This is the second interview in celebration of the publication of A Pride of Poppies, an anthology of Great War stories from Manifold Press.
Please join me in welcoming Barry Brennessel.
What inspired you to write your story for the anthology?
I’m fascinated with imagining what life was like for GLBTQI people throughout history. Egypt during the time of the pharaohs. Ancient Rome. Medieval Europe. Japan in the 17th Century. New York City in 1940. An African village in 1960. When I saw the submission call for A Pride of Poppies, of course I was instantly drawn to it. I thought about how the Great War was really a global war. I wondered about what was happening outside of major areas of battle, and the sacrifices people had to make far away from the main theater of battle. That opened up so many doors for story ideas. I knew I had to write a story about a place one usually doesn’t associate with the Great War. I ended up focusing on Indochina in 1917.
Could you tell me a little about it?
My story, Ánh Sáng, is about the relationship between two young men in French Indochina, and how French colonialism and the Great War impact their lives. Though Bùi Vân Minh and Ngô Công Thao come from similar economic backgrounds, and they both struggle to make ends meet, they end up in wildly different circumstances when a revolt against French rule breaks out in Thai Nguyen city.
Could you please tell me about your other work?
Hardened beyond his nineteen years, Todd Webster Morgan is determined to find gold high in the Sierra Nevadas. But his dream is violently upended. Complicating matters even more, he meets a young Chinese immigrant named Lâo Jian, whose own dreams of finding gold have been quashed by violence.
But life back in Sacramento isn’t any easier. Todd’s mother struggles to make ends meet. His invalid uncle becomes increasingly angry. Todd seeks employment with little success. Meanwhile his friendship with Lâo Jian turns to love. But their relationship is strained as anti-Chinese sentiment grows.
Todd vows not to lose Lâo Jian. The couple must risk everything to make a life for themselves. A life that requires facing fear and prejudice head on.
In the span between the Great War and the Great Depression, Aiden Royce loses both family and fortune. He has nothing left but memories and regrets until a series of letters arrive; ramblings written by a familiar hand that nevertheless offer Aiden some important clues. Months later he’s roaming the grounds of the crumbling Cebren Spa, a once posh destination, but now an empty shell of mystery and menace.
One saving grace in this perplexity is the handsome Sebastian Desmond, a descendant of the spa’s founders. He rescues Aiden from a storm, but in doing so opens up a different sort of tempest when secrets unravel and both men’s lives are torn asunder.
Can decades-old questions be answered, onerous mysteries solved, and a burgeoning and venturesome romance prosper in the shadows of a once restorative wellspring?
Linked Story Collections:
A small French city. A park near Tokyo. The Czech countryside. London at night. Lost loves and found loves. Fear and courage. Reflections. Rejections. Reconciliations. Romance.
These interconnected stories follow the adventures of Brian, Ondrej, Yuji, Jason, and others as they navigate the tumultuous path of life and love.
Sideways Down the Sky
In the land of snow monsters and steam baths, complex characters as diverse as the Japanese terrain experience lust, loss, and love.
A young boy performs a daring rescue. A woman loses her old life to face an uncertain new one. A teenager suffers through a cataclysmic event. Unusual bonds form at the Tokyo Olympics. A rent boy’s hardened heart melts when he meets a sexy, buoyant stranger.
Much like the Japanese islands themselves, there is commonality to be found among myriad differences. The poet, the musician, the artist, the tortured mother, the bankrupt father, the protective brother—they all know that there’s a new day awaiting them after the moon slips sideways down the sky.
A Special Kind of Folk
Revenge is a dish best served with a little bit of spice, three dashes of magic, and a whole lot of flair.
Your eyes are squeezed tight. Your hand is over your racing heart. Your mouth is agape. And your tongue is planted firmly in your cheek. After you’ve read these six mystical, magical tales of torment and revenge, you’ll be looking over your shoulder, pausing at corners, and keeping that porch light burning bright all through the night. Oh, and you might chuckle once or twice, too. After all, what’s fright without a little delight? Hexes, curses, old family recipes, old family secrets, stolen cars and stolen lives. It’s all just another day in the lives (and deaths) of a special kind of folk.
Micah Malone is just an average college student with an ordinary life and big dreams. And an intense passion for film and TV. And a Greek Chorus in his head.
His friends create more drama than a soap opera. His love life needs a laughtrack.
Can Micah ultimately find the direction he needs?
Let the cameras roll. Micah’s quirky story has begun filming.
Paradise at Main and Elm
Adrian Stockwell and Ezra Cherevin both battle the fallout from their broken families. Yet each one’s strategy is as different as each one’s past. Adrian’s childhood was left void by apathy; Ezra’s upended by violence. The written word soon becomes their therapy, their escape. This shared passion for literature is the vehicle that brings them together.
But their journey is filled with personal and familial potholes.
