Mandy Eve-Barnett's Blog for Readers & Writers

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Author Interview – Barbara Black

May 20, 2021
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  • How important are the arts and your creativity to you?

Life is nothing without the arts. Think of what we do to relax: listen to music, watch movies, read books, go dancing. And yet, when it comes down to a budget crisis, these seem to be the things that are cut because they’re considered somehow “non-essential.” I beg to differ. They’re life-affirming and allow us to share the human experience through the eyes and imagination of others. You can’t put a price on that. As for my own creativity, it’s present in almost everything I do.

  • How did you come up with the idea of the title, Music from a Strange Planet?

The book title for my short story collection is from one of my stories. In that story, “Music from a Strange Planet,” a talented and precocious girl wins an award for her composition called “Music from a Strange Planet,” a contemporary orchestral piece based on the convergence of cricket choruses. I, too, was a little girl who loved insects and nature (still do). There’s an undercurrent of insect references in the collection and small references to music throughout, so I thought giving the book this title would convey a sense of wonder and suggest to readers that they’ll be entering the particular, idiosyncratic worlds of a variety of characters in a particular moment in their lives. The “strangeness,” to me, is not so much weirdness, but points to a sense of mystery.

  • What drew you to write short stories rather than longer narratives?

In writing, in both poetry and fiction, I’ve always been a minimalist. I like writing and reading works that are succinct, compressed and convey a distinct mood in a few words or pages. I do read novels, but because I’m so attuned to concision, I find them wordy, even if they aren’t! I’m a writer whose problem is not wordiness but a tendency toward spareness. That, however, is why I love to write and read short stories. They’re a leap into a crucial point in a character’s life.  We usually meet the character at a turning point and sometimes at the end there’s a sense of closure or development and sometime there isn’t. Some readers dislike short stories for that reason. That’s why I love them.

  • Where do you find your inspiration?

In many art forms! When writing’s going slowly, or when I’m not writing, I turn to the writing, music, art, dance of others. Or I slip into the garden and merge with the plants. I read critical works or essays about writing, I pore through literary journals. I subscribe to art and décor magazines, and garden design magazines, so I get a dose of creative ideas and people from all angles. A lot of my friends are also musicians, poets and visual artists so they inspire me with their own creations.

  • What exactly is a short story?

First of all, I wish we had a different term for the short story. These two words sound a bit dismissive to me. Not that long ago, the short story was denigrated as the shorter, lesser cousin of the novel. But rather than saying what it isn’t, here’s my take on what a short story is. It’s compact, it implies, it suggests. It contains subtext that requires the reader to work a little harder to unlock its meaning. Every detail in the story works hard to point the reader to the underlying context: setting, back story, character history, tone, imagery. It’s brief and intense and often does not give the reader  closure. A novel is expansive, its narrative, plot and cast ever-widening. A short story goes in the opposite direction: inward and compressed. It doesn’t explain. It allows the reader to experience an intense event in a character’s life which often ends in a moment of awareness.

  • Your stories and poems deal with deep inner perspectives and emotions – what draws you to these topics/themes?

It’s characters themselves who draw me toward their stories and so unknowingly to certain themes or emotions that are operating in my subconscious.

  • Does your music influence your writing or vice a versa (or is it a symbolic relationship)?

Yes, it does! I’ve written several flash and poetry pieces that were inspired by musical recordings. And I’m a musician (voice and piano).

With regard to poetry, music does subtly influence my writing. Lots of people have remarked that my poetry is “very musical,” but by that they don’t mean it’s “rhymey.” I simply have an inherent and ingrained sense of melody, rhythm, pacing, and it shows up when I write. In prose, for example, I’m very particular about how a sentence reads and sounds, how it unfolds, whether it needs to race ahead or proceed slowly, how it reflects the character’s voice or emotions. Every sentence, in that respect, is like a tiny musical score that can influence the reader.

  • You designed the cover of your book.  How did this come about?

A few years ago a social media whiz friend of mine told me that as a writer I should be on Instagram. Since I don’t have a cute dog or a photogenic cat, I wondered what I could post about.  Because Instagram’s mostly a visual medium, I came up with the idea of collaging my writing. Except that I didn’t know how to collage! So the self-imposed crash course began, and I really started to enjoy dealing with visuals for a change. It was fascinating to choose a very short excerpt from a poem, flash or short story and illustrate it in paper. I continue to challenge myself to try different approaches and now have a small following, which is both surprising and pretty delightful. When my Caitlin Press publisher Vici Johnstone learned about my collages, she asked me if I would be interested in collaging my own book cover! I said yes, and after five or six trials, arrived at the illustration of a woman transforming into a caribou, which seems to intrigue people. It’s also based on a character in one of my stories.

