Q&A with Pendleton native Joel Wayne Bartron

The Boise based writer Joel Wayne — his full name is Joel Wayne Bartron though he has dropped his last name in his nom de plume due to the frequent misspelling of it by others — will be reading at the Pendleton Center for the Arts on Thursday, July 20, as part of the First Draft Writers’ Series. His unsettling yet oddly heartwarming short story “Brother’s Keeper” won literary journal The Chattahoochee Review’s Lamar York Prize for Fiction in 2015. His work has appeared in esteemed publications such as Salon, The Moth and AdPulp, among many others. As a Pendleton High School alumni, Joel’s appearance at the PCA will be a bit of a homecoming — a local-boy-done-good story if you will — where he’ll serve up selections of his Raymond Carver-esque work.

What inspired you to become a writer? Was it a dream of yours while growing up in Pendleton?

Early on, I was probably most attracted to writing because I loved to read. Then I had some teachers who took notice and shaped that bent over the years — Mrs. Bellamy and Carolyn McMillan in grade school and junior high, Tom Lovell and John Scanlan in high school. They sent me to the Oregon Writing Festival a few times, handed me projects or prompts outside of class, encouraged me to keep plugging away. Those weren’t, and aren’t, small gifts to a student like me. So, yes, it became a dream to “become a writer” and, over time (and this reads similar to the experience of many other writers I know), the dream evolves into “continuing to write, in spite of everything, and getting things published, or not, every now and then.”

Can you tell me a bit about the selections you are going to read at First Draft?

I’m planning to read a short story about a middle-aged man with one eye and two kids. He moves back to his hometown after a divorce and enjoys a kinda punchy relationship with his father while they give his house a new roof. That old chestnut. He’s a recurring character in a series of short stories I’ve had no luck placing, although this particular one did win a recent award and earned me a short writing residency up in Ketchum, Idaho.

What is your most recently published work?

The Boise Art Museum invited me to write a flash fiction piece to accompany some artwork from their permanent collection, which appeared in their Tall Tales program through this spring. The work was a clay teapot by Richard Notkin, featuring a sculpted scene on top — a tiny dog lying on a sidewalk, hydrant at his side, etc. Very intricate. I only hope my story was half as well-rendered.

Who do you count as your primary influences, literary or otherwise?

I’m drawn more towards work that’s accessible, dark, darkly funny. I love Kurt Vonnegut and Alice Munro, any issue of The Chattahoochee Review, The Onion, The Toast, I really dig this book of short stories by Ben Greenman from a few years back. In nonfiction, I’m a big Gay Talese fan, advice column junkie, and Longform.org is always worthwhile. And there are so many good shows on right now: “Louie,” “Veep,” and “The Great British Baking Show” are a few recent faves. It’s a wonder we get anything (reading, writing, or otherwise) done.

You’ve also dabbled in the world of film. What is the nature of the film projects you’ve been involved in?

In 2010, after moving to Boise, I was lucky to work alongside a guy who did some short film directing on the side. He was looking for a screenwriter and I raised my hand. We mostly did it for kicks but placed one in a few national festivals. It was a little drama about a guy afflicted with pica, hunting for his son, who’d checked himself out of rehab. I’d love to continue writing for the screen but, having self-produced a few projects and watching friends tackle some longer work, it’s a very, very tough thing to get off the ground, and a big gas guzzler to keep running on the side of your 9-5. At this point, I’d probably rather write and submit than write and produce and direct and submit.

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