Posts Tagged 'David-Matthew Barnes'

Dead Characters Matter Too

A Guest Blog by David-Matthew Barnes

One of the biggest challenges I faced while writing my recent novel Stronger Than This BSB-StrongerThanThis was creating two characters, Martin and Samantha, who die within the first few pages. Yet, because their deaths have an impact on the lives of both of my protagonists for the remainder of the story, I quickly came to realize the importance of dead characters.

In planning the novel, I knew Martin and Samantha were just as vital to the story as their loved ones, Daniel and Charlene, who were alive and coping with their unexpected deaths. Their presence had to be felt in order for the void they leave behind to be consequential. Because my readers spend so little time on the page with Martin – and no time at all with Samantha – my task was to create a sense of their personalities, voices, and existences, and reveal these through memories. In writing the novel, I found this was no easy feat. Yet, it provided me with the most challenging writing experience in my career.

As the novel is an epistolary one and the story is told through letters, text messages, interviews, memos, and online chats, I could not rely on traditional flashbacks to establish the characters of Martin and Samantha. Instead, readers had to experience them through Daniel and Charlene.

The deaths of Martin and Samantha had to create a powerful impact that would ripple throughout the rest of the novel. Therefore, when I sat down at my computer and started to type, I recognized that readers needed to find both characters likeable in order to feel the same sorrow that Daniel and Charlene endure. They had to be emotionally invested. However, because of the timeline of the story, readers wouldn’t form sympathy for them until long after their deaths. Like my main characters, readers wouldn’t realize what they lost in Martin and Samantha until they were gone – similar to the emotional epiphanies of Daniel and Charlene.

The most difficult aspect of this writing process was selecting the right moments to reveal more information. It was a constant tightrope, balancing between needing to develop their characters without appearing heavy-handed in doing so. Never did I want the reader to feel as if the memories of Martin and Samantha (essentially their backstories) were forced.

Overall, the writing process during this particular novel was educational and enlightening. I’m grateful for the experience because it’s made me more aware. Never before had I recognized the significant value of all the characters that populate the universe of a story – even the dead ones.

Genre Jumper

Bold Strokes Books author, David-Matthew Barnes gives his readers a variety of excellent stories in many different genres.

Write What You Don’t Know

by David-Matthew Barnes

I sat in on a workshop at a writing conference in Las Vegas recently. The very accomplished instructor offered sage advice to his starry-eyed attendees, as many teachers do: “Write what you know.”

As I watched each student scribble this pearl of wisdom down in their comp books and on their notepads, I felt compelled to disagree.

Writers should write about characters and places and issues they want to write about, regardless if the plot, storyline, and universe of their novel don’t reflect their own personal experiences. Passion should overrule knowledge every time.

One of the writers at the conference later asked me to clarify my objection to the teacher’s advice. I responded with, “Tell the story you feel has to be told, not a story you’re comfortable telling just because it’s familiar to you.”

All three of my novels were a tremendous challenge to write. But, I prefer it that way. I live for the research process of a book. I love writing about cultures and ethnicities that are not my own. Creating characters that are polar opposites of me is thrilling. It keeps me on my toes. It keeps me from becoming a lazy writer.

Mesmerized, my first novel, was written from the first-person perspective of a seventeen-year-old woman coping with the murder of her older gay brother. Accidents Never Happen, my second novel, tells the story of a love-starved Puerto Rican boxer. Swimming to Chicago, my most recent novel, explores the life of a gay Armenian-American teenage boy growing up in a small town in the South.

These novels couldn’t be more different from each other. And, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing a novel becomes a journey for me, taking me into unfamiliar territory. I never know what I’ll discover through research or the actual writing process (characters can be unpredictable and very determined). But, in the end, the experience of writing a novel leaves me enlightened – and not just creatively.

When I started writing Swimming to Chicago, I knew I wanted to explore a culture and society that hadn’t received the attention and focus it deserved, especially where gay teenagers are concerned.

I considered making the main character of Alex an Iranian-American teen, mostly due to my emotional response to the execution of Ayaz Marhoni and Mahmoud Asgari .  But, I felt their story was told beautifully by Jay Paul Deratany in his stage play Haram Iran.

I continued researching and soon discovered articles about gay rights (or the lack of) in Armenia. While working on the novel, I found and read an article . This motivated and inspired me to write Alex’s story. The more I read, the more I became certain that Alex was Armenian-American. To my knowledge, a young adult novel written by an American author has never featured a gay Armenian teen character as its protagonist. Therefore, I knew this was a story that had to be told. I knew that not only Armenian-Americans would identify with Alex, but other young people from conservative cultures would as well.

