Fiction writer Clifton Barnhart is here today to share a bit about his novella, Jesse and responsibility.
Clifton Barnhart is an American writer with two books out on Kindle. One is a novella (Jesse and responsibility) and the other is a selection of short stories. They are written using the French "Oulipo" style in English and some Mandarin. He is a China expert having lived in the Mainland for five years as a student, translator, project manager and layabout. In 2010 he received a degree in Chinese Culture and Society (Honors) and completed a thesis comparing George Washington at Valley Forge and Mao Zedong on the Long March. The posts on his goodreads.com blog are experimental fiction, essays, thesis, an anthology of short plays, and poetry.
Welcome, Clifton. Please tell us about your current release.
On July 7th, 2012 Jesse Burke passed away. He was my dearest friend. Jesse and responsibility is the fictionalization of our time. In 2011, I quit drinking, which made me very sick. I knew Jesse in China as a roommate, bar buddy and Franc-o-fied-American away from home. He married in 2011 and the month I spent in China celebrating with him, his new wife, and our friends was the highlight of that year. His passing was a terrible loss. We were different and depended on each other. When I wasn't in China we kept in touch with email and occasional phone calls. My last words to him were, "It was meant to be."
Excerpt from Jesse and responsibility:
"Being French is a state of mind," the American said, night school is for winners. What?
The embassy district of Beijing is lined with trees. Reputable people work there. Any comment I might make about this makes me sound like a raving paranoid: yes they are xenophobic, so I really don't know embassy people.
"Sea shells a long ways away from the ocean or in a desert are youth's first vision of change. Your little leaguers trading sand dollars for canal oysters is youth's first trade. There has always been barter. And there has always been Charlemagne."
"Yes Ms. Kim...I mean, oi."
"A frown. A legend. This is what France is built on. Now, numbers recitation."
"Alright. What do you want to know about women?"
"What do women think of gamblers?"
"Ehhhhhh, your not German are you?"
"Your too young.. next time numbers perfect!"
When I got home Jesse was reading a British GQ.
"You know what this magazine needs?"
"Also the English seem inarticulate. When is your mom sending another one?"
"I love you Jesse. Goodnight."
Work was talking to Chinese people. Yelling. But the yelling was because drills are always going.
For someone used to the sound of screws sunk into soft drywall, a Chinese construction site is an experience.
By this time public health posters warning against AIDS no longer had cartoon fat white men with red noses standing next to a cartoon blonde woman in a red dress. What latent racism there was against whites was turning capitalist. The Beijing foreigner was becoming an immigrant. "Be a foreigner's landlord," read the luxury tower billboard in Chinese script.
What exciting story are you working on next?
On September 11th, 2014 I started writing Neidermeir's Revenge. It has become a series of plays in the style of Oulipo. The play's pattern has eleven parts with parts three and eight left out (skipped.) This pattern for individual plays is then magnified to the series of plays with Neidermeir's Revenge, Neidermeir's Revenge the Sequel, and Neidermeir's Revenge Number Four making up the anthology. Neidermeir's Revenge Number Five is complete. I'm in the middle of Neidermeir's Revenge Number Six.
The next novel is called Not often with Roger. It's like Tuesdays with Morrie but with more death and funnier. It will be finished and published somewhere in the 2020s. Turning my thesis into a book is not a priority.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
After two years of studying Chinese I did some written translations while living in Beijing. Translation is an art. The goal is "naturalness," and it is difficult. Then I had a tongue-in-cheek construction advice column for a city-based magazine and wrote articles here and there. Afterwards I took Critical Analysis as a philosophy class at Bakersfield's local junior college. That class had a profound effect on my understanding of premises and conclusions. It was invaluable for self-editing; as a logical discipline of cutting out what isn't supportive. What is not cleavage should be taken out. Good writing makes supportive statements conspicuous because it is only common knowledge after you have said it.
I got a bachelor degree in my late 20s and there were these freshman, or freshman-types, calling themselves writers. Despite the translating, magazine articles and a slew of written project reports I still didn't consider myself a writer. When the freshman-types declared themselves writers I thought, hatefully, 'no you aren't.'
My thesis was part of my undergraduate work and I cut it from 40 pages to 4-5 pages in the summer of 2010. Satisfied with the result, I started to consider myself a writer. Jesse and responsibility took five months of writing everyday. Now it is selling in England, that is a singular thrill.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find time to write?
I live in Bakersfield in my family's old place. Writing isn't enough to support myself. I cook. Today it was the most delicious chili con-carne, curry carnitas, sour cream, and salsa nachos. Yay food stamps. Shout out to the person that Christmas gifted me a deep fryer. There is nothing like finding out if you take corn tortillas, cut them down the middle one way, then cut them down the middle the other way and put them in a deep fryer, tortilla chips happen.
What would you say is your interesting writing quirk?
I spell "heart," "hart."
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An insurance salesman, like everyone at that age.
Anything additional you want to share with the readers?
I published a selection of short stories at the same time as Jesse and responsibility. The first story, George and the White Dragon, was written 2013 in modern prose. The following three stories were written after Jesse and responsibility and also in the style of Oulipo. They are fantasy and more of a pleasure read than the novella.
Thanks for being here today, Clifton. Happy writing!