Interview with Christopher Barzak

Simon Owens: Has moving to Japan had any lasting effect on your writing?

Christopher Barzak: Moving to Japan has certainly changed my writing. I imagine it will continue to do so even after I’m no longer here too. Living in Japan has been one of the most life changing experiences I’ve had so far, in a really wonderful way, so I hope I never lose the things I’ve learned here. In my writing, I see it mostly in the prose and the narrative structure. Less really is more here, in most cases, and I find myself spending time on finding the right detail that can evoke many things, leaving space in the story for these images and details to reverberate. And structurally my stories and the novel I’m writing here are mostly concerned with coincidence and how we know things. I’ve always been interested in the process of knowing (versus being, which I’m comfortable with, whereas knowing I think gets in the way of being sometimes) and while I’ve been here I’ve been learning Japanese and it’s a language where things that are left out are sometimes the loudest things said. This has manifested in my writing mainly as an elliptical style of storytelling in some cases, that cut around a story, rather than going through it. Right now I’m working on a novel told in stories (similar to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas or Ghost Written structures) where all of the narrators and characters are connected to one another in some way, but most of them don’t realize it, even though they’re affecting each other’s lives. It’s working title is The Love We Share Without Knowing, though that may change, most likely will change, by the end. I’m having fun watching the layers of the novel accrete through the individual stories. Will any of this have a lasting affect on my writing? I’m sure it will. I think writing is a process of growth and learning, the same as living, the same as most things are. And like those rings you find in trees, we carry the mark of what we’ve learned with us, if we’ve really learned it.

SO: Do you find yourself submitting more to magazines that take email submissions now that postage is more of a hassle?

CB: This hasn’t changed much for me actually. I’m lucky enough that many editors who don’t normally take email submissions have told me it is okay if I email submissions to them while I’m in Japan. And for those markets where I have to still mail through regular channels, I’m lucky enough to have a friend back home who prints out my stories and cover letters and sends them off for me. But I do wish more markets were email submission friendly, because these days it’s more efficient if you have the correct system set up, and it could save vast amounts of paper.

SO: Your writing is very literary. Do you ever consider (or try) crossing over to non-genre fiction markets that are more open to cross-genre material?

CB: Well I’ve published some stories in what you could call literary markets already. Nerve, Descant, The Vestal Review, Pindeldyboz. So I definitely consider non-genre markets. When I am trying to decide where to send a story, I don’t only look within the genre. I also send stories to literary places. Lately I’ve been getting very kind and encouraging passes after tension-filled consideration periods from places like Conjunctions, Hobart, One Story, and McSweeneys. So I hope one day more of my stories can appear in more literary publications as well as genre publications. I think that many of the stories I write could go either way. Sometimes that’s a problem within the genre, where an editor thinks the story is more of a literary thing, and sometimes it’s a problem within the literary world too, where the editors think it’s more of a genre thing. There are very few markets, besides zines, for stories that are neither fish nor fowl. Apparently the world is still in love with categorization. And knowing…as mentioned above. People like to know what something is, to be able to name it, before they can accept it. So often many of the stories I publish are not ones that are even my favorites. Though some have been ones I really like. You can’t control these things too much, though. So I just send them out and wait until the right editor comes across it, and am grateful that I’m able to write and have the stories I write published at all.

SO: What are the five blogs everyone should be reading (besides your own)?

CB: Alan Deniro’s Goblin Mercantile Exchange. Alan is a really intense thinker and I resonate with many of the ideas he explores, even if we use a different sort of language to talk about these ideas. And he’s really really funny.

Tokyo Times. An intensely funny blog whose creator links to many outrageous occurences and fads within Japan. It makes me laugh at least once a week. It also makes me wish I knew where to find similar blogs set in every country, to compare notes on how silly human beings can sometimes be.

The Adventures of a Not So Blonde Blonde. My friend Jody, who teaches English here in Japan too, only she’s stuck out in the middle of nowhere. When she moved to Yachio, the little town where she lives and works, the foreign population doubled. Literally. The other guy was a Mormon who has been here for ten years and married a Japanese woman and has kids and so really, I don’t even count him as a foreigner anymore. Jody originally was going to call her blog Drunk Jody.com, and was going to post various pictures from her wild drinking nights. Recently I asked her, “Whatever happened to Drunk Jody.com?” and she said, “Well my blog isn’t called that, but don’t you think that’s really the essence of it anyway?”

Liquid Logic. I don’t know Lauren, but this woman is smart as a whip, and funny. I like reading what she has to say.

West of the Moon. An anonymously narrated blog. But it’s got a nice, sincere voice, and a thoughtful banter. I know who the writer of it is, actually, but can’t tell you. It’s a secret. And not because the blog is gossipy or says horrible things or anything like that. Just a blogger who wants to remain nameless.

You can find Christopher’s blog over here

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