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VR Barkowski won the 2012 Al Blanchard Award presented at the New England Crime Bake for her story, “Out to Sea.” She is a third generation Californian, transplanted to Atlanta, who writes about New England. A finalist for the 2012 Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mainstream Mystery and Suspense for her unpublished novel, A Twist of Hate, her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E and Spinetingler. Her website is www.vrbarkowski.com. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/VRBarkowski. Her Goodreads author page is http://www.goodreads.com/VRBarkowski and her twitter address is @vrbarkowski.

You’re a third generation Californian transplanted to Atlanta. How do you write so convincingly about the wildness of an almost off-season Monhegan Island in your Al Blanchard Award-winning story “Out to Sea?”

It would have been impossible for me to write “Out to Sea” without the internet. YouTube is an amazing visual resource. A video of the Elizabeth Ann ferry leaving the Monhegan dock in early October actually made me seasick, but it also gave me the opening scene of my story. The personality of a setting is more than physical topography, it’s also the character of its people. I scoured Monhegan visitor resources, read blogs written by Island residents, and dropped in on Monhegan business and community webpages, studying everything from  ferry schedules to grocery store hours. I spent days clicking through photographs in order to write about vistas and what a resident or visitor would see if standing in a particular location. Then I’d run to Google and map the site to make sure my descriptions made sense.

I also read everything about Monhegan I could get my hands on: books, old magazine articles, newspaper archives, even hearing transcripts. I was so caught up with life on the Island that at the end of the day I’d walk out of my office and announce I was home from Monhegan—that’s how it felt.

We understand “Out to Sea” is your first traditionally (non-e) published fiction. Tell us something about your journey as a writer.

I’ve kept a journal most of my life filled with ideas, story snippets, impressions, interesting turns of phrase, and other minutiae. In that respect, I’ve always been a writer.

Five years ago I relocated back to California from the Seattle area. Unemployed, I took a fiction course to fill my time. Two things soon became obvious: writing is what I was meant to do, and I had a lot of catch up ahead of me. I took more classes, attended seminars, read books on writing and joined writers’ groups. I started my first novel and a year later completed my first short story. Writing is a brutal joy, but not a day goes by when I’m not grateful for the privilege of doing what I love.

“Out to Sea” won the Al Blanchard contest and you unpublished novel,A Twist of Hate took second place for the Claymore Award at Killer Nashville.What advice do you have for other short story writers

Read. Don’t limit yourself to a single genre. Reading is the gateway to writing. It serves not only as an example of how-to but also provides endless inspiration.

A good short story contains the same elements as  a good novel: a cogent plot, believable characters, realistic dialogue, and fine storytelling. The challenge of the short story is to accomplish all this in a few pages. Every word must count, so don’t try to do too much or make the story too big. Zero in on a single incident or point in time, limit the number of characters and write with a definite idea of theme and what you hope to accomplish.

What are you working on now?

Crying for Mercy is my new novel-in-progress, a psychological crime thriller about a history teacher at a small New England Catholic high school and his obsessive relationship with the owner of an occult shop.

On the short fiction front, I’m working to develop my two-page vignette about loss, “Tiny Heart,” into a short story.