1. What books/authors have influenced you and why?
The first book I borrowed from the library, when I was six, felt like the best gift I had ever received. It was about ducks. I was hooked.
My daughter’s babysitter gifted me with a romance novel in the late 1990s, The Vow by Dallas Schulz. Slightly offended by the implications of what the babysitter had assumed were my reading preferences, even though she wasn’t totally off, I read the book and remembered how much I liked a good story, and a happy ending. I decided to write one. I bought How to Write and Sell Your First Novel by Oscar Collier and set to work, reading others as I drafted my own. Sandra Brown’s Two Alone is a favorite, also Danielle Steele’s Heartbeat. I like stories, not particular novelists. If the story makes me cry, I’m in. My latest passion is a memoir, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Sherman Alexie. That man has a voice. He inspires me to dig down deep and dredge up my own honest, vulnerable, storytelling best.
2. Tell me about your protagonist. What's your favorite trait and/or weakness? Same for the antagonist.
In Getting to Grace, Grace Baxter is my main hero. She’s a 62-year-old, traditional, raised-Catholic, feminist living in rural Ohio with a community of artists, activists, and allies. I love Grace’s stubbornness. She never gives up. I love her flexibility. When she makes a decision, she releases stubbornly held ideas and moves forward with the same determination toward her new goal. Grace dabbles in writing but her true strength is sizing up people and making the right choice, eventually.
Nicholas Mason is the obvious villain in my story, though there’s a little antagonist in everyone. The community where Grace lives was Nick’s idea. He funded it, initially. I love his energy and enthusiasm for starting something so unexpected in the 1950s. Nick's best move ever was dying in 1998 so that Grace could struggle through the leftover impact of Nick’s failings and move toward happiness.
3. Do you have a routine you follow when writing?
My current routine is to free write for 30 minutes while I walk on the treadmill every morning. Past that, it’s squeezing in writing time between work activities, cleaning, organizing, and making the world a better place for all. For the month of November, I will expand that squeezing as I signed up for NanoWriMo. 50,000 words in 30 days. I have the synopsis, characters with back stories, and plot with notes for 30 chapters, 7 pages each. I am putting my organizing skills up front so that starting November 1, the creativity can flow.
4. What is your preferred method for readers to get in touch with you? leebarber137.com is my blog.
5. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
If I could go back in time, I would make a sign for the wall in the bedroom where I slept when I first started learning how to read. The sign would say, “Take yourself seriously. You really are that good. You are worth listening to. Go, Velma Lee! You’re going to be my favorite writer someday. I promise.”
6. What does literary success look like to you?
Literary success is having a publishing history that extends until the end of my life and a collection of readers who express happy, mad, or sad feelings, and inspired thoughts, about what happened in my story, along the way, and in the end.