Rusty Barnes is a novelist, a poet, a short story aficionado, and the well-loved head honcho of Tough, the online magazine he runs to showcase some gritty short fiction.

If you look at his author page you’ll see a whirlwind of activity, all of it highly-rated. In 2018 his long short story El Asesino made it to the final of the Derringer Awards. Here, he steps into the maw of Messy Business to answer a few questions.

A friend of mine doesn’t read fiction, paraphrasing Frank Skinner about it all being made-up and he has no time for any of that. What words do you have for such a philistine?

I live for made-up words, the more the merrier, the splashier the better. I admire a terse crime story as much as a rollicking word-drunk roll in the hay. Why make time for anything else?

What must a protagonist have to make you read on?

There are no must-haves in my book, only give a reason, be it writing skill or story-telling command, or something else I can’t yet name, for me to read farther than the first paragraph.

Do you need a likable protagonist?

Not at all. Something needs to keep you reading, but it would be a boring literary life if we had to like every protagonist, and books that challenge our status quo make us better people anyway. We needn’t be delusional and think we’re all good people who like good narrators. I’d prefer unlikable. At least you’re prepared then when they do something shitty.

Name a great antagonist, in a novel or movie, and what they do for you.

Wade in Larry Brown’s novel JOE, is the most reprehensible character I can think of in any book I enjoyed. He is the epitome of evil, so that the title character Joe, who is a bad man himself, looks angelic in comparison, and indeed becomes a savior. Wade’s badness is what makes it possible for us to love Joe.

What makes you throw a book out the window?


Do you grit your teeth all the way to the end of a dodgy novel?

Nope. I heave it with great force, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker.

What gets you writing? Is it a great novel, maybe? Something you saw on the street or on TV? Something else?

Usually poetry. If I can’t get something going from the detritus of my day, which is not often, I pick up a book of poems and read until something inspires me. Then I get to work.

What did you learn about writing from the last book you wrote?

That I love short stories as much as I do novels. That the brevity and insight one enjoys in a short story is equal in proportion to the short novel. Shorter, for me, is much better.

What’s your next book, in 30 words or less?

My next book is set in Revere, Massachusetts, where a private investigator struggles with his sexuality while investigating what seems to be a simple case of adultery and murder. But all is not as it seems.

Where can readers connect with you?

You can find me online at, and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @rustybarnes23.

The magazine, Tough, is here.

You can buy Rusty’s work at Amazons US and UK.

My stuff.