Back in January 2013, I interviewed author Barbara Barth for my WordPress blog. I hope you enjoy it...
Welcome to the six hundred and twenty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with memoirist, non-fiction author and spotlightee Barbara Barth. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello again, Barbara. Please remind us about yourself, and how you came to be a writer.
Barbara: Death, Dating, and Dogs in Decatur, Georgia. I laugh and like to sum up my memoir with those words. Humor has saved my life when I thought I couldn’t move. Becoming a widow three months before I turned sixty was not in my life plan. My husband and I lived together twenty years and then married for another five years. We had no children, except our two dogs. I was retired from my job with the Federal Government and, while I dabbled in selling antiques, I realized I had nothing to do after he died. I sat on my sofa in total panic that I was alone.
Late at night I sent pitiful e-mails to friends, who were not up at that hour to answer. I’d listen to music, play with the dogs, and then send another e-mail with the words, “never mind”. No one ever acknowledged my craziness. But I knew I needed to get control if I was going to deal with the word “widow” and find my place again. I needed to jump start my life quickly or give in to grief. I started dating within three months to get out of the house, bought a vintage Corvette that I never drive, and let the universe guide me to my path. I became a dog hoarder.
Writing became my tool for dealing with the pain. At first I wrote to clear my head of demons. Then, along the way, a funny thing happened. I discovered I loved to write. I liked putting words on paper (in this case Word) and working with dialog. I went from being sad, to finding pleasure in the late night hours, writing my story with my own brand of humor.
Now I have to write, not because I am alone, but because it is in my blood. I feel cheated if I don’t write every day!
Morgen: It’s great that something positive came out of your situation. Writing can be very therapeutic. You write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Barbara: I decided to share my story on finding a new life for myself. My memoir is a series of essays over a year doing all those things I never thought I’d do again. It is very personal and no subject is off limits. One of my older friends, as in age, read my book. She is very dignified. I worried a bit about how she would view me afterwards. While we have known each other in the antique world for many years, we had more of a business friendship. Soon after she finished my book we met for lunch. “I was really surprised at something I read.” She looked me straight in the eye and I thought, oh no, here it comes. My mind immediately went to my dating misadventures. “I can’t believe you only own one bra!” We had a good laugh about that. I now own more. But that little tidbit came out in an essay on always being late. My new rescue dog swiped my bra and was chewing it in the living room as I was frantically trying to get to my part-time job. She and I now have lunch weekly and talk about everything under the sun!
Morgen: How funny (especially when I first thought that you and your dog had lunch weekly and talked to each other!). What have you had published to-date? Do you write under a pseudonym?
Barbara: The Unfaithful Widow is my first book. However, every night I write essays on life as I see it, as a sixty-plus single female leading a creative life with a six dogs at home. My essays are on many sites for women, including Silver & Grace in Canada, Skirt.com in the United States, and most recently in On Purpose Woman, a magazine in the metro Baltimore, Maryland, area and on Speak Out Friday with Women On Writing (WOW). I was featured in Silver & Grace’s e-book Women Who Make A Difference. I am a member of the blogging team for Lifetime Television’s ‘The Balancing Act’, a morning TV show for women, where I post online as the CEO of Life on Monday (Creative, Energized, and Old Enough To Know Better).
In December 2010, I published a one-time, twenty-six page, e-zine for rescue dogs and vintage dog art called Writer With Dogs: The Magazine Where Dogs Meet Art. You can still view it online today (http://www.epaperflip.com/aglaia/viewer.aspx?docid=4e65b04193e346d08143d5c6c2d36a22).
I am embarrassed to admit it, but I have many of my own blogs, one for every interest it seems, and I am always posting on them too. Miss April In Paris, my big hunting dog, had her own blog for a few months where she dreamed of going to Paris. It turned out to be kismet. While on a book blog tour with Women On Writing, I landed on Tilly The Dog site in England. The post had to be written from the dog’s point of view. Miss April in Paris had her blog to share!
I use my own name, for better or worse. Because my writing is personal, my name is my brand. I write from my heart and, when you do that, you have to be true. I can’t hide behind a pseudonym. I also use my personal e-mail in all my promotional material. It is wonderful that other widows have written to me and we have become friends. I like to have contact with my readers.
Writer With Dogs is a title I gave myself because I live with six dogs from my local animal shelters. I adopted five rescue dogs in nine months the year after my husband died. My old gal Foxy (a small German Shepherd mix that my husband and I got when she was seven weeks old) left me last winter. My numbers went down to five. It didn’t seem right. I liked to call my dogs my six-pack. Then a dog from animal control caught my attention on Facebook. I looked at her long sad face, I’d had a bad week myself, so I decided we’d rescue each other. I am writing a book on my experience on bringing Bertha into the fold.
