Fiction editor Ann Fisher interviews Bari Lynn Hein about perspective and the writing process for “Curtain Call,” her story of resilience and healing in challenging times.
Tell us about how “Curtain Call” came to being.
“Curtain Call” had been in my head for some time. When the pandemic hit, I decided it was time to bring this family onstage and tell their story of resilience in the aftermath of a trauma. They—and their neighbors, friends and costars—are trying to navigate a new normal, testing the waters to see how safe it is to resume activities, giving themselves permission to enjoy experiences again. We are all going through that right now.
Was the way this story evolved typical for your writing process?
This was definitely not typical of my normal process. I think “Curtain Call” was waiting for the right time to be written.
I’m curious about the theatrical perspective of this piece. We all felt that you captured a music of NYC, and a pulse of the theater, for this piece. Tell us about your music background, or how you came upon a musical as the thread of this story.
I have absolutely no musical talent nor theater experience other than as an audience member, and as a mom who made costumes for elementary school plays. But I love putting myself into the heads of people with abilities that I don’t have.
With so much disaster all around, many writers are finding it hard to encapsulate the “now” in their stories without giving the details a heavy hand. In “Curtain Call”, you kept a light touch with only a few references to the disaster. Yet, 911 forms the backdrop for this piece. How did you make the decision about how much backstory to include in this piece?
I wanted to keep references to 9/11 at a minimum because I saw this more as a story that explores what we’re all going through right now.
In lines like, “She could anticipate her crossover into a state that would be at once blinding and deafening and dazzling, the heightened awareness that would follow, when every painted set would become an actual village or city or hillside, when she’d hear every stroke of horsehair against string, every click of heel against floorboard or crackle of candy wrapper or breath drawn in…”, you’ve captured the essence of an actor on the stage. How did this come to be on the page?
Thank you for saying that! I’m always trying to fully immerse myself in characters who are different than me, who have skills and backgrounds that I don’t have, but at the same time shared experiences—in this case, being a wife and mother.
When you look for a home for your pieces, how do you decide where to submit?
I usually start with a journal that’s been included in a list of distinction. If I like the format and the way it showcases its contributors, I read the short stories to see if my work would be a good fit.
What drew you to submit “Curtain Call” to Mud Season Review?
Mud Season Review ticked all the boxes I just mentioned and then some (this interview falling into the “and then some” category).
You write novels, short stories, and flash fiction, and a newer piece of creative nonfiction. What genre do you like the best? Did you set out to write “Curtain Call” as a short story from the beginning?
Simone and Finn are actually based on characters in my novel 13 Stories, but in order to tell the story in “Curtain Call” I changed their names and gave them 2 children. I like both short and long form for different reasons. I’m able to reach readers for my short stories right away, and it’s exciting when someone tells me they connected to a story. Writing novels is a more solitary experience and it takes a lot longer to reach an audience, but those stories consume me more. I always cry when I type the last sentence of a novel.
From your website, it appears that you have an international focus, both in your writing and your publications. I’m particularly curious about the references to India. Tell us about your experience with international writing communities and /or publications, or your personal connection to the broader world.
A turning point that inspired me to submit internationally was when daCunha.global (a UK-based publication that has since closed up shop) arranged for BBC actors to perform my story “A Faint, Cautionary Creee”. Just the idea that an audience in another country connected to my work was exciting. I sought out more venues across the globe. Modern Literature—the India-based journal—published “Surrender”, a story with the universal theme of family, and I feel that was a good fit. “Rinascita”—a short story about the Renaissance—was published by The Sigh Press in Florence, the home of the Renaissance, just a couple of months after I returned from a trip there. And lately I’ve been escaping to the Cotswolds—where I spent 3 years of my childhood—to work on Phoebe’s Grave.
What are you currently working on?
In addition to editing Phoebe’s Grave with plans to submit it to my agent by the end of the year, I’m rewriting a cast-aside manuscript because I figured out what to do in order to stop hating it and start loving it.
And, just for fun- what is a question I should have asked you, but didn’t?
Which writers have been most influential on your work? I aspire to make a reader feel something akin to what Anne Tyler, Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon make me feel when I read their novels.