Saturday, May 1, 2010

An Interview With T. A. Barron -- Part II

Today Barron (picture at left) discusses writing, young people and the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, inspired by his mother, Gloria Barron (picture at right.)

Q. Has your writing process changed in the course of writing such successful books? Do deadlines or expectations affect your work, or has your approach stayed much the same?

A. The writing process is still a mystery to me. All I know is that, to craft a story, I need three things: a character I care about; a wondrous, magical place; and a troubling question or idea. Without those three elements, I simply can’t muster the energy to spend a day writing or revising a page—let alone several years creating a trilogy. (The Great Tree of Avalon books have taken me five years to complete.)

I’ve also learned that writing requires both sides of the brain. The rational, organized side of our brain enables us to design believable characters with journeys that are logically consistent and emotionally rewarding. The dreaming, poetic side enables us to make metaphors—as well as characters who come alive and surprise us with their secrets. In all this, details are crucial. My job as a writer boils down to one goal: making characters and places and plots feel true.

Q. Who does the artwork for your maps?

A. A variety of artists have done the artwork for my maps – including myself. Ian Schoenherr did the artwork for The Lost Years of Merlin map, Anthony Venti for The Lost Crater (map from The Ancient One), and I did the artwork for The Great Tree of Avalon maps.

Q. Your love of nature permeates all your books. Did you always feel this bond with nature so deeply? Or did it develop out of writing your books?

A. I have always had an affinity for nature. For starters, I grew up in places where Nature was always nearby, so I could explore a creek, climb a tree, pick an apple, or just cover myself with mud. The nearness of Nature shaped me profoundly. Not just in the challenging, adventurous ways you might expect—in deeper, spiritual ways, as well.

For example, I remember a snowy day when I was very young. My mother dressed me in one of those big puffy snowsuits that made me look like a huge, waddling balloon, and took me outside. There was so much snow, the drifts were even taller than me. Then my mother patted the top of an enormous snowdrift, and said, “Guess what? Believe it or not, there are flowers under there. You won't see them until springtime, but it's true.” I was astounded. Amazed. Flowers? Under there? She was telling me about the patterns of the seasons, of course—but also about something more. Something like hope. Transformation. Renewal.

So why is wilderness important? Because unspoiled Nature is the last, best place on Earth for people to stand upright and tall, dwarfed by the sweep of the stars or the sweep of time, and yet still part of it all—connected to the changing seasons, the fox tracks, or the flight of geese. In Nature, we can feel both very small, and very large, at once—part of the universe, the pattern, the mystery.

And one more thing: In wilderness, we can still experience silence—a quality that's increasingly rare in this world. We can hear voices apart from our own, sounds not made by automobiles or chainsaws. We can even hear, sometimes, the whispers of creation—that remarkable process whose essence is life, and whose engine is silent.

Q. Have you ever returned to your first novel and considered revising it into a YA novel?

A. My editor has asked me to do that. Maybe someday I will. It has some strengths – mainly zany humor and imagination – but I can tell you it needs a lot of work!

Q. What do you think is the most productive steps a beginning writer can take to develop the craft? An MFA program? Workshops? Books on writing? Conferences?

A. I suggest three things: First, notice the world around you, with all your senses wide open. Second, remember that writing is a great way to explore the universe—not just in space and time, but also in the realm of ideas. Third, don't forget that writing is a craft, and the best way to improve is by practicing every chance you can.

And then a fourth: Don't take rejection letters to heart. Everyone gets them, even established writers. They hurt, but they are just part of life. If you have something to say, and refuse to give up, you will find a way to say it and share it with others.

Finally, in case it's helpful, please check out the page (For New Writers) on my website:

Q. Are there other writers in the family?

A. My children love to write. One of my favorite books ever is The Mysterious Arrowhead, written and illustrated by my 9-year-old daughter, Larkin, after a family rafting trip in Idaho.

Q. National Geographic Education Foundation and Girl Scouts of the USA, among other organizations, have partnered with you in providing the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes. It has also been highly commended by Jane Goodall. Can you tell us a little about the prize? What sparked the idea?

A. The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes honors outstanding young leaders who have made a significant positive difference to people and our planet. Their leadership and courage make them true heroes—and inspirations to us all. Each year, the Barron Prize honors twenty-five winners nationwide. Half of the winners have focused on helping their communities and fellow beings; half have focused on protecting the health and sustainability of the environment. The goal of the Barron Prize is to celebrate such heroic young people—and to inspire others to do their part. Like the woman for whom the prize was named—my mother, Gloria Barron—these young people demonstrate the power of one person to make a difference to the world.

Thank you for sharing such helpful suggestions for readers and budding writers. I look forward (as I'm sure readers do) to seeing the movie, The Lost Years of Merlin!

1 comment:

Rachna Chhabria said...

Lovely interview Elizabeth. I agree with the part that we must create characters with journeys that are logically consistent and emotionally rewarding. Afterall, via our books/stories we take readers on a journey, that must entertain as well enrich the reader in some way.