Today's Author Spotlight is author Sara Barkat! Read on for the full interview. Publication date: December 1st, 2021 Links:  Amazon  |  ...

Author Spotlight || Sara Barkat, Author of The Shivering Ground

Today's Author Spotlight is author Sara Barkat!
Read on for the full interview.

Publication date: December 1st, 2021

The Shivering Ground blends future and past, earth and otherworldliness, in a magnetic collection that shimmers with art, philosophy, dance, film, and music at its heart.

A haunting medieval song in the mouth of a guard, an 1800s greatcoat on the shoulders of a playwright experiencing a quantum love affair, alien worlds both elsewhere and in the ruined water at our feet: these stories startle us with the richness and emptiness of what we absolutely know and simultaneously cannot pin into place.

In the tender emotions, hidden ecological or relational choices, and the sheer weight of a compelling voice, readers “hear” each story, endlessly together and apart.

Read now

What's your latest release? 

'The Shivering Ground' &/or 'The Midnight Ball,' a kids' book illustrated with pen and ink. The latter is an autumn-themed fun little adventure about a girl who gets an invitation to a castle, but she has to get there before midnight—and she meets a lot of new animal friends along the way, who each join her and bring a special item to the party (one of my favorites is the wolf who brings a cupcake).

Can you start out by telling us a little about your latest work? 

It's a collection called 'The Shivering Ground & other stories,'—soft science fiction, horror, eco-fiction, with a literary twist. It's basically a mashup of everything that interests me as far as genre (except for mystery—I've never tried writing that). And I always tend to get thinking about the environment. It's this unavoidable, huge, world- and life-changing thing but it's rarely talked about from an artistic or personal viewpoint, instead being the reported as facts or politics, when I think people's true experience of how it plays out in their lives is much more visceral. That's kind of what I wanted to touch on in the book. The fear, depression, grief, hopelessness you can sometimes feel because of it—but also the reasons to keep going, the reasons why action and belief matter.

That makes it sound like a really depressing volume, which I hope it's not. I had a lot of fun writing it, coming up with a group of sf/horror concepts to play out in a kind of "magical realist" style. There's a bit of humor, too, as well as a sense of mystery and exploration. It's got stories about: a totally normal town that just happens to live outside an encroaching wasteland; two travelers thrown together by circumstances at the end of the world, telling each other stories; a cross-dimensional meeting between a painter and a playwright; and a prison guard's encounter with a winged being. Just to pick out a few...

Where did you get the inspiration to write this story?

I wanted to see if I could write short stories, and I'd had a really entrancing dream about a disturbing garden, which became the seed of the idea for "The Door at the End of the Path." After that, it just followed that I'd try to turn it into a whole collection. Some of the stories—a lot of them, actually—were inspired by things I've read and watched. One's a fairytale retelling I've had in mind for years, but never quite had the framework for until I realized it could exist in the collection.

When you developed the characters, did you already know who they were before you began writing or did they develop organically?

They all developed organically. My stories tend to start with a concept, maybe the beginning of a plot, and a very sketchy outline of a character that becomes fleshed out as I write and see how they react to incidents.

Which of your characters was your favorite to write and why?

Shift, I think. Because of the concept of a kind of alien being—and the way they can offer an outside perspective on humanity. Also the fact that Shift is interested in birds. This allowed me to look up and discover a lot of intriguing things about birds.

What was more important to you when you were writing: character development or plot?

The way I see it, if you can dis-entwine those two things, you haven't written the story tightly enough. The plot should support the character development, and the characters' development should forward the plot. If it comes down to it, though, I have to say: character. That's where the real emotional weight comes from, I usually find--if you've got a great plot but don't care about what's happening to the characters, there's no reread potential; once the twists and turns have been figured out, that's it. But if you have good characters, they bring a whole number of possibilities for reinterpretation.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned (about your story, about yourself, etc.) while writing?

I didn't expect that so many of the stories would end up "existing" in a kind of shared universe. But it makes sense, since I really wanted the pieces to feel like they were supposed to appear together and be read as a whole.

In your opinion what makes a good story?

Compelling characters. A plot that makes sense and well-paced writing doesn't hurt, either.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

The first book I published was 'The Yellow Wall-paper: A Graphic Novel, written by someone else; I just illustrated the classic story and turned it into a graphic novel. It made me freeze up, a lot. The very fact that there was a book out there, just one, meant that everything else I did had to reflect on that, being either better or worse than the one other thing I’d ever published. I'm really excited to finally have two more books. It takes a lot of the pressure off.

Okay—on a more practical level, I pay more attention to gutter space now in the pictures. I didn't have quite enough space on some of my pages for TYW (whoops) and so the publisher had to slightly reduce the size of the illustrations.

What led you to start writing?

I've wanted to write ever since I was a kid. One of the earliest "books" I remember making was made of construction paper, only about 4 pages long, and written and illustrated myself. It was about two frogs who were in love and then one of them died tragically. I thought it was very dramatic.

