Fish: A Tale of a Novel

Fish: A Tale of a Novel
by Barry Lawler
Cover design by Jesse Lawler

154 pages; 6 x 9 inches

Excerpt from Fish’s Now & Then: Official Preface:
Once upon a time—closing in now on 47 years—an idealistic and ambitious young writer began four-fingerdly pecking the keys of a 1961 Remington portable typewriter in search of a novel he was sure he had in him.

I am that writer, and Fish is that novel. I just didn’t expect it to be half a lifetime (if I’m very lucky) in the making. The time then was 1969, and by the end of my first few hours of typing, both the title and the town had become my first two fictional facts. Everything following, though, was uncharted territory, a journey not only to discover a story worth telling, but also for me to double-duty both as its central character and author committed to pulling back the curtain to reveal the writing choices I would make, or discard, along the way.

Simply, Fish” is no Wizard of Oz. Both in real life and in fiction, I am Barry, and there is no curtain between us separating what’s real and what’s not. What you read is straight from both of us. Of course, most of the story facts are fictional, but every choice I made in creating the characters, plot, places, and themes you will know the whys & wherefores of—in other words, the stuff customarily concealed behind the curtain.

Admittedly, the method to my Fish” construction madness figures to be a radical departure from the novel norm. That is, writers typically rough out the preliminary work quietly by themselves, writing drafts on the back of old envelopes, cocktail napkins, and vellum, while secluding themselves in a cramped apartment, sunny villa, or lonely garret (though garrets, like vellum, have become increasingly scarce in recent times). Privately, they’ll dispose of the bad stuff (as if it never existed), keeping only the choice cuts for public consumption. In short, you are spared the eyestrain of having to wallow through false starts, dead-ends, misspelled words, and non-sequiturs. This also spares you the embarrassment of watching a full-grown artisan squirm and puzzle—just like regular guys & girls—over the problem of how to make things sound interesting (or even how to think of things that are interesting). You read only the best.

But why should you expect anything less? After all, you have better things to do than scuttle through the palaver of early drafts—even (or especially), if they are mine. However, with this novel I began thinking—about a thousand works back—that I would like to experiment beyond the rigid formalities of the Grand Old Art, not as an excuse to utilize a lot of otherwise-wasted palaver, but to establish a more intimate writer-reader relationship.

So here we are: already intimate.


Having grown up in a Southern California middle-class neighborhood as opposed to an Appalachian shack lacking electricity and running water, the obstacles I’ve had to overcome to gain fame as a writer are nothing to brag about. On the other hand, though, neither is my fame. I’m a household name only to my immediate family and the mail carrier.

In addition to Fish, over the past 50-something years I have knocked off a novella, a couple dozen short stories, perhaps 200 poems, and a non-fiction book on independent investment strategies. A handful of these have found their way into print, but I’ll be even Google couldn’t find them now.

The rest of my time I seem to have spent raising a pair of great kids and teaching 39 years in university English departments, the majority of them devoted to fiction writing at Oregon State University. And now, retired, I find myself doing pretty mucht he same things: reading and writing.

It could be worse.

Fish: A Tale of a Novel is available direct from the author: