Insights from Writer H. Lee Barnes

Ashton barnes

H. Lee Barnes

By Ashton Hall

Published author and professor of creative writing at the College of Southern Nevada H. Lee Barnes released his latest novel “Cold Deck”.

“Cold Deck” was presented at a book-signing event at the Charleston campus April 11, 2013.

His new novel “Cold Deck” is the story of lead character Jude who finds himself in difficult circumstances with no job, lots of debt and a child to raise. He is offered a job—an elaborate scheme to cheat a casino—but one that takes him into the dark side of Vegas. He struggles with his conscience as a man and father. “This is a story of survival set against the greed, fears and glitz of Sin City,” as written on book reviews.

“The world of the Vegas casinos—particularly the less glitzy side—creates a wonderful palette for the novel and Barnes stamps almost every page of the book with the feel of it,” wrote Keith Lee Morris, author of “The Greyhound God” and “The Dart League King”.

Wendy Weiner, dean of arts and letters at CSN, said, “I think ‘Cold Deck’ is my favorite of his books. His characters are compelling and his sense of language makes one believe in them.”

Barnes mentioned that when writing fiction, sometimes characters will have similar attitudes or reactions as Barnes, but he doesn’t necessarily write himself into the story.

“People say ‘Oh, I know that’s you’ and it’s not necessarily true of me,” Barnes said.

The writing process for Barnes came easily. “The more you play with language, the more you learn to manipulate it on the page, the better you’ll get as a writer,” Barnes said. “Stories will write themselves in time if you have experience to go with it.”

“I was just born to have experiences,” he said. His experiences enliven his plot lines. For example, in the past Barnes was a cop involved in a shooting. He was arrested, put in jail and cleared. That prompted his writing career. He wanted to get those things down on paper.

“Study the sentence. Every sentence you write, you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this a sentence the world needs?’” Barnes said.

Barnes is perhaps among the few writers who don’t know what it means to suffer from writer’s block. “I’ve never had it,” he said.

It takes discipline to be a writer, a great deal of it, Barnes stresses.  If there is one thing he encourages his students to do: keep writing.

Another great success was Barnes’ book “The Lucky” published in 2003. His novel was set in Las Vegas, looking at the undercurrents of the mob-dominated Strip and growth of lead characters Pete and Willy.

Additionally, the prize-winning author shared that he was once rejected 15 times for his short story “A Lovely Day in the A Shau Valley”. This piece ended up winning a national prize. “What does that tell you? Don’t put any stalk in rejection, don’t revise based on rejection,” he said.

With “Cold Deck” Barnes anticipates a quick sellout of its first copies, similar to his previous book. “You’re lucky if you become the flavor of the day,” he said.

Barnes described what he had in mind for his upcoming novel on WWI that he’s already started. It is a two-volume project, with volume one done. They will both sit around 400 pages long.

A piece of advice he offers to budding writers is to not get discouraged and keep writing.

“Don’t put any stalk in either rejection or acceptance; that’s the business end of it. It’s just a cold world out there for writers,” Barnes said.

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