Thursday, April 26, 2007

Enchanted Fridays Journey of a Novelist

I’m thrilled to interview one of my favorite authors this enchanting morning—Barbara O’Connor!!!

Barbara and I have one of those "old-fashioned" friendships –like before the telephone was invented and visiting each other was pure fantasy for two buddies living on opposite sides of the country. We discovered each other on a writer’s chat group, started emailing and haven’t stopped—and it's been ten years!!!! Friendship through the written word—I’d say that’s perfect for two writers.

Barbara O'Connor


Frances Foster Books, FSG, 2007

Barb’s web site:

Visit her new blog, too!

Kimberley: How did you get the idea for HOW TO STEAL A DOG?

: This story started with a sign posted in a garden center near my home:

Still Searching for Willy.

No Questions Asked.

A hefty reward was being offered for the return of the little dog described as “very shy." I left that garden center with two pots of geraniums in the trunk of my car and Willy on my mind. He stayed there for a long time and wouldn’t go away. And then one day, as with most of my books, a title popped into my head: How to Steal a Dog

I tried and tried to think of a story to go with the title, but, as usual, that didn’t work. I always have to wait and let the story come to me. I had almost given up hope when the character of Georgina Hayes appeared in my imagination, along with the first sentence of the book:

“The day I decided to steal a dog as the same day my best friend, Luanne Godfrey, found out I lived in a car.”

And then I was off and running.

Kimberley: Do you have any personal experience with homelessness? How did you go about doing the research – or maybe you just have this brilliant imagination. Which I totally do not doubt!

Barbara: I just have a brilliant imagination. (Kidding, of course.) Thankfully, I have no personal experience with homelessness. And why Georgina presented herself to me as homeless is a mystery. As for research, I confess that I did the research after I wrote the story.

Flannery O’Connor once said, “We don’t need to be immersed in experience, we just need to contemplate it.”

So that’s what I did. As I wrote Georgina’s story, I transported myself into that car where she lived. I imagined how it looked, how it smelled, how she would sleep, where she would keep her stuff, what she would see outside her window.

But I knew that it would be important to portray her situation sensitively and realistically. I needed to research, to educate myself about the reality of homelessness, and, in particular, rural homelessness. So I read everything I could get my hands on about rural homelessness, primarily from government agencies, such as the National Coalition for the Homeless and the Rural Poverty Research Center.

Kimberley: Love Georgina’s notebook ( I have a love affair myself with the color purple.) Was the notebook part of the book’s initial conception, or did it come later? We see her entire character arc through that notebook.

Barbara: Glad you like the notebook! I love using those sorts of devices to portray the feelings of a character. I used postcards in MOONPIE AND IVY and drawings in TAKING CARE OF MOSES. Georgina’s notebook was an effective way to show her evolving feelings about what she had done.

Kimberley: What was the best/worst part of writing HOW TO STEAL A DOG?

Barbara: The best part was crawling into Georgina’s head and actually stealing a dog. That was fun! The worst part was trying to figure out how to get her out of her predicament and trying to be realistic about her homelessness, yet still sensitive to the issue.

Kimberley: Where did the characters of Carmella and Mookie come from? (For those who haven’t read the book yet, Carmella is the owner of the stolen dog and Mookie is a homeless man full of down to earth wisdom and wit.) They’re so brilliant and quirky, and yet very real. Do you have this secret stash of fabulous characters hidden in your basement?

Barbara: Oh how I wish I had that secret stash! Carmella came purely from my imagination, but Mookie was inspired by a real person. My mother lives in an assisted living facility down in South Carolina. There was a wonderful old man who lives there – named Mookie! He sits out front all day long so he can smoke. When he told me his name, I knew I had to use him in a book. (His real name is Green Hill, Junior. That’s a pretty cool name, too.)

Kimberley: Tell us about your journey to publication. Give us the low-down on the agent/editor hunt and where were you when you got THE CALL that somebody wanted to publish your book?

Barbara: I started my career with biographies for children, but since my heart is with fiction, I’ll tell you about that journey. I actually got pretty lucky. I was in a writers group with Leslie Guccione, an author who, at the time, was writing a series for Scholastic. She offered to send my manuscript to her editor, Ann Reit. Ann liked the manuscript (Beethoven in Paradise) and asked if I’d be willing to work with her on revisions. Of course I said yes! We worked together on it for several months and then Ann decided it just wasn’t right for her. Talk about disappointing! But she offered to connect me with an agent, which, as you know, was a big favor and one which I was extremely grateful for. The agent was Barbara Markowitz. Barbara and I were a perfect match and are still together. Barbara ultimately sold BEETHOVEN IN PARADISE to Frances Foster at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

I remember exactly the moment I got THE CALL. I was on vacation with my husband’s family in Florida. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited.

Kimberley: Any advice for aspiring writers?

Barbara: Two things come to mind first for me with regard to aspiring writers. First, focus on finding your unique writing voice and write something different and fresh. You’ve got to stand out from the pack in such a competitive business. Second, don’t give up. Publishing requires lots of perseverance.

Kimberley: What are you working on now? Any books coming down the pipeline?

Barbara: I just finished the copyedits for my next novel, due out in the spring of 2008. It’s called GREETINGS FROM NOWHERE. This was a fun book for me because I was ready to challenge myself and try a multiple viewpoint story. This one has four points of view and was much harder than I had anticipated. Hopefully, I pulled it off. Time will tell, I guess.

Kimberley: The most surprising or unexpected thing that has happened to you since getting published.

Barbara: I wasn’t prepared for how much marketing I would have to do. I always figured you just write a book and get it published and that’s it. Ha! Little did I know I’d have to do mailings and prepare brochures and speak at conferences and all those things that I’m not particularly good at and don’t particularly enjoy.

Kimberley: What is your own secret wish (goal) for your life or writing?

Barbara: I’d love to reach a level of success where I could earn enough from royalties to not be so dependent on school visits for income. That would be cool! (Although I do enjoy going to schools a lot.) And name recognition would be pretty groovy.

Kimberley: My own secret wish is to meet you someday, but I won’t, um, steal a dog to buy my airplane ticket, okay? Thank you so much for being with us today, Barbara – and please, don’t stop writing!!! You have more fans than you know.

Barbara’s web site:

Visit her new blog, too!

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