Every once in a while I meet an author who I feel such a strong connection with, it’s like I’ve known them a long time. Marilyn Barr is such an author. Her talent in crafting characters is sublime and her writing process is truly original. I asked if she’d be willing to sit down for an author interview and she agreed. So grab a cool beverage and sit down with us. Don’t forget to check out her new release, Bear With Me, at the end of the interview. Take it away, Marilyn:
What is your writing process?
My books start with a dream. The dream is either the ending or the final scare through the eyes of a new character. I am often found writing post-its in the middle of the night which will be turned into character aesthetics in the morning to brainstorm their rules. It is important to me that the character be consistent throughout the book in their go-to gestures, level of swearing, and favorite phrases. In Bear with Me, Grant has loud, larger than life persona without trying. His thundering footsteps, imposing voice, and boisterous laughter fills the book. Alison uses long-winded sentences, relates everything to plants, and twists her fingers when she gets anxious.
The next step is a living outline. A grid is laid out on plain paper and each chapter gets a box. During the first draft, the boxes are cut apart to be rearranged with new chapters placed between them as I get tuned into the characters. Bear with Me was entirely from Grant’s point-of-view in its first outline. However, that outline was cut, pasted back together, and decorated with marker five times before the first draft was completed.
Drafting, for me, is an exercise in controlling my riotous senses. Having sensory processing disorder, my senses can either work for or against my concentration. Each couple has their own song that I play on repeat as I draft to block out the ambient noise of my home. Grant and Alison’s song is “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend. Each character has an assigned candle scent which I burn when writing the chapters from their point-of-view. Alison’s scent is lilac like her blooming gardens. Grant’s scent is fire-roasted marshmallow because he has a fiery exterior but he’s just a softy inside.
I perch in a lotus position on a barstool at my kitchen counter to write. I love to cook, bake, and eat so I feel most at home in a kitchen. However, I homeschool so my kitchen tends to resemble Grand Central Station for most of the day. My uninterrupted writing time is from 5:00 am to 9:00 am. You will find me on social media at 7:30 am because that is my half-time break.
With each chapter as its own Word document, I create a folder of chapters to edit digitally. Before sending the assembled draft to my two critique partners, I have the manuscript professionally printed and spiral bound. I love the feel of a completed manuscript even though there is a lot of editing, revising, and more editing until it is finished.
If you could cast your characters in the Hollywood adaptation of your book, who would play your characters?
Alison – Rose Leslie
Grant – John Cusack
Rosie – Alessandra Mastronardi
Nate – Adrian Brody with bleached hair
James – Giulio Berruti
What writing advice do you have for other aspiring authors?
Be faithful to your bookshelf. The books you like to read have all the answers to the books you wish to write. How to twist the plot, the genre of your next work, who to query, and how to market your books are all combined on your bookshelf. The books you choose to purchase, read, and keep to read again are your template for your next project.
In the same vein, do not try to write a book you wouldn’t read for fun just to please the market, your friends, or your family. You will read your book a thousand times between the initial story and the final print, only to take it on a tour where you read excerpts at libraries, bookstores, and coffee shops. You will be miserable if you don’t love it. The answers to all my career questions have been answered on my bookshelf. It is a much smoother ride being true to yourself.
If you didn’t like writing books, what would you do for a living?
For six years, I taught public school science and calculus. My first teaching assignment was in a rural Ohio school which held a large contingent of Amish children. I loved the challenge of teaching combustion chemistry and electricity/magnetism physics concepts to students with no prior knowledge of modern technology. While my career took me to other schools, I absolutely loved the kids and the communities.
I signed up for all the extra teaching assignments I could. One of my jobs was to drive around the county and to teach the high schoolers on home instruction. I taught pregnant teen wives with their teen husbands, teens on house arrest, teens so ill they had round-the-clock nurses, and teens in juvenile detention centers. I taught all grades of math and science from sixth grade to calculus, whatever the students needed.
My final teaching position before leaving the field to homeschool my son was teaching at my alma mater. I taught ninth grade science and twelfth-grade physics in the same classrooms I had taken the classes years before. My youngest brother graduated from my first year teaching and I had most of his friends in my classes. Nothing was more unnerving than picking up my son at my parent’s house after school and find my students in the living room, waiting for me to arrive to ask questions. I had to transition from public school teaching to homeschool mom when my son’s illnesses made him too sick for school. The drastic change from high school seniors to kindergarten gave me whiplash.
What is your best marketing tip?
