Monday, April 5, 2010

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett talks about writing and Orange Country Noir

Barbara DeMarco-Barrett's the host of the fabulous radio show Writers on Writing, the award-winning author of Pen On Fire, and one of her short stories has just appeared in the anthology Orange County Noir. Since I'm a sucker for anything noir (and I happen to revere the films Barbara mentions here), I couldn't wait to ask Barbara questions. Thanks so much, Barbara!

So when you were asked to write a piece for Orange County Noir, what went through your head? Do you usually think of your home as the stuff of noir?

Actually, I heard about the idea from Susan Straight at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, as we stood at the breakfast buffet, contacted the editor (Gary Phillips) and he said he'd like to see a story. I love noir movies (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice) and wanted to try my hand at it. Plot worried me at first; it's my biggest weakness as a writer. And as for my home, Orange County, well it may be sunny and happy seeming here, but darkness lurks. my home town, in fact, has a bunch of domestic abuse, white collar crime, and rich people crime--deaths in the ocean (Oh, she just fell off the yacht!) and suicides. So my home town, and probably most home towns, have the makings of noir.

I loved the story, which played out like a Robert Mitchum film noir to me right down to the knockout ending. Tell me where the idea came from and what it was like writing the story?

Oh, I loved Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear. Like I said film noir is my favorite genre in film. My story has its genesis in another movie, Days of Heaven (one of Richard Gere's first movies.) When I first started toying with plot, I thought: She could be a knitter (like me) an has a studio in the industrial section of Costa Mesa and this guy stalks her and she stabs him with a knitting needle. Then I thought: too typical. And then Days of Heaven began swimming through my head so I watched it again. I loved that film. It's so bittersweet and tragic and Sam Shepard is at his finest. I thought about the movie's plot and how I might contemporize it, and that's how my story Crazy for You came about. You'd never recognize the movie in my story, but that's where it came from. I had great fun writing the story. I suppose writing dark fiction is especially fun because it's not a world I care to go to in my daily life. I have known shady characters and loser types, though mostly when I was a teenager, and strains of those boys found their way into Levi.

Your book, Pen on Fire: A Busy Woman's Guide to Igniting the Fire Within was an LA Times bestseller and it won an ASJA Outstanding Book Award. I've recommended this book in my UCLA writing classes simply because it has a real understanding of the whole writing process while making you feel that any obstacle is not insurmountable. I also loved the idea that it's never too late, and it's always a mistake to give up. What do you think the most important component is for a writer to succeed?

You're a sweetheart for saying that. probably the most important component for success is becoming your own biggest advocate and taking yourself seriously. If you don't, who will? And then, of course, keeping your derriere in the chair on a regular basis.

You also host the fascinating radio show, Writers on Writing, which is downright revelatory about craft and the experience of being writer. (Plus, as someone who's been privileged to be a guest on your show, you really are one of the best interviewers around.) Have there been interviews that have really surprised you in terms of what the writer revealed?

I'm sure there has been, but it's been 12 years since I started the show so if there were huge surprises, they probably came early on. But one thing that I hear often is how serendipitous publishing is, and how if you keep on writing and progressing in your chosen craft, you will often succeed.

What project is obsessing you now?

My agent is circulating a book proposal that very much deals with the business end of writing, specifically about agents. And I'm working on a memoir. The rough draft is done. Now comes refining and revision, which can be greatly satisfying, y'know?

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Oh, I don't know, maybe something about setting priorities and still having a life. I'm big on sacrificing social occasions--lunches, dinners, shopping, movies--for my writing, but not for my family--my son, in particular who's 15 now. He comes first, and I wouldn't have it any other way. They go from being little kids to big kids in a flash. I've been there for most of it. So if you have to give something up to make time for your writing, take that time from somewhere not all that important, and keep that time with those close to you.

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