Friday, January 25, 2013

Interview: Author A.V. Barber



Andrew V. Barber, whose first book was released under the name A.V. Barber, is an accomplished poet and essayist. His unique writing style combines poetry and prose, and ranges from easy, straightforward writing to the more complex. His collection Me, My World, and I (2012) is a delightful mix of photography, artwork, musings and poems. He is currently working on a romance novel, Lion Hearts with writer Maree Ward-Russell.

Andrew Barber : I was born on the 16th August 1969 in the small Fenland Market town of Wisbech and grew up in the villages nearby. From the age of 16, I developed a passion for travel and have been a bit of a rolling stone ever since.

I wrote my first poem in 2011 and lost my heart to writing poetry soon after. My debut book, Me, My World and I, was launched in the autumn of 2012. I love nothing more than sitting before a log fire on a cold, dark winter’s day with a glass of brandy and a keyboard.

Lichen Craig : Andrew, I have been looking forward to this!  Readers should know that you are one of the kindest people I know, in addition to being talented. I'm pleased to be able to introduce you to people who don't yet know you and your work!

Your work is unique in that your poetry can be very prose-like, and your prose can read like poetry.  That style really defines you. The other big point to make about your work is that you write about the common man, everyday subjects, everyday beauty, emotions that we all can relate to. It is obvious from reading reviews that, that quality really appeals to readers!

Your first book-length collection of poetry, “Me, My World, and I” has been fairly well-received. I think you have something to be really proud of, since your style of poetry is complex compared to much modern poetry and could have proven intimidating to the average non-academic reader.  Do you have any thoughts yourself on why the book appeals to people?

AV : First of all, thank you for your very kind introduction, people are always so very nice, repaying that in kind is easy.

I am not an academic and was far from being a scholar at school, I guess the truth is, I am just an ordinary guy who himself feels intimidated by the institution and their interpretation of poetry. Perhaps this shines through?

I wanted to paint a picture of the world through my eyes. As I say in the early pages of the book, you don’t have to agree with what I write, even disagreement is a reaction.

I really love to write in a classical style and I am not a fan of long drawn out poems, my aim was to create short pieces that are easily read and have meanings with which the reader may easily associate.

Most of my works have metaphor but I invite the reader to make their own interpretation. I believe that the consumption and enjoyment of poetry doesn’t have to rely on the reader seeing the same meaning as the poet.

I also include prose with each poem giving background to the work. From what I am told, many people tend to read the poem, then the prose, before going back to read the poem again, this time with new meaning.

I guess all of these things may help, but mostly I just hope that my work is enjoyed for what it is, words from the heart about life.

LC : I find your “essays” on your blog fascinating, in that what you dub “essay” is really a sort of prose poem. Again, as in your book, we see the melding of prose and poetry. While you are writing freeform as in prose, your words contain a continuous stream of metaphor, imagery, hint rather than blunt statement . . . all the elements of a poem. Again, as in your book, we see the melding of prose and poetry I see few people mixing prose and poetry successfully, as you have. Is this a style you developed over time?

AV : Indeed it is, and the process is ongoing. I am really still learning my craft; I haven’t been writing very long and am still very much finding my way.

When I write, I feel a rhythm within the lines and spend quite some time in the edit phase shaving words here and adding words there. It was never a deliberate act to write in this way, more an accident that came from a wish to shape lines and make them flow in a pleasant fashion.

I love the use of metaphor because it allows you to create more than one story at once and leaves the interpretation entirely open. Imagine writing a book where 10 people may see a completely different start, middle and end.

LC : Are you still working on the “postcard project”? I know that it has a lot to do with travel – and you are well-traveled and love it – and that it will feature the same prose style poetry as does your first book. What else can you tell us?

AV : Postcards should hit the shelf around October of this year. It has some similarities with my first offering too, in that the two books share the same format, chapters formed from one poem, 2 pages of prose and a picture.

I have always wanted to write a travel book, but wanted to give it a slightly different slant. This isn’t a book that describes the best places to eat or the best hotels but more a look at the sights and sounds of Europe through the eyes of a poet.

I have a lot of work to do between now and August, and am still researching destinations for some of the chapters, but it is an exciting project.

