I always enjoy finding a new book series to read in the summer. Instead of just one story, it's great to find several based around the same character or around a familiar theme location or premise. Today's guest in My Writing Corner is Barb Barrett, who has a new book that is part of a series that has me wanting to make certain I read them all.
Welcome, Barb. Did you always want to be a writer?
Thanks to an elementary school teacher, I knew from an early age that I could write. In sixth grade, an essay I did on traveling through France—all from reading, didn’t get to see it for myself until much later—appeared in the town’s newspaper. When I was 15, I placed in a national essay contest in my church’s denomination. As a history major in college and graduate school, I did well on essay tests. In my job, I was called upon to draft numerous reports and memos and even was in charge of our newsletter for a while. But I didn’t start writing fiction until my late 30s. Do you recall the character of Felicia Gallant on the now defunct soap opera “Another World”? She was a romance novelist. I think it was her boas that got to me. I thought, “I could do that too!” I tell people I avoided a midlife crisis by writing romance (actually, I did get my own red convertible about that time, so I didn’t completely avoid it). But I had no idea what I was doing until I joined RWA and my local chapter in Iowa. Finishing that first book was a major accomplishment.
How did you get your start in publishing?
My first published book was with a new small digital press in 2012. Being new, they needed inventory. It was a great opportunity to learn the publishing process. A few months later, another of my books was selected by The Wild Rose Press. I’ve been with them for almost four years now. I got the email accepting that book while I was on a four-day mini reunion with six of my high school friends and held off sharing the news until we were out on a tour boat on Lake Superior viewing the Duluth, Minnesota coastline.
Tell us about your latest book and what made you want to write it?
My latest book, Keeping It Casual
, is the third and final book in The Matchmaking Motor Coach series about three brothers who run a luxury motor coach customization business in my hometown of Burlington, Iowa. When I wrote the first book, I deliberately set it in my hometown, because I wanted to write about places I knew for once (having set my first books in New York City and South Carolina). I’d also been impressed by a newspaper article detailing how a famous country music star was touring the country in her customized motor coach. The idea of making what is virtually a fancy bus your home on wheels intrigued me. Just before I started this book, I finally got to see an actual customization operation, a huge one, Millennium Luxury Coaches, in Sanford, Florida. I’m glad I saved this trip until then, or I don’t know how I would have thought I could have three men complete the work over a hundred workers did there.
The hero in “Casual,” Geoff McKenna, has multiple sclerosis. A former boss also suffered from this condition and I observed what she went through. She told me that summer was harder on her than other times of the year, so all three of the books take place then. In this book, particularly, they are experiencing not only a flood on the Mississippi but also very humid weather for May. Last year, before I’d finalized the book, I contacted a former high school classmate, who has had MS for several years, and asked her to review the story to make sure it was credible.
Where do you get story ideas
I’ve called my writing “Romance at Work,” because as a former human resources management analyst I wanted to make the occupations of my characters a major part of the story. I’ve written about chefs, forensic accountants, software developers and general construction contractors. I’ve also written more than once about another career I might have followed myself, interior design.
For one series, I’ve started with just a title that appealed to me. “Casual” was originally going to be “The Escape Clause” when I was titling the trilogy as the “Clause” series. After the first book, The Sleepover Clause, I couldn’t come up with an equally catchy title for the second book while still incorporating “clause,” so it became Seduction on Wheels. When it came time to name this book, I used the main theme.
My other series, “Sullivan’s Creek,” began with Saved by the Salsa, since the H/H taught a Salsa class. I wanted to continue the Latin dance theme in the titles of the second and third books, so I came up with Tough Enough to Tango and Not Your Mama’s Mambo, but I had no idea about the plots. I developed the subsequent stories around those phrases.
Tell us about your writing process. Do you plot carefully or wing it?
I like a certain amount of structure, so I know where I’m going, like a road map, but then I let my imagination loose and see what happens. Once I finish the first draft, I prepare a table that includes by chapter scenes the POV character, time and elapsed time since the beginning of the book, and the main purpose of the scene. This is a great analytical tool for discovering scenes that aren’t contributing to the story, out-of-sequence scenes, too much POV of one character versus the other, and too short/too long scenes. After that analysis, I do the first and beyond rewrites.
How do you normally come up with characters?
I need a certain amount of discipline as I begin a story, so that I can shape my characters as I go. For that reason, I try to adhere to Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict (GMC) approach. I also let the names of my characters help me define them. Then I narrow in on their physical characteristics, hair and eye color, height. With those in mind, I find photos of celebrities or models to really nail it. I spent hours searching the Internet last night seeking a tall, willowy, strawberry blonde female. I have a “look” in mind, and every time I thought I might have something, the eyes weren’t right or they were too young or too old. So I’ll give it a day or two and then try again.
How did you come up with your characters for this book?
I knew from the start that Geoff would be the Hero. Since he was a secondary character in the first two books, I’d already had a chance to shape him and introduce him to readers. With the first book, I decided which celebrities would serve as models for each of the three brothers. I had to find three delicious-looking males who resembled each other; what a task, right? Ryan Peavey, who plays “Nathan West” on “General Hospital, was my inspiration for the youngest brother, Mitch, for the first book. The late Paul Walker became Graham. Chris Pine as Geoff was a lucky pick, since “Star Trek: Beyond” is currently doing so well at the box office. I focus on Geoff’s MS in this book, because it has become the controlling factor in his life and is preventing him from seeing a future for himself. Geoff’s MS has so far manifested as a lighter case than many. To counterbalance his situation, I added the character of Kyle Sutton to show how devastating this disease can be.
Alexandra, “Alex,” Appleby emerged as I was drafting the second book. The Heroine, Jenna DeFranco, and her half-sister, Aubrey Carpenter, discuss their mother with a cousin, who asks about their stepsister, the daughter of their mother’s current husband (#3). They admit they hardly know her, because her mother’s divorce from their stepfather, Buddy Appleby, was so acrimonious. (Still with me?)
Since Geoff had started dating a local woman in Book 1, I’d always planned to break them up in Book 3, so why not make it another “sister”? Aubrey has brownish-red hair and Jenna is a killer blonde, so Alex got to be a brunette. With short hair. Since Geoff had been a ladies’ man before his MS, I wanted Alex to be self-confident enough to deal with that. As I was finishing the rough draft last fall, the new TV season began. Jaimie Alexander of “Blindspot” caught my attention as the perfect model for Alex.
How about a blurb?
Talent manager Alex Appleby needs Geoff McKenna's
help. Her vicious client is threatening the reputation of Alex's
television-star father if Alex can't convince her stepsister to go along with
the client's demand. Alex turns to Geoff to make the case to her sister.
Geoff has his own proposition for Alex. Thus far,
his case of multiple sclerosis has been mild, but he’s unsure of his future.
When his girlfriend pushes for a stronger commitment, he enlists Alex as his
new pretend love interest so his girlfriend will break things off.
When they discover they
actually are attracted to each other, they agree to keep things casual, since
Alex is only in town briefly and Geoff isn’t interested in anything serious.
But fate intervenes as their feelings deepen. Alex must decide whether to
relocate to Iowa from LA, and Geoff must place faith in his future.
Rose Press (digital)
How can readers get in touch with you?
Thanks, Barb, for being my guest. Any questions or comments for Barb?