Barrett Johnson is the winner of The Second Annual Eliza Gale’s Elizashead Flash Fiction Contest. Here is a link to his story:
Q: Why do you write?
A: I write because the greatest people in my life have been storytellers: family members and friends who can hold an entire room, make them laugh when they mean to, make them silent when they want to. I write because language can still surprise me when the right person wields it. I write because in the middle of the night, there are so many things to say and no one is awake to hear them.
Q: What inspired you to write this particular story?
A: Detroit. I believe Detroit is on the bottom end of what is a 4th quarter comeback, a situation much like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have been in before now. There are writers who have made their entire lives on being in the right place at the right time, being in a place in which things are happening, and every writer working should recognize that Detroit is that place. The theme of my story is not singularly Detroit, but in the last several months Detroit has become part of the conversation and has brought forth good work in me as well as writers programs such as Write-A-House (http://writeahouse.org/). It provides a framework in which good stories can be told, and inspiration is simply that: a framework in which good stories may be told. Otherwise – I find myself inevitably engaging with ‘moments of insanity’ in which we bear witness to perfectly boring people becoming briefly mad. To me, this is not only reality, it is hilarious, and those who do not find humor in insanity are insane.
Q: What appealed to you about this contest?
A: Writing is meaningless unless it is read. You may keep your personal projects, your therapeutic diary entries, it is all well and good, but you cannot possibly claim anything is writing unless it is read. Contests such as these are wonderful if only because at the very least, your stories are read by those who care about writing, and so I jump upon them eagerly.
Q: What will you do with your prize money?
A: Invest, most likely. 100 dollars is a fortune for word-peasants, I’m now set for life.
Q: What kind of job do you have and how does it make you bitter enough to be a writer?
A: I work part time in retail (the bitterness) and part time as a script doctor (the delusion). Retail every day assures me I am not meant for anything long term except for writing, and being a script doctor assures me that Hollywood is in need of better writers. There are no great works hidden away in basements – the great works are waiting to be written by you. Yes, you. Help us, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope.
Q: Who are some of your influences and why?
A: Everything to me winds down to Samuel Beckett and William Shakespeare. Call me old-fashioned, but there it is. What those two writers alone accomplished for storytelling and language will never be overstated, and very seldom be approached. Having a bar set so high leads to much frustration, more frustration, even MORE frustration, and finally an inkling of growth. Walk that path long enough and you MAY want to kill yourself – but you will die a better writer than you were when you started. (see also: Elizabeth Bishop, W.H. Auden, Gertrude Stein, Aaron Sorkin, Gilbert & Sullivan, James Thurber, etc.)
Q: Where else can we see your work?
A: The anthologies and literary magazines I’ve had poetry published in are likely a bit difficult to get hold of, and likely my work in them is not worth reading anyway. Production has started on a webseries project entitled “The Libratarians”, co-written by the amazing Luwita Hana Randhawa, which is shaping up to be a fantastic (hopefully funny) project. Finally, I put out an EP last year that features several absolutely incredible Portland folk musicians, and the entire album can be heard at http://barrettjohnson.bandcamp.com/
Q: I get the feeling you are very well educated, is this true?
A: I was fortunate to attend college overseas for four years at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, earning my BA(Hons) in Film and English Literature. However (as is the case with all creative pursuits), while expanding your knowledge base and becoming well educated is incredibly worthwhile, the ONLY way to become a better writer is to write. You must create, receive feedback, become disheartened, persevere anyway, fail even more miserably, drink, cry underwater in the tub, write, write, write, and inevitably die. Oh god, that didn’t sound very upbeat. If you grow your hair out and pout, there will potentially be sex.
Q: Was your story inspired by a real life event?
A: No real life event that I can think of. I am firmly of the position that simply writing a story that is autobiographical is not only cheating, it’s a little bit shallow. Your mind is overflowing with a vivid imagination, hopes, fears, dreams, failures, experiences, catalogs of work come before, all chaotically colliding together and waiting for the chance to be channeled through your pen and onto a page. Writing a story ‘just because it happened’ is about 10% of what you are capable of, and nothing makes me happier than people living up to the work they should be putting out.
Q: If you could take a road trip with John Steinbeck or Jake Kerouac, who would you pick and why?
A: Jack Kerouac, hands down, and here’s why: my most intimate memories are of living in a broken down flat in Wellington, of backpacking miserable and cold through Milford Sound, sleeping in the backseat of a rental car through Mississippi, being sick-drunk with a girlfriend in a dorm bathroom, setting up band equipment for trad jazz sets in Sacramento. My best times in retrospect are the worst times in the present, and that’s Kerouac all over. Living the life of ‘On the Road’ would be shit. Just 100% awful. They’re homeless most of the time, fighting all of the time, and nearly constantly bumming off family or friends for money. But I guarantee you, one year later, no memory is more cherished than the time you spent unhappy but close to someone. Better that life. Better that life, indeed.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)