LC : Tell us about your new project, Andrew!  You are working on a romance novel, Lion Hearts with writer Maree Ward-Russell, where the story takes place in medieval times during the Crusades?

AV : This really has taken on a life of its own. It’s odd really because formally we don’t begin work until August but there are already a number of Lion Heart essays, a popular fan page and a well developed back story. Maree has also added two “chapters” of spoiler prose with a third coming - so we have quite a bit of momentum.

I have always wanted to write a novel but knew absolutely nothing about how to go about it. Maree has been great in giving me guidance and as a result we are fast building a plot. When August comes around we will really hit the road running.

The story follows the adventures of two lovers, Merek and Lilly, during the Third Crusade. This is a period often depicted with deeply romantic overtones, being as it is, the late twelfth century and the reign of Richard the Lion Heart.

The plot so far is really quite beautiful, it’s a love story with twists and turns, battle, betrayal and intrigue.

LC : Andrew, I’m always curious . . . what is your background in literature?  When I read the first lines I ever saw from you, I was strongly reminded of the years at university that I spent studying 19th century English poets – you particularly bring to mind Tennyson, Wordsworth and Coleridge for me.  Where does your voice come from in your own opinion?

AV : It is an enormous honour to have my name uttered in the same breath as the masters, not alone have comparisons drawn, thank you. I would say that these poets, along with the Bronte sisters, Mary Barber, William Blake and Alexander Pope are those I consider to be my favorites.

I don’t have a literary background, as I mentioned earlier, I was never considered a scholar at school and due to teaching methods, failed to enjoy English Literature as a class.

I guess for this reason I still flinch a little when people call me a poet, I am still expecting the academics to pull me to pieces or other “poets” to debunk my work.

I really only started reading poetry after I had begun writing. I used Google to learn about rhyming schemes, meter and styles and adapted my style to suit what “felt” best for me. My work is entirely from the heart and formed from my love of the classical style.

Of course I missed out on a lot; I was 41 before I wrote my first poem and 42 before I formed my deep interest in the work of the masters.

LC : What writers have influenced you?  Both in terms of sheer inspiration and/or in terms of style?  Why do these particular people speak so strongly to you?

AV : I enjoy the work of Bill Bryson, his prose are very down to earth and lead you on a journey in such a way as you feel his equal. I guess this played some part in the way I approached the prose in Me, My World and I.

Another would have to be my good friend Kelvin Fowler, a published poet and author from New Zealand. He is also my co-author in a current collaboration called Black & White. It was he who originally encouraged me to write and he offered the early support that lead to where I am now. His work is very different to mine, but that is the beauty of all forms of art, diversity.

Maree Ward Russell has played a big part in my writing because before I started working with her I had no idea about things such as back story and how to properly plan. I have just finished her book The Transient and this did play some part in the inspiration behind my work entitled “Elsewhere”.

I guess the other would be C.S. Lewis, I remember losing myself to The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe at primary school and formed an immediate interest with the concept of creating new worlds through words.

LC : Do you write daily? Is that discipline, or does it come easily for you?

AV : I have a hectic day job that comes with travel and responsibility so sadly my writing still largely has to take a back seat. I set myself targets and try where possible to stick to them, but it is very hard.

I try to produce essays for my blog every Tuesday and Saturday, these are important because in the autumn of this year I plan to publish a book featuring these works  along with a few more written specifically for the project.

In between times, there is my work on Postcards, poems for Black & White with Kelvin and my work with Maree on the back story for Lion Hearts.

LC : How old were you when you began to write? Was it poetry or prose?  Did you aspire to be a poet, or has that come in later years?

AV : From primary school onward I loved to write stories. In my teenage years I wrote a lot of paranormal fantasy and science fiction, all of it in long hand and all of it very badly. But my dream always, was to one day see my name on the cover of a book.

Due to my academic background, I never would have dreamed that would day I would be writing and reading poetry and had it not been for Kelvin, I may never have done so.

LC : As a novelist and a former writer of non-fiction, I find that poets are a different breed altogether!  They seem much more solitary in their work, perhaps less gregarious, much more contemplative. Am I crazy?

AV : I do like space and time on my own so I guess if your theory is correct I may have always been a poet and just never known it. I have always analyzed everything, to the degree that it is a weakness. Everything has to be filtered and thought about deeply.

