Thanks for having me as your guest!
So a funny thing happened on the way to Tinseltown. I had just published a mystery novella (The Price of Silence), and finished up a historical mystery (The Sulphur Cure), and my exhausted brain said, “Now what are you going to do?” I felt bereft of ideas. I think they call that writer’s block or something. I put down my pen and figuratively stared out the window for three weeks.
I remember many years ago one of my writing professors told us never to throw any notes away. I took that to heart, and have a cabinet filled with notebooks. On a whim, one day I pulled one out, and opened it up to the first page, where I’d written a single paragraph about a college student and his gang of six friends. It might have read like a personal journal entry except that the narrator was named
Micah kept speaking to me. I jotted down some of his ideas, viewpoints, dreams and anxieties. The story grew. But, I didn’t feel like writing something in a traditional form. I felt experimental. I thought, what if I just climbed into Micah’s head, and wrote what was happening in there?
And, there it was. Life inside the brain of a quirky and adorable film student named Micah Malone.
This was new territory for me in another way as well. Micah is gay, and very out, and I wasn’t sure at first how much of Micah’s love life I wanted to put down on the page. Yet, that really became the main focus of the story: Micah’s path to romantic happiness. I’d just written my first M/M romance! This was quite a turnaround from the other two works (blackmail and intrigue and murder).
So here I had this gay romance novel, written in a somewhat non-traditional form. The question was: What do I do with this? I was hesitant at first, but ultimately decided to enter it into the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association Literary Contest (where I’d made the finals with both The Price of Silence and The Sulphur Cure). I figured there was no way they’d take to Tinseltown. But wouldn’t you know—it ended up winning 3rd Place! Ummm, wow!
Emboldened, I sent the manuscript out, and a couple months later, I received the acceptance letter from MLR Press. I’m still bruised from falling out of my chair.
Since then, I’ve pulled out many of those old notebooks. My short story collection Reunion grew out of the pages of one of those dusty old things.
Two words: treasure trove!
Tinseltown, by Barry Brennessel
Film student Micah Malone learns the hard way that when life sucks, you can’t just yell, “Cut! Let’s do another take!”
His grades are a box-office bomb. His friends create more drama than a soap opera. And his love life needs a laughtrack. While there’s no script to dictate what happens next, can Micah find the direction he needs? Life, after all, is no film school project. But it is great source material. The only source material.
Let the cameras roll. Micah’s quirky story has begun filming.
“Do you believe in love at first sight?” I asked my counselor, Mrs. Castor.
We had a Friday session to make up for three weeks ago when she was out sick. I wondered what she thought about seeing the likes of me twice in one week.
She contemplated my question for a minute and rubbed the back of her hand with her chin a couple times. “I don’t disbelieve in it. But it’s dependent on how one defines love.”
“What is love?”
“Volumes and volumes have been written, sung, acted out on the very topic.”
“No clear answer then, huh?”
“So, here’s the scene. We were at the butterfly garden and Lanh was thrilled. Way more intense than, like, a kid in front of a Christmas tree, you know, that sort of glee. You picture Dorothy seeing Munchkinland for the first time or when Willie Wonka opens up the chocolate factory and the kids are in total awe. It was that kind of look. And it really melted my heart. He was so sweet and innocent and happy. That moment, I think…I don’t know. It’s too early for love maybe, but it was some real cosmic shift.”
Mrs. Castor nodded. I felt like she was going to say something about rushing into things, but she didn’t. Maybe she didn’t want to squash my pathetic romantic ideals, or maybe by some miracle she actually believed I had a point.
She sat there quietly for another few seconds and then folded her hands in her lap, put her shoulders back, and lifted her head. I imagined this is what the Queen of England must do before she’s about to say something like, “Philip, please remove your feet from the rrrrrround table.”
“So, next week is our last session together.”
I felt like the wind just got kicked out of me. She saw my expression. She must have known.
“You wanna know how that makes me feeeel, Mrs. Castor,” I shouted in my head. “This sucks is how it feels!”
“You remember University policy is six sessions.”
So cold. So stoic. I’d like to believe deep inside she wasn’t slapping her knee and laughing, but shedding tears.
Ah, I joke, but this hit me hard. Tears started welling up. I can’t believe I started to cry, but…it was like my tour guide was jumping ship and leaving me adrift.
“I’m going to give you a list of counselors in private practice. I think you will benefit from further counseling. Now keep in mind this won’t fall under the University pricing plan, so you’ll have to check with your health insurance provider about what they specifically cover in this instance.”
She was sounding all robotic again. Were my tears invisible to her?
“We’ll wrap things up next week, okay?”
A little more maternal line delivery this time, but she may as well have told me the world was going to explode in six seconds, and yeah, whatever. Deal with it, crybaby.
I always believed that for every good thing that happens in life, two tragedies rush in to kick your ass to keep you from getting all saccharine and deluded.
It was as if just before you turned left into paradise, Ethel Merman popped up in your backseat and shouted, “Turn right, you idiot!”
Okay, now my mind was really going haywire.
Yeah, yeah. Whatever, counselor. “See you next week.”
Exit stage left.
When Barry’s first collection of stories was read aloud by his second grade teacher, the author hid in the bathroom. As the years flew by, he wrote more, hid less (not really), and branched out to Super 8 films and cassette tape recorders. Barry’s audience—consisting solely of friends and family—were both amused and bemused.
Since those childhood days, Barry has earned degrees in English and French from the State University of New York College at Brockport, and a Master of Arts in Writing from the Johns Hopkins University.
Tinseltown is Barry’s first novel.
His second novel The Sulphur Cure is forthcoming from L&L Dreamspell. Reunion, a collection of linked stories, is forthcoming from Lethe Press. His novella The Price of Silence recently debuted.
His work has appeared in SNReview, Perspectives, Time Pilot, Liquid Ohio, Nocturnal Lyric, Midnight Times, Gival Press’s ArLiJo, Polari Journal, and the Dreamspell Nightmares (I & II) and Dreamspell Revenge (I & II) anthologies from L&L Dreamspell. His stories, novels and teleplays have won awards, including a 2008 Pushcart Prize nomination; 3rd Place in the 2010 Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA) literary contest and finalist status in the 2006, 2008 and 2009 PNWA contests; 3rd Place in the 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and finalist status in theWinter 2010 WILDSound Screenplay competition and in the 2011 Dana Awards competition.
When not embroiled in his own writing, Barry sips wine, nibbles on chocolate, and watches films and TV—both the classic and the cheesy. (Mmm…cheese!)