  • Where do you write?

When cafes were open before the pandemic, I often went for a coffee, took my teeny-tiny Moleskin  writing journal with me and found inspiration among the hubbub of chatter and clatter. I always write first drafts by hand and never, ever, at a desk. I prefer to slump on my small sofa in the living room or go out to my back garden studio and write from a low-slung chair while the birds twitter outside.

  • Just how tiny is your writing journal and why?

There’s a story to this! A few years ago I attended the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon. On the first day, we each got a gift bag from the organizers which contained, among other things, a very compact writing journal. At the time I always wrote in a lined 8 X 11-inch coiled workbook. I scoffed that I would never use such a tiny journal. Off I went that afternoon to a café to write, except that I had forgotten my usual workbook. I wrote in that tiny, unlined book. I loved it. I have now filled over 40 of the compact Moleskin journals. In fact, all the short stories in Music from a Strange Planet were composed in them!

  • Where can readers find you on social media?

Facebook: @barbarablackwriter
Instagram: @bblackwrites
Website: www.barbarablack.ca

  • What message would you like to send your readers?

A writer’s not a writer without readers. Thank you, readers, for making my book come to life in your own imagination. And many thanks for the interview, Mandy.

BIO

Barbara Black writes fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Canadian and international magazines and anthologies including the 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, The Cincinnati Review, The New Quarterly, CV2, Geist and Prairie Fire. She was recently a finalist in the 2020 National Magazine Awards, nominated for the 2019 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and won the 2017 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction Award. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada. http://www.barbarablack.ca, @barbarablackwriter and @bblackwrites.

Upcoming Writing Events- Add Yours for your Location…

August 21, 2017
mandyevebarnett


events

This week I will be preparing for an author reading on Saturday. With the theme ‘Back to School’ I will probably read from my children’s chapter book, Ockleberries to the Rescue. As each chapter revolves around a particular animal, I will more than likely choose one chapter that has a fall/autumn related theme.

Ockleberries_book cover

http://www.dreamwritepublishing.ca/products/ockleberries-rescue

What events have you got coming up?

Are you attending any events this week in your area?

Other events:

AUG 22  12:00 – 16:00

Fantasy and Horror Book Signing

Chapters Strathcona
10504 82 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta T6E 2A4

Konn will actually be attending our Words in the Park event on 30th September, so if you miss this opportunity, you can find him there!

Web site banner WitP 2017_0Spark Gallery, 2257 Premier Way, #116, Sherwood Park. T8H 2M8   10:00 am – 4:00 pm  Free admission.

 

picnic

 

Public Art Picnic – Borden Park
24 August at 17:30–20:00

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Borden-Park/216893458341432

Author Reading

Social Grounds Coffeehouse, 975 Broadmoor Blvd #36, Sherwood Park, AB T8A 5W9

2:00 – 4:00 pm – Everyone welcome.  I will be reading at this event.

back to school

Please feel free to add your own events in the comments, regardless of the location.

Upcoming Writing Events- Add Yours for your Location…

August 14, 2017
mandyevebarnett


events
With no immediate events to attend I am busy planning for a couple. The first is a submission for a competition and the other an author reading on 26th August.
Free time is always at a premium for me on the whole so I’m enjoying this relative freedom.  One part of my submission is the dreaded synopsis so I am sharing a previous post on the subject.
I will endeavor to make this local event.

AUGUST 19  10.30 am – 3 pm Festival Place, Sherwood Park.

Artisan Market at Chautauqua

Check out all kinds of beautiful hand crafted goods made by local artists and artisans at the Chautauqua Tent Artisan Market! There will be demonstrations at some booths so you can see how the artist works and chat with them about their process. While you’re there you can stop by our free drop-in workshop to make your own mini work of art and create a button to celebrate Canadian art.

Other Events:

The Writers at Woody Point Festival in Bonne Bay, NL, runs August 15-20, with authors including Eva Crocker, Dennis Lee, Lawrence Hill, Linden McIntyre, Lisa Moore, Kathleen Winter.

And The Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts returns August 17-20 to Sechelt, BC, for its 35th year, its amazing lineup including Donna Morrissey, Iain Reid, Janie Chang, Kamal Al-Solaylee, Bev Sellars, Zoe Whittall, Charlotte Gray, and more.

Do you have local events you would like to share?