Sure, it was a risk. But if you’re not writing fearlessly, why write at all?

Accidents Never Happen Trailer

I’m thrilled to share with you the promo trailer for my recent BSB novel ACCIDENTS NEVER HAPPEN. Please feel free to repost, comment/love, help spread the word.
As always, thank you for your friendship and support!
D-MB 🙂
Link for promo trailer:
David-Matthew Barnes is the author of four novels, five screenplays, thirty-six stage plays,
and over one hundred poems. For more info, please visit: www.davidmatthewbarnes.com.

More Than Ever

by David-Matthew Barnes

            “What author inspired you the most while growing up?” This question was posed to me by a critically-acclaimed writer and professor on my first day of graduate school. I was sitting in an old classroom in an old college in an old Southern town. The other students all responded to the question with very “literary” answers: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Jane Austen.

            I answered with, “Judy Blume“.

            In the world of literary fiction, writing for and about teenagers can often result in a steadfast stigma, labeling you forever as “the one who writes the teen stuff”. For some reason, our work is often not taken as serious as our grown-up, elite counterparts. We get grouped in with other categories muttered with similar lowly disdain such as “chick lit”, “beach books”, and “anything written by that Nora Roberts woman”.

            I’m often quick to point out 27 books by Nora Roberts are sold every minute.

            And Judy Blume’s books have been translated into 31 languages and over 80 million copies have been sold…and counting.

            Not bad company to be in, if you ask me.

            Yet, selling a gazillion copies is not my driving force as a young adult author. I write for teenagers simply because I love to.

            I write for teenagers because when I was 13 years old, a woman named Norma Fox Mazer changed my life.

            Just weeks after experiencing my first kiss with a Latin boy named Pedro (after he slipped me a crumpled note that read, “Meet me afterschool because I like your stories”), my eighth grade world was lit on fire when it was announced Norma Fox Mazer – one of my favorite authors – would be making a guest appearance at our school.

            After some serious campaigning to the junior high powers that be, I was one of the few students selected to have lunch with her in the library. I was beyond thrilled, having read every book she’d written. Although I was terribly star struck, I bravely showed her a section of a short story I was working on at the time and told her how much I wanted to be a writer.

            Norma Fox Mazer scanned over the first page and informed me, “You already are.”

            Two years later, I published my first short story. And the rest, as they say, is history.

            But I never would have become a young adult author without first being a young adult reader.

            Norma Fox Mazer was my best friend, without even realizing it. Each step of the way, she was there for me, guiding me through the field of adolescent landmines. She helped me cope with my parent’s divorce with Taking Terri Mueller. She taught about me death and grieving in After the Rain. She let me know that it was okay to not live like the rich kids in Silver. And she answered the questions I was too embarrassed to ask in Up in Seth’s Room.

            Similarly, I learned valuable life lessons in every Judy Blume book I could get my hands on (particularly Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t). I devoured every volume in the Nancy Drew series. I hung on every suspenseful word written by Lois Duncan, and later, Christopher Pike.

            Yet, as much as I read and loved each book by these authors, I could never find a true version of myself in them: a young gay boy growing up in the conservative 80s in northern California.

            My first young adult novel, (set in 1986 in Sacramento), has just been published by Bold Strokes Books. While the novel explores a very timely and important topic (the life of a young girl is deeply affected by the murder of her gay older brother), the book is truly a literary tribute to the young adult authors who made me the writer I am today. Without them – and their beautiful words – I never would have sat down and taught myself to type at the age of 13.

 I wouldn’t be able to recognize how much weight our words as writers carry, especially when read by young people.

            Teenagers need us now, more than ever. They want us to be their best friend, their older brother or sister, their confidant. They want our experiences: the choices we made or didn’t, the decisions we’ve never second-guessed, the regrets we’ll always have. It is imperative that we share our lives with young people – not just through our words, but also by example.

            After hearing Norma Fox Mazer had passed away last October, I reached out to her daughter, Anne, who is a successful writer. In a letter, I recalled my eighth grade memory of her mother in my junior high library, and of the tremendous influence she’d had on my career since.

In her response, Anne shared with me, “I was touched to hear the story about how you met my mother. She would have been so happy to hear from you again and to learn about your novel.”

In my heart, I will always carry Anne’s words, right beside her mother’s. Right next to Judy Blume’s, and Lois Duncan’s and Christopher Pike’s. Next to the characters and the stories that helped to shape my youth.

In my lifetime, I only hope my own words will one day resonate with a 13-year-old who has yet to be told, “You already are.”


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