Wednesday, April 6, 2022

INTERVIEW with MARILYN BARR

 

I want to first thank Marilyn Barr for this interview!


BIO:

Marilyn Barr currently resides in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband, son, and rescue cats. She has a diverse background containing experiences as a child prodigy turned medical school reject, published microbiologist, special education/inclusion science teacher, homeschool mother of a savant, certified spiritual & energy healer, and advocate for the autistic community. This puts her in the position to bring tales containing heroes who are regular people with different ability levels and body types, in a light where they are powerful, lovable, and appreciated.

When engaging with the real world, she is collecting characters, empty coffee cups, and unused homeschool curricula. She is a sucker (haha) for cheesy horror movies, Italian food, punk music, black cats, bad puns, and all things witchy. 


When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve loved writing for fun since first grade. My first pieces were fanfiction plays of the 1980’s classic cartoon: Rose Petal Place. 

However, in school, I studied mostly math and science and didn’t pursue writing as a serious topic until I graduated from graduate school. 

I was a technical writer in my first “grownup” job as a microbiologist. My first publication was in 2001 in the Journal of Aerosol Science on engineering droplet sizes in inhaler designs to minimize bacterial delivery when they get dirty. Yeah…I studied droplets and dust for 7 years. Nerd-alert!

 

Did you have any influencing writers growing up?

My favorite author growing up was V.C. Andrews. My deceased grandmother Marilyn, whose name is now my pen name, used to pick up V.C. Andrews books for me at the grocery store—and smuggle them past my parents! V.C. Andrews has a large influence on my writing style. 

I write romance with a creepy factor. My books are quirky with a dark edge that surprises my readers.

My writing is also influenced by Sir Terry Pratchett and Ray Bradbury. I love research and will learn the technical aspects of a book inside and out before I start my first draft. I love to layer commentary on social issues, inside jokes, subplots, and puns of all sizes in my work like they do. I want my readers to be able to enjoy my books multiple times and find new treasures with each pass.

 

Are any of your characters based on people in real life?

I insert the people I meet in the lobbies of my son’s therapy appointments into the dreams I have about the wilds of Kentucky (where I live). These scenes are either the final scare or the ending of my books. I interview them, their physical/occupational therapists, parents (if they are kids), and spouses (if they are adults) on what experiences are unique to them based on their disability. One of my goals as an author is to increase the representation of disabled people in romance novels beyond the silly sidekick or victim in need of a hero. I want to create romances for the people in my life where they are their heroes.

Alison in Bear with Me, and subsequent Strawberry Shifters books, is an #ownvoices character. I have sensory processing disorder and I wrote Alison with the same combination of sensitivities and under-reactivities as I have.

 

Where do you draw your book inspirations from?

In addition to lobbies and doctor’s offices, most of my research for the Strawberry Shifters comes from the zoo. I love to study animal behavior and watch nature documentaries. 

While writing Go Scorch Yourself (6/13/2022 release date), I became friends with the bat’s caretakers at my local zoo from the amount of time I spent watching the bat’s wing patterns. Being a biomedical scientist for seven years, I have training in many animal medical procedures which gave us common ground. When it was time for some of the bat’s annual checkups and vaccinations. my spouse had signed me up for a behind-the-scenes animal encounter with the bats. It was a dream come true to go into the back of the zoo exhibit and hold one. The caretakers said the encounters with elephants are the most popular and no one had ever requested the bats. They claimed to have guessed it was me before I arrived.

 

Do you use have a basic outline when starting a new story or do you let the characters lead the way?

I love to ignore a beautiful outline. 

When I start drafting, I have a picture in my head of how I want a few scenes to look. For example, the conversation Frank Jr and Susie had in Smoother Than Spumoni played in my head months before I wrote the book. It’s a matter of getting my characters to the scene which often changes. 

My outlines look like stacking blocks with each square representing a scene or chapter. As I write, they will be rearranged, deleted, combined, or expanded. My record for the latest change made to an outline is after chapter 15 for the book, Walk the Night, which has 23 chapters.

 

When you are picturing the characters in your book, do you have a cheater photo for inspiration?

I love making character colleges and maps for Strawberry, KY is just as much a character as the shifters. The fictional town has a five-foot by eleven-foot map hanging in my house. 

As I collect character details and inspiration pictures, I glue them over each character’s house or business. For example, Aurora describes Dr. V’s chiropractic office in Round of Applause when she’s a patient and Betty describes it when she works as his nurse in Go Scorch Yourself. 

The space-themed d├ęcor, vampire accommodating lobby, and their “hippie doctor” owner must be the same in both stories…and when Dr. V’s estranged daughter comes back to town in Book 7: Cotton Batting (coming soon).

 

Many people read as a form of escape and relaxation. What is your favorite way to sit back and relax?