That said, I do love socializing and really enjoy being around family and friends – just as long as I can withdraw and have my own space in between times!

LC : What do you like most about writing? What do you like least about it?

AV : I love being able to create worlds and move characters around within their space. I also love being able to express myself in a way that allows me to “unload”. I really love the feeling of elation that takes over when I finish a piece I am pleased with. Writing has also allowed me to meet lots of very nice people, so that should be included too.

I dislike the frustration that comes with gazing at an empty screen with a flashing cursor. I also struggle with the constant fear of not being very good, or being torn apart by academics and poets.

LC : Where do you ideally see your writing going in the future?  How should it evolve?  What are your goals in say. . . ten years?

AV : My ultimate goal is to make it my fulltime profession so I guess a more traditional publishing contract would be a very big step for me. It is very hard to get noticed in literature and perhaps even harder for a poet.

I would like to continue learning styles and methods and evolve my work accordingly. This means challenging my boundaries and pushing new limits which is not without risk.

I certainly would like to keep myself busy with a regular stream of new work hitting the shelf each year and would love to see Lion Hearts grow into something big!

LC : Is there anything else you would wish readers to know about you? 

AV: Only that I am very grateful to you for this interview and to them for reading it.


See my review of Me, My World, and I right here at LichenCraig.

Andrew’s wonderful, inspiring blog can be found at http://www.avbarber.com .
Find his book, “Me, My World, And I”  at Amazon.com .
Follow Andrew on Twitter at @authorAVBarber .
Read about “Lion Hearts” on Facebook .
Andrew’s Facebook page can be found at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Me-My-World-and-I/223078817817559




Review: Me, My World, and I by A.V. Barber



Me, My World, and I
A.V. Barber
AuthorHouse, 2012

When I was growing up, there was a calligraphed poem hanging on the wall of my bedroom, that my mother had hung there when I was very young. It was written by one of my great-grandmothers. It was a sort of lyrical lullaby to a child – it’s music and rhythm and rhyme simple, but softly enticing.  It hung on that wall as long as I lived there, and for several years after -during which I occasionally came home for a visit. I had gone on to adulthood and earned a degree in writing and literature: I knew simplistic poetry when I saw it. And yet, something about that poem charmed me through all those years - for whatever depth it lacked, it captured and held the ear of the reader, and there is something to that. As I read Me, My World, and I, this childhood poem came to my mind many times.

I spend a lot of time reading complicated prose, and on occasion complex poetry. Anyone following my blog knows that I truly love the complexity of real innovation in writing. And so it was a surprise to me that I enjoyed this book so thoroughly: its simplicity is refreshing, its words don’t challenge the reader to work too hard cerebrally, but rather to just relax and drift through the beautiful ride.

The book is a collection of the author’s poems about everyday impressions in the life of an ordinary man, interspersed with some easy but thought-provoking essays – contemplative musings on the meaning of the world around us and of living - and some nice black and white photos and watercolor tossed into the mix. The overall affect is a portrait of the life that we all live in common, and it’s terribly pleasant. Here is an example, a particular amusing poem about the common emotion of envy:


The Grass is Greener


Your grass is always greener, 
And warmer shines your sun. 
For those who live on your side, 
The fight’s already won.   

Here’s my glass half-empty, 
But yours is still half-full. 
I am wrapped in nylon, 
While you’re in cotton wool.   

I work so hard for nothing, 
Your money grows on trees, 
And so you’re always healthy, 
While all I do is sneeze.   

You have perfect eyesight, 
Yet glasses I must wear. 
Through my tinted lenses,
You’re so lucky I would swear.


This poetry is not the least sophisticated; there are no revelatory metaphors or skin-tingling descriptions. One will not find stunning, deeply moving, emotion-jolting poetry here – nor even poetry that requires much thought to absorb, but I’m fairly certain that this is just what the author intended. The poems are more a gentle coaxing into a specific frame of mind, from which one goes on to read the accompanying essay provided for each poem. The essays are well-considered and several left me thinking for several hours. Anglophiles will particularly appreciate the uniquely British imagery and sensibility to the poems and essays.

