Paul A. Barra is a decorated war veteran, a teacher and a freelance journalist. He previously was a reporter for local newspapers and won numerous awards from the South Carolina Press Association. He was the senior staff writer for the Diocese of Charleston and won numerous awards from the Catholic Press Association, a national organization. Earlier publications include four independent science readers (Houghton Mifflin), a novel (“Crimson Ring,” Eagle Press) and a nonfiction book about the formation and success of a Catholic high school, despite diocesan opposition (“St. Joe’s Remarkable Journey,” Tumblar House). He is under contract for the publication of a historical novel called “Murder in the Charleston Cathedral.”(Chesterton Press).
His latest book is the children’s/middle grade novel, The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp.
Visit Paul’s website at www.paulbarra.com.
Thank you for joining us today, Paul. Can you please start off by telling us a bit about yourself?
I’m an old guy in the throes of a second career as a novelist. I retired from teaching two years ago and no longer freelance as a feature writer for newspapers and magazines; I now concentrate on book-length fiction. This is a path I recommend for writers.
Age gives a writer time and perspective. In this time of long lifelines, when men are entering seminaries at 50 and women are opening businesses after the kids go off to college, writing is the perfect second career for people who found that the practicalities of life got in the way of their authorial plans when they were younger. I recommend it; it’s a lot easier on the back than laying cement blocks.
When did you first get bit by the writing bug?
I wrote stories for my mother when I was small, but when one of my short stories was accepted by the university literary magazine as an undergraduate I decided that I could write for a living. It was decades later before I got around to that dream – and then it was feature writing for magazines and newspapers that helped feed my family. I always wanted to write book-length fiction full time, but never managed that until I retired.
Why did you decide to write stories for children?
My wife reminded me several times that my children and now my grandchildren like the stories I tell them for entertainment. She suggested – insisted – that I write one up and see if I liked it.
Do you believe it is harder to write books for a younger audience?
I certainly thought so before I began Maggie’s Swamp. There are many restrictions to worry about, such as age-appropriate vocabulary and sentence structure and content. And how to write about real-life issues without scandalizing their little consciences. And how to create scenes a young mind would like to read.
I found out that children can comprehend more than I thought they could and that a competent children’s book editor knows how to smooth out the rough spots in a manuscript. My second book is going a lot easier than the first. Children’s books are also much shorter than adult books.
So, I would say, no – at least not with middle-grade readers. I would be afraid to write for teens, even though I taught them chemistry for decades.
What is your favorite part of writing for young people?
Creating tension and drama is what I enjoy writing most. I can imagine little guys fretting over sounds from the dark woods or feeling for a friend being wronged, so those kinds of scenes seem to jump out of my mind.
It’s an adventure that is set in the South of 1980 and features a twelve-year-old girl who discovers that a neighbor with young children is not only living in the woods surrounding her family home but that he has been accused of a crime he didn’t commit. She and a couple of unlikely comrades decided to right the wrong. Their main problem is that the responsible adults in their lives don’t see the wrong, at first. And the real criminal is not happy about their interference.
What inspired you to write it?
We lived on a swamp as my children were growing up; the natural beauty and secrets of the place intrigued me. Plus, I am always telling stories, as I mentioned earlier, so writing a book with a black-water swamp as a sort of character in it caught my fancy. It seemed a good place to hide a secret.
Where can readers purchase a copy?
The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp is available in bookstores, from Amazon.com and from the publisher (BrownridgePublishing.com). It costs $12 in paperback. An e-book version is also available for Kindles and such appliances.
What is up next for you?
I have an historical mystery coming out this Spring from Chesterton Press and am writing another children’s book, about a fifth-grade boy and some friends who discover that the Yankees knew about the attack on Ft. Sumter beforehand. They try to catch the spy, who might even be their teacher at Hampton Common School, before their world devolves into the Civil War. There’s plenty of drama and action, some of it in Devil’s Hole precipitated by the notorious Bluebottle Bart and his big red horse.
Do you have anything else to add?
I’m grateful for your kindness in inviting me to do this interview, and I hope that other writers will think about second careers behind the monitor.
Thank you for spending time with us today, Paul. We wish you much success.
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