I’m a reader. I read three to five books a week when I’m not drafting a new story (which slows me down to 1-2 per week). 

I love romance books – the hotter the better – but I’m not picky about the subgenre. From Victorian ladies to tentacle monsters, I love to read about characters falling in love.

 

Who are your favorite current authors to read?

My favorite authors are Anne Rice, Christine Feehan, Terry Pratchett, JR Ward, Lynsay Sands, Lora Leigh, Tiffany Roberts, Ruby Dixon, Sydney Winward, Kristal Dawn Harris, Joey W. Hill, and Sarita Leone.

 

What are your favorite books by others? 

I love A Breath of Sunlight by Sydney Winward, Ensnared by Tiffany Roberts, Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, Beloved Vampire by Joey W. Hill, Crossbreed by Lora Leigh…I could go on and on.

 

Do the locations in the stories have any meaning to you?

Strawberry, KY is modeled after Ada, Ohio circa. 2000. In this little, two-stoplight town, is Ohio Northern University where my husband and I fell in love. The Ohio town has grown to include a Mcdonald's and multiple pizza joints but when we were students, it was the middle of a cornfield.

Seagrass Island, in Smoother Than Spumoni, is modeled after Anna Maria Island where my family vacations every fall. Later in the series, readers will meet my family’s other favorite vacation spot. Rosie’s 1980s love story plus the internships of two of Frank Jr’s little brothers take place with the Forrest pack. This pack lives in the wooded part of NC in the books but their area is modeled after Sevierville, TN. 

[NOTE FROM READING BY DEB - This got me excited since I live in Sevierville, TN - small world!]

 

Do you write in single or multiple POV?

All of my books are first-person dual POV where the reader is inside the hero and the heroine except for two books. 

Strawberry Shifters Book 2: Round of Applause is a throuple instead of a couple, so the reader gets the first-person POV from all three people in the family. 

Walk the Walk Book 3: Walk the Night finishes the tale of the main couple plus tells the story of two side characters. In this book, the reader experiences the first-person POV of all four characters.

 

What do you find to be your best research tool?

I can cheat at research because I’m a homeschool mom. Our library system allows homeschoolers to order “school boxes” on certain topics. When I was researching the pirate code for Walk the Plank, I taught “Democracy before the Creation of America” in my homeschool, and focused on pirate rights. Our librarians collected a moving box full of books, videos, and website recommendations on pirates circa 1700. By judging what inspired my son and me, I was able to select the themes for the book series.

                

Do you write under a pen name? Also, do you write under more than one name? 

Yes, it is an Americanized version of my grandmother, Marilyn’s name. She passed away in 2012. As a child, she encouraged my love of reading and wild imagination. She had floor-to-ceiling bookshelves in her attic full of raunchy romances with Fabio on the cover. My uptight parents didn’t like me reading V.C. Andrews in my teens so she used to smuggle them to me.

 

What genre do you write and why is this your preference?

I write mostly paranormal romance. 

I love the idea of everyone deserving love and the chance to unite with their soulmate—no matter how long their fangs may be. 

Lately, I have been toying with placing these modern characters in eras of history where the status of outcast is more exaggerated and problematic. Being shunned in this day and age means going on social media and finding like-minded individuals. However, in the 1700s, being ‘other’ meant being dissected in public forums. Yikes!

 

Tell me something about yourself outside of writing. Jobs, accomplishments, family, quirky traits...what led to you being you?

I have two ‘days jobs.’ I homeschool my autistic son and I’m a spiritual healer. I have certification in Reiki healing, herbalism, and Shamanism (general American and Hawaiian). People come to me with spiritual, emotional, or stress-induced physical ailments for healing. The spiritual or magical healing sessions in my books are inspired by ones I have performed in real life. 

For example, Nartan in Dance to a Wylder Beat heals Ikshu in Sound of a Wylder Silence using a childhood dream regression that I use to heal trauma. Makaha in Dream Catcher is a Hawaiian Shamanic Practitioner who uses spiritual bone washing to cut the cord to his reincarnated wife which I have performed and received as a patient.

 

If you are a duo writing team, how do you share the writing process?

Nope, I’m an army of one.

 

What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?

Write your book for yourself…because you will have to read it 1000 times and then get other readers excited about it. All of my books are ones like the books I read for pleasure.

 

How do you deal and process negative book reviews?

I keep a folder of my original notes, outlines, and pictures from my writing process. When reviews appear after release, I write notes on what the reader liked or disliked inside the folder. That way when the book’s contract renews with my publisher, I can make the necessary adjustments for the second printing. 

I love to learn and strive to constantly improve in everything I do. Reviews are learning tools if they are more than a summary of the book. I love reviews which tell me their impressions of the hero and heroine, what they loved, and what was their least favorite part of the book. If the review says they needed more setting details to keep from getting lost, that’s an easy fix for the next edition. If they don’t tell me, more readers will miss out on the details they need to enjoy the story.