Can these two young men carve out a life together by learning to navigate a sea of challenges? And can the people in their lives do the same?
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a screenplay and a stage play, as visions of an Oscar and a Pulitzer Prize dance in my head.
Please could we have an excerpt?
(From Ánh Sáng)
The next morning, Minh awoke three hours early, after a fitful night of sleep. His mother was already up, and had brewed a pot of tea. She sat at the table, her head resting against the wall.
“I can pick out twenty-two now,” she whispered. “Twenty-two different insects. All clamoring to be heard.”
Minh kissed her on the cheek.
Neither of them spoke about his leaving early.
At the fork in the road he saw a familiar sight.
“You haven’t come to visit me,” Thao said.
“I thought I was supposed to visit the pigs.”
“Do you have time now?”
Minh clutched the conscription papers in his hand. Called to duty. Fighting for the French in Europe!
“It’s ten minutes away,” Thao said. “I promise I won’t keep you long. I won’t make you late for work.”
Minh shoved the papers into his pocket. “Okay. I accept.”
The place was not a farm so much as a small patch of land, with a hut half the size of Minh’s and his mother’s. Five pigs were fenced in a pen that covered more area than the hut.
“My empire,” Thao said.
“The pigs are so plump.”
“Like I told you. I keep them happy. I want them to enjoy themselves while they’re alive.”
“Don’t you worry about them being stolen?”
Thao pointed to his right. “When I make deliveries, I have very kind and watchful neighbors.”
Minh nodded. He glanced at Thao, whose shirt was a missing a button, spread open to reveal his chest. He glanced quickly away, but not before Thao had noticed.
“I need to meet someone who can sew.”
Minh glanced to the ground. He dragged his foot against the grass. One of the pigs squealed and ran the length of the pen.
“Rimbaud,” Thao said.
Minh laughed. “Do they all have names?”
“Not yet. I’ll need help. Even more when the sow there, see? In the corner? Has her litter.”
“So your business will continue then?”
Minh stared back down at Thao’s chest, angry that he did so, but unable to stop himself. Thao noticed again.
“Soon I can buy a new—”
“Please,” Minh said. “That’s not…I’m not trying to make you—”
“It’s okay. I know that I—”
“Just…no,” Minh said. “It’s…it doesn’t matter.”
“Would you prefer I take it off?”
Minh looked up. He couldn’t read Thao’s tone. He tensed.
Thao unbuttoned the remaining two buttons and slipped the shirt off. The sunlight fell on his smooth skin. He looked up at Minh. “Please. If…if I’m wrong about…something…just leave and never come back. And if you…just please, leave me to my life. Don’t report me.”
“I don’t understand,” Minh said.
Thao reached down and took hold of Minh’s wrist. He drew Minh’s hand to him, then guided Minh’s fingertips to stroke the length of his chest.
“I watch your eyes,” Thao whispered.
Minh’s mouth went dry. He parted his lips, to speak, but the words caught in his throat.
“Am I wrong?” Thao asked.
Minh shook his head.
In the confines of the small hut, in the rising heat of the summer morning, when Bùi Vân Minh should have been at the Office of the Ministry to see about these foolish papers they’d left for him, he instead made love to Ngô Công Thao.
When Barry’s first collection of stories was read aloud by his second grade teacher, the author hid. 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, a Finalist in the 24th Annual Lambda Literary Awards, is Barry’s first novel. His novel The Celestial won the Gold Medal in the 2012 Foreword Book of the Year Awards and was a Finalist in the 25th Annual Lambda Literary Awards. His linked story collection Sideways Down the Sky is a 2014 Ferro-Grumley Award Finalist in LGBT fiction in the Publishing Triangle Awards. Sideways Down the Sky, Wellspring, Reunion, Paradise at Main and Elm, and A Special Kind of Folk were all Finalists in the Foreword Book of the Year Awards.
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, 2009, 2012, and 2013 PNWA contests; 3rd Place in the 79th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competition and a winning entry in the 2013 WILDSound Screenplay competition; 1st Place in the Rhode Island International Screenplay Competition; 3rd Place in the Scriptapalooza TV Writing Competition; Finalist Status in the Great Gay Screenplay Competition; and 4th Place in the London Film Awards.
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!)
Social media links:
A Pride of Poppies – an anthology from Manifold Press
Modern GLBTQI fiction of the Great War
Ten authors – in thirteen stories – explore the experiences of GLBTQI people during World War I. In what ways were their lives the same as or different from
those of other people?
A London pub, an English village, a shell-hole on the Front, the outskirts of Thai Nguyen city, a ship in heavy weather off Zeebrugge, a civilian internment
camp … Loves and griefs that must remain unspoken, unexpected freedoms, the tensions between individuality and duty, and every now and then the relief
of recognition. You’ll find both heartaches and joys in this astonishing range of thought-provoking stories.
An anthology featuring authors: