The main point of this ongoing series of indie writer profiles is to provide inspiration to other aspiring authors. Some of the subjects will naturally be more relatable to you than others, depending on who “you” happens to be.
Personally speaking, I can relate to Kentucky native Greg Barth as a writer on several levels, mainly his grindhouse-noir-cinematic style and his attitude toward the process itself, meaning he writes when he feels inspired, not as a matter of routine.
Of course, this applies primarily to fiction. If you’re commissioned to write a project for money, you don’t have the luxury of writing whenever you feel like it. But if you love creating fictional characters and alternate universes, you won’t have to wait long for lightning to strike, because other than earning money, love of craft is the greatest motivator for folks in our field.
Greg Barth is a perfect example of a writer that has both self-published and been traditionally published, without taking sides. The nature of the project dictates its ultimate avenue of distribution, rather than vice versa.
In addition to being a busy novelist, Greg is also the host of Noir on the Radio, an affiliate of the Authors on the Air Global Network.
Let’s talk to Greg now:
You started out self-publishing, then your first three “Selena” books - savage and savvy revenge sagas with a charismatic female protagonist - were reprinted by All Due Respect. How would you describe the differences in the two experiences, both pro and con?
The biggest difference is being able to work with a great team. Writing is one of the loneliest and most personal things you can do, and you start out having little perspective on your work. You are too close to it to know where it is good and where it is lacking. When you self-publish, you just perpetuate the whole process as a solo act - at least if you do it the way I did. Publishing with All Due Respect brought the ability to work with a couple of exceptional editors, and the stories were much better as a result. I also sold more copies and made more money by publishing with All Due Respect.
Cons of publishing with All Due Respect? I can’t think of a single one. On some future projects, I do expect to self-publish again, but I now know how to procure a professional editor and commission great artwork for covers.
Are you content being labeled a “crime writer”?
Everything I’ve published up to this point has been crime fiction, so I am okay with it for now. I finished writing Everglade, the final novel in the Selena series in October of 2015. I’ve written a bit of crime fiction since then, but – for the most part – it’s felt less than the Selena stuff. I’ve not published any of it, and most likely won’t. I don’t want to put out anything that’s not my very best work. That being said, I am currently well into the writing of a new novel that has energized me in a way that I’ve not felt since the last Selena project. This current work in process isn’t a typical crime novel. This one takes place during the Border War between Kansas and Missouri in the years leading up to the American Civil War. The book is titled The Bloodletting, and is one that might expand my label a bit. This one contains some of the very best characters I’ve been able to assemble yet. I expect it to be a trilogy of independent but connected novels.
How much does reader/reviewer feedback to previous releases help shape the direction of your present and future work?
Not much. I highly value the reviews and the feedback contained in them. I read each and every one that I am aware of, and I consider what they are saying about my work, especially those that are critical in nature. In fact, I suspect some readers may not be happy with some of the things that happen to Selena in Everglade. But I’m not one of those writers who can sit down and write something because it’s what someone wants. I’m not that kind of professional.
Some writers write each and every day regardless of whether their muse shows up or they feel inspired. It’s a job and they are professionals at it. And they turn out some amazing and prolific levels of work. I respect the writers who can do that – create something that will appeal to a particular audience and be a popular success. My problem is this: I can’t sit down and write something that doesn’t inspire me. I don’t feel the need to meet a word count goal every day. Writing isn’t a job for me. Writing is a means for my own entertainment.
If I don’t have an idea that entertains me to the point I feel the passion to sit down and write it in a big manic blur over a few days, then I just don’t write. I go through long periods of time turning ideas over in my head, trying out scenes to see if they are inspiring, and I don’t write anything until I’ve found it. If it’s not exciting enough to keep me up at night writing it, then it’s not ready. And that process has worked for me. I’ve turned out several novels over the past couple of years in only a few short weeks of actual writing.
Who/what are your influences, literary and otherwise?
As far as writing is concerned, the major influences are Richard Stark, Ed McBain, and Ernest Hemingway. I like their straightforward, lean, stark style and how they say so much by saying only as much as is necessary. Richard Stark introduced me to the amoral character with Parker. I can’t think of anything that has affected my writing as much as that.
I’ve learned much about my writing by working with editors Rob Pierce and Chris Rhatigan. My writing today is much like how they edit. I know this, because I see fewer and fewer words clipped in each manuscript I turn in to All Due Respect when their edits come back. Their impact on me is immeasurable.
Joan Jett is an influence. I’m in the middle of writing an essay on how Joan Jett influenced the Selena series. In that essay, I say something along the lines of, “I write like a girl. And not a nice one.” I first heard Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in the summer of 1982 when I was 11 or 12 years old. The first thing I heard her say was, “The police were waitin’ when the sun came up. You better move your ass or we’ll really get rough.”
It was the first night in my life I stayed up the entire night. My brother had the I Love Rock n’ Roll album. A friend of mine was with me for a sleepover, and we played that record all night long, flipping from side to side until the sun rose the next morning. There was something about the defiance in that growling voice of hers. I became a rebel that night. I channeled a lot of that attitude into Selena.
Other influences would include Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese, the actress Meiko Kaji, Death Wish the movie, Bianca Halstead and Betty Blowtorch, Mia Zapata and The Gits, Elmore Leonard, and on, and on.
What’s next for you?
Everglade, the fifth and final volume in the Selena series, will be released by All Due Respect on July first. I’m pretty excited about that. It takes place 18 months after the close of Road Carnage, and we find Selena in a bad place. Most of her pain is self-induced, but it’s about time things come to a head. Her self-destructive lifestyle and criminal enterprise have put strains on both her relationships and her health. Her best friend talks to ghosts. Her vices no longer offer comfort. She's under the thumb of a brutal cartel. And getting out of the mess may not be possible.
Selena’s operation is too lucrative to let go, and this is a business where the only way out is retirement with flowers and a hearse. When tough posturing turns into a pissing match, Selena escalates things to a war of attrition. With no escape in sight, and innocent lives caught up in the mix, Selena has to destroy her most formidable enemy yet – herself.
And then there’s The Bloodletting, which I suppose is a Western of sorts. In this one we experience the plight of teenagers Lew Younger, Ghose, and Abetzi as they travel the wasteland of Missouri and Kansas seeking justice during the raids of the Kansas Red Legs. It's about young people becoming adults fast in a tough world. It's about young people learning to survive and kill. I’m pretty excited about this one and expect it to be ready for release late summer 2017. After that, I’ll get to work on the second of the trilogy, which is tentatively titled The Pistolman.
All the best Greg, keep rockin’!
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PHOTO: GREG BARTH