Lovecrafty Goodness

So, like all good fantasists, I owe a massive literary debt to Lovecraft (and Marquez, Borges, the brothers Grimm, Andrew Lang, and storytelling grandmas since the beginning of time – but I digress). While the modern reader will find his work terribly dated – and will find the author himself terribly flawed – his skillful co-mingling of the sublime and the sinister, the beautiful and the damned, as well as his storyteller’s insistence of the undercurrent of power that pulses mercilessly against the skin of the known world, inspires me and others every damn day.

And not just writers.

One of the great things about this ever so modern world in which we know inhabit is the explosion of creativity outside of corporatized entertainment machines. Storytelling and music and art-making and scads of other creative endeavors have been democratized, and the content middlemen that have, during the last century, separated the producers of art from the consumers of art – the people who have declared “what the people want” and have manipulated both producer and audience into making and consuming exactly what the people do not want, thank you very much – are slowly and inexorably going away. And for most of them, good riddance. I would much rather buy music directly from the musicians I like than wade through the crud in the CD store. Similarly, the artistic success of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog proved once and for all that you don’t need television companies to make something good enough to induce tears of happiness in hapless viewers. (indeed, all too often, the studios are an anathema to good storytelling)

So, Youtube. Love it. I could write sonnets to youtube. It has – along with other video sites – gestated and nurtured this growing creative movement, and I will appreciate it forever.

But. Back to Lovecraft.

On Youtube, there are somewhere around eight b’stillion Lovecraft-inspired videos that delight and continue to delight.

Here’s one. Enjoy!

Neil Gaiman

It’s true. I love Neil Gaiman. I listen to the guy talk and I start batting my fangirl eyes. I love the stories, I love how he thinks about stories, and how he makes me deepen my thinking about stories. He’s brought a joyfulness and an intensity of thought to the genre and I will appreciate him forever for that.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Gaiman! Your care and passion for the role of storytelling in human life will be appreciated forever.

And for those of you who haven’t heard him speak lately, here’s a clip: Neil on Midday

Dorkus Interuptus

Here’s my post that I put up on The YA-5, the group blog of fabulous writers that allows me to play in their sandbox. Feel free to comment here or there:

So, I’m just going to come right out and say it: I, Kelly Barnhill, am a total dork. I was a total dork in Middle School; I was a total dork in High School; and now, at venerable age of thirty-six, I am a performance artist of dorkdom: I ooze dorkiness, radiate dorkosity. In Platonic terms, when humanity sees the shadows on the wall – the flickering hints of the Essential Forms that exist outside of our universe, then I, ladies and gentlemen, am the Platonic Ideal: I am the Essential Dork.

Now, the question is this: Did my history and identity as a socially awkward, self-conscious and terribly shy outsider kid shape my current identity as a fiction writer? Or, to put it more plainly, can dorkiness be of use in terms of life paths, career choices and possible success in either? Or, in more specific terms to you, dear readers: If Kelly was able to put her Inner Dork to good use, could I, possibly, do the same?

The answer is yes.

But before I explain why, let me back up a bit. I want to explain for a minute why and how I came to write fiction, because I certainly didn’t start out in that arena.

I started out as a poet. And I loved being a poet – and not so much the writing of poetry, you understand (though I loved that part too), but I loved calling myself a poet. I loved being a poet. I loved my torn black jeans and my combat boots and the nicotine stains circling my fingers like rings. I loved writing love poems for the boys that I loved, the transmutation of passion and longing into rhythmic sounds resting on the tongue and rattling the teeth.

I loved being a poet because being a poet gave me permission to be an outsider. It gave me permission to be strange. Poetry does not require a specific social sphere: Poetry is its own social sphere.

I had spent my entire school career slightly out of step with my peers, always three moves away from acceptance. I had friends who appreciated me, sure, but only after I first unnerved, then exasperated them. After a while, they shook their heads and just got used to me. I was…..odd, you see. But, I was the person they could count on, the person who would listen, the person who wouldn’t judge them. Hell, it was conventionally impossible for me to judge anyone. Everyone knows dorks don’t judge.

Poetry justified my oddness.

Poet, I decided, was just a fancy word for dork. It was a paradigm shift and I ran with it.

The trouble was that poetry, with it’s images so sharp you cut your fingers on them, and an economy of language so spare you feel like the world is holding its breath, wasn’t providing me with the voice I needed. I needed expansion, nuance, multiple voices and perspectives. I had spent a young lifetime out of step, outside and out of synch: I was close enough to see in, but just outside enough for some perspective and distance. I had been, you see, collecting stories on the sly. Catching bits of personalities and histories and filing them a way the way an entymologist catches and catalogs dead butterflies. And while the label of “poet” gave me all kinds of leeway in my own personal oddities, I was ready for something more. I was ready for narrative.

