Spotlight Author: Barry Brennessel

“It All Stems From the Characters”

Hearing voices in your head? You might be crazy, or you might have the inspiration for some genuine and original characters for a great fiction novel. Compared to “the same way someone might have a song running through his or her mind”, Barry Brennessel often fashions characters out of this stream of voices playing out in his head. From small voices come complex characters with personal histories and obstacles. With a novel already published, a forthcoming collection of linked stories, and various other pieces of fiction; Brennessel certainly has created his fair share of personas. Not dissimilar to Victor Frankenstein, Brennessel makes his characters come alive from an image in his head to a collision of lives on a page.

Mystery, romance, suspense, humor…the question is what is Brennessel’s writing not classified as? The author shares, “It all stems from the characters.” In this simple explanation, all the answers can be found. With such a mosaic of characters, Barry gives a humorous example of how all of these genres can evolve from one scene. He says:

    “For example, in just a ten-minute trip to the post office someone could have an accident after spotting an old flame on the sidewalk, consequently be sued by the crash victim, all as the arriving officer mistakes the driver for someone on the FBI Most Wanted list.”

Sounds like a scene that would gain the attention of quite a few readers. However, Barry catches the attention of readers not only through his ingenious scenarios, but also by pushing the cliché boundaries of relationships, especially those of the romantic variety.

Barry’s fiction work highlights relatable situations and approachable characters. Instead of sticking to the safety zone of heterosexual relationships, Brennessel explores the troubles that same-sex couples face as well. Apprehensive at first to submit a gay-themed story, he was soon rewarded. The piece Barry submitted during his MFA at Johns Hopkins was one of his most well received, and it actually ended up being a Pushcart Prize nominee, a prestigious literary prize awarded to small press published works. In terms of the advantages and detriments he thinks that homosexual characters add, he hopes that they merely make people realize we are all in the same boat. People in relationships all face difficulties, plain and simple. When it comes down to it, although he comments that gay couples “may face some added pressure”, Barry also points out that, “At at the end of the day, two people come home from work, sort through the mail, unload the dishwasher, and debate about whether to have red or white wine with salmon.”

These authentic characters can be found in Barry’s debut novel, Tinseltown, published by MLR Press after it gained acclaim as the 3rd prize winner in the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association Literary Contest. They are also the inspiration for his collection of linked stories, a genre of fiction writing where the lives of secondary characters from one “main” story are expanded upon in further stories. He realized after writing a short story called “Shin-Kiba Park” that one of the characters, Yuji, had his own story outside of the main plotline.

When he is not producing his own imaginative writing, Barry also serves as the assistant editor for Narrative Magazine. This experience has not only sharpened up his editorial skills when reviewing the works of others, but also his own. The transition from editor to creator is not always easy, and Brennessel explains that, “It gets a little harder to turn that editor off after you’ve played the role for so long.” It can be helpful to a point to be so keen on whether or not your own work is engaging but can sometimes stiffen the creative muscles.

Finally, this humble author stresses a few key pieces of advice for all writers out there.

The first is “Read, Read, Read!” His mantra urges everyone to pick up a book before you pick up a pen; you can learn a lot from other author. The other suggestion for those looking to get published is: “Don’t ignore the small presses. Ever!” After a process that was like “climbing three mountains, slipping down a waterfall, crawling back up to the ledge, only to have a tree branch knock you back into the water”, Barry certainly expresses his gratitude toward these small presses. He might also tell you to never ignore those voices in your head; they just may turn into your next great character.

Check out his website at

Brief Bio

Barry earned a Bachelor of Science in English and Bachelor of Arts in French from the State University of New York College at Brockport, and a Master of Arts in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University.

His first novel, Tinseltown, is now available from MLR Press. His novel The Sulphur Cure is forthcoming from L&L Dreamspell in 2012.

Reunion, a collection of linked stories, is forthcoming in 2011 from Lethe Press. His novella The Price of Silence is now available from L&L Dreamspell. His work has appeared in SNReview, Perspectives, Time Pilot, Liquid Ohio, Nocturnal Lyric, Midnight Times, Gival Press’s ArLiJo, Polari Journal, and the Dreamspell Nightmares (I & II) and Dreamspell Revenge (I & II) anthologies from L & L Dreamspell.

His stories, novels and teleplays have won awards, including a 2008 Pushcart Prize nomination; 3rd Place in the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) literary contest and finalist status in the 2006, 2008 and 2009 PNWA contests; 3rd Place in the 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and finalist status in both the Winter 2010 WILDSound screenplay competition and the 27th WriteMovies International screenplay competition. When not embroiled in his own writing, Barry serves as an assistant editor for Narrative Magazine.


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