Morgen: Nothing to embarrassed about having lots of blogs. I have over half a dozen (listed on http://morgenbailey.wordpress.com/blogs). It’s just finding the time to keep them all going that’s the difficult bit, but then like anything, if we enjoy what we’re doing, we find the time. You’ve self-published, what lead to you going your own way?
Barbara: As with everything in my life, I feel like I am being guided… fate, the universe, God. I am open to all and have a strong spiritual side. I do kid, however, that when my husband was alive, I listened more to him. Now on my own, I have conversations with the universe and look for signs. Probably my gut telling me what to do, but circumstances sometimes make me question further.
I could not decide if I should find an agent. It was a dreary, rainy fall day, and I had to go to the post office to pick up a registered letter. (By the way, the letter contained rhinestone dragonflies for a project I was working on. I didn’t want you to think it was a bill collector!) Standing in line I saw a friend of mine further down. We waved to each other. In a loud voice she yelled, “What are you doing now?” I yelled back, “Just about finished writing my book.” The woman in front of me turned around and said she was a writer too. Her next words sealed my fate. “There is a course on publishing at Emory University in a few days. You need to take it.” I went home, got online, and registered for it. Three days later I was in class and learned about self-publishing and print on demand. I like to think that was my sign!
For me it was the perfect answer. Because my story was so personal, I didn’t want anyone to change it. I also had a vision on how I wanted the book to look. My sister created the altered art photos. Her friend, a commercial graphic artist, designed my cover. I crafted the layout. I opted for a company that, for a fee, did the print ready PDF and handled putting my book on Amazon and Kindle. I send my word document and instructions and they made it happen. I did my own pre-publication work. In December 2009, I started my first blog, Confessions of the Unfaithful Widow, and in April 2010 my book was published. I did a massive online marketing campaign surrounding my book launch. I am very happy with the path I chose for my book.
Morgen: Rhinestone dragonflies sound lovely. I think we us Brits think of rhinestones we think of Dolly Parton, country & western or line dancing. You’ve mentioned one of the advantages to self-publishing; that you get the content you want. Horror writer Dean Koontz is quoted (as well as have 500+ rejections) as saying that one of his books only had seven of his words left. An overstatement of course but it shows how little control he had, presumably in the early days. Are your books available as eBooks? Do you read eBooks or is it paper all the way?
Barbara: My book is available in soft-cover on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and e-book with Kindle. I don’t read e-books, but feel it is essential to offer this format in today’s market.
I love to feel a book and am a book hoarder as well as a dog hoarder. I buy books all the time, but rarely read them all. I shop thrift stores and find titles I never knew existed. I shop Amazon and follow other authors I know. If there is a garden illustration, or a dog on the cover of a book, it comes home with me.
I have a huge collection of Victorian gardening books from the late 1800s to early 1900s. If a book has a signature or dedication in it, I treasure the book more. The language and penmanship in that era is lovely to look at. You can’t find that kind of history with e-books. But I am a modern gal and go with the flow when publishing.
Morgen: I love reading on my iPad but I’m a British Red Cross shop volunteer (dealing with their donated books) and so can rarely resist the temptation to buy at least one book every Saturday. Presumably you chose the titles / covers of your books. How important do you think they are?
Barbara: I think book covers are very important. I have bought bad books because I liked the artwork on the cover and passed up great ones most likely, because the covers did not inspire me to open the book.
Since I self-published I had control on my book title and cover. My book title has intrigued people who ask, how can a widow be unfaithful? The book title has been the subject in interviews for that same reason. The cover, with its pink and white colors, has also been the subject of discussion. I wanted the book to have lightness about it, because the word widow was in the title. My story is one of hope. I wanted my book to be charming in appearance.
Morgen: It certainly is that. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Barbara: I am doing my widow sequel, but widow won’t be in the title. I have been writing about my continuing journey all along and now will pull those pieces together to see what stays and what goes. The widow word will be in many of the essays, but for the title I want to show I’ve come full circle. It is all about personal growth.
Everyone talks about that first year as a widow, but what comes next? Every year has brought a different challenge and joy, and I want to share that. I am a single woman now, not just a widow. That is a huge transition. I moved at a crazy pace for four years – author, shop owner, promoter, and dog whisperer. I still can’t get a second date, but then, bad dates makes for fun writing! I’ve had many ask me when my next book is coming out and I think that is a good sign! I am also working on a dog gift book and Bertha’s dog rescue story.
