Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Interview with an Artist: Debbie Barr

This August, I am very excited to interview Debbie Barr, who works in the bookselling industry at 4 Kids Books and Toys, and is also a writer and artist herself. 

As you are both an artist and a writer, do you find balancing different kinds of creativity essential to your process of inspiration, or is it a constant tug-of-war game?

The big struggle between my writing and other creative pursuits is time. I think it’s probably that way with everyone who enjoys multiple creative outlets. Some days I wish for an extra hour (or seven!) to get everything done, but I just have to make do with what time I have. I do think that my crafting side can complement my writing side, but I have to be careful because I will definitely let my other hobbies take over. For me, writing is work and crafting is pure fun, so there has to be a balance there.

How has working in the children’s book market affected your perspective on creativity in literature? How has it challenged you to evolve as a writer?

I absolutely think my work as a bookseller has changed my outlook! The big thing is that I now read much more widely (at least among the children’s and young adult genre) than I used to. Every writer needs to read, and I think it’s important to know what’s selling in your genre right now. On the other hand, it’s also wise to take a step back out of your typical genre and read something else, so you don’t become too entrenched in the tropes and styles of what you like to read.

In other ways, though, it can be challenging. The downside to being so aware of the industry side of things is that sometimes I get much too focused on the business of publishing, which can be depressing. It’s hard to see an industry I love and care so much about struggling in many ways. But in the end, if you want to be a writer you need to write because you love it, you need to write for yourself, and if you can focus on your passion the rest doesn’t matter as much.

(You can purchase these awesome Pi and Cherry Pie earrings at her etsy shop!)

Who is an artist and/or writer that inspires you, and why?

There are so many writers I admire, it’s difficult to choose just one! So I’ll mention two:
First of all, I am a big Shannon Hale fan. She has an incredible way with her prose, especially her metaphors, which I can’t help but admire every time I read her work. One of the things I love most about Shannon, though, is that she hasn’t been afraid to write true to herself. She has hopped genres, written books for all ages, done sequels, stand-alones, you name it! I love that she is a writer who has let herself grow over time, and I think that is hugely admirable.

As an adult I have come to love Kate DiCamillo and her work. I am thrilled that she is now the children’s literature ambassador! She is incredibly humble and I admire that she got her start a little later in her life. She also has written with some variety, but I think what I admire most about her work is her characters, who are always unique and flawed, yet incredibly relatable to readers of all ages. Each of her novels manages to capture some aspect of childhood perfectly, and I feel like almost everyone who has read her books has loved at least one of them.

How do you overcome fallow spells in creativity and regain the courage to create again?

Honestly, this last one was a difficult question for me to answer, mostly because I’ve been in a low spell for some time now. I think for me, as I mentioned above, you have to focus on the story, why it’s important to you, and why you love to write. I also think you need to learn when to say goodbye to a project and start on something new. The excitement of a new story can always get me back into writing!

Also, I have a lot of fear that I hold onto sometimes when I want to write. Fear that it’s going to be bad. Fear that I’ll never get published. Fear that no one will like my stories. But in the end, that fear makes all of those things happen. So don’t be afraid! The best part about writing is that everything is fixable, nothing is permanent, and you can always try again, no matter how many mistakes you’ve made.

I know you didn’t ask, but I wanted to leave you with a few books to recommend to your readers! It’s what I do. Here are some of my favorites from this year:

A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd: My favorite middle grade read of the year, a contemporary story with just a hint of magic. The main character is also a word collector, so it’s a great read for writers!

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I read this as an early ARC a few months ago, and I’m still thinking about it. A practically perfect contemporary teen novel, about love in all its forms (except for triangles, thank goodness). Definitely for an older teen crowd, but I see a lot of adults enjoying this one, too.

Incarnate, Asunder, and Infinite by Jodi Meadows: If you haven’t read Incarnate yet, drop what you’re doing and go read it right now! I loved this YA fantasy trilogy, which follows a society of people who have been reincarnated for 5,000 years—that is, until Ana arrives, a new soul, and no one is sure what to do with her. They’re fantastic, and every book in the trilogy was excellent.

*You can see more of Debbie's work at:

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