It is interesting that the author has more recently publicized much more complex poetry, forcing the reader to recall the great lyrical poetry of 19th century Britain.  I would encourage the reader of this book to watch for further work from this author. Meanwhile, wait for the end of a tough day, make a cup of tea, put your feet up, and treat yourself to this soul-nourishing read. 

A.V. Barber's Me, My World, and I is widely available through Amazon.com and other retailers.

See my interview with A.V. Barber here!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Just As Many Notes As Are Required

As an editor, I often run into interesting questions from beginning writers. Some of those questions pop up more frequently than others. I have been thinking that I ought to address them publicly here, where others might appreciate them and glean something from my answers. Then I sigh and think about how many writers' blogs I have seen that contain hundreds of posts full of mediocre - or just bad - advice to new writers. I don't want to contribute to that pool. On the other hand, there are a few writers whose blogs I have stumbled into, read a few informative posts and shouted, "YES!"  And so. . . it is with the desire to contribute advice of value  that I will begin to offer what I sincerely hope are a few words of wisdom here at LichenCraig. Hold onto your shorts, here is installment 1.

This past week, I received a first draft manuscript from an unpublished writer. In the polite, professional email she sent me (I had agreed to look at three chapters free of charge, as is my policy) she apologized that she tends to use too many words: "you'll see what I mean..."  The thing is, once I was reading the manuscript I didn't see what she meant. She put in just as many words as required to make her point, no more, no less.

I have to pause to point to a wonderful scene from the play/screenplay for Amadeus in which young Mozart has been summoned to play a piece of his own composition for the Emperor, Joseph II of Austria - a man who loved to patronize the musical arts but had little real training himself. After the brilliant Mozart plays the piece, the emperor comments that it was nice but that there seemed to be too many notes. Annoyed, Mozart  shoots back that it has neither too many nor too few notes, but precisely the number required! The same could be said of successful fiction writing - it should have the number of words required for the piece. But how does a writer know what is required?

Now let's stop here and make it clear that we are discussing fiction writing. If you are writing non-fiction, you do want to trim excessive verbage, which can get in the way of clarity of facts and precision. But fiction is much more forgiving - here a writer can use words like the notes of music, and use them to create a tone and style. Where in nonfiction unneeded words are boring, in fiction words can embellish and sing. And yet, it would be inaccurate and misleading for me to state that there is never a situation in fiction where there are too many words.

Today, a young woman asked on a forum for a writer's group this question:

I notice I sometimes have trouble knowing when to quit. Like, when writing certain scenes, I fret about whether or not I'm saying too much, or not enough. Sometimes I'll write it real tight, but it will seem sort of truncated when read back. So, I'll add more, but find I'm meandering.
For example, let's say I wanted to describe a character's "wardrobe malfunction"...I could use this approach...
"When Bethany leaned forward, her generous bosom strained against the front of her imported Chinese silk dress. The dress, breathtakingly low-cut, was made from the same bolt of silk that her grandfather, an ex-British naval officer, had brought home with him after the war as a gift to the wife who, unbeknownst to him, had left him month's earlier to pursue a short-lived but torrid affair with the ne'er do well son of a disgraced Count who had lost his family's fortune to the Machiavellian scheming of a Viennese banker who just so happened to be seated right next to her this very evening, eyeing her dressfront and praying silently that it was made of one of the poorer quality silks that were often being imported today."...blah, blah, blah. You get the picture.
Or, I could say it like this...
"When Bethany leaned forward, her breasts fell out of the top of her dress and hung there like a pair of fried eggs."
...It's just that it is often hard for me to figure out when to say less, and when to say more. I have a natural tendency to become long-winded in writing, and try to avoid too much of that. But I also don't want it to sound like a Twitter feed.
The first thing that jumped out at me in her examples is that she is fretting over the wrong thing. She does indeed have too much going on in the first example (and depending on context, there may or may not be enough in the second example), but it isn't because there are too many words. It is because the words don't belong there. This is my reply to her:

Lichen Craig Linda, I work as an editor besides writing myself, so I get a question similar to yours a lot. This is what I tell people: your narrative needs to advance the story. It might either advance the plot, or contribute to characterization/atmosphere. So in your first example, the story is not advanced by veering off the path into another story about her grandfather. I would say to an author "lose that!" - unless the entire plot needs to involve her grandfather and his history, in which case it would be justified. Does that make sense? So in summary: you never have too many words, IF they advance the plot, contribute to characterization, or contribute to atmosphere. I hope that helps. :)