Morgen: There must be so many women who have been through what you have, or still at the beginning of your journey and need a book like yours. You sound very busy, do you manage to write every day? Do you ever suffer from writer’s block?
Barbara: I wear myself out writing, but love it. My social life has gone to the dogs (no pun intended!). Since I write personal essays, and am always in the thick of trouble, I
have plenty of material at hand. I don’t suffer from writer’s block. I write like I talk and it is hard to silence me. Some days I am too tired to write, and then I take a break.
Morgen: Very wise because you’d probably not be happy with your writing, although you never know… but yes, if your body tells you that you need a break… Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Barbara: I edit as I write and like to complete an essay before I go on to the next. I took a screenwriting course before I finished my book, and each essay is written more to a screenplay format. It is a fun way to write. I also read each piece out loud to see how it sounds. Printing out the piece and looking at it is another great way to catch mistakes and see how your words flow. That does not mean I don’t change things later. When I start to assemble my essays, as I am doing with my new book now, I may need to change and rewrite parts for a smoother read.
I did not have an editor for my first book. One of my typos made it to The Book Designer website, in a column titled Top 10 Worst Self-Publishing Mistakes – Explained. I owe that to an online buddy I met on my blog tour in 2010. We still joke about it. I have corrected it in my book – one of the pluses of print on demand. I used the word crouch instead of crotch. Of course, now I know, a few years later, the correct word is junk. I am more cautious now about my typos and may have someone review my next book for spelling errors.
Morgen: Scripts are hard. I wrote the first 102 pages of a TV script (for the now defunct Script Frenzy), and didn’t enjoy the format, but liked the story so converted it into a novel. Do you have to do much research?
Barbara: If I have the slightest doubt about a fact or phrase, I Google it. Since I write about things close to home, I know the landscape. When in doubt about location, I get in my van and drive to be sure.
Morgen: A great reason to get fresh air. I know some authors who have set their books in exotic locations so they can ‘research’ them. :) Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Barbara: Amen to that. After Fifty Shades of Grey became a blockbuster, I tried my hand at writing fiction, more aptly, erotica. I discussed my book’s first chapters at a writers guild meeting and one of the folks teased me. “It’s so you. All your characters have dogs.” I went back and read what I wrote. There were dogs everywhere. However, the words shocked me on second glance. They say a fictional character takes on a life of its own, and mine sure did. I decided it was not my style. I’ve shelved the work, but have managed to write a few spoofs about the process of trying to write erotica. The dogs steal the show in those essays, as well as the undergarments.
Morgen: I wrote three quite eye-opening (to me anyway, no one else has seen them yet) scenes in my 2012 NaNoWriMo novel. I hope they see light of day but one thing’s for sure, I won’t let my mother near them. It’s a crime novel so she wouldn’t be interested anyway. Do you enter any non-fiction competitions?
Barbara: I entered my book in the 2011 USA Best Books Award contest in two categories that seemed appropriate. I was thrilled to place as a finalist in the woman’s issues group. I don’t hunt out contests because I am not really competitive. I have my way of writing and I think my voice is my own.
Morgen: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life? Has anything surprised you?
Barbara: I am a very social person, and find that writing isolates me more than I like some days. I get wrapped up in what I am doing and before I know it, I am still in my PJs, and it is late afternoon. I get mad at myself if I don’t get outside. I take breaks to run the dogs into the yard, but then I am glued to my computer. I also like to write late at night and found I gained twenty pounds this last year munching on junk food at 2AM.
I talk about wanting to date, but I really don’t have time for it. My mind is set on reaching certain goals. If I find romance, I’ll be distracted and never finish my work. It surprises me that I am happy to be on my own! My social outings are dinner with girlfriends and working on my antique and vintage clothing booths.
Morgen: I’ve snacked far more since I’ve been at home and I want to avoid a writer’s bottom, as Jane Wenham-Jones so eloquently calls it (although I think I’ve already got one). I have her 100 Ways to Fight the Flab, specifically designed for writers. It has some fantastic suggestions. :) What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Barbara: If you want to write, do it. It is that simple. I think most people have a grand story inside of them, whether it is fictional or non-fiction memoir. The first step is to get started and find time to write. Don’t worry that you don’t know how, you can learn technical skills later. Just start writing and let your words flow.
Morgen: Absolutely. You can’t edit a blank page. If you could invite three people from any era to dinner, who would you choose and what would you cook (or hide the takeaway containers)?
