to think about all the side effects of a joke.

How did you find the ending for your story?

Oh, great question. I’ve been into this topic lately.

I’ve been trying to do this thing that my teacher, Diana Joseph told me about called “writing past the ending.” A lot of times, when I’m drafting a story, I’ll get to the part I think is the ending and I feel so good cus I’m like, “Finally, there it is, I found you!”

But what I have to do now is push myself to write one more page, paragraph, or line. One more scene. Not necessarily a resolution, although it often comes out that way. For “You’ll Have to Forgive Me,” the first draft ending took place inside the comedy club, when Jamison tells the random person in the booth that he doesn’t think his dad is funny. When you look at the story now, how it has three more brief, action packed scenes, it’s almost frightening that I initially thought it would end in the bar.

Of course, sometimes you write past the ending and you find that the ending is actually way back in the middle of the story.

When submitting your work, do you keep a particular journal’s audience in mind? How do you approach the editors of the publications you submit to?

I shoot into the dark a lot. I can say that I have met a lot of great friends this way, though. I’m an editor myself and have been for over a year, so I know it means a lot to be respectful and non-assuming and careful.

What can you tell us about your experiences as the fiction editor of Third Point Press?

It was a blast. It was my first time making decisions about acceptances. It felt so good to find that gem of a story in the slush. I owe everything to my readers, though, Meghan Phillips and Delia Pepper. They were extremely diligent and smart about finding stories.

Was there a particular award or honor that helped you gain traction in your career as a writer?

Nope. The thing that has gained me the most traction is being active on social media.

What would your advice be for young writers trying to establish a foothold in the literary market?

See above answer, haha. But I’d say: submit your work. Learn about rejection. Read a lot. Follow editors. Listen. Take Notes. Go to literary events. Let poets sleep in your house.

What are your current goals, after you’ve experienced so much success? Is there a particular type of story you’d like to focus on?

I’d reiterate that I don’t feel like I’ve reached much success, although I am very proud and thankful for the publications I’ve received. I did the numbers recently and for every publication I have, I have twelve rejections.

My goals right now are:

  • publish a book of short stories
  • meet more writers in person
  • draft a novel
  • floss every night before bed

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