What attracted you to the genre(s) you write in?

The endless possibility of science fiction, and the hopefulness of it—as it very often projects a possible future, which goes on to assume that there is *indeed* a future, and that the right choices can be made. Here I'm talking about creations like Star Trek, though I also like creepier or less hopeful science fiction, for the way it explores the darker possibilities as a kind of warning. But it's really the hopefulness of science fiction—and just the weird vastness of it—that intrigues me most. Also, the fact that it's not pretentious. It's just there to entertain. And if it happens to create truly brilliant philosophical accounts while it's at it, so much the better!

The same with horror—it's a pulp genre. It's about the viscerality, the effect it has on the reader. It’s something that just hooks you and, hopefully, sticks with you afterward. I'm definitely not the scarier end of horror as far as my writing, but I like to have that undercurrent of unease, that "something terrible might happen at any moment" or even *be* happening. And I think it pairs well with the science fiction and eco-fiction focus, because here you're talking about extrapolating a possible future that is terrifying, in so many ways, and I think to admit that it is, is cathartic.

What is one of your favorite words? OR Is there a word you find yourself using too often?

A favorite word? Defenestrate. It means to throw something or someone out the window. I think it's funny that you need a specific word for that action.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

Have fun, and don't worry. You will finish stories, long ones, and you'll get published, and you won't stop being interested in writing. You’ll manage to write something you're happy with, occasionally :) You'll even be able to write out some of the ideas you were trying to work on over and over again in your notebook. (Like that one fairytale retelling: you'll keep nothing but the base concept as you rewrite, but you'll manage to convey what you want, while also being surprised at what it becomes as you do so.)

What are a couple of your favorite movies to kick back with to relax?

Mulan [the Disney animated version, not the remake]; Some Like it Hot; & (I know these aren’t movies, instead TV shows, but...) Star Trek The Original Series & Batman: The Animated Series.

What is something about the genre that annoys you?

I don't tend to get too annoyed by genres, except for the limits of them, which is why I like to smash together a whole bunch.

What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?

Unconventional sentence structure.

Are you on social media and can your readers interact with you? What are your links?

Yes, and yes. I'm on YouTube and Instagram.

Do you have a favorite line that you've written? What is it and why do you like it?

—When they sat down in the small kitchen with its checkered grey and pink formica it was as if the memory of all those family dinners came and sat beside them. [Conditions]
—*Laugh like your life depends upon it!* it said. The people in the brochure had colorful shirts on and tans. They glowed with tourist-bound enthusiasm. [The Day Before Tomorrow]
—“Perhaps, under the sorbet sky and the soft sharp pinch of new shoes we are all, really, staring into space, seeing just what condenses best into our previous understanding, bisected occasionally by something resembling the truth, and which consequently scares us so much we turn around and thenceforth avoid it.” [A Universe Akilter]

I enjoy these lines because they just *sound* interesting; the second one is funny/ironic, the first ironic in a haunting sense, and the third is not only a reference to a poem (perhaps you can guess which one?) but also makes an interesting point about the world; plus, I love the variation in words.

What advice would you like to pass on to aspiring writers that is unconventional but true?

It's not unconventional except in the sense that too many writers would like to skip this step, but... read. Read everything that interests you. Everything. Without concern for genre. Including nonfiction! It'll give you unusual and vivid ideas.

Also, don't be afraid to rework your stories a host of times. That's how you make them better. There's nothing wrong with having a whole stack of drafts or even changing your mind on where you're going when you're already halfway through.

Don't worry about finishing things. Think instead about getting [something] done. It can be working on description or scene setting. Or how to carry a plot. Or simply dialogue, or creating better pacing. Any time you try something new in your writing you've done something worthwhile.

Do you have a WIP? If so, can you tell us anything about it?

I have an eco-poem anthology coming out in April next year, collecting all sorts of wonderful poems from a wide range of writers, including many works in translation. It’s called 'Earth Song' because the placement of the poems is supposed to feel like movements of an orchestral piece, where each flows into the next instead of being placed statically. It’s meant to draw attention to the connections between the poems, and showcases moments of encounter between humanity and nature, focusing on a variety of emotions. The collection is framed through poems by Sara Teasdale and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and includes both famous and emerging poets. Pablo Neruda, Jane Hirshfield, Major Jackson, W. S. Merwin, Gerald Vizenor, Louise Erdrich, Rabindranath Tagore, and many more.

Sara Barkat is an intaglio artist and writer with an educational background in philosophy and psychology, whose work has appeared in Every Day Poems, Tweetspeak Poetry, and Poetic Earth Month—as well as in the book How to Write a Poem: Based on the Billy Collins Poem “Introduction to Poetry.” Sara has served as an editor on a number of titles including the popular The Teacher Diaries: Romeo & Juliet, and is the illustrator of The Yellow Wall-Paper Graphic Novel, an adaptation of the classic story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman.