Tyler Barton’s debut short-story collection, a Mary McCarthy Prize runner-up, slated for publishing next year

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Monday, August 10th, 2020

Tyler Barton has long been a writer, ever since high school inspiration and the demise of his teenage hardcore/metal band replaced his guitar with literature.

Now his collection of short stories, “Where the Rubies Live & Other Homes,” a two-time Mary McCarthy Prize runner-up, has been acquired by Sarabande Books and will be released in 2021. Though he’s been frequently published by journals and other outlets, the “Rubies” collection will be Barton’s first book.

When “I met other writers as an undergraduate, I started to feel like I was meant for a life in the literary arts,” says Barton, Program Coordinator for PCA&D’s Center for Creative Exploration.  “Community, sharing work, supporting each other, creating projects and art together — this has meant more to me than anything about being a writer. I quickly found that publishing with journals, magazines, and websites connected me to so many incredible writers and editors. I started to feel part of a larger, international community.”

And the short story format, he says — “the breadth of style, content, voice, and structure you can display and experiment with across a collection of stories — is so exciting.”

As Barton gears up for the process of manuscript edits, final drafts, and promotional plans for his book, he shared more about his writing process, how he’s build a life in a creative field, and what’s inspiring him right now:

How many stories are there in this collection?

TB: There are 20 stories in the book, some 20 pages long, some as short as a paragraph. The title is tentatively “Where the Rubies Live & Other Homes,” however it may change in the editing process, as may the order and selection of some stories. 

Was this meant to be a collection of short stories from the start? Or are these works that, over time, seemed to coalesce into a collection that should be presented together?

TB: The latter is more accurate. That said, I have wanted to write and publish a collection of short stories since I  was a teenager. It’s been a dream of mine ever since my English teacher, Cassi Ney at Dover Area High School, had us read a story from V.S. Naipaul’s “Miguel Street.” Ever since encountering that collection, I have enjoyed and valued story collections more than any other form. The breadth of style, content, voice, and structure you can display and experiment with across a collection of stories is so exciting. 

Is there an overarching theme to your collection? 

TB: Most of these stories have been written, revised, edited, and published individually over the last five years, and though I never sit down to write a story that demonstrably connects to a previous story, I did begin to find similar theme among many of my favorite stories: the need to create/find/replace/remake “home” outside of the traditional “house” or dwelling. When selecting stories to include in the book (there are MANY more that did not make the cut), I was considering quality, diversity, and voice, but also I needed each story to speak to this need to recreate/rediscover home. So, this book features cults, runaways, broken homes, exploding houses, a Hardees restaurant turned into a wayward church, and a woman who creates mailbox-replicas of famous houses. 

Many of the stories are set in southern PA. I think it has to do with me leaving Pennsylvania for grad school (I moved to Minnesota for three years) and getting distance on my idea of home. Through fiction, I think, I was dealing with feeling disconnected from my childhood and wondering what home would look like for me in the future. Also, the fall I left for college at Millersville [University], my parents divorced, and this fundamentally changed my understanding of home. Those feelings and questions come up often in the collection.

Have any of these stories appeared previously in anthologies, or elsewhere?

TB: Almost all of them have, actually. I’m guilty of being an artist who gets a ton of motivation and inspiration from external validation. While that isn’t the healthiest way to go about making art, something vital that I get from publishing has to do with community. … One balance I try to strike is that I spend twice as much time reading as I do revising and submitting. It’s tough, though, because my enthusiasm about publishing and submitting certainly led to me putting things out before they were probably ready. However, I’ve mostly had so many excellent experiences working with editors and publishing short stories. It makes me want to write. Even rejections (I receive a ton) tend to motivate me. 

Between now and the publishing date of 2021, what will the process be for your book?

TB: My editor, Kristen Miller, and I will work on edits of the manuscript between September and December. The final draft will be submitted before Christmas, and then the book will be out in November 2021. I’ll be spending a lot of my free time in the fall and winter of next year promoting the book and doing events (hopefully in person!). 

Has writing always been “your art?” In other words, have you always considered yourself “a writer,” and what does it fulfill for you creatively?

TB: Like many teenagers, I thought I was a musician until I was 17. The hardcore/metal band I was in in high school broke up my senior year and that is when I started reading [Kurt] Vonnegut. I realize that in putting down my guitar and picking up player piano, I was essentially trading one cliche for another (haha), but I’m so glad I was able to realize (with the help of Cassi Ney and Barbara Lomenzo at Dover Area High School) that I cared so much more for writing. 

Writing allows me to tell jokes I don’t know how to tell out loud. I respect stand-up immensely, but I don’t think I could do it. I can, however, be very funny on the page, and being able to make people laugh has always been the thing that brings me the most joy. Of course, writing does one thousand other things for me too (a means of meditation, a place to practice empathy, a way to explore jobs, hobbies, and relationships I don’t have the time/guts to explore in real life), but the top-line concern is always humor. Especially finding humor in not-inherently-funny things, like the way we experience loneliness, the way we deal with hurt, and the way we speak to one another. 

What are you reading now, and what’s been the best book you’ve read in the last year?

TB: I just finished an incredible book of poetry called “All Heathens” by Marianne Chan, all about the Filipino diaspora, family, and, in so many intricate ways, world explorers like Magellan. Next I will be reading a collection of stories by Jen Fawkes called “Mannequin and Wife.” 

The best book I’ve read in the last year is a novel called “Stay & Fight” by Madeline ffitch. I don’t know how to explain how good it is. It’s about women creating homes in the woods of West Virginia. 

Writing with a laptop, or paper and pencil?

TB: Laptop. My hand hurts if I hold a pen for longer than 10 minutes. 

Who are “your readers,” the first people to whom you show your work to get their input?

TB: My wife, Erin Dorney, has long been my first reader, but another very important reader for me is Pete Stevens, another writer who went through the program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. His debut chapbook, “Tomorrow Music” (Map Literary), is coming out next year too.


(photo of Tyler Barton by Lina Seijo)