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Christopher Barzak: Imaginary Autobiography
Christopher Barzak was born in Warren Ohio, and grew up in Kinsman Ohio. He attended Youngstown State University, graduating summa cum laude with a BA in English and a minor in Psychology. After some time off in Carlsbad CA and Lansing MI he moved back to Youngstown for an MA in English and Creative Writing. In 2004 he moved to Japan, where he spent two years teaching English in elementary and junior high schools. He returned to Youngstown in 2006, where he now writes and teaches fiction writing at YSU and in the Northeast Ohio MFA program. Barzak attended Clarion in 1998, forming writing group The Ratbastards with fellow students Barth Anderson, Alan DeNiro, and Kristin Livdahl. They founded Velocity Press, which became Rabid Transit Press, and publish various chapbook anthologies and novellas.

He began publishing with "A Mad Tea Party" in Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (1999). "The Other Angelas" (2004) was on the Tiptree longlist, "The Language of Moths" (2005) was a Nebula finalist and winner of a Gaylactic Spectrum Award, while "Dead Boy Found" (2003) formed the basis for his first novel, One for Sorrow (2007), winner of the Crawford Award for best first fantasy. New novel The Love We Share Without Knowing will appear later this year.
Photo by Beth Gwinn

Official site: A Billboard of Love
Excerpts from the interview:

I think I was 24 when I first wrote 'Dead Boy Found', which eventually grew into One for Sorrow. The relationship between the dead boy, Jamie, and the living boy, Adam, who discovers his body, was always there. I thought of the story as finished but came back to it periodically. It kept calling me. By the time I was 27, I realized I kept coming back because I felt really bad for the character of Adam. I don't feel compelled to give my characters a happy ending, because I don't think everybody in life gets a happy ending and what I want to write about is life. Regardless of whether my work is fantasy, I want it to be honest about life and people's experience. But in this case I thought, 'This character needs to keep going. He came to the conclusion that his life was closing down on him too early.'

*

A lot of writers write about families and communities that are falling apart. (Joyce Carol Oates writes a lot about characters like that.) When people ask me if One For Sorrow is autobiographical, which they often do, my answer is that I think any book is at least a little autobiographical. Maybe not in the sense that you can match things up literally, but you can trace an impression of someone's lived experience in some way even though it might be a sort of imaginary autobiography. If nothing else, the story has passed through the writers imagination and consciousness as a sort of experience in and of itself.

The relationship between the teenagers is deeply based on an idea of love I think is beyond sexuality and our current social ideas about that. These are kids who don't feel seen by anyone, but they see each other. The love in their attachment to each other is founded on that real honest seeing and recognition of another person, a kind of spiritual kinship.

*

I've just finished a second novel called The Love We Share Without Knowing, set in Japan, where I lived for a couple of years teaching English as a second language (and improving my own Japanese). I grew up in a really small town in a rural school system (my graduating class was 50), but when I was a senior they wanted to do an experimental language-learning class in Japanese where we could learn via satellite from a professor in Texas. So I had a year of that in high school, but I went back to French in college. Then a friend I went to school with went over to Japan and started teaching, and she said, 'It's really fun over here. What are you doing?' I said 'Nothing.' So I went, and immediately started picking up the language again. Translator Yoshio Kobayashi read some of my short fiction, and he actually got me work with a Japanese publisher, and hooked me up with a translation project. I'm not the first translator -- it's mostly polishing work after it's already gone through a couple of translations.

The new novel is told from multiple perspectives. I enjoy books with mosaic structures, and that's basically how I structured this one. The characters all have their own stories but at the same time they're carrying this other story on from chapter to chapter, and they don't realize they're part of a greater story. So they're all connected without knowing it.

*

I left Japan for a couple of reasons. I sold One For Sorrow, and I wanted to be back home when it came out. I had to do some rewriting, and I wanted to go home to do that because the novel is steeped in place. Some people ask me why Ive chosen to remain in Youngstown since coming home, and my answer to that is, I would never abandon the place and the people who helped me become who I am at this point. I'll probably go out and travel and live here and there in other places, like I have so far, but I think I'll always come home to Youngstown. One of the things I value is loyalty: in friendships, family, and in work relationships. If there's a real relationship there, I'm loyal to it. I'm loyal to the SF community like I am to my family and Youngstown, as well as to my friends.


 
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