As an author, inspiration can come from all things. It could be the line in a song on the radio, a snippet of conversation on the bus, a dream at night but one of the most important sources of inspiration are other authors.
Just like a budding sports star in the academy has that legend they look up to, I think it’s equally relevant to anyone who writes that they have heroes to look up to and learn from.
In this segment, I am going to interview fellow authors who have inspired me, those I have learned from and those who have helped me on my writing journey so far.
Barrett grew up in the Chicago suburbs. Art and music fuelled an over-active imagination that eventually channelled into a flair for the dramatic and a dream of acting. Life and times deferred that dream but offered a new challenge. After her ten-year class reunion, Barrett started nursing school and a career with endless challenges and learning opportunities that spanned thirty years, several jobs, and interesting travels. After relocating to New Mexico, Barrett set down roots and fell helplessly into a new passion—writing. She spent years making up stories—roughly, twelve completed manuscripts. Then it was time to take the leap of faith and consider publication. That was when the real “learning” began. Readers, betas, critiques, mentors, edits, revisions, revisions, revisions, and then some pitches, some rejections, and some more revisions.
And now, Barrett’s got books, published books. Her first book, Damaged in Service was a finalist for a Golden Crown Literary Society Award. It is the first of a four book series. But that’s not all for this story . . .
Barrett is a member of the Golden Crown Literary Society, Romance Writers of America, RWA Published Author Network, Rainbow Romance Writers, Land of Enchantment Romance Authors, Petroglyph Guild, WOA Book Club, and TOTS.
Hello Barrett! Thank you for dropping by. Okay, so we’ll start with the beginning… What authors inspired you growing up and was it always your dream to be a writer?
>Hi Jody! Thanks for this opportunity. My parents used to read to us when I was a child but I never realized that my disinterest in reading books was because of a problem with my eyes. Sometime after entering nursing school, I had my eyes tested and discovered that I needed glasses. Those turquoise blue-framed reading glasses opened the door to a whole new world for me. So I’m afraid the answer to your question is that I really had no interest in reading or writing as a child. I was however highly imaginative and enjoyed making up games with my brother. We entertained ourselves playacting… with a little bickering involved.
As an adult when I began reading, I read a lot of commercial fiction. I loved Tom Clancy, Robin Cook, Clive Cussler, Patricia Cornwell, Scott Turow, and of course Diana Gabaldon. The wonderful world of lesbian fiction was virtually unknown until 2009.
I’m a visually oriented writer, the stories evolve from the scenes I create in my head using my readily available mental archives. It also helps me personally, to get into the characters heads and see what they see.
In Damaged In Service you take in two settings that are known to you. Is that what sparked the idea for Zeke’s story? How much did knowing those locations help in creating the settings?
> Yes, the locations were very important to me because one of the few things I knew about writing was write what you know. The Damaged series was born in an attempt to write a simple love story. In the process, I used a secondary character from an epic first draft of a medical mystery based in Chicago. Since that was essentially my hometown for many years, I had an easy time describing her environment. Now I live in New Mexico, so naturally, I chose a lovely nurse living here as my love interest. Since I’m a visually oriented writer, the stories evolve from the scenes I create in my head using my readily available mental archives. It also helps me personally, to get into the characters heads and see what they see.
You’re tackling a pretty tough issue with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,) how difficult was that subject to depict accurately? How important was it for you to show that there is no quick fix to a disorder like PTSD?
>In hindsight your question is somewhat amusing, because my original intention was a love story. The original title was “the agents retreat” and Zeke was just going to New Mexico for a little R&R. I wrote the first three books one right after the other and as they progressed I quickly learned that my beloved protagonist had some serious intimacy issues and problems communicating. The more I got to know her the more compartmentalized she became. Anne Reynolds was never like that, neither was TJ, Frank, Mike, or any of the other characters. The data I read about PTSD, and the things that I knew as a nurse, informed the way Zeke deteriorated with each obstacle she faced. Her closed-off inability to communicate exacerbated her isolation and threatened the intimacy she craved with Anne. And her resistance to co-operate with her therapist drove me crazy. Still does.
Sadly, PTSD is not an injury that can be diagnosed and treated. It’s more of a psychic wound that needs continuous care.
Did your own experience in home healthcare help you give a deeper insight to Anne’s character? What aspects did you want to show in her profession and did you draw from your own experiences?
>Anne’s character shares many experiences with me. I think of her as a more stylized and more patient nurse. My 35 years of nursing informs every character I write. I have treated thousands of patients from every walk of life and in every circumstance. I think that qualifies me as a student of human nature. I’m also an empath, which means that I often physically experience the same sensations that my patients do. There is no mental awareness or physical symptom. For example, I am acutely aware of anger, sadness, fear, but I don’t know the cause. As a writer my job, Is to impart those physical sensations to my characters and readers.
With every page, and every story, I want to be a better writer.
Damaged In Service was also a finalist for a Goldie! How did it feel to have that accolade after the learning and publication process? (And how happy do you feel that you took that leap of faith!)
