Tag Archives: Nathan Barra

Webbed Toes and Dream-Memories

I almost never remember my dreams. I am certain that I dream most nights, but at best, I retain only a vague synopsis or a phantasm of the feelings inspired. Despite this, I have one reoccurring dream that my mind holds onto despite my efforts to forget the morbid stillness of the tableau.

In the dreamspace, there exists only a room. The floor is covered in white tile that extends into an undefinable vagueness around the edges. At the center of the room is a sunken pool, a large square depressed into the ground about a foot. The tub is mostly filled with gently rippling water which reflects the glow of lighting that feels coldly institutional. The grout between the squares of ceramic are a pale brown-red where water had been splashed during a struggle. The water of the pool is pink with what I am certain is my blood.

I never understood why this image inspired dread upon awakening, until I mentioned the dream one day in passing to my mother. She had been washing dishes at the time, and stopped to listen as I talked. I remember the silence that followed my description, and the deep breath she took as she set the item she had been holding back into the sink. Turning to me, she told me that she had hoped I would not remember that place, but because I had, I needed to know.

You see, when I was almost 3 years old my parents had left me with the sitter they and many of the families in our neighborhood had been using for years. The woman ran a childcare service out of her home, and unknown to all the parents was over the capacity she had been legally licensed to care for. This fact came to light when one day I was loose in the kitchen while she was making Jell-O. With the infamous timing found in nightmares and fiction, I managed to get underfoot just as she lifted the steaming bowl from the counter to bring to the fridge to cool.

The burns on my little feet were horrific.

I was rushed to the hospital, where my parents met me. In a twist of luck also rarely found in the real world, one of Canada’s best plastic surgeons was in the receiving area of the ER as I was dragged in and decided to take my case.

Each day, my toes had to be cut free from each other and the wrappings the doctors had to use to keep them separated. Despite medications and the other treatments they used, necrosis had been unavoidable. To keep the infection under control, my dead skin had to be scraped off with a stiff bristled brush nearly daily. My mother, late in her pregnancy with my younger brother, had to hold me down as I screamed and thrashed so a nurse could do the gristly task in a shallow depressed pool in a white tiled room.

It was both brutal and necessary, but because of those chances and the choices of all involved, my feet eventually healed and grew normal and whole. Even so, my mother says that was the hardest thing she has ever done. She took a leave of absence from work to stay with me in the hospital and only left my side at night when my father took the vigil with me. After catching what sleep she could in the Ronald McDonald House next door, she would return to let my dad shower and go to work. That experience and kindness is why the Ronald McDonald House is one of my favorite charities.

I’ve often read stories where writers use dreams to have characters cope with traumatic events that occured in the buried past, but never believed that it happened in real life. After all, if the person wasn’t old enough to remember, how could the trauma reappear in dreams? How could it be so specific and real? I would have sworn that it wasn’t possible. Apparently, I was wrong.

Investments of Time, Capital and Ego

The hobbyist writer creates for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. They write the story they feel driven to tell and will sometimes share it with a few close friends and family. Most professional writers start at this point. However, if you want to make a living from your writing, you must take the commitment a step further and start a small business. This means dealing with contracts and finance, being involved in all stages of the production process and comporting oneself in a professional manner whenever in public. I know, I just sucked all the romance from being a professional writer. Honestly, I wish that someone had taken off my rose colored glasses and forced me to don the business hat long before I did. You see, only the writer-as-businessman point of view provides the tools and perspective to create a meaningful career.

Creating stories is both a profession and a trade; writers generate and exploit intellectual property. Therefore, starting a writing business must be approached with the same thoughtfulness regarding initial investment and training as one would give to starting any other commercial enterprise. Would you ever consider opening a bakery without first buying ovens and ingredients? No. Could an aspiring doctor be successful without any sort of medical training? Of course not. Why then, do people expect writing to be different? Typically, the first batch of money goes into whatever is going to generate revenue; it is why many small businesses start in someone’s garage or kitchen. In the case of writing, the money maker is the writer’s skills and public image.

