Colorado Creatives

100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Erin K. Barnes

Writer, blogger, Burrito Fairy and synesthete Erin K. Barnes.
Writer, blogger, Burrito Fairy and synesthete Erin K. Barnes. Amanda Piela Photography
#37: Erin K. Barnes

Erin K. Barnes is a born writer, but as she discusses below, she’s also a synesthete, whose mixed-up senses serve as a gateway to multiple creative mediums. She’s been a journalist for papers like this one, written a novel, formed and disbanded the Donnybrook Writing Academy — a snarky blog kept fully loaded by a loose collective of writers, musicians, artists, critics and other random creatives who wrote under ridiculous pen names — and handled PR for Illegal Pete’s as the Burrito Fairy. Lately, Barnes has joined the team at Ricardo Baca’s Grasslands cannabis-industry public relations agency. What’s next? Let Barnes tell you all about it as she answers the 100CC questionnaire.

click to enlarge Barnes as the Illegal Pete's Burrito Fairy. - PHOTO BY FROM THE HIP AND ART BY MICHAEL KING
Barnes as the Illegal Pete's Burrito Fairy.
Photo by From the Hip and art by Michael King
Westword: What (or who) is your creative muse?

Erin Barnes: I tend to shine in the zany, offbeat projects. I’ve applied to, and been rejected by, countless corporate copywriting gigs. But right now I’m doing social media for an indie horror film, the Colorado-produced Apartment 212, and boy, does it feel good to wake up in the morning and write, “Do you like your coffee with cream, sugar or a side of #HORROR?”

When I had children, it cracked me open (excuse the graphic metaphor) creatively, and I was almost plagued with creative ideas. I thought I needed to act on each one of them. So I wrote them all down in a blog, which no one read, but it fused them all together in my brain so that a novel came out. At the same time, my Uncle Paul Hamerly, who is this extraordinarily successful entrepreneur, became my life coach. He helped me arrive at the notion that I needed to write my own novel.

In terms of people, I’m incredibly inspired by my children — and not just because they’re my children. They are legit inspiring. My daughter is like a real life fairy, floating around the house in my dresses and jewelry and monologuing to herself about super dramatic storylines. Both of my children make up words, as many children do, and it’s really fun for a writer to watch. One example is my daughter’s very specific word “excombilated:” It means when everyone is disappointed and tired, yet everyone refuses to go to sleep. We experience excombilation often in our household.

Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why?

I’m going to name three people, and they are so amazing that you’re going to instantly know why I chose them. They require no preface, nor explanation. And it’s for this reason that I would choose them to come to my purgatorial-realm dream party: because they are so cool that on a cellular level, you just get it.

NUMBER ONE: Bill Murray.
NUMBER TWO: Beyoncé.
NUMBER THREE: Vince Kadlubek, CEO and co-founder of Meow Wolf.

They are all alive; I had a Bill Murray sighting at SXSW, and I met Vince Kadlubek at one of his own parties and have e-mailed with him before. If I can just track down Beyoncé, I think I really have a shot at making this party happen!

click to enlarge Barnes with her family. - AMANDA PIELA PHOTOGRAPHY
Barnes with her family.
Amanda Piela Photography
What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

It’s hard to answer questions about my field, because like many writers, I’ve used my craft to get into other creative industries (like music, art, fashion and film). Ever since I had to close down the Donnybrook Writing Academy, I don’t hang out with as many writer friends as I want to.

So I’ll speak to the hybrid meshing of creative industries I am acquainted with: I love seeing comedians and musicians hanging out with artists and writers. I love that we cross boundaries of medium, or just drink beers together, and I want to collaborate more. I’m currently talking to a local musician about creating a soundtrack for my novel.

The worst thing about the creative community, for me, is that I couldn’t find organized support while writing my novel. In the music industry, there are nonprofits, conferences for networking, rad places like the Music District, resources and just really nice, helpful people to meet with bands and help them with their careers. Each time I found a nonprofit for writers, they’d take months to answer a question, because there’s just not as much interest. And the arts grants I applied for usually ended up going to large-scale theater troupes.

Thankfully, there have been countless individuals who’ve helped me through the process, read and re-read my novel, even donated money to my Patreon and encouraged me along the way.

How about globally?

As usual, I can’t stick to one creative medium to answer this question (I have synesthesia, can you tell?). I am in awe of the music being created these days. My husband is an audiophile, so at my house, we’ve been listening to a lot of the new Björk, MorMor, Lana del Rey (my kids LOVE her), CC Dust, King Krule, and my latest unexpected obsession is Lorde, because she is also a synesthete. Listening to her song “Yellow Flicker Beat” actually makes me feel yellow, black and tingly.

Music just continues to get better and better. The sheer multitude of phenomenal music being produced on a daily basis is staggering. I can’t even fathom where we go from here. I can’t even fathom what my children will be listening to when they grow up, since they like Dirty Projectors at age two and five.