>I was stunned, because it was my second GCLS Con. In hindsight, I recognize what a great honor that was for a first book. I was thrilled that people loved those characters as much as I did, and still do. I hadn’t thought about that accolade as a tribute to my leap of faith, but you’re right. In reality, that’s exactly what it was for.
It got some great reviews too. “You’re invested in Zeke Cabot and more than willing to follow her anywhere she goes. Best. First. Page. All. Year.” – The Rainbow Reader. Does it help to confirm to you that you’ve made a connection to your readers when you hear reviews like that or drive you to improve further, or both!
>That was from the first review I ever got from The Rainbow Reader August 9, 2011. I was blown away. The first part of the review described exactly the way I wanted Zeke’s PTSD to be experienced. And on that glorious day, I also received an offer for the four book series.
Knowing that readers understand what I’m trying to share has pushed me hard to learn more about how something like PTSD—or any serious debilitating illness impacts interpersonal relationships. I continue to get the most touching notes from women who have had similar experiences and to thank me for telling their story. It’s daunting, and I take the responsibility very seriously. With every page, and every story, I want to be a better writer.
We’ll keep with The Damaged Series and go for Defying Gravity, how different a challenge was it to write the second in the series and develop the characters further?
>It was tough. New writer mistake: when the readers complained about the cliff-hanger ending, don’t rewrite the second book to please the reader at the expense of changing the story. My original first drafts of the first three books ended with cliff-hangers. I rewrote the second and made changes that were essentially second-guessing my gut. It was also in this book that I worked on deepening the relationship between my two characters, so there was a lot less action. But in the arc of the series, that was the plan for the book. 1. Throw two characters together and challenge them. 2. Deepen the relationship. 3. Throw in some chaos and serious challenges. 4. Resolution—dénouement.
Can you tell us some of the differences and challenges you faced writing Defying Gravity.
>In addition to what I just described, I also discovered there is such a thing as the Second book Challenge or let down. It’s especially hard if the first book is received well. The writer assumes that readers will be much more critical of the second book. I think at the time I saw Defying Gravity drifting onto the scene as compared to Damaged in Service, which jumped out.
…Boy did I learn a lot about how people perceive handicaps. It was a really difficult 24 hours. For this particular character, I covered a pair of glasses with electrical tape except for a 1 mm circle in the center and then I walked around to see what my field of vision would be like.
Dispatched With Cause sees you throw some spanners in the works for the ladies! Was the stresses and strains of their relationship something that you felt you wanted to explore?
>Yes. Indeed. Zeke’s stubborn refusal to deal with her problems or even ask for help required me to up the ante. She needed to understand how her behaviour was impacting others. And so did Anne. They’ve had months to figure this out. Time to step up, ladies. This was also time for Zeke to face more challenges with her job and her questionable decisions.
Many authors play down the effects on those on front lines (military and emergency services) and their partners. How important was that for you keep as real as possible?
>You’re right! It’s so easy to make up characters that are bigger than life and immortal. But if we want readers to be able to see themselves in some of our stories, I think we need to go the extra mile to create realistic characters. Side note: several years ago, KG McGregor gave the keynote speech, in which she encouraged writers to push the envelope and write characters who were flawed and imperfect. (I would encourage anyone to listen. There are 4 parts.
Can you give us any tasters or thoughts on the fourth in the series?
>Happy to do that. I’ve written about half of the story and I’m doing some research now on the Equine Gestalt Coaching Method and just what the Secretary of Commerce does that might require personal protection. In the course of doing this, a new character with a mystery storyline is percolating.
In Windy City Mistletoe, a Zeke and Anne novelette, they head back to Chicago, how much did you enjoy writing that and do you have plans for more?
>That was actually a challenge from Decky Bradshaw. I was ringing my hands about how to reach new readers and she suggested a novella. I wasn’t sure I knew how to write “Short.” But I had done NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writer Month) every year for seven years, so I thought what the heck. It turned out to be a wonderful break from the Sturm und Drang of Zeke’s craziness. I move the story several years ahead to a place where Zeke and Anne were in a good place and happy.
How pleased overall are you with the response to Zeke and Anne?
>I knew this would not be a series for the average romance reader who essentially wants the happily ever after. PTSD is a challenge to write and to read. But in general, I think, readers feel an affinity for Zeke and for Anne because they identify with the everyday struggle. That being the case, if the readers care about the characters they will enjoy the series.
Moving away from The Damage Series to a particular favourite of mine. What gave you the idea for Balefire and can you tell what made you go for a Belize?
>As I described above, reading about PTSD is challenging and often difficult. After writing and revising the first two books and then rewriting them again, I needed a break. I was contracted for all four books, but I called my editor and asked her if I could use a story about two women who meet on the way to Belize. She agreed that it might be good to take a break. So when NaNoWriMo came around, I jumped in. The story was based on a true story about travelling through a tropical storm to Belize with a good friend.
