Friday, March 8, 2019

#24 Inside the Emotion of Fiction's "Pasture Art" by Marlin Barton

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****Marlin Barton’s “Pasture Art” is the twenty-fourth in a never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The title is "Pasture Art." I also considered the titles "Something out of Nothing" and "Out of Nothing."

Fiction genre? Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, etc. And how many pages long? It's a short story, the title story of my most recent collection. It runs 20 typed, double spaced pages, and 17 printed pages in book form.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? It was published in 2015 by Hub City Press in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I began the story about December of 2007 and finished it in early February of 2008. It was then published in the literary journal Shenandoah in the fall of 2010 before appearing in book form in 2015. As you can see, writing and publishing don't happen in quick succession. 

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work? And please describe in detail. And can you please include a photo? I wrote the story at my desk in my home office. The desk is actually an old, small dining room table with the leaves removed, and it faces a large window. I like to see the outdoors while I write. Light and space are always good for the imagination, well, at least for my imagination. 

Flannery O'Connor wrote at a small desk facing the wall, which obviously worked for her. I also like to keep my desk uncluttered. Too much stuff seems to clutter my mind, though I do have a few quotes about writing framed on my desk, and a small globe, a gift from my wife Rhonda, and a small telescope. At some point I realized they symbolize the micro and the macro world, both of which are important to any writer.

What were your writing habits while writing this work--did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I tend to write in the mornings, at least on days that I don't teach, and I like to write from about 10:00 to 1:00. 
After three hours I'm not as sharp. I need absolute quiet, some caffeine to drink, either Diet Coke or tea, and I write with a medium-point, blue ink pen on yellow, legal paper, and it has to be college-ruled, 8 1/2 x 11. Later I type the handwritten draft onto a computer and create a Word document, which allows me to go back in and rewrite after I have writer friends offer critiques.  

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? In this story a teenage girl named Leah is about to finish high school, and because she has grown up with little money, no father, and a mother who drinks and does not take care of her diabetes properly, Leah feels weighted down with responsibilities she shouldn't have had to take on; she simply has no idea how to escape her circumstances. 
She and her mother live in a rental house owned by a wealthy farmer who creates pasture art out of large, round hay bales and other found objects such as driftwood, 55-gallon drums, old pieces of tin, etc. The works that passersby can see from the highway include a helicopter, a train, and a sail boat. Ultimately, when Leah sees one of the pieces of pasture art catch fire one night, this farmer, Mr. Hutchins, and his primitive art, may just show Leah a way into a better future, despite the fact that Leah has stolen small but valuable items from his house. (Above Left: Pasture Artist Jim Bird)

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? The excerpt below is from the opening of the story and gives readers both a sense of the circumstances Leah lives in and a sense of the conflict between Leah and her mother.

Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

     The helicopter sits in the middle of the hay field, its blades still except when the wind blows. Just beyond it a sailboat rides crashing waves, and the train engine strains up the small rise, though its smokestack never blows smoke. There are giant bugs, too, and spiders, a matador with red cape in front of a charging bull, and a tank with its cannon raised. A huge baseball cap with an A for the Atlanta Braves sits at the edge of the field, two eyes just beneath the brim. It isn’t lost on Leah that her three favorites are all something she can ride away on. Out of here by water, rail, or air—any way will do.
     Pasture art, that’s what Mr. Hutchins calls it. Leah guesses he knows what he’s talking about. After all, he’s the one who makes it, and it is his pasture, just like it’s his tenant house they rent and his old car they make payments on. She’s read about indentured servants in history class.
That’s what she feels like. Cleaning his house and cooking for him three times a week doesn’t help with that feeling, either.
     He mostly uses round bales when he works on his creations, and she’s watched him move hay with the large fork on the front of his tractor. But he’ll use anything that works: cut up pieces of tin, rusty fifty-five gallon drums, driftwood from out of the Tennahpush River, a mirror he took from an old house that had fallen in, which is what he used for the door on the helicopter. Long pieces of tin make the ’copters blades, and old drums welded to a galvanized pipe form its tail and back rudder. When she squints it looks almost real, as if it might lift, hover, and be gone.
     “A waste of good hay,” her mother says from behind her. “And to think, people come out to take pictures of it.”
     Leah turns away from the window and finds her mother leaning against the kitchen doorway for support. She has bad feet, the bottom of one bruised over for more than two weeks now.
     “I like looking at all of it,” Leah says.
     “I don’t know why. Looks like something a child would do.”
     “It’s different,” she says.
     “It’s hay and junk is what it is.”
     Leah isn’t going to argue. “Time for your shot,” she says, which is its own argument, but one she feels she has to wage.
     Her mother shakes her head and waves a hand through the air dismissively.

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? This story began with an image of a girl standing in front of a trailer beneath a large oak looking down the hill at an open pasture. I didn't know what her story was, but I knew she was trapped within difficult circumstances and did not know how to make her life better. I felt her desperation and felt a responsibility to tell her story and to see if I could find a way out for her. By the time I began writing, I'd gotten rid of the trailer, the hill, and the oak tree, but I'd begun to know and care about her. The emotional aspect of writing this excerpt really came down to my deep need to make the reader care about Leah as much as I did, and still do. 

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. There are only small deletions, corrections, and changes in this opening excerpt,  but I'm glad to share them. 
Writing is a lot of trial and error, and sometimes I have to make large cuts, but not with this particular story.

Other works you have published? In addition to Pasture Art,  my other two short story collections are The Dry Well and Dancing by the River. I've also published two novels, A Broken Thing and The Cross Garden.

Anything you would like to add? I grew up in Forkland, Alabama, in Greene County, and there is a man there named Jim Bird who began making pasture art in the 1980s. He is still at it, and whoever might be interested can find photos and articles about it pretty easily on-line. The story I wrote is completely fiction, but I always knew I wanted to find a way to use Jim's pasture art in a story of mine.

Marlin Barton is from the Black Belt region of Alabama. His most recent book is Pasture Art, a collection of short stories. He has published two novels, The Cross Garden and A Broken Thing, and two previous collections, The Dry Well and Dancing by the River. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies, including Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards and The Best American Short Stories. He has also been awarded the Truman Capote Prize for short fiction. He teaches in, and helps direct, the Writing Our Stories project, a program for juvenile offenders created by the Alabama Writers' Forum, and he's been teaching in the low-residency MFA program at Converse College since 2010.


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