Television has gotten so much better. Do you remember the days when you would waste your time by watching something as dumb as Friends? Now you have shows like Wormwood, which are genre-defying: an intriguing true-crime story, but the reenactment, which is usually filled with faceless actors, is so trippy and well done and stars Pete Sarsgaard. All rolled together in a collage.

I think some of the best art is going to come out of this time period. America, and many other countries in the world, are in a state of political turmoil. Yet luckily, so far, we still have the freedom of expression. I can’t wait to look back when we are old, and Emma González is president, and just explore all the art that came out of this time period.

What made you turn to writing in the first place?

It was therapeutic; I always had diaries. But I’ve always felt like writing came more naturally to me than talking. When other people and shiny things are surrounding me, my words get lost on the way out of my mouth. It’s a lot of what’s in my novel. I’m not sure if that’s just an introvert thing, or a neurodivergent thing. But I feel happy when I’m writing. It’s never felt like a chore. I write like I’m painting. I never have a problem with self-criticism. I have very low expectations of myself, and so I always exceed them.

What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as a creative?

Besides my human creations (my kids), it’s definitely my novel, Tintabula. I wrote it mostly over last summer, when I was in the midst of grappling with all the bad feelings that go along with living in our country right now. I was living too intensely in the problems and the activism. I decided to treat myself: I spent a lot of time at the pool, and I wrote something that I personally needed as therapy. I love to get lost in different worlds when I read novels, and the coolest part about it was that I had that same feeling as I was writing one, but this time, I was lost in a world that I had created.

click to enlarge COURTESY OF ERIN K. BARNES
Courtesy of Erin K. Barnes
You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?
Getting my novel published would be a great start. I just began working with an amazing and talented agent, Nat Kimber at the NYC agency The Rights Factory.

I have several other books I want to write, including children’s books.  I have great ambitions for my novel, Tintabula, not because I feel like it’s so important that it needs to be in all different formats. It’s because of my synesthesia; I can see how it would fit across other mediums. It has a lot of fantastical imagery. For this reason, I would love to see it interpreted into a soundtrack; I’m currently writing proposals to make it into a Meow Wolf installation, but I’m not sure if that will happen; and someday, I want it to be a movie.

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?

I was actually forced to move from Denver because of rising costs. While my friends were settling for corporate jobs — smartly, I might add — my husband and I always worked in creative jobs; we got stuck in the very millennial problem of never graduating from those internship-style “proving yourself” low-pay jobs. At a certain point, you’re like, “I’m over thirty, I’ve been proving myself for ten years. When can I get health insurance?” When my daughter was a baby, we moved to New Mexico for almost two years. I kind of resented Denver during that period, and I loved living in New Mexico. But we missed Denver so much, and finally moved back when my husband got a “grown-up” job.

I’ve always felt like the people here in Denver are as interesting and talented as in a city like New York, but we’re smaller and more insulated. I remember the days when we couldn’t walk five steps at the Underground Music Showcase without running into a friend who has ten amazing projects up their sleeve. We’re going through a lot of changes right now, and I can see everyone’s concern with Nu Denver. But I hope that if we can stay involved and speak up, we can try to have some say on what our future looks like.

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Erin Roberts from Porlolo speaks to my soul. She’s so talented, a true-blue artist, and you get the feeling that she’s going to be making music when she’s ninety years old. As her bio says, one reason she makes music is to get out from under the burden of seriousness. That’s what I was attempting to do with my novel. She is fun, funny, badass and does it all with two children, to boot.

I recommend checking out her new video for “Wasting Time,” which just came out. It’s a great song, and nothing is more satisfying in a pop song than belting out “I was a foooool.” Nothing.

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

My daughter is starting kindergarten, I’m hoping to publish my novel, I’ll continue loving my work for Illegal Pete’s and Grasslands, and there may be one or two more books in the pipeline.

Who do you think will (or should) get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

I’m interested to see what the displaced journalists from the Denver Post layoffs will get up to.

My brand of creative writing hasn’t always fit in at newspapers, so if anything, I’ve only written for A&E sections of the newspaper. I don’t have a ton of experience working with seasoned journalists. But now that I’m working at Grasslands, I’ve had the pleasure to work with journalists like Ricardo Baca, Aleta Labak and Polly Washburn from the Denver Post/Cannabist, as well as Emily Gray Brosious in Chicago. They are truly the best people to work with! So thoughtful, communicative and on top of their stuff.

In this of all eras, when we’re seeing the fallout of our political climate as a direct result of the fallout of journalism (fake news leading to a large portion of the population believing lies), we’re also seeing the Denver Post staff lose large portions of their staff in layoffs. It’s incredibly disappointing and scary.

I’d imagine that a lot of journalists, like the Grasslands staff, are coming over to the creative side, starting agencies of their own and using their writing and photography skills in new capacities. I look forward to seeing what they will bring to the table; I hope that they can continue starting their own websites and outlets and agencies. I hope we can also continue to have journalistic coverage, but whatever they choose, I hope that the community supports them in any way that they can.
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Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.
Contact: Susan Froyd