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Go With the Flow: An Interview with Steven Barron, author of Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner

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Steven Barron is originally from Atlanta, Georgia, but spent many formative years in Southern California. He currently resides in Leawood, Kansas, with his wife, Renee, and their two kittens, Hazel and Henry. Steven enjoys (in no particular order) books, espresso, anytime rain or snow, cycling, and staying in touch with family and friends—he also adores cats and still loves rock ’n’ roll. Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner is his first published work.

You can buy Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

The book title comes from an early piece of flash fiction. For what it’s worth, in the book text, the reference occurs on pages 773-774. It’s essentially a throwaway line, but I thought it’d make a cool book title. So—I had a title; the only thing missing was an actual book.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

My first cover suggestion proved impractical, and I decided a simpler, more straightforward approach would be best. I pitched the cerulean-blue cover to Ronaldo, and he paired it with a tasteful, unobtrusive font. His final design wowed me. The hue reproduced beautifully, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It was also important to me that the cover not present as a roiling blur of color, so Ronaldo’s subdued graphics were perfect.

When I unboxed the proof copy of Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner, and after fanning the pages a few times, my initial thought was, man, this is a big book. Perhaps I should have scaled it back. I also experienced mild waves of anxiety, apprehension, trepidation, etc., fearful I’d allowed a few manuscript goofs and screwups to slip through and that someone somewhere was already compiling a list.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Although I’d never considered it, a California friend many years ago proposed that I might have some capacity for writing. “Well, that’s preposterous,” I said. “I’ve never written anything creative in my life—you know as well as me, on most days, I can barely manage my name.”

I can’t recall her reasoning, but she’d taken the liberty of tearing out a notice from our local neighborhood news bulletin about a writing class that was to be offered at the community center. Looking back on it, that I even agreed to check it out remains a minor miracle, for it’s nothing that I would ever have done on my own. Obviously, there’s much more to this story, but the bottom line, if my friend hadn’t first identified the possibility, the writing pursuit never would have happened.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

For many years I worked exclusively in sales and marketing, and because this is my first book, I have no dedicated readership. That I rarely talked about my writing, many friends, relatives, and associates had no idea that it was a focused pursuit, and of the few who did know, I imagine most thought of it as my hobby. Very rarely did I share information on the book, let alone pages. Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner was largely written in silence, with no one around.

Something that few in my circle realize is that I have no problem watching a six-to-seven-hour bicycle race.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The most meaningful aspect of publishing Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner was finally realizing the project’s completion. The few concessions made were done so willingly after some timely editorial input from Atmosphere Press. Granted, Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner is not an easy read, so certainly not for everyone, but the end result is as intended.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Leonard Cohen – First We Take Manhattan

Courtney Barnett – Rae Street

John Prine – Lake Marie

Father John Misty – The Ideal Husband

Phoebe Bridgers – Garden Song

Patti Smith – Gone Again

Sonic Youth – Teenage Riot

Pavement – Box Elder

Craig Finn – No Future

Car Seat Headrest – Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

Bob Dylan – Highlands

Kathy McCarty – Walking the Cow

GBV – Over the Neptune/Mesh Gear Fox

The Mountain Goats – Picture of My Dress

Lana Del Rey – Venice Bitch, Liz Phair, 6’1”

Connie Converse – Roving Woman

Taylor Swift – Holy Ground

Neutral Milk Hotel – Holland, 1945

R.E.M. – Departure

Free Cake for Every Creature – Riding Into the Sunset in a Busted Car

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

The perfect Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner reader will be one willing to go with the page flow, to set aside expectations or any preconceived notions, and not get hung up by the lack of linear flow—if the reader can but relax, then they’re halfway home. Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner is a rhythmic prose work with lots of well-timed gags, skits, and routines, so doubly cool if the reader is able to appreciate these aspects.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

Other than several belated thank-you notes to complete, I currently have no new writing projects. Of course, I’m always open to suggestions, so send me a note if something occurs to you.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

I’ve said this often, working with Atmosphere Press has been a terrific experience. I couldn’t imagine a more professional, caring group of people. If you’re considering publishing soon, definitely consider Atmosphere’s program—you will not be disappointed.

Timely tips for aspiring writers: No surprise, make writing part of your daily routine, like morning coffee and yard work. The pages quickly add up, so something to take pleasure in. The project becomes more focused, and you become a better writer. Boot any inner critics to the curb, embrace fearlessness, make oddball notes, strike gold with misheard lines, and don’t be afraid to head out for foreign lands. Also, make a point to keep the characters talking. To one another. Have them speak whatever pops into their heads—your head.

You can buy Madame Curie’s Piano Tuner here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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