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Q&A: Meet the author - Dan Barden

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Indianapolis author Dan Barden will give a presentation on creative writing at the Greenwood Public Library on Monday.
Indianapolis author Dan Barden will give a presentation on creative writing at the Greenwood Public Library on Monday. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Dan Barden started writing to impress girls.

Like many college students, he took something that he thought he was good at and used it to get dates. He credits his ability to craft catchy stories with attracting the attention of his wife, Elizabeth.

But along the way, he discovered the value of taking something from his imagination and putting it to the page.

Now he’s sharing his tips. The Indianapolis author has found added benefit from training the next generation of writers to hone their craft. After two published books and a career as a creative writing professor at Butler University, he believes his insight can help others realize the novels, short stories and other works that they have inside of them.

Barden will be featured at the Greenwood Public Library’s “Writers on Writing” series Monday.

“It’s fun to do, and people did it for me. I’m humbled by the people in my life who took the time when I didn’t really have anything going to help me figure these things out,” he said.

His essays have appeared in publications such as Esquire, GQ and Details. The publication of his first novel, “John Wayne: A Novel,” was published by Doubleday and drew critical acclaim.

The book was a fictionalized version of John Wayne’s life, from the time he was a teenager to his death. The novel is filtered through Barden’s own family, who knew Wayne while living in Southern California and tried to reconcile the man with the legend and public persona.

“I wanted to write about this man who I had a relationship to, and to this artist who I was in awe of,” Barden said.

His most recent book, “The Next Right Thing,” is a mystery set among the Alcoholics

Anonymous crowd of Southern California. Barden used his experience of people close to him suffering with addiction and overdose to fuel the equal parts comedy and thriller. The book has earned praise from The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jennifer Egan.

Barden will share his literary experience to local writers at the “Writers on Writing” workshop. The event, scheduled from 6:30 p.m. at the library, is part of the library’s celebration of National Novel Writing Month.

Admission to the program is free and open to the public.

Why do you take the time to share the secrets of good writing?

It’s important to just talk about my experience. I try not to make this process a mystical process. There are mystical parts to this process, but those are the things I’m not in control of. The things I am in control of are showing up every day, trying to learn from people who know what they’re doing. One of the things that almost never gets said is that you have to read a tremendous amount of books to become a good writer. There’s just no other way.

What do you talk about in these seminars or in your classes?

I just try to share my experience with my work. There are certain things that I just know from experience. One of the things I know is that writing is infinitely easier if you do it every day. It’s an athletic analogy — if you train for a marathon, it’s much easier to train if you run a little bit every day than if you run 10 miles the week before the marathon, or four miles every Saturday. There’s an advantage to daily practice.

What does it take to be a good writer?

What I tell my students is you have to find something you really have a big appetite to work hard on. One of the things I figured out in college was that I was a very compulsive reviser and writer. I had a huge appetite for making writing work. That was something I liked to do. That was an indicator more than anything that I was a writer.

Where did you come up with the idea for “John Wayne: A Novel”?

I grew up in Orange County, California, where John Wayne is kind of a saint. My father did some work with him, they were business partners at one point, they were friends. In my part of the world, that was like saying, “Yeah, we believe in Jesus, but my dad also gets drunk with him too.” It was this very intense personal connection that my family had with a man who was an icon for that whole region of the country and large parts of the nation. As a writer, I thought this was a great subject for me.

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