Upcoming Writing Events- Add Yours for your Location…

August 7, 2017
mandyevebarnett


events

It is Board meeting week for me this week, Tuesday is the Writers Foundation meeting and then Wednesday is the Arts & Culture Council meeting. We have a lot to plan and organize for our annual Words in the Park and Culture Day events. Again we are co-hosting our events as part of Alberta Culture Days. It is a special year not only for Canada 150 but the Writers Foundation and Albert Culture Days 10th anniversaries.

 

We have a new larger venue this year – Spark Gallery, which is the home of the world renowned Canadian artist Glen Roland. It is exciting to have such a beautiful space to display, interact and engage.

With numerous authors and artisans, dance and music performances, children’s activities and a food truck it’s an event for the whole family.

What are your plans this week?

 

When-Words-Collide-Logo_medium
A few tickets are still left for the very popular When Words Collide in Calgary, AB, August 11-13, with Will Ferguson, C.C. Humphreys, Guy Gavri

winterWinterset in Summer – Literary Festival

http://www.wintersetinsummer.ca
The Winterset in Summer Literary Festival in Eastport, NL, takes place August 10-13, with Anakana Schofield, Esi Edugyan, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, and so many more great authors.

What events are in your area? Why not share?

A learned scholar is not always an academic…

October 6, 2013
mandyevebarnett


Savant – a person of profound or extensive learning; a learned scholar

I was honored to meet and listen to Adrian LaChance, a Cree Facilitator/Story Teller and
Traditional Dancer last weekend. He told us that it has taken him many years to learn all the traditional laws, stories and dance routines. His life did not have a good start and he suffered many years of abuse, hardship and sunk into a dark underworld as he grew older. He was saved by the teachings of his elders, realizing there was another way to live his life and benefit others. Now Adrian travels the world to spread the word of his First Nation ancestors and delight his audiences with his humor, honesty and conviction.

He designed his magnificent traditional dress  himself and is decorated with eagle and bear motifs as well as real eagle feathers. Each bead and decoration are symbols of Adrian’s tribe, beliefs and craft. I’m sure you will agree with me it is superb. Not all learned scholars are academics after all.

For more information visit his site – http://www.adrianlachance.com

Adrian

Some of you may know that from early childhood, I have been fascinated in Native culture and wanted to be a squaw as a child. I won an art competition at 7 years old receiving a book – The Story of Hiawatha. Years later when I was regressed, one of my ‘lives’ was as a squaw but I dismissed it as wishful thinking. However, over two decades later, my cousin found out that one of our great great grandfather’s married a squaw from the Lumbee tribe! This excerpt is my transcript from my regression.

Native Squaw

I look down into the still glassy water and see an old face, deep down I know it to be my face. The deep lines creasing my eyes, cheeks and mouth are at the same time familiar and alien. Dark brown eyes and skin are in contrast to my hair, which was once a shiny ebony mantle but now streaked with silvery grey, hair now thin and wispy in one long plait down my back. Splashing my face with the icy cold water, I look up to see the teepee’s across the stream that feeds the lake and raise my old body upwards. I’m only good for collecting wood, minding the children and cooking, my days past slowly. Without a husband, I have to ingratiate myself to my daughter’s brave, be of help so I can have a place to sleep, tucked into the side flaps, under my buffalo bedding. Walking back the horror of that far day comes back, maybe it’s the similar setting, the crispness of the air but I ‘see’ the riders coming over the hill, the crack of the guns and the sudden screaming, startled me. The soldier’s were yelling and laughing as they rode through the camp, shooting my friends and family; everyone they see fleeing.  I was helpless to stop them, I’d screamed back but was too far away. Fear stops me running toward the murderers but my heart breaks as I watch the massacre. Crouching under a bush I’d covered my ears until long after the screaming and pounding hooves had ceased. Too scared to move I’d waited until nightfall before walking back to a blood soaked and burnt earth where my home had once been.

I hadn’t noticed I was walking as the horrors around me had numbed my body and mind. The land was silent and still as though shocked and sadden as was I. Whimpering coming from the far side of the camp leads me gradually in that direction. To my utmost joy I found my grand-daughter but my grief had sprung into my heart as I saw she was huddled underneath my own daughter’s body. Taking her up into my arms, other sounds around me come to my ears as one by one the women and children uncovered themselves and crawled out of their hiding places.

This past will never leave me and I wait for my time to come when I will be with the spirits and my husband, who had fought so bravely on that fateful day against an enemy so cowardly and strong. The firewood is weighing heavily now as I enter the camp and I smile at the last of the Lumbee tribe survivors.

lumpee logo

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