Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Inside the Emotion of Fiction "A DOG BETWEEN US" by Duncan B Barlow

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***The CRC Blog welcomes submissions from published and unpublished fiction genre writers for INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION.  Contact CRC Blog via email at caccoop@aol.com or personal Facebook messaging at https://www.facebook.com/car.cooper.7

****Duncan B Barlow’s A DOG BETWEEN US  is #115 in the 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?
My most recent book is entitled A Dog Between Us. This was always the title I imagined for it, but I had also entertained Delicate Machines for a moment. There was a period before the book was published where I was trying to think of a new title, but I continuously came back to the original title.

Fiction genre? Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, movie script, screenplay, etc. And how many pages long? It’s a novel that is listed as literary fiction. It came out to 244 pages in its final form. However, I also publish several short stories during any given year. Most of my work takes a certain latitude with realism, but the latest novel is definitely more grounded in the real.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no. If yes, what publisher and what publication date? It came out in March of 2019 on Stalking Horse Press
(https://www.stalkinghorsepress.com/). It was my second book with them. James Reich is wonderful to work with.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I’m not sure of the exact time. It was in the later winter of 2013. (Left:  Duncan in October 2013). 

  My father (Right:  Duncan's father in his early days) had passed in May of that year and I was just writing to make record of my time in the hospital. I wrote maybe two thirds of it in a remarkably small window of time—a month maybe. I returned to it sometime later and began reading it over, and it and felt like it wanted to be a book, so I listened to it and spent a few months writing and revising until it had become a novel. 
          I shopped it for a couple months, but on a whim sent an older manuscript (The City, Awake) out to Stalking Horse Press and he picked that book up, so that and Of Flesh and Fur came out before A Dog Between Us, and I was busy for a couple years supporting those books.

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 don’t I’m afraid. At the time I was writing it, I hated my apartment in Denver, so I did a good deal of the work during the day at my friend’s bar called The Sputnik. The days are generally quiet there and they supplied me with ample diet soda. It’s my home away from home bar. Whenever I visit Denver now, I spend a good deal of time there catching up with friends. I suppose it’s all a bit comical since I don’t drink alcohol.

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? This was different from my normal writing practice since so much of it came out in one period of time. My typical process is to write in spurts. Small increments over a series of days. I’m often busy with teaching responsibilities, so I can’t always keep a piece going. I have to come back. When I do this, I tend to use the opportunity to review the pages and edit them. I’ll revise a novel hundreds of times during the process. This, for me, is where the true magic happens. I can meditate on a sentence for an hour at a time, sometimes many hours at a time. 
          Sometimes I come back and rework sentences one hundred times until they feel right in my mouth. Because I have severe damage to my right wrist from years of playing guitar and writing, I need to have surgery on my right wrist, so I almost never write things by hand. I even give my student workshop notes using track changes in Word. So, I type, and when I can’t access a computer, say when I’m backpacking across Europe, I bring my phone and a small keyboard and use that. I almost always have a soda when I’m writing, I’m a bit of soda addict, I’m afraid. 