We had travelled down to Ambergris Caye twice and I bought the timeshare. I often go in November to do the writing challenge. It makes me feel like Ernest Hemingway to sit on the beach and write. 🙂
Silke’s got a challenge or two she deals with in the book. I enjoyed reading about a protagonist that faced every day as an obstacle, she was inspiring. What made you write her character with that impairment and did it make you look at everyday tasks in a whole new light?
> I’m glad. Initially I needed a way for the two characters to meet and need to depend on each other. Believe me I sorted through dozens of possible disabilities. Given the fact that Silke was an artist and I wanted her to be able to work; I chose the visual impairment. While I was in nursing school, we had a project where we had to spend a day with a disability. I chose blindness. I did the research, patched my eyes, got a white cane, and told people that I had a temporary eye injury as a result of an accident in chemistry class. And boy did I learn a lot about how people perceive handicaps. It was a really difficult 24 hours. For this particular character, I covered a pair of glasses with electrical tape except for a 1 mm circle in the center and then I walked around to see what my field of vision would be like. Within that small circle everything was clear. But without proof referral vision, there is a large potential for injury.
A Forever Windsor Series novella Flights of Fancy is the sequel to Balefire could you talk to us a little about why you chose to write the novella and just what the Forever Windsor Series is?
>My publisher wanted to do something special to celebrate marriage equality. We discussed her plan to invite all Romance authors we could think of to write a short novella celebrating a wedding of two characters without the requisite drama. The idea was to simply describe the wedding process. Since I had just finished Balefire, and set them up for a possible Christmas family reunion, it was perfect. It turned out to be a lot of fun.
Are there future projects that you are working on right now? What can we look forward to from you?
>As I mentioned I’m working on book 4 the Damaged series, which will be the conclusion. There’re couple of other stories simmering including the mystery. I have a fantasy YA that needs some polishing. I also have a fun romance about an opera singer and a former apprentice. There is one about two widows in Scotland…Oh well, you get the picture.
Aside from your writing, you also have interviewed some amazing authors (including Amanda Kyle Williams), do those interviews give you new insights and inspiration?
>Absolutely. One thing I enjoy and I think most writers do, is talk about our writing much to the chagrin of anyone who doesn’t write. In Amanda’s case, I did a complete 180 in terms of reading thrillers. I avoid them because they give me nightmares. I actually received a free ARC for her first book and didn’t read it as I thought it would creep me out. After meeting her and spending some time talking, it turns out she’s very nice and not creepy at all. So I read the second book in her series and learned some valuable ideas about writing a story. Live and learn!
If you write every day, You’ll write every day!
What advice would you have for new writers? And what is the most important thing you have learned so far?
>If you write every day, You’ll write every day! I wrote one story after the other just because I wanted to make up stories. But the time I screwed up the courage to submit I at least had some experience with writing manuscript. THEN…I had to learn the craft of writing. But I couldn’t have done that at the beginning. My first book will never see the light of day, but it was the one that seduced me into being a writer. And I can’t go back. There is no right way to do any of this except by doing it.
Quick fire round
- What is your strength as a writer? Imagination and passion.
- What is your ‘typical’ writing day? I putter around with the dogs, Make coffee, Read e-mails, work on promotion (waste time on Facebook), and then start dictating around 10AM. A productive day I will work until around five. I stop in the middle of the scene and let it simmer till the next morning.
- When readers pick up your books, what would you most like to hear them say? They love the characters.
- What would you least like them to do/say? **crickets** (just make a comment)
- Who is your literary idol? why? It depends on what I’m in the mood for. There is no #1.
- If you could have written any book, which one would it have been? Harry Potter.
- What is your ‘tic’ word when writing? “Well,”
- Favourite word? Drummnadrochit (Scottish village) (you have to roll the rrr’s) also dénouement.
- Least favourite word? “delete”
- What would you most like to develop in your writing? Cracker-jack, whip-smart dialogue.
Thank you for dropping in Barrett! (TOTS)
Silke Dyson is a sculptor who is dealing with impaired vision as a result of a physical assault. Kirin Foster is a pragmatic travel magazine writer with wonderful opportunities to see the world. Their lives collide at thirty-thousand feet during a tropical storm and they strike up a friendship under the Belize sun.
[ The Damaged Series – Book I]
Zeke Cabot is smart, tough, and one of the best Special Agents in the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. She’s also recovering from a traumatic head injury and months of being undercover on the mean streets of the Windy City. She takes an extended vacation in New Mexico to help her recover from her physical and emotional duress.
[ The Damaged Series – Book II]
Special Agent Zeke Cabot and Anne Reynolds are both excited and a little wary as they take steps to commit to their budding relationship. But like the unpredictable weather in the mountains of New Mexico, their path to happiness is anything but smooth.
[ The Damaged Series – Book III]
Special Agent Zeke Cabot begins her new assignment in New Mexico and a confrontation with her dangerous nemeses triggers her barely concealed PTSD symptoms. Anne Reynolds reluctantly accepts a less stressful home healthcare office position as she settles into a life with Zeke, but it’s not easy living with someone whose job is filled with dangers that threaten to destroy their relationship.