Four years ago, blogger Michael R. Carter interviewed author L.L. Barkat. The angle was books and background, from the personal to the professional. Today, Barkat is a publisher (T.S. Poetry Press), but most of the thoughts in the interview still stand—and inform not only the nature of T.S.’s editorial approach and acquisitions but also the philosophy behind the Press and how it mentors up-and-coming writers through the Tweetspeak Poetry community. Of course, some of the details of Barkat’s life and goals have changed since 2013. Maybe you can pinpoint a few of the differences. But the spirit, we suggest, remains the same. In the end, her thoughts are for you.
1. What was your favorite subject in high school?
I always loved the things that had nothing to do with who I was going to “be” when I grew up. Not that I knew I’d be a writer, see. But I never liked English class much. And my life has nothing to do with science now, but I always loved the details of biology and, earlier, earth science.
Okay, so maybe this really has to do with who I am now. Because writers need to be interested in details, down to “picky details.” This is what sets one writer apart from the next; what she notices about color, texture, sound and so forth, and which of those details she chooses to highlight to create a sense of place and context.
2. At what point did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
Didn’t actually want to be a writer, but others wanted it from me, would ask me to be their voice for celebrations, or in times of mourning. So it was something I grew into, came to understand as the particular gift I needed to share with the world. And that worked out okay, because now I very much want to be a writer. It enchants me with its challenges and possibilities.
3. What/who inspires you?
Tea: black, green, or red, but never with cinnamon. The French language. Piano, though I never had the chance to learn it (am learning it, slowly, now). Poetry, oh that makes me a better writer all around and it teaches me to listen and see. Suspension bridges, fountains, canyons, ledges. I guess it comes down to things with design, texture, mystery, challenge.
4. What/who do you read?
I’m not genre-specific. I’m art specific. In other words, is it good? Is it artful? I’ll read it. Doesn’t matter if it’s about business, science, architecture or auto mechanics. One of my favorite writers is Alain de Botton. He can (and did) make the description of a satellite something to behold. Similarly, Tim O’Brien’s war book The Things They Carried is so graphic in an artful way that I felt like I wanted to take the book into my very soul. Rory Stewart too: his hike across Afghanistan.
It goes back to that thing about details and context-setting. I want to be taken to specific places. Really take me, I’ll go. Even if it’s around a bizarre universe, like in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
5. What is your methodology (journal, handwritten notes vs. “thinking” on a keyboard)?
I do what I want when I want. I have no one way of working. I let a work guide me, and it does. Some things want to be poured out at breakneck speed on a keyboard. Other things want to be held and turned over in doodles and script.
6. What does a typical workday look like?
I have a lot of disparate responsibilities: manage a household, home educate my teens, work online as a Managing Editor with a staff that lives around the nation and the world. I’ve got different time zones, different emotional zones, different skill zones I’ve always got to be moving between.
So, I’ve learned to think on my feet, be flexible. None of my four books were written in the same way. One had the luxury of dedicated Saturday mornings. Another was born through hit-or-miss evenings. The last, my goodness, I wrote daily for three weeks straight until I was finished, getting up at 4:30 a.m, working until 8 in the morning, and then going back to bed for an hour before I needed to meet my day.
7. What is one of your goals, as a writer?
I heard this recently from an acclaimed film teacher. When she said it, I wrote it down, because it feels like one of my goals:
“create a launching pad for another person to be set free”
Okay, so now I’m Buzz Lightyear or something, which sounds a little silly. But I like the idea of bringing people to the edge of something and helping them jump off (or rise up) into possibility. You know, infinity and beyond and all that.
8. What are your thoughts on e-books (and, do you believe they will replace printed books)?
The numbers speak. Just a few years ago I sold less than a quarter of my books on e-book. Now it hovers between a quarter and a third of all sales. I think there may always be paper-book-lovers like my teenaged daughter. But they will sit elbow to elbow with people who own a hundred books packed into an 8×5 space or smaller. It is a good question as to what will eventually prevail: economics (in terms of money, space and geography) or art. I suppose that the day the two are joined in an e-reader, the question will be answered once and for all.
9. What advice would you give to a high school student who told you, “I want to be a writer”?
It is not about getting a degree in writing or literature, although reading great material should be part of your own self-education, and exploring ways to write can be helpful too; try it all…fiction, poetry, reviews, and so forth, but commit yourself to mastering something, too. Mastering the small stuff first will translate into the ability to master larger works.
Like I said, it is not about getting a degree in writing. Instead, find something (or things) to love. Love attends. It looks beyond “pretty” to “she’s got brown hair that turns amber in the sun.” It doesn’t just say, “Hey, check out this new song.” It says, “The drums, the voice that sounds like it’s trekking across a gold-dying desert, the unexpected chime in the spaces between.”
Know that even if you love a song, you will not love it in the same way anyone else loves it. You will go to the drums maybe, and the way they remind you of your brother’s way of dealing with the world. Someone else will go to the voice, and the way it speaks of losing a parent. You know?
Then you write, and you write, and you write. For years you write. Like anything else. Like a swimmer training for Olympic gold, or a guitarist seeking a regular gig. You write for any audience who will listen, and you make your way. And if you become good, someday someone else will make your way. Because they will believe they couldn’t let the world go without your voice, your drums.
“One of the most beautiful books on the art and craft of writing that I’ve ever read.”
—Diana Trautwein, Amazon review