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Oh, I’m thinking summaries are available online, so I won’t trouble you with that. I’ll give you my cocktail party pitch: It’s a novel about profound losses and how one navigates that murky territory to find hope again.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt?
In this scene, Crag (the protagonist) has been called away from his father’s side in Florida for a meeting with his department chair in Seattle over a student complaint (Crag had cancelled classes to be by his father’s side. The student was going to fail and used this as an opportunity to force a passing grade). The night he arrives back in Seattle, he receives a call that his father has passed. This is when he receives that call.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference. This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.
Language, at least that is what it was meant to be. The click and hiss and oh. But it was sound. Nothing hitting the ear quite right. A mouth hitting the drum on an off rhythm. In the fold of the ear. Hairs and bones. Small, small, small. My skin tingled. Eyes swelled. The skin tightening. Wrinkles smoothing, perhaps. I forgot about the other person in the room. About the television. About the dog nuzzled into my armpit. My muscles contracted. Legs straightened. The light became unbearable. The weight of breath impossible.
The door squeaked and the floor moaned. There was still a voice. Still words that had forgotten how to be language. Sounds. Movement and small things shifting. I repeated these sounds. I nodded. Gave other nonverbals that were lost through the phone. Hung up. There was something prickling my skin. Hundreds of things. Grass. I was lying down. Staring at the sky. I couldn’t remember lying down. I was watching TV. I was watching TV and the phone rang. Vibrated. Then, my back was against the ground.
Lights hit me. The neighbors’ car as they rolled in from dinner. They spoke. A question. I replied, just looking. Looking at what, I wondered. Stars, I said to myself. Barely audible. Juliana’s voice from the door. Another question. Stars, I said. Perhaps not an answer to her question. She sighed. She asked another. No. The door closed. She knelt next to me. Kissed me on my head. Left. Her car stereo: boom boom boom. And gone. I tried to remember my father’s face. Project it. A new constellation. I knew this was coming. I’d spoken to the doctor. Forced him to speak to me directly. There was no feeling in me. A vast network of wet organs shifting. I was only aware of my body as a machine. My chest rising. Falling. Rising. When would it stop? The lungs in me that came from my father. The ghost of my father in every part of me. When would the world’s machination suspend me? Cool my flesh? My breath? My eyes?
There was a gurney somewhere. A body draped in something like a sheet. A thing that was no longer my father. No longer human. Waste shaped like someone who I once knew. Once loved. A bug crawled in my ear. Its throng of legs tickled me. Circling the inside until there was a long screech almost quiet enough to miss. The dog scratched at the door. The stars remained still. Perhaps long since dead. The light a ghostly gravestone. The opposite of a body. A drunk walked by. He asked me a question. I said, fine. I stood. My knees popped. My head fogged. I tilted forward. About to keel over. A step and I was righted.
I entered the house. Pet the dog. Stared at the couch. It took me time to remember it. To remember the room. To remember my name and my skin and my life. The dog licked me. Her tongue warm and damp. I backed to the wall. Slipped to the floor. Pulled the dog between my knees. Buried my nose into her head. Kissed her and sighed. Stars, I whispered. We are not stars. (129-130)

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write? And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? This is a very close recreation to my experience in hearing of my father’s passing. Though this section came rather quickly in its original draft, it always pricks me with a bit of pain when I do public readings of it. My father and I were quite good friends.

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. I don’t have any photos of stacks of revisions because I revise so many times and lugging around that much paper would clutter my spaces and I like an organized office and home. Clutter distracts me. I make so very many deletions and additions while writing. In A Dog Between Us, I placed all the chapters on the floor and rated them. Anything that had a 1, was instantly removed and I wrote entirely new selections. With twos, I slashed and burned paragraphs. I pulled from the work, the best moments and focused on that, always playing close attention to the quickness, poetry, and balance of the line. This is a photo (Above Middle)  I found yesterday (actually) while cleaning out some of my back up hard drives. This photo was taken sometime after Stalking Horse Press had asked for the manuscript in 2018/19.

Other works you have published? I’ve had three novels, a brief novella, and a book that was the result of collaboration with a visual artist named, thaniel ion lee. (The City, Awake, Of Flesh and Fur, The House, The Haunts, The Manner of All Things). My first novel, Super Cell Anemia, went out of print in 2008.

Anything you would like to add? Thank you for your questions!

duncan b. barlow is the author of A Dog Between Us (Stalking Horse 2019), The City, Awake (Stalking Horse 2017), Of Flesh and Fur (The Cupboard 2016), and Super Cell Anemia (2008). His work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, The Collagist, Banango Street, The Fanzine, Sleeping Fish, Word Riot, The Apeiron Review, Meat for Tea, Matter Press, Masque and Spectacle, among others. He teaches creative writing and publishing at the University of South Dakota, where he is the publisher at Astrophil Press and the managing editor at South Dakota Review
Before writing, duncan b. barlow was a touring musician who played with Endpoint, By The Grace of God, Guilt, the aasee lake, The Lull Account, Good Riddance, and many more. His interviews about music and subculture have been published in academic texts, books, and magazines such as: Straight Edge: Clean-Living Youth, Hardcore Punk, and Social Change on Rutgers University Press, We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet Collected Interviews on Akashic, and Burning Fight on Revelation Records.


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