I started writing stories. They sucked at first. Actually, they sucked for a while. Slowly, though, they got better.

And really, I don’t think that the stories that I write would have been possible without my dorky past nor my dorky present. I was a lonely kid; a bullied kid; a strange kid; and sometimes an unlikable kid. My loneliness made me observant: I spent years watching the kids whose social circles were simply weren’t expansive enough to include someone like me. My status as a bullied child made me compassionate: I learned how to watch for infinitesimal alterations in behavior and mood, to see who was hurting and who was looking to hurt.

I learned how to put myself into the self of another. I did this partially out of self-preservation, and partially out of a need for community – if there were other bullied kids anywhere, I knew how to find them, care for them, seek solace in numbers. And yes, I was strange, and sometimes unlikable. And both of those play out in my fiction now. I delight in the Strange because I am strange. I delight in unlikeable characters because I was once unlikable?

Is all fiction ever writing simply the efforts of the Dorks of the World to find ways of justifying themselves, of finding a place where they belong? Is Literature simply a Dork Cabal?


Perhaps all writers are, were, will always be dorks. Perhaps we do what we do to finally achieve some kind of acceptance or approval or love. Or, maybe, in order to make art, in order to really see the world around us, we have to be out of step. Maybe we chose to be dorks. Maybe I chose. And, just maybe, by choosing loneliness, by choosing to be odd, strange and choosing to not belong, it allows us to create the things that make us all belong to one another: a story, a poem, a painting, a song.

Sometimes I think there is no inside or outside when it comes to art. It unifies. It claims us. Art makes us belong to each other.


(Oh my god, someone whispers. Did she just say that? What. A. Dork.)



I now have a press page. It took me friggin’ hours.

I still can’t fix the box on the side to show that my book, (*sob*) will not come out in the fall of 2010, but the spring of 2011. Which means that this blog is lying all the time.

Or, maybe it’s just spreading a fiction, which of course is a bit of it’s job. Or my job. Is my blog me? Am I my blog? Have I been working on this for too long?

Hell. Yes.


Dear Intertoobs,

Today, I’ve discovered that I’m a technical moron.

Or a moron technically.

Sigh. Still don’t know how to work this blog. Hopefully, will solve problems by the end of the day. If weird things start appearing on this page – pentagon blueprints or ancient texts or tiger penises or water quality reports – just ignore them.




Oh, Nashville! How do I love thee! I love your nonsensical streets. I love your generously portioned food. I love your catfish and your chess pie and your fat-backed greens, so tender and smooth, they slide down the throat without bite.  I love your gracious mansions abutting your nongracious Walmarts. I love your old brick buildings, your wandering river, your warren-like trailer parks, and your music flowing from open doors onto crowded streets. I love your dogwoods and flowering plums and tulip magnolias as they uncurl – both delicate and lurid and demure and wanton – for a tiny collection of perfect days before vanishing forever. I love your floral-wearing, deep-fleshed women and your mustachioed men wearing pressed button-downs stretched neatly over high, wide bellies and tucked into starched Wranglers with large, sliver buckles. I love the men who call me “darlin'” and the women who call me “baby” and the children who call me “ma’am”.

You walk through Nashville, and you pass by the ghosts of Johnny Cash and June Carter, of Waylon Jennings, Patsy Cline, Minnie Pearl, and Bill Monroe.

We go to Nashville a couple times a year to visit with my husband’s war-bride grandma (been in this country for sixty years and still speaks with an English accent) and his aunt and uncle and cousins.  At this Easter visit, I sat in a garage and listened to a gaggle of old white men with stubbled chins and hacking coughs as they balanced their instruments on their knees and played bluegrass for hours and hours. In between songs they traded insults and self-deprecations like baseball cards (“His wife is what we call a go-getter. She works and he go-gets-her.”), but once the music started they transformed into angels.

Music is funny that way – even cities that have had their share of bad decisions and small thinking (and believe me, Nashville’s no stranger to the Bad Idea), music transforms them. When we sing, we stop yelling. We move in a rhythm that is not our own. We listen. We open up. We let the music take us away.

Coversations With Leo

Leo has a massive crush on a little girl from his preschool class. He sings songs about Erin, draws pictures of Erin, tells jokes about Erin and even insists that his nightly bedtime story (read, by his insistence, from my imagination) features Erin in some supporting role. Anyway, he’s scheduled to have some after school playtime with Erin on Thursday, but apparently, an hour of post-school play isn’t gonna cut it.

LEO: “I don’t want regular play. I want house play. I want Erin to come over to my house forever.”

ME: “How about just on Saturday.”

LEO: “Fine. Saturday. ALL Saturday.”

ME: “We’ll I’ll call her dad and find out if she’s free.”



LEO: Of course she’s free. She doesn’t cost anything. You can’t buy a friend. There’s no friend store.



LEO: Is there?