Prompt to Publication | John-Michael Barrie
Today we are celebrating John-Michael Barrie. Since 12 Short Stories started in 2017 we’ve seen many of our writers go on to publish and accomplish great things with their writing. The Prompt to Publication emails are all about celebrating these writers and their wonderful stories.
I hope these interviews will help you and teach you how to use 12 Short Stories to build your author platform.
Author feature: John-Michael Barrie.
John-Michael Barrie completed the 12SS challenge in 2017 and 2018, and the 12 Poems challenge in 2019. He is taking part in the 12 Short Stories and 12 Poems in 2020. It is the first time that he is attempting both challenges. He is experimenting with the stories, in 2020, and writing a 12 month, continuous story using the different prompts and word counts, to create a story which delves into a character he’s played with over the years. He has found this to be more of a challenge than he expected.
I’d like to introduce John-Michael Barrie.
John-Michael Barrie: I had an opportunity to write my cancer memoir with another writing group in 2015. By the beginning of 2017, I’d almost finished editing it, and was looking for something new. I found 12SS. I enjoyed the challenge and discipline of writing to a prompt, word count, and due date. 12SS gave me the freedom to explore new genres and subjects.
While I didn’t have to write about cancer, I liked being able to write cancer stories in different styles, along with other types of stories. An early cancer favourite from 2017 is called ‘Click’ and features the ‘me’ who gave up the cancer fight against the ‘me’ that didn’t, playing Russian roulette.
Writing is by necessity a lonely profession, and connecting with the wonderful writers from all over the world on 12SS continues to delight me. We all understand and connect with each other because we all share the same passion for writing. I am proud of the 12SS community we’ve built up since 2017, and a number of 12SS friends have migrated to the “real world” of Facebook over the years. I have also challenged a few friends to join the 12SS challenge over the years, and I enjoy watching them embrace the community and their acceptance by the community.
For me, the never-ending joy of 12SS is the amazing range of imaginative stories and poems we see every month. It never ceases to amaze me how the same simple prompt can be interpreted so many ways by our different writers, depending on their choice of genre, or simply, where the prompt took their mind. I love the sheer variety of creativity. I found it refreshing, being part of a South African group because most groups are American. As a foreigner, I love the South African stories that deal with that country’s challenges and history.
Has participating in 12 Short Stories helped you to publish?
I began writing my memoir in 2015 with every intention of publishing it — eventually. Most importantly, 12SS gave me an audience, who gave advice and support freely. By posting stories once a month and receiving feedback on those stories, 12SS helped give me the confidence I needed to put my manuscript out there for agents and publishers to see, and eventually, to have the confidence in myself to self publish it in time to celebrate the tenth anniversary of my cancer diagnosis, which I considered important to achieve. It is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon here.
The Battle Within
I started writing, seriously, in 2012, while I was trying not to die after my second bone marrow transplant. I was terrified. I was certain I could feel my brain dying, and was desperate to find some way to keep my brain active. My wife brought in our battered old laptop — “you want to write, so write.” I wrote a short story called The Battle Within, with names of characters and places being metaphors for me, and the parts of my body affected by cancer, visibly. Over the years, the original 1500 word short story grew into a trilogy of 5000+ words stories, as I used it as a fictional release from the non-fiction cancer memoir.
How did 12 Short Stories help you?
John-Michael Barrie: 12SS ended up playing a crucial role in The Battle Within’s completion, as a prompt in 2018 caused me to write an abridged version of what became Book Three of the trilogy, and gave me an ending to the saga, which was something that had eluded me for a couple of years. It is available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon here.
Please click here for ‘Restoration’, the 12SS story I wrote in 2018, which prompted the completion of The Battle Within trilogy:
What did you learn that you applied to your novel?
John-Michael Barrie: By striving to achieve the exact word count each month, 12SS taught me to value every single word used in a short story. There is no room for window dressing, you have to get into it immediately. Because there are always so many entries each month, 12SS also taught me to write strong, engaging stories, to keep readers interested and engaged, especially on the long story months, which I consider invaluable.
Did the feedback and discipline help at all?
John-Michael Barrie:12SS imposes deadlines, which forces all of us to write to someone else’s timeframe. It is good to maintain discipline in my writing habits and to continue to write on my own projects in a timely manner.
I look at 12SS as a forum to experiment safely, and the community’s feedback is always valuable, especially if it is a genre I’ve not written in before. Not all the stories I post I consider to be good, and it is always pleasing when the community disagrees and loves a story. It is humbling also when their comments confirm my initial thoughts about a story. In these circumstances, however, the feedback is perhaps even more valuable because people offer invaluable advice on how to strengthen and improve, unselfishly.
What is your favourite short story that you wrote on 12SS?