The second thing that jumped out at me about her examples and questions is that she is so very worried about how many words she is using that she may be missing considerations about developing her own rhythm, style and tone - the things that make an author unique. It's the same thing as a good pop/rock band: they have developed a sound that is all their own. When you hear them, you recognize particular elements unique to that band - quality of the lead vocals, use of  percussion, perhaps use of unusual instruments like horns - there are definite pieces of what you are hearing that make you say, "Oh, yeah, that's so-and-so!"  Writing is the same way - an experienced, skilled writer develops over time his or her own "voice": this is comprised of rhythm (and yes, good fiction writing does have rhythm!), tone (the particular choice of words and phrases that make it unique and create the atmosphere of the book or story or poem) and style (elements which identify that particular author, such as subject matter, emphasis, type of character, type of plot).  Fitting somewhere into this - perhaps somewhere in the "tone" category - is the tendency of the writer to either use very sparse language or very embellished language. Neither is wrong, but each creates an entirely different feel and experience for the reader, and thus contributes to setting a different atmosphere.The author in the example above laments her own tendency to use too many words - but I would argue that she is simply developing her own voice, and shouldn't worry about it, unless the words are truly serving no purpose according to the rules we have already discussed.

I would very much like to see something this writer has written seriously - something she took time with but that concerns her. I would like to be able to comb through it with her and talk about why she thinks there are too many words:  are there really?  Or are the words she is using helping to paint a picture for the reader, contribute to setting, tone or characterization, if not plot? 

This puts me in mind of a book every writer should look at once: Leon Uris' Trinity (published 1976).  Uris is truly a brilliant writer in the technical sense. In Trinity, Uris uses throughout the narrative - and this is not only in conversations but the entire narrative - a sort of Irish rhythm and cadence and pulls the reader into Ireland. As an author he offers beautiful description that sets the atmosphere, but his tone is such that he is able to raise reader experience to a higher level - he sets the music of Ireland into the reader's mind almost subconsciously, so that when the reader puts the book down, the everyday speech he or she encounters in real life is jarring in its difference to the world he/she has been basking in.  This is what a truly practiced, skilled and gifted writer can do: use all the tools at his or her disposal to enhance reader experience.

Another book that would fit into this category is James Joyce's masterpiece Ulysses, in which the author uses a "stream-of-consciousness" narrative tone to not only create a dream-like feel to the book, but to pull the reader deeply into the mind of the main character. Although one might see this technique from time to time nowadays, at the time Ulysses was written, the style was new and unique and attracted the attention of the literary world (although it also attracted attention for its subject matter, which was considered racy at the time!).

Many of us appreciate the stories of Jane Austen. Look at the way she uses language to set a tone. One might argue that some of this came easily to her: she was writing the way many of her contemporaries spoke. But I think she takes it beyond that: her narrative is laced with irony and humor that invites the reader to view the foibles of her characters with a chuckle, even while absorbing the tragedy of some of the tales. Her language is often heavily embellished with adjectives, her descriptions sumptuous: does she use too many words?  Of course not. The embellishment of the tone reflects the excess and embellishment of the society of which she writes. The reader is pulled into the late-18th/early-19th century almost subconsciously by tone alone.

And so, when you are worried that your writing is too wordy, think about these questions:
  • Are the words contributing to the plot?
  • Are the words helping to paint an atmosphere of description or characterization?
  •  Is the wordiness part of my style? Is it going to bore and annoy the reader, or does it help to pull the reader into the type of story I write? 
If you tend to use a lot of words, take care that you understand the concept of rhythm in fiction. When the action speeds up, or when you want to create tension, your sentences should be shorter and to the point. When you want to create calm, peace, slow down, your sentences should be longer, with an occasional short one to break monotony (use 2-3 long sentences, then a short, repeating this pattern as a general rule).

In evaluation of your own writing, be honest with yourself. Is your wordiness bad writing? - that is, does it happen because your mind is wandering into areas that have nothing to do with the story at hand? Do your excess words, no matter how they might move you personally, not contribute to the reader's understanding of character or to the picture the reader has of the setting? Then lose them!  But on the other hand . . . if they do add to tone, atmosphere, character, music, rhythm . . . are you just beginning to see your own voice and style? Then relax, and cultivate that. It is the seed of what will make you unique as a writer!

