Eric Barr interview with Meg TuiteSuch an outstanding story from beginning to end, Eric! So loved the relationship between Barry, the narrator and Mike. What was your inspiration for this story? Do you have a Mike-like character in your life?
Like every writer, I am surrounded by people, real and imaginary, who, with slight tweaks, become the misfits for my stories and scripts. This story was inspired by a trip to the hospital, but since life is stranger than fiction I did have to work to make it more believable.
I love the competitiveness Barry feels toward Mike, even though he believes Barry’s a loser (of sorts). And the underwear scene is hilarious! How did this story develop? Are you one of those writers who lets it sit and saturate for a while or keeps on writing?
I had good source material for the story but I kept banging away at it to make sure that all of the characters’ actions seemed honest in the given circumstances. I tend to write many, many drafts and just when I’m sure I’m done, I find a number of things that I have go back and fix and rework. And this isn’t plot tweaking; it is about finding the right image, word, or phrase that captures the behavior that I see in my mind.
I know you work in film, as well. Do you have a specific schedule for what you work on?
No. I just try to keep writing, whether it is a screenplay, a story, or my acting podcasts. I’m always writing several things at once and the challenge for me is to keep writing and completing things. Because I teach and Chair the UC Riverside Theatre Department, most of my time is taken up with classes and university business. I direct at least one show a year and also write and produce a weekly podcast on acting (www.actingis.com). So with all of these things going on, it is just about getting to the desk early in the morning and banging away at my scripts or stories.
This is a very visual scene. Were you thinking of it as part of a film when you wrote it?
While we do have this new movie about to be released, my background is really as an acting teacher and a theatre director. So I’m very interested in human behavior and I work with actors all the time trying to get them to ‘live honestly in imaginary circumstances and situations.’ As a writer, I try to have my characters do the same thing…to be honest within the world of the story regardless of how large or twisted that world might be. As the great actor Jack Lemmon said, “Actors have to make interesting choices but they also have to make entertaining choices.” I agree with that approach and without pandering to the audience or readers, I want characters to do interesting, entertaining things that keep people engaged. So to finally answer your question, I wasn’t thinking of this as part of a film, but I do see all my work in very visual terms and always see it in my mind like a movie.
What are you reading at this time?
One thing I went back to this summer was F.X. Toole’s Rope Burns: Stories from the Corner. He wrote the short story that became the movie Million Dollar Baby. FX was a cut-man for boxers and I think his writing about boxing is just great because it is so visual, so tactile. Right now I’m reading The Fang Family by Kevin Wilson and I’m enjoying the characters, their strange world, and the humor. While I love dramatic writing, lately I tend to be aware of the absurdity of many situations I find myself in and need to laugh. More and more I need to laugh.
Any great films you’d like to share with us?
I have to mention A Thousand Cuts that I co-wrote with Charles Evered and Marty James. Charles directed it and it stars Michael O’Keefe. It is just about to be released and we’re hoping for distribution. Other than that, this summer I’ve been focusing on catching up on some television shows because I’m fascinated by the writers’ abilities to create these long character arcs and intricate stories that can go on for seasons. I’m a huge fan of Breaking Bad, The Wire, and Mad Men. The writers and actors do amazing jobs at developing and keeping the characters fresh over long periods while managing to make the stories interesting and surprising. That’s a wonder to me.
Who were your greatest influences in writing?
I guess I’d have to say John Updike. I always go back to his books and stories. His writing is so clear and specific. The images are simple yet so honest and telling. I never feel like he is showing me he is a great writer, he just manages to make every character, every emotion, and every event feel like it comes from someplace familiar and important to me even though his world is so different from mine. In addition to Updike, I’d have say that the greatest influences on my writing are actually playwrights, actors, and audiences. These people have helped me to understand that reality comes in many sizes and that the depictions of human behavior have to be honest and interesting. And for me, whether I’m reading or watching, regardless of the size of the world the writer has created, I want to be engaged in the actions and behavior of honest, interesting people. That’s what I want to read about and that’s what I want to see.