Born and raised in Hawaii, Arizona, and Maryland, Brian Barr resides in South Carolina and is the author of the Carolina Daemonic series, the 3 H’s Trilogy, the Nihon Cyberpunk collection (read my reviews of #2, #3, and #4), and the Brutal Bazaar collection. His stories meld fantasy, horror, and science fiction, with themes that range from the occult to the exploration of the human condition, art, music, societal issues and political concerns. As a small press and independent author, he is heavily influenced by DIY and punk culture when it comes to formatting and releasing his work. Brian has written novels, short stories, and comics. He co-created and co-writes the comic book Empress with Chuck Amadori, which features art by Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa, colored by Geraldo Filho. Sullivan Suad and Zilson Costa have also collaborated with Brian to provide many of the art for his covers.
Carolina Daemonic: Confederate Shadows: The first novel of Brian Barr’s Carolina Daemonic series released in 2015, Confederate Shadows is an occult urban horror fantasy with steampunk elements set in an alternative dystopian world where the Confederacy rules America. Uncompromising and raw, Confederate Shadows takes us into a world of grotesque monsters, dark magic, and chaos.
Carolina Daemonomaniac I: The First Carolina Daemonic Short Stories Collection: This is the first collection of Carolina Daemonic short stories. Along with the steampunk war comic The Tamed Tiger, Carolina Daemonomaniac includes various tales of Voodoo/Vudon spirituality, necromancy, weird science and the undead.
The 3 H’s Trilogy: A mix of comedic bizzaro romance horror, cosmic horror, and occult dark fantasy, The 3 H’s Trilogy begins when a gardener discovers a disembodied head in her mother’s garden. What starts as an absurd love story turns into a gruesome inter-dimensional nightmare. Consists of The Head, The House, and The Hell.
Brutal Bazaar: A horror collection of short stories, Brutal Bazaar includes The 3 H’s Trilogy, The Bloody Writer’s Trilogy, Badlam Betty, and various other bloodcurdling tales penned by Brian Barr. From slashers to occult horror, these tales include gruesome scenes mixed with dark humor and existential dread.
Nihon Cyberpunk: Nihon Cyberpunk is a collection of science fiction stories set in Japan. Inspired by Black Mirror, The Twilight Zone,Akira, Ghost in the Shell, and various other sources, Nihon Cyberpunk explores the human condition and probes philosophical questions in a dark and dystopian Japan ruled by technology. Includes The Kage Majitsu Trilogy and An American Otaku in Neo-Nihon’s Underbelly as bonus stories.
Empress: Co-created and co-written by Chuck Amadori and Brian Barr, Empress is a comic book series that centers around Zia, a famous Hollywood actress who goes missing in the early 20th century. She returns to America as the embodiment of the chthonic goddess Hekate and ushers in a new age for the same world that oppressed her spirit and legacy.
Jenny Jaeckel is the author of House of Rougeaux, her debut novel, which made Bitch Media’s 25 Must Read Books of 2018 list. Her previous titles includeFor the Love of Meat: Nine Illustrated Stories and Siberiak: My Cold War Adventure on the River Ob. In 2016, Jaeckel published the graphic memoir Spot 12: Five Months in the Neonatal ICU, which was the winner of the 2017 Next Generation Indie Book Awards and a 2016 finalist in the Foreword Indies Book Awards. She has worked as a translator, an editor, a Spanish teacher, a graphic arts teacher, and an illustrator. Jaeckel is currently working on her second novel, yet to be named, a continuation of the Rougeaux family epic.
And she agreed to be on my little blogblogblog! If you haven’t read House of Rougeaux, I recommend you remedy that as soon as possible—must be ready for the sequel. Links to connect with Jenny and purchase her books follow the interview.
Tell me about your writing process, the mechanics of it, schedule, strategies to keep you going, where you write, research procedures, and what inspirations surround you or motivate you.
Wow, where to start… All the aspects of the process, whether internal or external are quite varied. As a writer, I have to have a whole mental “team” going on: the passionate one, the researcher, the emotional digger/investigator, the critic, the cheerleader, the scheduler, etc. etc. My biggest inspirations are my favorite books, the ones I love with all my heart and soul, and have made me want to be a writer in the first place. I always aspire to those literary heroes. They function like my North Star. I may be down in my clunky little rowboat, with my one broken oar, paddling furiously and getting nowhere, but when I look up, at least I know where I’m trying to go. J.D. Salinger, Toni Morrison, Merce Rodoreda, Eduardo Galeano, and Edith Wharton are some that I return to again and again.
Tell me about the publishing process, including your publishing team, and your responsibilities as the author.
One of the most key parts of the process for me is working with my editor, Neesa Sonoquie. When I first showed her the manuscript for House of Rougeaux, I thought it was in pretty good shape. I’d already gotten some feedback from readers I trusted and done a lot of revising. But I had not worked with Neesa before. She absolutely demolished it. I’d sent off a book and got back confetti. It was humbling, but it turned out to be a transcendent moment. The revision process transformed the book and made me grow tremendously as a writer.
I am currently in such a moment again, because Neesa has just demolished a draft of my next book—a coming-of-age/love story that will be finished before the House of Rougeaux sequel (I’m still working on a first draft of the Rougeaux sequel.) What a good editor does is see the book you are trying to write inside the draft, which is full of wrong detours and other flaws. The demolition is all about cutting the crap so you can get to the true heart of the matter. It’s challenging but very exciting.
Describe your support system online and IRL—who are your biggest cheerleaders?
I don’t exactly have a cheerleading squad, but I have a small group of friends and acquaintances who have, at one time or another, said, or written some very wonderful things about how my work has touched them. When I get this in an email, for example, I print it out and put in on the wall by my bed, where I have a little collection, and when I get discouraged, I read them over and over. I also talk pretty regularly with three writer friends of mine. Though we all deal in different genres, the process and the struggle are the same, and being able to engage in that mutual support is essential. My lovely family is very supportive too. My partner and child give me regular feedback on my blog posts and written interviews (like right this second).
I know you’ve written about a difficult time in your life through a graphic memoir as part of coping and healing. In what other ways has your life influenced your art and vice versa? How do you choose your subject matter?
Art and life have a complete interface for me, like body and mind, or heads and tails sides of a coin. My first three books were all memoirs, the next two pure fiction, so while my relationships to all those topics varied, it was all deeply personal. When writing memoir, it has been much easier for me to see the therapeutic aspects of storytelling. Curiously though, putting key chunks of my life into these packages called books has made me identify with the stories less, as if these events happened to a human, and that human just happened to be me. It’s very liberating.
With fiction, though I’ve been exploring lives that couldn’t be more different from my own, every choice I make, and the ways I try to connect with my characters and get to know them, has everything to do with who I am. At the moment, working on this coming-of-age/love story, I am blending autobiography and fiction for the first time, and the process is extremely strange. I have to get to know the protagonist, for example, as the fictional person she is, but she is also so like a young version of myself that it’s a real mind-bender.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I am grateful to creativity for being the force that animates me. I think without it I’d be a lifeless hulk, a Frankenstein’s Monster pre-electrification, misshapen and covered in scars and moldy clothes (but smaller). I was lucky that as a child I was encouraged in art (so many are discouraged or even shamed for their efforts,) and lucky that since then I’ve had countless opportunities to grow creatively. Creativity takes infinite forms, I think it’s our birthright as human beings, and I think the more we can bring it to all aspects of our lives the better off we are. Once I heard the singer Krishna Das say in an interview that his music was how he stayed alive. He didn’t say music was his bliss and all that, he said it was how he literally stayed alive. I really appreciated that. It’s survival. Creativity is not the icing on the cake, it’s the cake itself.
I decided that I sincerely want my debut novel published by St. Martin’s Press, since most of my favorite authors are with them. This is how I came to read Abby Fabiaschi’s debut novel I Liked My Life and I loved it (see my review), so reached out to her to let her know. She is so friendly that I asked her for an interview for my little blogblogblog and she agreed!
Turns out she’s also an activist for survivors of human trafficking, which is amazing and will be addressed at the end of this interview. She is a survivor herself of a dog attack at a young age, which altered her life and perspective, as you can read below in the Author Extra.
Tell me your artistic / writing process, including schedule, environment, and inspirations.
Motherhood really changed the answer to this question. I use to be able to be much more picky! I put in a minimum of five hours a day—usually 3-4 while the kids are at school and 1-2 after they are asleep (or at least I think they are). I work in a home office at a desk…boring, I know. I’m inspired by whatever it is I’m exploring. I don’t start my stories with an end in mind, so characters’ experiences keep me vested and learning with them.
Walk me through your publishing process, from final draft to final product, including your publishing team.
Right now I’m with St. Martin’s. When a first draft is complete, I send it to my agent and editor. They pile on constructive feedback and I make a plan for a round of revisions. That step repeats itself until we all say, “Yep. This works!” St. Martin’s decides on a release date at least a year out and designs a cover. From there, the assigned publicity team works on getting Advanced Reader Copies in the right hands while I get back to work on the next project. About six months before the launch, I get to review the final pass, which is when I add in acknowledgements.
Talk about your support system, including beta readers and all of your cheerleaders!
I am in awe of amazing people like you, who bring reading and writing communities together. Since my debut came out, I’ve also been grateful to establish friendships with many talented writers, including all the wonderful authors in The Tall Poppies. (If you are a reader on Facebook, follow Bloom with Tall Poppy Writers—great content and giveaways!)
I don’t have a writing group, nor do I leverage a ton of beta readers. Rather, I approach a couple people who I think would offer a valuable lens on the story to be first readers. There is one exception—my sister is always on the list!
How does life influence your art and vice versa?
Each story I write sets out to explore a component, a strand, of either something I’ve witnessed or experienced. I get a moment in my head and my mind runs with it—what if this and what if that?—until a set of characters have lived through a moment worthy of readers’ time.
What do you love most about your creativity?
I love how I learn from my characters. With I Liked My Life, I came to believe that even life’s most antagonizing moments offer slivers of beauty once you rise above the fog and the haze of grief. There’s insight and clarity there for the taking. Now, it’s at the expense of whatever you lost and it will never be worth it, so you have to learn to digest the injustice of that. It’s a conclusion I never would have gotten to without diving into the Starling’s story.
Please share about your advocacy activism—I’m all for telling everyone the good you do in the world!
I’d love to! Twenty percent of all of my after tax proceeds go to an organization I co-founded called Empower Her Network. We collaborate with ready survivors of human trafficking who find themselves in the same vulnerable circumstance that led to their initial exploitation by removing housing barriers, financing education, and uncovering employment opportunities. To learn more or buy a Lulu Frost Empowerment bracelet, go to www.empowerhernetwork.org.
Author Extra: The Inspiration for Abby Fabiaschi’s I Liked My Life
I was attacked by a Rottweiler when I was nine. The last stitch on either side of the wound was inside each eyelid. The dog, aptly named Gator, missed both my eyes by an amount so small as to be immeasurable. The ER doctor heralded this a miracle and I decided, right then, that no matter what I looked like the next day, I would focus on that piece of good fortune—I could still see.
What I didn’t understand in my then-scarred state was that what I would see was about to change. I became a person worthy of double-takes and gasps. I was forced to acknowledge a truth far younger than most; it doesn’t matter what you look like, at least to some. I got fifty-seven stitches that first night and eight reconstructive surgeries over the twelve years that followed, but his is not a sob story. Yes, bone from my rib is now on my nose, and skin from behind my ears and on my ass is now on my face, but I wouldn’t take back that night if I could.
Because here’s the thing—I don’t know who I would be without that experience. Those scars brought me perspective at a young age. They made me tough. They gave me loads of time to read where I could sop up the crazy mistakes people make without experiencing the consequences. They protected me from vanity and made me a keen observer, ultimately leading me to writing.
A friend recently commented that life has thrown enough complications my way to merit a memoir, but an exceptional memoir requires you to hand over the whole of your truth, along with your version of other peoples’ truth, and I’m too territorial for that. Still, I borrow here and there.
When I was fifteen, I lost one of my closest friends in a tragic car accident. I felt tremendous guilt because I hadn’t invited Elizabeth over that day. So stupid—we liked the same boy, so I excluded her. Introducing guilt and grief to my already raging teenage hormones and fierce desire for independence was a hugely defining moment in my life. I Liked My Life started with a desire to explore mourning at that tender age. I wrote it for me, and then went back to my demanding career in high-tech.
Four years later, at fifty-three years-of-age, my dad died of a heart attack. He was my father, but he was also my boss, mentor, and best friend. I didn’t write for years after his death, not even in a journal. The loss consumed all of me.
Then one day, I happened across I Liked My Life on my computer. The title popped from the screen; it felt enormously important to revisit it. Having then mourned as a teenager and a parent, I was better able to distinguish the nuances of grief experienced by each character. Tapping into those challenging life events is where the nonfiction ended and the storytelling began. I was inspired by a sentiment from Adrienne Rich’s poetry; If we could learn to learn from pain even as it grasps us. Isn’t that a powerful thought?
As I discovered after the dog bite, slivers of beauty exist in life’s most antagonizing moments, if only you know where to look. I set out with three characters—Madeline, Eve, and Brady—as they learn exactly that, each on their own timeline and in their own way. I wrote the book for me, unburdening my loss on unsuspecting characters. That their journey will find its way to living and breathing readers is wild.