10 Questions for Adrienne Marie Barrios
- By Edward Clifford
She says, I care little about what's said in the short term. She cracks her shoulder blades. She wonders if she waters them, would they grow wings? She says, I care about what happens tomorrow or the next day or the end of next month when the doctor pronounces my heart obsolete.
—from "That's Still Short Term, I Care About Long Term." co-written with Leigh Chadwick, Volume 63, Issue 4 (Winter 2022)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
It’s hard for me to identify what “first” means. I’ve had so many stops and starts in the writing world. I wrote many things in my childhood and teen years, including a poem published in an anthology I have somewhere in a box. I managed and wrote for a section of the student newspaper in college, reviewing things like what I consider to be Death Cab for Cutie’s peak performance. After college, before breaking into the literary realm, I wrote for and managed a number of national blogs, focusing on content from finance to music, recipes to glamour.
One of the first literary pieces I published is something of a speculative autofiction piece, in the sense that it takes many things from my present life (at the time) and imagines the outcomes, should things go a certain way. The piece deals with many prominent and serious issues in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, including transphobia, racism, assumed racism, and suicide. I meant for the piece to force the question: would I be able to live with such an outcome? How can I prevent it?
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
In many ways, I feel that what I write is wholly intrinsically generated. That isn’t to say I haven’t studied the greats—I studied twentieth-century literature in high school through a community college program called Running Start, and my undergrad degree is in English Creative Writing, which means I read classic writers and modern, contemporary writers alike. But not a lot of that stuck with me. Because I’m autistic and have ADHD, among other psychological and physical ailments, I often struggle to read, and this was much worse before I received treatment and proper care. I often found myself reading and rereading the same sentences so many times over that I became frustrated and gave up altogether. All that to say that much of my writing isn’t drawing influence from any particular influences, with some notable exceptions.
Haruki Murakami has long been my favorite author. His masterful command of the short story form is something I come back to quite often—particularly his collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and his recent (and incredibly poignant) collection Men Without Women. There’s a calm, matter-of-factness in his writing, even when the scene itself is fraught with terror and even violence. I absolutely aim to achieve the same ambience in my writing. It’s a quietness that can lead an editor or reader to miss the significance of a scene occasionally, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.
Other contemporary writers whose work I greatly admire and from whom I believe I can continue to learn include my dear friend and writing partner Leigh Chadwick, whose writing style is similarly wholly unique unto herself; Eric LaRocca, whose approach to writing horror is utterly captivating and reimagined in a truly modern setting, taking into account scene elements and relational proximity that many books, shows, and movies often neglect to address; GennaRose Nethercott, whose writing breaks the bounds of conscious and unconscious expectations and creates an unexpected and immersive experience; and Shome Dasgupta, whose writing is always otherworldly and transcendent and forces the reader to imagine existence in a completely new way, often through considerable economy of words.
What other professions have you worked in?
Beyond writing, I’d say I have two other professions: editing and my work in the tech industry.
Editing is separate from writing. On this, I must be emphatic. So many people call themselves editors, but they have no business doing so—no credentials, no study, no careful observation of the rules and when to bend or break them, when to uphold them. I have dedicated over a decade to the careful study of editing, including obtaining a Certificate in Editing from the University of Washington. It is my dream that Boston University will reopen the Editorial Institute and offer the PhD in Editing program once again. In the meantime, I attempt to satiate my hunger with self-study of various books and further understanding of the Chicago Manual of Style. I regularly edit poetry collections and novels published with indie presses. (And, on that note, I must be emphatic about something else: I never edit my own work! Editors cannot see their own mistakes, and we must have expert editors review us, too.)
My career in the tech industry also began with editing—of the technical variety. Editing technical documentation progressed into content creation, and I’ve maintained a steady career in instructional design. I currently manage a content production team building enablement for a technical field.
What did you want to be when you were young?
I really can’t remember, but as I got older, I don’t remember my path being a question at all. I knew I would study English in college, and I knew I would walk down a path that included editing and content of some kind. I never wavered from that.
What inspired you to write this piece?
Well, goodness. The title “21 Grams” is a reference to the movie and the idea that when a person dies, an unexplained 21 grams leaves their body. Many believe this to be the weight of the soul. The poem itself is about suicidal ideation and desperation with regard to the state of the world.
“That’s Still Short Term. I Care About Long Term.” came after I found out about a heart condition I have, which is and isn’t serious—it isn’t until it is, so to speak. It’s also about what people can easily say in an instant and how different that can be in the long term. It’s about how hard it is to make it through each day.
I suppose both are about existential angst and desperation and an uncertainty about how to go on and what will continue after we’re gone.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Sometimes, but not for these pieces. I generally craft short playlists to which I listen on repeat if I need a particular mood, but that’s mostly for longer pieces. Shorter pieces, like these, are written in all kinds of settings when the ideas strike, and music simply isn’t involved.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
Leigh Chadwick. Without a doubt and unsurprisingly.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Music. I have always simultaneously been a musician and a writer, until about six years ago. As my chronic illnesses and disabilities have gotten worse, I’ve realized that I’m simply not reliable enough to be a good bandmate. Thus, I gave up pursuing any lasting role in any sort of musical endeavor. But I do miss it.
What are you working on currently?
What I’m working on now is somewhere between genres. It may end up becoming a novelette, it may be a small collection of essays. That really depends on how the next few pieces in the set come together.
What are you reading right now?
The Magicians Trilogy by Lev Grossman. I highly recommend it. It’s not like any other fantasy work I’ve read. After that, probably Tentacles Numbing by Shome Dasgupta.
ADRIENNE MARIE BARRIOS is editor-in-chief of Reservoir Road Literary Review and CLOVES Literary. She is co-author of the poetry collection Too Much Tongue (Autofocus), written collaboratively with Leigh Chadwick, and her debut solo collection We Don’t Know That This Is Temporary (Redacted Books). Her work has appeared in trampset, Passages North, Rejection Letters, Stanchion Zine, and HAD, among other journals. She edits award-winning novels and short stories. Find her on Twitter at @AdrienneMarie_ and online at adriennemariebarrios.com.