David Moloney worked in the Hillsborough County Department of Corrections, New Hampshire, from 2007 to 2011. He received a BA in English and creative writing from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he now teaches. He lives north of Boston with his family.
Q: What inspired you to write Barker House?
A: In my early twenties, I worked as a corrections officer in NH. While working there, I never considered writing about the job. I was writing some poetry, but the work inside the jail really left my brain with zero bandwidth for any kind of meaningful writing. When I was promoted in 2010 to Field Training Officer, I told myself that if the promotion didn’t make me want to stay in that line of work, then I’d leave and go back to school. Three months into the new position, I felt as disillusioned as ever, and quit. I majored in Creative Writing, and began to focus my writing on my experiences at the jail.
When I was writing the book, I tried to find any other novels in prison literature that gave a voice to the corrections officers. There weren’t many. I decided then to show, or attempt to show, an unbiased view of the system from their perspective. It is a thankless job, one which changes you for the worse. I didn’t like the person I’d become while I was working there. I think it is important for people to see what it is like to work in a jail or prison. In pop culture, officers are usually depicted as mean, heartless, sinister. For some, that is a fair depiction. But many officers struggle with what the work does to their humanity.
Q: Did you have to do any particular research for this book?
A: I used my work experience as the research for the novel. The only research I did have to do was about doll restoration. There’s a passage in the book where a character is watching her mother restore a composition doll. I’m not quite sure why I gave the mother this job, but once I did, it felt so right. I wanted to get all the details correct. I had no idea what went into doll restoration. I watched YouTube videos, read old manuals. I called a local doll restorer and spoke with the woman at length on the phone. I tried setting up a time where I could meet her, but she seemed a bit sketched out, and I didn’t blame her. In the end, the hours and days I spent researching this skill only amounted to one paragraph in the book, but it was worth it.
Q: When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
A: I teach creative writing at Southern New Hampshire University. During the semester, that eats up much of my time. I also have a wife and two children, so they get the rest of my attention. I read a good deal, but I tend to go through cycles where I don’t read for a few days, then I’ll read a book in a few sittings.
Q: What does your writing routine look like?
A: I write in the late morning after I’ve had a gallon of iced black coffee and scrolled through the news. I’ll pull up what I wrote in my previous session, read a paragraph, and then dive in. I set my writing sessions at a 500-word cap. I find that is my limit. Once I pass 500 words, my dialogue becomes lazy, my scenes become shorter, characters not as fleshed out. I hit 500, and I move on with my day. At night, when the house is quiet, I may be guilty of reading what I wrote earlier in the day and sneaking in a few words over the cap.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?
A: I wrote the novel during my MFA, finishing it in about nine months. I spent the third semester revising with a mentor, Tony Tulathimutte. Once he gave me the green light, saying it felt ready, I queried agents. I looked up my favorite writer’s agents, and started there. Tony sent me in the direction of an agent, one from where he’s signed, and she requested the manuscript rather quickly. After I signed with her, we spent a year working the short story collection into a novel-in-stories. We sent some chapters/stories out to literary magazines. One was picked up by Guernica. It was then we decided to send the manuscript to publishing houses. Round one was quiet. A few rejections came quick, saying the book would be better off as nonfiction. I was a bit disheartened, and two months went by. We went out with round two, and Bloomsbury, among a few others, were interested. It was an easy decision to go with Bloomsbury. They were excited the book was fiction that felt like nonfiction, which was the opposite of why it was getting passed on.
If I were to give advice to a writer with a finished manuscript, I would say do not rush. Even after signing with an agent, the process is slow. You want to make sure the manuscript is clean, proofread, as finished as you think it can be. You may only get one shot at the agent you want, so make sure you take your best one.
From the publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing
“HERE is a voice to listen to! Moloney’s voice is as true as a voice can be. Concise, with the right details rendered perfectly, these sentences come to the reader with marvelous straightforwardness, clean as a bone.”–Elizabeth Strout
Olive Kitteridge meets The Mars Room in this powerfully unsentimental work of fiction–a portrait of nine lives behind the concrete walls of a New Hampshire jail.
David Moloney’s Barker House follows the story of nine unforgettable New Hampshire correctional officers over the course of one year on the job. While veteran guards get by on what they consider survival strategies–including sadistic power-mongering and obsessive voyeurism–two rookies, including the only female officer on her shift, develop their own tactics for facing “the system.”Tracking their subtly intertwined lives, Barker House reveals the precarious world of the jailers, coming to a head when the unexpected death of one in their ranks brings them together.
Timely and universal, this masterfully crafted debut adds a new layer to discussions of America’s criminal justice system, and introduces a brilliant young literary talent.
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