More of that good New Orleans mojo

Barb Johnson
Because I’ve been out on the Great Plains (and some not so great) on a book project that leaves little time for posting new stuff here but also because I think she’s a great writer and reading her reminds makes me think how much I’d like to go back to New Orleans when I’m finished with my West Texas project, I wanted to put in a big, fat plug for Barb Johnson, who is currently on tour promoting her new book, More of this World or Maybe Another, recently published by Harper Collins, who has done a spiffy job of making the book easy to browse online, and if you’re hungry for more, read her recent interview with popmatters here. If I wasn’t already sold on her writing, I think I would be hooked by her answer to the question, “What is your favorite brain food?”

For optimum cerebral and creative nourishment, I listen to music. Sometimes I choose a certain kind of music because I feel it is strong enough to wrestle down whatever other music is stuck in my head and driving me crazy. Opera is a good wrestler, but it’s also a pretty badass stalker. You got to be careful how you use it.
I like jazz and the blues—Wig Wearin’ Woman has been stuck in my head now for days—and I like singer-songwriter stuff.
My scientific answer: Curious George, the cartoon, is both brain food and palate cleanser for me. It is also an excellent tool for examining characterization and episodic writing. I love how the names of the characters explain the character, so you never have to ask yourself, Which one is he? The Man with the Yellow Hat, Jumpy the Squirrel, Professor Wiseman (who is a woman—hmm) and Charky, the most irritating dog with the most irritating name ever.”

Now how could you not fall in love with a writer like that? Curious George? Hell, yes! The Man with the Yellow Hat is one of my favorite books. Whenever I lead a writers workshop, I always tell my writers to study film noir for story structure, but also, cartoons and children’s books are hugely instructional. I mean, with those formats, you don’t have any room to dither around. Action is character, character is story, etc.

And “Wig Wearing Woman” speaks for itself. Barb is a writer after my own heart. Maybe she’ll steal yours, too.

Born in the Laplands near Lake Charles, LA, (so called because it’s where the Cajuns & the Texans overlap along the Gulf Coast) Barb Johnson has been a carpenter in New Orleans for more than 20 years. In 2008 she received her MFA from The University of New Orleans. While there, she won a grant from the Astraea Foundation, Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and Washington Square’s short story competition. In 2009, she became the fifth recipient of AROHO’s $50,000 Gift of Freedom. More on that here.

Here’s more:

Born in the Laplands near Lake Charles, LA, (so called because it’s where the Cajuns & the Texans overlap along the Gulf Coast) Barb Johnson has been a carpenter in New Orleans for more than 20 years. In 2008 she received her MFA from The University of New Orleans. While there, she won a grant from the Astraea Foundation, Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers and Washington Square’s short story competition. In 2009, she became the fifth recipient of AROHO’s $50,000 Gift of Freedom.

From the rural Gulf Coast to a rough-and-tumble New Orleans neighborhood known as Mid-City, the stories in the collection pulse with an anxious inner life set down in the chaos of the street. Closely linked tales introduce us to teenaged Delia, who experiences first-love jitters atop an oil storage tank where she tries to work up the nerve to kiss a girl. Dooley’s music career takes off when he moves to the city, but some devastating news points to divorce and an impulse buy ends in tragedy. A sensitive alcoholic named Pudge survives his fat-boy childhood with an abusive father and then hides out from his own son, Luis. On the eve of his confirmation, the fatherless Luis drugs his mother’s boyfriend. It is a Mid-City laundromat that serves as home base for this cast of powerfully drawn characters who must all unite to save Luis from a violent end. Funny and haunting by turns, Johnson’s characters are driven by a fragile and irresistible sputtering drive to love and be loved.

“These are stunning stories. Barb Johnson is the kind of writer whose work I dream of finding and rarely do. Yes, precise and gorgeous language. Yes, a wonderful sense of humor, and another of pathos made over into something much more effective-a vision of all these people just doing the best they can and along the way becoming the best kind of stories-the kind that reveal, enlarge and make living seem worth the trouble.” — Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina

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