First, the writer must have some physical means of recording their thoughts in a way that can be transmitted to others. The specifics vary for each individual, based on their own experience and preferences. Some prefer direct entry into a laptop, while others prefer to write in a notebook, and yet others, like myself, prefer to dictate. I’d recommend experimenting with a few methods and then using what works for you. For many years, I only typed my stories out manually, but eventually bought Dragon Naturally Speaking. The text-to-speech feature helped a great deal with my editing, but dictating in front of my computer resulted in only a slight improvement in my rate of text generation. The problem was that I still spent too much time editing to realize the true benefits of dictation. I later took the advice of a writer I greatly respect and purchased a digital recorder to do my initial drafting. After training Dragon to do the transcription, my initial productivity has jumped significantly. By experimenting with my methodology, I was able to see significant gains.

The second thing the writer must invest in is their skills and craft. Sure, there are countless seminars, craft books, and online tutorials that promise to make you an international best seller, for a price. There are also excellent degree programs and teachers willing to pass on knowledge. They all help, but no amount of studying will allow a writer to entirely bypass years of practice. Investing in one’s craft means being brutally honest with yourself or having people who are willing to dispel your delusions for you. It means being able to think and consume critically about every piece of media you interact with on a daily basis. It means forcing yourself to write new material and edit old manuscripts until they are the best they can be, and then having the courage to let go of a piece and show your work to others. At some point, you will be disillusioned and despairing; internal and external voices will insist that you are wasting your time. That is the moment that you should know that what you are doing is meaningful. A writer’s craft can only be improved by investing and risking their time, pride, and effort. Without struggle and pain, there is no improvement, only stagnation.

The final element a writer must be willing to invest in is their persona. Readers will often become a fan of an author rather than a specific property, allowing the creative professional to maintain an audience from project to project. This realization has caused many contemporary authors to spend as much time on their own personal branding and networking as they do on an individual story. As an example, soon after donning my business hat, I hired someone to do both my graphics and web design for NathanBarra.com. I realized that I had no talent there and so hired out. I have invested time in maintaining my presence on NathanBarra.com, here on the Fictorians and on my Facebook page. All these things take time away from writing my stories, but the investments have paid off through the networks of professionals and support structures I have built. Likewise, I have spent thousands of dollars on conventions, and have even gone so far as purchasing a specific set of clothes that I wear when making professional appearances. By creating a “look,” I have made myself clearly identifiable and memorable in a way that fits with my other branding efforts. It is time and money up front, but I’m gambling that the investments will pay off later.

I have many things demanding my physical, mental, and temporal resources. Whenever I make an investment as the writer, it is with a clear goal in mind. Though I am still in the investment stage, I always am looking forward. I will be a professional writer some day, making my sole living through my art. It took a series of small hints from a number of different sources to guide me onto the path of professionalism. In order to build a successful business, I must invest wisely and with purpose.

Hi! My Name is Nathan, and I’m a Writer!

Several years ago, my company sent me overseas for a few weeks of training. Since I was already enduring the long trans-Atlantic flight, I decided to take some vacation time to make the most of my trip. I booked my flight a week early, and paid out of pocket to delay my connection in Frankfurt. I had been wanting to do a backpacking-via-rail trip for a while, and so I booked a Frankfurt to London round trip in order to take the opportunity to spend 10 days exploring the stretch of the UK between London and Newcastle.

Knowing that one of my friends participated in an study abroad program during college in Newcastle, I asked her what I should do with my few days in the city. She recommended that I take a bus ride up to the gardens at Alnwick. As she told the story, the gardens were created in response to a local student dying from a drug overdose. The city decided to create a poisons section in their local botanical gardens with the intent of educating visitors on the dangers of drugs.

Writing BookshelfMost writers I know are gigantic nerds for trivia and other useless tidbits. I am no exception. Just take a look at the bookshelf I have reserved for my writing references and you’ll see why the idea of a garden devoted to poisons appealed to me. One morning, I made my way to the Newcastle bus terminal, and spent the some time watching the beautiful countryside. Before long, I made to Alnwick. After paying my entrance fee, I spent a couple hours wandering and admiring the gardens.