 

What is the most difficult part of your writing process?

The hardest part to write is Chapter 1. 

As a former scientist and technical writer, the temptation to info-dump is strong within me. I want to tell the reader everything about the setting and describe my main characters from the way their hair falls to their shoe preferences. 

For a few of my books, I abandoned Chapter 1 in the middle and finished it when the rest of the book was done. At the end of the book, I know which details are relevant and can rein in my verbose nature.

 

What do you need in your writer’s space to keep you focused?

Having Sensory Processing Disorder can be disruptive but it can also be a superpower.  To keep my senses from becoming distractions, I engage them in the writing process. 

For each chapter, I burn the candle I associate with the character who is lending me their point of view.  To start each writing session I listen to the character’s song (sometimes on repeat) to engage my sense of hearing. I have the candle scents and couple’s song for each book listed on my website under SPD Hacks.

 

What is your naughty indulgence as you are writing?

I can write anywhere but in public. 

When I write, my stimming is left unchecked. I flap my hands in suspense-filled scenes, cry when my characters are sad, yell at them when they want to propose on page 1, and dance around when they have a victory.

 

If you could spend a day with another popular author, whom would you choose? And why?

Lora Leigh. 

I was fortunate to meet her at several reader/author events when I first started writing fiction. She’s down-to-earth, generous in her time to readers, and a fantastic writer. When I started writing, I still attended these events as a reader to absorb knowledge from established authors. She gave me amazing advice on two different occasions. Spending a day with her, I could learn so much.

 

What is your schedule like when you are writing? Do you have a favorite writing snack or drink?

Most of my drafting happens between 5 am and 7 am, but I will have a second writing session from 7 am to 9 am when I have a deadline. Because I homeschool my medically fragile son, the bulk of my writing happens before he wakes in the morning—especially the dirty scenes. He loves to read over my shoulder which has caused a few incidents where we had impromptu sex ed conversations. Oops…

Because I write so early in the morning, I have a cup of coffee (or three) at my side. I quit drinking coffee at 10 am so I can fall asleep, so I don’t embody the coffee-chugging stereotype. With my caffeine, I like to have pita and hummus, fruit and yogurt, or cheese and crackers.

 

Do you listen to music when you write – what kind of music is your favorite? 

All of my books have a couple’s song. Here are the songs for the Strawberry Shifters Books, currently published or with my publisher:

Book 1: Bear with Me

“Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend

Book 2: Round of Applause

“Goodbyes” by The Knocks feat. Method Man

Book 3: Go Scorch Yourself

“Fire Escape” by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

Novella: Smoother Than Spumoni / Book 8: Water Under the Bridge

“Conversation” by Catfish & the Bottlemen

Book 4: Rotten Apple

“Walking Disaster” by Sum 41

Book 5: The 5th Wheel

“Superman” by Goldfinger

 

Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

My writing partner, Pepper, is my secret to productivity. The 18-pounds of fuzz and attitude pounces me awake every morning. At 5-years-old, my black cat doesn’t care if it’s New Year’s Day. We are getting up to write so he can nap in my lap. Our kitten, Tzatziki, couldn’t care less if I’m writing or not, but Pepper is my accountability partner.

 

What is your kryptonite as a writer? What totally puts you off your game?

My kryptonite would be my migraines. I have three autoimmune diseases which manifest in the form of severe headaches. The worst part is not the pain but the changes to my vision. My peripheral vision becomes cloudy and sometimes I get a white spot right in the center. The spot makes writing impossible.

 

Have you ever killed off a character that your readers loved?

Not yet… In the Strawberry Shifters, we know Gran has started aging rapidly since her husband (with the magic age-lengthening shifter blood) passed away. In the first book, a character remarks that she has aged twenty years in the two years since he died. She will not last much longer.

 

How do you celebrate after typing THE END?

I switch series and write the book which has been sitting on my mind. 

Having a series in modern-day KY, in the 1880s Wild West USA, in the 1710s Caribbean, and modern-day Antarctica gives me a wide range of mental breaks through task switching. 

I’m grouchy when I don’t write, so switching series helps me prevent burnout.

 

I hope you enjoyed this interview!

Check out all my interviews/reviews for Marilyn Barr!


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Connect w/ Marilyn:

Website:
https://www.marilynbarr.com/

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/MarilynBarrAuthor/

Amazon:
https://www.amazon.com/Marilyn-Barr/e/B084R5GQVS

Goodreads:
https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20256962.Marilyn_Barr

BookBub:
https://www.bookbub.com/profile/marilyn-barr

Instagram:
https://www.instagram.com/marilyn_barr_author/

Twitter:
https://twitter.com/author_barr

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