For more about Lichen Craig's Editing Services, click here.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Hugo Harley on "The Haunting : Into the Woods"

Many of you have read my essay on the similarities between erotica in literature and in gay porn, and my review of The Haunting, a wonderful 3-part ghost-story themed porn film by Cockyboys. (If you haven't, scroll down.)  So many have told me that they enjoyed my essay and have been rethinking gay porn because of it, and I think that in terms of art, film and literature, this is a valid and important conversation to continue. I just had the pleasure of re-reading the following commentary by Hugo Harley, who works as a production coordinator at Cockyboys, and from what I hear is an all-around sweet guy. This was originally published at his blog, December 19, just after the release of Part II. I thought his comments were interesting and fit in well with that which I have been saying, so I wanted to present them here.  Hugo, if you talented guys are what is called "misfit artists", I'm damned proud to know you all! To visit Mr. Harley's blog, go to http://ineedgayporn.tumblr.com/post/38403520600/porn-that-made-me-cry


Porn That Made Me Cry
by Hugo Harley
Copyright  @ 2012 by Hugo Harley.
 
In case you didn’t know it by now: I love porn. Not only is it my career but it is something I enjoy. I’m one of those people who is lucky enough to “do what I love.” Because I work in the industry, I get to watch a LOT of porn. And I don’t mean watching a scene here and there. I spend 3 hours nightly watching scenes, movies, behind the scenes featurettes, amateur videos, & talking to cam models. (Don’t worry, I make time to eat and do ‘normal’ people stuff as well.)

After watching COUNTLESS hours of porn, I could honestly say that Cockyboys' The Haunting II: Into the Woods  is the very first porn (gay or otherwise) to make me cry.
 
I don’t cry. My tears ducts don’t respond to emotion. I’m a passionate person, yes. But I’m not easily swayed by “mushy” emotions. Due to my upbringing, I have a hard time expressing certain emotions. (I have even been called cold.) I could express anger and disgust, awkwardly feign happiness and recently learned the meaning of ‘sympathy.’ One thing I do NOT do is cry. (It’s just simply not pragmatic.)  Imagine my shock when I saw the final draft of Jake Jaxson’s The Haunting II, and I was crying.  I realized afterward that several things led to this unusual portrayal of emotion:

1. It’s fucking AWESOME porn. I often get moved by beautiful movies. Requiem For A Dream, Angels In America, The Goonies are some of my favorite movies that fill me with emotion. This… this was beyond porn. Haunting II was wonderfully made, beautifully written and directed, and executed as close to flawlessly as one could get.

 2. I’m proud. You’re thinking right now, “Don’t you work for Cockyboys? Aren’t you required to sing praises about every scene, no matter what you really think about it?” Yes, I work for CockyBoys. I help produce our scenes and segments. I help do model interviews and coordinate some of the things we need to get our scenes made. I’ve also directed scenes and solos.  But that doesn’t change the fact that in the couple of years that we have been running CockyBoys, it amazes me and makes me DAMN proud of what a group of misfit artists could do. A lot of the emotion came from how wonderful this came out. It made me think, “Yeah… this is CockyBoys bitches….”

3. The bittersweet story. I dug down and realized that I was feeling a longing after watching Haunting II. In some ways, it held a mirror to my own deep seated insecurities, experiences and fantasies. The forbidden love that two of the characters share that was sadly torn apart by bigotry, intolerance and ignorance is similar to the experiences many LGBTQ faced and are continuing to face.  This shook me. However, at the same time, it made me have hope.  And sometimes that’s better than anything. Even after being torn apart, these lovers are finding a way to connect…albeit a few degrees of separation.

So, this weekend, after you’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life with the family, do yourself a favor, turn off the lights, grab some popcorn and lube and watch CockyBoys’ & Jake Jaxson’s The Haunting Part II: Into the Woods. 

Happy Holidays.

---------------

NOTE:  Part III of The Haunting is expected to be released this month, and many of us await it with great excitement and anticipation. The trailer for Part I of The Haunting can be found a this link: http://www.cockyboys.com/movietour/trailer.php?id=721