This week’s interview is with writer, and doodler, Steven Barrie. Steven’s debut novel, Squeaky Clean, is currently crowdfunding through Inkshares, where he’s taking part in the Geek & Sundry Fantasy contest.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing?
Basically, I got tired of myself for not writing. I’m not one of those people who would say they can’t remember a time they weren’t writing or that they feel absolutely compelled to write or else they’d explode. I’m good at putting a sentence together and thinking up weird ideas for stories, and I like stories, so I want to do it. I’ve wanted to write stories for a while now, but I spent my time doing other stuff and feeling guilty for not writing. I got tired of that feeling, so I decided to get to work.
What’s the hardest thing about writing?
Oh, geez. The hardest thing about writing is actually sitting my butt down and writing. It takes so long! I can read a story faster and I can tell you my story idea faster. But to sit down and write, I’ve got to think about the story idea and think about how to actually convey it in a way that makes sense on the page. To do that well takes a lot of time and focus. It’s the worst. I’ve actually had a lot of luck with writing while doing other stuff like being at family dinners. I can write a sentence or a paragraph and then socialize a bit, then write a sentence or a paragraph, then socialize, then rinse and repeat.
What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve received?
Write what you know. There’s way more that you don’t know than what you do know, and when I first got that piece of advice, I thought about it in terms of the actual things I knew about. I know about playing video games, working a 9-5, and having pets – but just dogs and cats, I don’t have anything else, so I don’t know it. I think write what you know is a bit limiting because I think we should write about what we’re curious about. What are the questions we have that we want to answer or want to explore? Let’s write about that. Sure, sometimes we’ll write about what we know, but I think it’s less about what we literally know and more about what we know about ourselves as people. For example, I learned a lot about working jobs I didn’t want to pay the bills until I got the job I have now. I could write about a guy who loads and unloads trucks for a living while he’s searching for the perfect job. I know nothing about loading and unloading trucks, but it’s a beautiful metaphor for where the guy is stuck, right? He’s unloading boxes that have arrived at their destination and loading boxes that are going to theirs. Meanwhile he’s stuck in between. He hasn’t arrived and he doesn’t know where to go. I know about that feeling. As for the rest of it? I’m sure the Internet or my friends can fill in the details.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
I’ve got a friend who’s really into brain science, so he reads a lot about what makes us do the things we do and how we can manipulate our thoughts and perceptions to be the best we can be. One of the most interesting things we learned about is that when you tell a person your idea for a story, your brain registers that story as told and moves on to other things.
I’ve always had trouble writing because I’m a huge planner. I’d plan out my story and then go to write it, but I’d run out of steam before I began. I realize now that my brain registered the story as told when I planned it, and I just didn’t have the focus to retell the story in a much longer form. Revision is different for me. I can revise something that already exists forever, but to create the thing from scratch? That wasn’t working. So I do it different now.
I know where I want the book to start and where I want it to end. I’ve got some ideas about what will happen in between, but I’m not planning how to get there. When I start a chapter, I look at what I did in the previous chapter – what big question would I have as a reader? And I think about what I might want to happen in the next chapter. Then I write my way from the question the previous chapter left off with to the beginning of the next chapter. It’s been incredibly freeing and incredibly surprising.
Can you please describe your current project?
I’m writing a book Squeaky Clean that I’m crowdfunding through Inkshares as part of a Geek and Sundry contest. It’s a humorous fantasy adventure. On the surface, Squeaky Clean is about a golem, Adam, who has left his life as a bad guy and wants to run a laundromat. But the good guys with a score to settle know where to find him, and so does his old boss who needs him back for another nefarious plan. Adam wants to leave his old life behind, but his old life doesn’t want to let go. He has help. Adam is basically in a magic version of the witness protection program, and Lauren is his liaison. She makes sure Adam stays safe and doesn’t pop up on anyone’s radar. That’s on the surface, though. There’s more at work here.
Sure, the premise for Squeaky Clean is silly, but I think that in even the silliest of books, we learn a little something about ourselves as human beings because we experience the characters’ stories through our own experience reading the book – or writing it for me. The soul of Squeaky Clean is really in how we live our lives to the fullest without losing ourselves in the swirl of everyday responsibilities. Adam is one extreme; he feels guilty about what his life was before and is scared to try again, so he loses himself in the very everyday responsibility of work (even then by running a business based on doing laundry, maybe one of the most mundane everyday responsibilities there is). Adam’s old boss, Valar, is the opposite. He wants to live life on his own terms so completely that he doesn’t pay any mind to his responsibilities at all, so he sees nothing wrong with his evil schemes to get what he wants at any cost. Lauren is balanced. She holds up her responsibilities, but she does them in style with her individuality. I think it’ll be fascinating to see these characters interact and how they shape each other.
Steven, thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this interview. For readers looking to discover more about Steven and his work, here are some links.