Barbara: I don’t cook, but I love to eat out. Perhaps I could entertain at a quaint neighborhood bistro and skip the home invitation. Remember there are six dogs at my house! It would be a ladies night out. I’d invite the late Nora Ephron, actress Meryl Streep, and screenwriter and director, Nancy Meyers. All three have contributed to showing mature women as powerful, smart, sexy, and ageless. Nora Ephron’s book, I Feel Bad About My Neck, gave me the courage to mix it up a bit in my own book, adding a poem, lists, and other quirky tidbits. Who doesn’t love Meryl Streep and her ageless beauty and kindness? Nancy Meyers would be my choice as a director if my book were turned into a movie!
Morgen: What a great choice. I’d hop on a plane for that… and flying and I don’t get on! Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Barbara: My favorite word is Awesome! It tells me life is full of possibilities.
Morgen: :) Every time someone clicks on the blog’s ‘like’ button I receive an email to tell me and it says that the person who clicked did so because they thought the piece was ‘awesome’… it makes me laugh every time. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Barbara: I am also an antique dealer. I have bought and sold vintage artwork and cottage style furniture for years. At the moment I rent space in three antique malls forty miles from my house! The town is lovely and fun to visit. Each booth specializes in something different. I sell furniture in one, garden items in another, and vintage clothing from the 1970s-90s in the third. I like the boho, cowgirl look, rather than more stylized vintage clothes from earlier eras. Cowboy boots are big sellers for me.
I do a little painting and like to repair old oil paintings. I have a secret method I use to bring sad Victorian oils back to life. Most professionals would be horrified at my process, but it works and I haven’t had a complaint yet.
My dogs are my passion. One dog shows you how it relates to you, two dogs show you how they relate to each other, but when you have six, the pack mentality is amazing. I never tire of watching them.
Morgen: Wow. I have one (used to have two) and he’s mental enough sometimes (12 going on 12 months) for six. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful?
Barbara: Two come to mind immediately because I mentioned my typo earlier and the site it was on.
Joel Friedlander’s The Book Designer: practical advice to help build better books is an excellent site for self-publishers. http://www.thebookdesigner.com
Michael Marcus, the gentlemen who brought that typo to my attention, has a great website for authors. The header on his site Book Making: “Michael N. Marcus discusses writing, editing, publishing, and sometimes, other things. He often draws attention to inept publishers and writers. It’s his duty and compulsion. It’s important and often funny.” http://bookmakingblog.blogspot.com
Michael kids me that I wanted to murder him when he left his comment. He may be right! But a friendship was formed. I got him to put a dog’s photo on one of his book covers because I live with the knowledge dogs sell most anything these days! Not that he needed my advice, but he made me feel good taking it.
Morgen: :) Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how valuable do you find them?
Barbara: I use Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest as marketing tools. They are easy and can build a good base to meet other authors. I like to promote authors on my sites and have found many authors like to offer to do the same back.
Morgen: We do. One thing that’s surprised me about the writing industry is how supportive everyone is of each other. I equate it to learner drivers; we all know how hard it is to ‘pass’. Where can we find out about you and your writing?
Barbara: My book website: http://www.barbarabarth.net/
- Writer With Dogs: http://www.writerwithdogs.com/
- Writer With Dogs Magazine (one-time issue): http://www.epaperflip.com/aglaia/viewer.aspx?docid=4e65b04193e346d08143d5c6c2d36a22
- My book Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TheUnfaithfulWidow
- (although I do most of my posting on my personal page and love new friends!)
- Book Talk Blog for authors: http://barbarabarthbookblog.blogspot.com/
- The Balancing Act, Lifetime TV: http://www.thebalancingact.com/blogs/category/monday/barbara-barth/
- Silver & Grace: http://silverandgrace.com/women-who-make-a-difference
- Amazon and Kindle: http://www.amazon.com/Unfaithful-Widow-Fragmented-Memoirs-First/dp/1432750755
Morgen: Oh yes, I see what you mean about the blogs. Good on you for such dedication. :) Thank you, Barbara.
Barbara Barth is an author, antique dealer, and dog whisperer. She lives with six rescue dogs from her local animal shelters.
Her business card reads “Writer With Dogs”. It is a title she wears proudly. Barbara credits dogs as part of her healing process after her husband died four years ago. Her memoir “The Unfaithful Widow” follows her first year as a widow in a series of essays that include a vintage Corvette, bad dates leading to good things, the best group of girlfriends, and a bevy of dogs. Her memoir placed as a finalist in the 2011 USA Best Book Awards.
Barbara recently closed her small antique shop but still sells collectibles from an antique mall in a small southern town close to her home. She promotes other writers with a writing guild, critique group, and an online Book Talk site.
A member of the Dog Writers Association of America, and an online blogger for Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act, you will find Barbara writing most days at her computer surrounded by a group of lazy pups napping nearby.
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