Create a hashtag for your book and have shirts made with it on the front. Wearing my #Strawberryshifters shirts to events recruits social media followers without having to pitch to them. People are naturally curious and always with their phones, why not have them look up your book while surfing? I have had people ask me about my book series while sitting in lobbies, the salon, the zoo, and even Disney World. I’m always happy to talk about paranormal romance. When they turn their phone toward me and ask, “Is this you?”, I get a chance to spread my love for the genre.
Is there a certain type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?
When writing my first draft, I substitute my husband’s name for the love interest even if I have the character’ s name in my mind. The Strawberry shifters books have a spicy hot heat level. It makes my skin crawl to be intimate with someone else even if it is in my mind. My racy scenes are honest, emotional, and pivotal to the plot because I’m writing them from an innermost place in my heart. I couldn’t write them any other way.
What are you working on now? What is your next project?
The Strawberry shifters book series is bigger than Strawberry Kentucky. Book 2: Round of Applause has been submitted for a holiday release as the residents of Strawberry try to rescue James and the girl in the fortress before Winter Solstice. In submission for summer 2021 is a spin-off novella, Smoother Than Spumoni, which follows Frank Junior on his summer internship to Seagrass Island Florida. Back in Kentucky, Book 3: Go Scorch Yourself is being edited by a nurse-turned-romance-writer for medical authenticity while I am drafting Book 4: Bad Guy at my kitchen counter.
What is the biggest fib you’ve ever told?
When I was in early elementary school, I convinced my class and teacher that I was producing a play I had written. The play was a spin-off of the 1980s Rose Petal books. I led my classmates through blocking and rehearsals inside and outside of the classrooms, even though it was to be performed on the stage my father was building. I collected sizes for the costumes my mother would make. Imagine my parent’s surprise when they found out about all this at parent/teacher conferences. Alison the Green Witch, the main character in Bear with Me, is loosely based on Rose Petal. If it goes to screen, I may still get the production, now over thirty years in the making.
Do you drink? Smoke? What’s your vice?
I’m a goodie-two-shoes. I don’t drink alcohol, don’t smoke, and don’t eat meat. I would be a skinny vegan if I didn’t have a love of cheese. Cheese in all forms, on its own, or in a meal, is my vice.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I would love to have the power of precognition. To be able to look in the future and see my son as a healthy, happy, well-adjusted adult would be a relief. I think all parents would sleep easier if they had that ability.
Where is one place you want to visit that you haven’t been before?
It is my dream to visit Hadrian’s Wall in northern England. Through genetic testing, I have found the members of my maternal biological family settled in villages around the wall after going a’viking during the middle ages.
What’s on your bucket list (things to do before you die)?
See a moose in the wild
See whales in the wild
See the Northern Lights & sleep in an igloo/ice palace
Ride in a hot air balloon
Zipline through the jungle
Walk along a volcanic ridge
Visit bats while spelunking
Visit Hadrian’s Wall
Go on a New Orleans vampire or ghost tour
Learn to speak Italian
What were you like as a child? Your favorite toy?
My wild imagination was a defining feature by the time I went to school. I often raided the linen closet to make stage scenery for my stuffed animals and bore my parents to tears with performances. However, My favorite toy was my Fisher-Price record player and collection of records. I would choreograph routines in my room to Tchaikovsky’s ballets and Giacomo’s operas. I wanted to be a choreographer on Broadway until I switched my focus to science and medicine at age 9. Then for fun, I made medical innovations from legos to doctor my disintegrating stuffed animals.
Title Strawberry Shifters Book 1: Bear with Me
Author Marilyn Barr
Genre Paranormal Romance
Publisher The Wild Rose Press
Blue eyes, dimples, and silky brown hair; Grant Luther has all of Alison's weaknesses.
When he asks for one last chance to save their marriage, she agrees to relocate their family to isolated Strawberry, Kentucky in pursuit of his career dreams. Grant views Alison's sensory issues as limitations and protects her from outside threats. When he finds his new job includes changing him into a shifter in a war against the soul-sucking Sluagh he vows to keep the changes a secret. What he doesn't know is Alison has been hiding a magical secret of her own. One that makes her a target of the Sluagh.
Will Alison emerge from Grant's shadow to protect her family? And can Grant learn that being different can be a strength not a weakness?
“You look perfect. I mean perfectly healthy. I mean mostly uninjured,” she stammers. She places her tiny hand over her eyes.
Feeling braver than ever, I walk right up to her. I gently remove the hand from her face and hold it to my own. “See, I’m fine,” I whisper as I gently rub my thumb over her tiny knuckles.
Her eyes lift to mine and lock our gazes. I have always found the golden color of her eyes fascinating but never studied them up close. They are light brown with a golden star in the middle. I am literally star gazing as she takes in the injuries to my face. We stand there for about a minute, lost in time.