Interview: Jodi Barnes

Jodi BarnesJodi Barnes’s flash fiction can be found on 100 Word Story, Prime Number, Wigleaf’s Top 50, Camroc Press Review and Fictionaut Editor’s Eye. Her short-short stories have made finalist on Glimmer Train, Sixfold, and in Press 53’s Open Awards. Her chapbook, unsettled (Main Street Rag), was runner-up for the 2010 Oscar Arnold Young Award for best poetry book in North Carolina. She founded 14 Words for Love, small literary acts for social good. Jodi is a writer-in-residence for North Carolina schools and she teaches writing, social justice, social identity and their connections. (bio from Amazon.com).

TCJWW: Santa Breaks Bad is very well written and full of comedy. What was the inspiration in taking such preconceived “pure” characters and designing them to be not so “pure,” like Miz C?

Barnes: Thank you for your kind words and TCJWW’s favorable review of Santa Breaks Bad in November, 2013. It’s an honor to hear good things about one’s work. I think there were two things going on in my life, in terms of some inspiration to develop mythical characters into more complex and complicated ones. First, I wrote the first chapter “You Better Watch Out” a few months after I’d begun to experiment with flash fiction in 2012. In fact, I thought that that chapter would make a good flash story all by itself. After I’d shared it with a few writers (at readings) and with my family, I sensed that they weren’t laughing to be nice; they really liked it. The second thing, which may have more to do with a deeper inspiration, is that Christmas and I have a strained relationship. No need to go into the nitty-gritty on that; many many people have tragic baggage that they have to stumble over that time of year. I think I was ready to reclaim the holiday in a way that was fun and safely satirized the secular piece of it. So in October, I ran across that first chapter and said to myself, “so where does the story go from here?” Within three weeks, maybe less, I’d finished 14 very short chapters that could be read while waiting in line for the newest Apple product or at the DMV.

TCJWW: Though Santa Breaks Bad is comedic, there are really sincere moments throughout the book in which characters help each other out of the goodness of their hearts. Why was it important to keep this element threaded throughout the story?

Barnes: This is a really good question that ties into the pure/not-so-pure development of its characters. Okay, so the obvious thing is that goodness, good will and altruism are associated with Santa and for Christians, Jesus. I didn’t consciously thread this theme or element into the whole, but I wanted the read to be light, not fluffy, but light in both the funny and positive sense. Plus, it’s taken me a few decades to “get” that the worst of us isn’t 100% bad. Then there’s the fact that uni-dimensional characters kill a story. Even a story that’s different and fun. Flat characters are flat characters.

TCJWW: What do you think is the most difficult and enjoyable aspect about writing flash fiction?

Barnes: I think that the most difficult aspect of flash fiction IS the most enjoyable. I’m don’t watch much television, but for some reason my husband and I recently watched a show like Brain Games that featured how women and men’s brains differ, what each gender tends to do better than the other. One was repacking the trunk of a car. It reminded me of flash: small space, utilizing it best so you have a fresh story without leaving out essentials but not over-packing or over-telling. By the way, guys are supposed to do this packing/spacial thing better, but I think I’m pretty good at it!

TCJWW: How has your writing style developed creatively? Where did these developments grow from?

Barnes: I hope that my writing has developed in more creative ways. If it has, some credit goes to poetry. I began as a poet and had some luck early on with a state-wide award (in NC) and a few publications. Poetry focuses on image and the best poetry, in my opinion, is lyrical in some way. Poetry tends to be compact, like most trunks!, and a good poem can do a lot in a half page. The other thing that I’ve tried to get better at is letting fear go. I’m not a fearful person; yet I tend toward putting too much stock in what others say (e.g., reviews, if I don’t place in a contest). I was trained as a journalist, so I’m probably more tough-skinned than a lot of writers. Yet, I hadn’t let my mind go to crazy, improbable fiction… the mashups between semi-sacred icons and the Legion of Doom, for instance. Bringing in Russia and the Ukraine was before the Crimean annexation by Putin. It sounds a little awful, but maybe Santa Breaks Bad sales will be higher this Christmas. To get back to your question, the letting go and plunging earnestly into a fantasy world without fear of judgment was the best thing I ever did. Book or no book. It really helped free me up to write more interesting flash pieces. 

TCJWW: 14 Words for Love is truly an inspiration. What compelled you to create a foundation rooted in love? What can you tell us about this project?

Barnes: Wow, thanks for asking about 14 Words For Love. This is a global community project that is very dear to me. Its mission is small acts of literacy for social good. I’m a former professor whose research and passion centered around diversity and inclusion—race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, class, age, religion, sexual identity. Before the PhD, I went to the Labor and Industrial Relations institute at University of IL. Although I worked for corporations, not unions, I fell in love with labor history and labor relations. Anyway, the tie-in to 14 Words For Love is that I’m a believer in voice/participation from everyone—regardless of power, education, money, title. That as messed up as our society’s priorities and political rules are, each of us has a voice. Anyone who can write a sentence can write a 14-word poem, aphorism or micro story that has something to do with humanity, that we’re all in this together. Despite how certain factions, including too many religious groups, try to convince us otherwise. One of my favorite 14-word poems is: All ragtag and bobtail/we love like we’re peasants/with what little we have. Martin Sonchild, one of our 14-word poets wrote that and it kills me every time. It’s so good. 

TCJWW: On your website, you write, “After a bit of research, I learned that “14 words” has an association with white supremacy. This motivated me more than ever!” How did the original idea of “14 words” come to you and how has that vision changed knowing it’s associated with something other than love? Also, why fourteen words for each poem?

Barnes: Well, I think I’ve already answered some of these questions (in #5), but the whole “14 words” showing up in a Google search as a motto for White Nationalists really pissed me off. I’ve been doing local race relations work for a while now and I thought 14 Words For Love was a great opportunity to focus on community inclusiveness and kindness during that one day of the year people get so hung up on romantic love. Kind of like how disappointed and depressed some people get on Christmas, you know? So, I think the 14 words association with hate groups just made me want to call it 14 Words For Love even more. I wanted to reclaim it for something good. Finally, 14 words is something that anyone can do. It’s a little challenging, sometimes, to get a poem idea down to that exact number, but it’s also a fun challenge. All the poems posted on the website are downloadable and intended to be handed out during our events like Peace One Day (in September) and of course, Valentine’s Day. I’d like to increase the number of events throughout the year, so that the momentum is maintained. 

 

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