John-Michael Barrie: Every story on 12SS has a background story, which gives them a life to me, which I hadn’t expected. A couple I’ve mentioned already, Click and Restoration, but I have a few other favourites including:
Jan 18: The Lament of Trevor the Troll
After being hospitalised twice in January 2018 already, three days out from the deadline I had nothing. I was panicking, but then inspiration hit, and I wrote the first draft in 45 minutes, as I raced to keep up with my brain.
Aug 18: Closing Night Piloerections
(I was told this story needed a NSFW warning!) I learned a new word, piloerections, in the lead up to this story and decided I would include it into my next story. As it happened, I’d decided to write my first ever romance story, and I had a lot of fun with the innuendo and sexual tension as I wrote that story. It was (to me) a surprise hit of 2018. You never know, I may revisit the romance genre in the future on the back of this story and its reception.
I wrote a story in 2017 called ‘Pants on Fire!’, based on an idea I had when I was going through cancer treatment, and I watched how the pets interacted with each other, and the animals in their environment, during the day when I would otherwise be at work. Its success prompted a further four stories, and 12SS gave me the confidence that these stories and characters were strong and interesting enough to turn into my next long project after Indomitable Will, so, from that perspective, 12SS did exactly what I wanted it to do originally — it gave me my new WIP which is the major project I’ve worked on since last year. I’m hoping to have a publishable manuscript by this time next year. Now I am three stories away from completing my 2020 saga, 12SS may well have given me my next project after Gremlin and Schlinky as well.
I always wanted to be an author, but it wasn’t until I was fighting cancer in 2011 that I started writing seriously. I wrote a fictional Celtic themed cancer short story, The Battle Within, which grew into a trilogy of 5000+ words.
I wrote the first version of my cancer memoir, Indomitable Will, in 2012 as I recovered from the second bone marrow transplant in 2011. It was a cathartic experience, but never considered it suitable to publish as I could see the steroid frenzy throughout the writing, I had an opportunity to revisit it in 2015, and wrote the version I published in 2020.
I discovered 12SS early in 2017, and from 12SS, I developed ideas around characters and a concept I’d thought about for years. The positive reception by the 12SS community prompted me to fashion it into my next major project.
I am writing a continuing story in 2020, based on a character I created in 2015, and have developed over the years. This may become the next project after the completion of my current WIP.
Excerpt from Indomitable Will by John-Michael Barrie.
I was reading a heavy book to do with cults when I entered the ward. Now I couldn’t finish a page before exhaustion overtook me. I started reading simpler books from the patient lounge. I watched a word and math quiz show on TV every evening, desperate to solve the problem during the thirty seconds allocated. I could feel my brain ability diminishing. The medical team could consider my liver, kidneys, and whatever else, critical; I considered my brain crucial.
I remembered Aunty Lu’s short story. The thought of a Celtic themed story with my transplant as its genesis, tumbled around the back of my mind ever since transplant day. Belinda recognised my desperation for anything to challenge my mind. She brought in our laptop, and encouraged me to write the story, to get it out of my head. Once I’d done that, I’d have something I had plenty of time to tinker on.
5C was like 2E, and the QEII ward before them. The day began with the first rays of the sun, or still in darkness in winter. The constant noise and activity, and procession of people in and out of the room; doctors, nurses, wardies, cleaners, rubbish bag changers, phlebotomists, consulting specialists and their registrars, never stopped.
Night time, by contrast, was peaceful — tranquil even. The constant noise of the day disappeared. I enjoyed nights in the ward more than I did days. Night, when only the night shift nurses remained, was the most uninterrupted part of the hospital daily cycle. Being wide awake by 3 a.m., thanks to the combination of Voyager, my bathroom adventures and steroids, gave me a genuine window of peace and quiet. I began writing every morning, and enjoyed each sunrise. Nurses accustomed to sneaking into rooms for 4 a.m. obs grew used to finding me sitting up in bed, pounding away on my laptop.
The Battle Within depicted a long civil war ended by a superior exterior force destroying all the original combatants. I made the entire story, including place names in the once fair realm of Bodyjohn, a metaphor for my cancer battle. I hit Aunty Lu’s class word limit of 1,500 words after a couple of nights. I’d doubled it within a week. It grew into a 5,000-word short story, spawned a sequel, and a third to complete a Celtic-themed trilogy of short stories. No matter where The Battle Within ends up, I’ll always remember its humble 3 a.m. transplant ward origins on our battered old laptop, and the crucial role I believe it played in my recovery.
Visit John-Michael Barrie’s website: www.johnmichaelbarrie.com and like his author page on Facebook.
Well done, John-Michael.
Want to be featured on Prompt to Publication?
Are you an active, participating member of 12 Short Stories? Do you have publishing news to share? Please mail firstname.lastname@example.org and tell her all about it.