Eventually, I found the poison gardens, which occupy an open space roughly the size of a small parking lot. Alnwick’s Poisons Garden is sectioned off from the public areas by a heavy, black wrought-iron fence. The only access is a gate that is kept locked at all times and is decorated with skulls and crossbones. Hard to misinterpret the message even if you don’t speak the local language.

As I approached, the tour guide waiting outside the gate informed me that a tour had just begun. When I asked her when the next would be, she smiled and assured me that waiting would not be necessary. She would open the gate and I could simply catch up the tour.

Once inside the gate, the Poisons Garden didn’t appear to be significantly different from the larger public space. There was a small path that meandered through flower beds and the plants were protected by mesh cages to keep people from touching. Otherwise, the deadly plants appeared to be unremarkable. However, I listened to the last three quarters of the tour aptly, taking pictures for reference material, and writing notes as appropriate. Upon leaving the poisons garden, I saw that another group was already forming to start their tour.

In one of my less-than-bright moments, I decided to catch the first quarter of the tour with the new group. As it turned out, each of the three guides gives their own version of the 20 minute tour, and with over 100 plants in the Poisons Garden, there was plenty of material to choose from. Enthusiastic for new information, and not thinking about how it looked to the locals, I decided to join the third tour as well and see what else I could glean.

As I left the gardens for the final time, I found the first two tour guides standing together and casting nervous glances at me. Concerned, I moved close enough to eavesdrop and began digging through my bag. The word “constables” was especially alarming. I did not have the time to be arrested in a foreign country; after all, I had a flight to catch from Newcastle to London the next morning so I could continue on to my company mandated training. Thinking fast, I did the only thing that I could to avoid being arrested.

I walked up to them with a smile on my face and introduced myself.

“Hello,” I said, “my name is Nathan Barra, and I am a writer. I came to the gardens to do some research for a book. Thank you for the tours, they were very informative, but I was hoping that you ladies could clarify a few questions for me.” The two women who had just been looking at me as if I were prone to poisoning the town’s water supply lit up and became passionate about helping me. Turns out, the the information on the tours is nothing compared to what the tour guides will give you if you make friends.

And that, is why I love to be a writer. Yes, there is joy in creating, relaxation that comes from the control of an entire world, and the sense of pride and accomplishment from a completed book. But in the end, writers get to do, and get away with, things a normal person wouldn’t have access to in the name of “research.” I have writer friends who gone on special tours of NASA, have shadowed prison guards, and are on a first name basis with rock stars. All in all, the perks of being a writer are pretty sweet.

This month, you heard from Fictorians and our friends in the writing community about why we love being writers. I hope y’all have new insight into our worlds and some inspiration to pursue your own dreams and craft. Life is only as interesting as you choose to make it. So go out, and make awesome choices.

Tales of Love and Triumph

If we do our jobs as writers well, the product looks and feels effortless. However, I can assure you that it is anything but easy. The path of a writer is long and rocky, filled with rejection and discouragement from all sides. This, more than anything, is why most people who want to write a book never do, and why most completed manuscripts are never sold. It takes determination, passion and flat out stubbornness succeed. But, most importantly, it takes love.

The talent of all creative professionals is born from the love of a fan. First, we find joy in the work of others and then seek to develop our own skills through emulation until we are able to forge a unique style. Our efforts are nurtured by the love of friends and family until they develop enough to stand on their own merit. Then, the drive to create is fueled by the enthusiasm of fans. Without love, art is meaningless.

In recent months, we have been dealing with some pretty heavy topics on the Fictorians. When I was asked to lead July’s month of posts, I wanted to make sure we spoke on something meaningful, yet entertaining. I wanted to give my fellow Fictorians and our guests the chance to be inspiring and sentimental, clever and laugh out loud funny, and most importantly of all, real. So, I proposed that we speak on love, specifically those moments that keep us going when the road gets rocky. We will spend the next 30 days drawing back the curtain and letting you see into our lives, with the hope that our own stories touch and motivate you to create your own art.

This month, the Fictorians and I present the stories and moments that make us love to be writers.