Interview with Author Bart Stewart

19 Oct



Author Bart Stewart

A pleasure to talk today with Bart Stewart, author of several books and short stories, notably his latest novel Painter of the Heavens
Bart, what inspired you to start writing?
I started writing as a kid, mainly as an escape from some hard times my family was going through. I was inspired by the old Twilight Zone TV show, and wrote surreal fantasy pieces like that.I never stopped loving that sub-genre, which is much smaller than some other fantasy categories, like sword-and-sorcery. Richard Matheson, who passed away this year, was the great modern practitioner of it. He wrote some Twilight Zone episodes, too. H.G. Wells may have been the real pioneer. He said to take a realistic setting and inject one fantastic element. My first book, Tales of Real and Dream Worlds, is in this style.Apart from Matheson/Serling fantasy, I read the classics. Tolstoy, Twain, Dickens, Poe, and from the 20th century Truman Capote. I always said In Cold Blood was the best description of personalities I have ever read. But now I have to mention Elizabeth Strout’s 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner, Olive Kitteridge.
How would you describe your latest book to someone who has not yet read it?
I’m hoping the subtitle, “A Novel of Crime and the Heart,” will tell the world that this is fiction that goes into the personalities and psyches of its two main characters as they become caught up in a criminal scheme. It might better be called “A Novel of the Heart, and Crime.” Painter of the Heavens is a very character-driven novel about a woman who becomes romantically involved with a potentially dangerous con artist. We don’t know his thoughts, only hers, so he could very well love her as much as he claims to. His behavior and statements tell us that he has a conflicted and compartmentalized mind. Ultimately, he becomes quite scary.
Is there a message in your book that you want your readers to grasp?
I enjoy painting pictures with words, describing scenes and personalities. I’m told by objective readers that I am very good at it. In this novel I am showing two people, Penny Sturdevant and Lyle Chilton, whose lives go off the rails due to the obsession for money that one of them has. If there is a message it would be to resist such attitudes, but also that it is something we are all subject to in this rat-racing society.
How did you get the idea for the novel?
That is always the toughest question! Where did you get this idea, or where do these characters come from? It is very mysterious. The stories just start rolling like a movie in my head. I edit them, but the origins are unknowable to me. I get lots of story ideas, all the time. A tougher question might be why choose one story idea over others?  In the case of this novel, the interplay of the two personalities appealed to me, and I thought the fraud case itself was intriguing.
Are your characters based on real people?
No character in my novel comes from any single source. I generally cobble my characters together like Frankenstein’s monster, from parts and traits of many different people. There is usually a bit of me in there somewhere. Otherwise, they are made up of pieces of people I have known, sometimes even briefly.
Who is your favorite character and why?
Penny and Lyle, are predominately who the book deals with. Several supporting characters turn up, especially Penny’s best friend and sounding board, Chloe. But Penny with her healthy, heartfelt desire to have a fulfilling life, and Lyle with his conflicted, mirror-maze mind are characters that equally stayed in my thoughts.
If Oprah invited you onto her show to talk about your book, what would the theme of the show be?
The theme would be – Me being on the Oprah show. No, I’m kidding. The theme would be Honesty. Or maybe Authenticity. Painter of the Heavens deals with issues of authenticity in life.
How much of the book is based on real life (either yours or someone you know)?
Penny’s struggle to have a fulfilling life is real enough, and it is going on all around us, on the street, every day. Likewise the reality of wishful thinking, or “wanting to believe,” which the con artists prey on. The changeable personality type, the Jekyll-and-Hyde type, is no fantasy, either.
What would/could a reader or reviewer say about this book that shows they “get” you as an author?
They would have feelings of empathy for Penny, who only wants “to be part of something.” She wants to be part of something healthy and long-lasting, not just a love affair but a larger life around it. She ends up with Lyle Chilton, and a criminal scheme. But I don’t write heroes and villains that are 100% good and evil. Lyle is a conflicted person, and while we aren’t privy to his thoughts, he seems to have found some genuine connection with Penny, which is another interesting aspect of the novel.
Thinking way back to the beginning, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a writer from then to now?
The most striking thing I have learned is that I can’t stop doing it. I keep on writing in the face of impossible odds. The traditional publishing route is like a lottery. There is a certain bar of quality that must be met, but beyond that it is luck of the slush-pile draw. We like to think that the most successful writers got that way because they wrote the best books. Instead they are like lottery winners, surrounded by a sea of talents of higher, lower, and similar worth. W.C. Fields once said it was easy for him to quit drinking, that he had done it a thousand times. That’s how I am with writing, in the absence of any commercial success I have quit a thousand times. But the stories keep coming to me, and objective readers keep telling me how much they love my work.
Considering a book from the first word you write to the moment you see it on a bookstore shelf, what’s your favorite part of the process? What’s your least favorite?
I love reading the finished product. That’s the best part. All the rest of it is pretty grueling mental work. After all, every sentence can be worded a dozen different ways, or more. You have to deliver the best wording, every time. It is just a lot of hard mental work, for no guarantee of pay, or even of being considered, or seen at all.
What scene or bit of dialogue in the book are you most proud of, and why?
There are so many great “small” scenes in Painter of the Heavens, little vignettes along the way. Those are what makes a novel in my view. But if I had to pin down a favorite scene in my book it would be where Lyle convinces Penny to be his accomplice in the forgery fraud. He will actually convince you that this madness of his is a good idea! He talks a very, very good game. Always.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything about your book?
This is going to sound really conceited, but no. I work-shopped this novel extensively at some top writing centers, and had it professionally edited. For a book about the psychology of characters like these two, it is as good as I can make it.
If your book would be made into a movie, who should play the main characters?
Unfortunately, Susan Hayward and Robert Mitchum are dead.
What general advice do you have for other writers?
Understand that this may be the toughest game in the world in terms of finding success. There’s no heavy lifting involved, but the odds of achieving success are remote. There must be a billion writers in the world, and while most of them are not competitive, they all take up time and oxygen. With e-books the odds have shifted slightly in the author’s favor, but the same old situation of the vast slush-pile of manuscripts still exists. It has only been shifted directly to the readers, who must now choose between the endless thousands of titles pouring onto the market every week. If you view this as a lifelong calling, you may be able to build a core following that will lead to some sales. You have to deliver extremely well-polished manuscripts, of course. A good writing center is helpful for that. Remember too that creative works are subjective. Every book ever written was hated by somebody.
What is the best part of being a writer for you?
The self-expressive aspect of this is probably unparalleled. No other art form can communicate with both the specificity and the atmospherics of literature. With writing you can talk to the logic center as well as the emotions. I have written a blog post that goes in depth on the value of literary fiction:
What’s the most challenging part of being a writer?
The challenges are endless, just in producing the fiction. The work has to be your best. Revisions go on forever; it seems that it’s never finished. Then comes the marketing part, with all the expense and all the computer platforms you have to learn to do that. I am not a computer engineer nor am I wealthy.
Where’s the one place in the world you’d like to visit?
The Great Barrier Reef
What is your favorite book?
Important books are not always pleasant books, understand. I said above that Capote’s In Cold Blood had the best descriptions of human personalities that I know of. If you have not read it, I do recommend it, and I can tell you that it is not overly graphic in describing the murders.
How would a close friend describe you?
“The triumph of style over bile! The droll soul with the heart of gold! The mellow jello fellow! Ladies and gentlemen – Party Barty!!!”
Where can people learn more about your writing?
Painter of the Heavens
Tales of Real and Dream Worlds
Don’t miss the Goodreads Giveaway: TALES OF REAL & DREAM WORLDS by Bart Stewart

The Statuary Cats

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