Welcome to the sixty-sixth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with author, actor, singer Barry Hickey. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Barry. Can you tell us please how you came to be a writer.
Barry: My life experiences provided the fodder. My biography reads like a fairy tale. Hollywood actor, singer, world traveler. Great sound bites. But the bulk of my life has been a financial rollercoaster punctuated by dozens of dead-end jobs in my thirst for knowledge. I suppose it was my forced acceptance of my sporadic entertainment career that truly drove me to writing. A few years ago, I realized I might be pathologically self-absorbed like so many entertainers and studied my reflection in the pond. Being “on stage” didn’t cut it for me anymore. The quality of my work was mediocre. I was unhappy with the compromises I accepted. I drank too much, spent unwisely, and philandered to fill an always-leaking pail of unfulfilling wanderlust. I had to face my own narcissism. I certainly didn’t want to be an aging Dorian Gray. I had acted in too many amateurish plays, sang with too many part-time musicians, starred in a handful of boorish, badly written movies with untalented artists lacking vision and financial resources. In short, I was a hack who had lost his way. I was lying to myself… I knew I could write. But first, I had to overcome my fear of failure. I couldn’t point the finger of blame at anyone but myself for my novels. Was I prepared for it? Did I have something to offer? Things to say about the world? I do. And here I am. A writer on my own path towards enlightenment.
Morgen: I’d say you have a few biographies in there. 🙂 What genre do you generally write and have you considered other genres?
Barry: I write multicultural novels. Popular fiction. I am working on a fantasy / sci-fi book series yet to be named. A most unusual hero. A coming of age story for all of mankind, really.
Morgen: ‘Mankind’ would cover all your audience. 🙂 What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Barry: My first book published was The Five Pearls, followed by Chasing God’s River and its just-released sequel – The Glass Fence. I tried getting my first book reviewed by a local newspaper here in Colorado Springs. The entertainment reporter told me he didn’t cover local writers, but if I was John Grisham he would reconsider. A week later, I was at a library in another town. There on the New Releases shelf was The Five Pearls… next to a new release by John Grisham. I should have taken a picture and mailed it to that reporter with a note that read, “I’m not John Grisham, but we share the same shelf space. Is that close enough?”
Morgen: That’s hilarious. It’s funny how much local papers vary. Ours is very supportive of local talent and another (a Northern England if I remember correctly), mentioned in a previous interview ran short stories!). How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Barry: I do all of the marketing. It’s extremely time-consuming and cost prohibitive with lots of dead ends. I spend at least twenty hours a week emailing reviewers, radio shows, newspapers. I have a website, a writer’s blog, fifty new followers a week on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I started writing syndicated human-interest columns that align with my world view. I just shot a video book trailer. Next up is a once weekly Internet radio show on BlogTalkRadio called Made In America.
Morgen: No chance to be bored then. 🙂 Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions and do you think they help with a writer’s success?
Barry: There are dozens and dozens of competitions out there. I could enter ten a month but at $50- $125 a pop, plus shipping and handling, I’m not sure it makes sense. Many of these competitions are run by traditional and online publishing houses and presses who I am sure must favor their own writer’s stables. I did splurge and enter The Glass Fence for a Pulitzer Prize. I know I can pay $425 to have an independent Kirkus review to get a sound bite for my book, but it feels like payola to be in the system.
Morgen: Since you put it like that, it does. 🙂 The answer to the next one is probably “no” as you said you do all your marketing but do you have an agent? Do you think they’re vital to an author’s success?
Barry: I had a handful of agents as an actor and screenwriter. I never had much luck with them. All of my opportunities came from my own resourcefulness. I live in Colorado Springs now, far away from industry players. Having face time is always an advantage in any business. One needs to hold hands, break bread and bond. I am always open to signing with an intelligent agent interested in the long haul.
Morgen: I like your phraseology; ‘intelligent’ agent. Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Barry: All of my novels are available as eBooks on Amazon and Smashwords. eBooks are definitely here to stay. I prefer reading books in print. I always have three audio books in my car as well.
Morgen: I love audiobooks (great for walking the dog or to work). What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Barry: My first acceptance as an author came from readers on Fan Story. I had a loyal following reading one chapter at a time over a three month period. It was a great experience with very informative feedback that helped me shape the final product.
Morgen: Ooh, you should chat to Jim Sellers (interview no. 62); he’s doing the same thing. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Barry: Rejection is too harsh a word. Maybe I wrote a bad cover letter or logline. Maybe the agent is having a bad day. When you know you are mailing your sweat equity to a slush pile, you can’t take it personally. It seems the same rejection form letter has been in use since the sixties.
Morgen: 🙂 What are you working on at the moment / next?
Barry: I’m writing Waking Paul Bunyan. He and Babe are brought back to life and move to Minnesota to live with relatives. There are repercussions. It isn’t easy being a giant in today’s America. Next up – The Mermaid Latitudes. It starts in Chicago. A billionaire’s widow orders an introverted middle-aged museum curator to find a missing sculptor hiding in Mexico. The curator hires a black gang banger as a bodyguard. Everything goes wrong for all the right reasons. Full of twists and turns. Research is done on both books.
Morgen: Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Barry: I work full time so my writing hours are limited to weekends and late evenings. After painstaking months of research and copious notes, I’m a marathon writer – totally absorbed in the moment, reclusive and moody, living in an imagined universe.
Morgen: I’m like that during http://nanowrimo.org each November (although I hope not moody). 🙂 What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Barry: Writing is like baking a cake. I need the right ingredients for the word recipe at hand. Once assembled, I write.
Morgen: I like that (and never heard it compared like that before). 🙂 Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
Barry: I plot my stories but when I sit down to write, my characters surprise me with their subplots. Some even demand a name change in the first edit.
Morgen: It’s funny how they do that. I listened to a World Book Club podcast featuring the Swedish author Henning Mankell who said that characters don’t do that. If they can take over JK Rowling’s books (apparently one the characters in her final novel (Deathly Hallows) didn’t want to be killed off so she killed another off – I don’t know who as I’ve not seen the movie yet). How do you create your characters?
Barry: Some of my characters are manufactured conglomerations from people I have encountered. Some are inventions based on story needs. I don’t know any giants and I certainly don’t know any billionaires.
Morgen: Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Barry: A handful of women press me for pages, but they are enamored of my writing and don’t offer critical analysis.
Morgen: That’s a shame.
Barry: None of my friends read books.
Morgen: Oh no. Do they know what they’re missing out on. Most of my friends are writers but those that aren’t are avid readers.
Barry: I’m looking for new friends as we speak.
Morgen: Maybe join a local writing group? I know I’m biased but they’re worth their weight. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Barry: I edit and edit and edit. The best editing comes after walking away from the piece, divorcing myself from the creation and reading it analytically. The pendulum swings from left to right brain for days on end.
Morgen: 🙂 What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Barry: I have to know the story inside out, backwards and forward.
Morgen: That’s interesting. I’m not that methodical. I plot a bit then let it run (as I’ve learned that it goes off on its own anyway). Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Barry: I started on mimeograph paper on an IBM Selectric. My fingers were always discolored.
Barry: Now I use a computer, print out a week’s work and carry it with me everywhere. Coffee shops, taverns, restaurants, they think me a strange bird.
Morgen: I guess they wouldn’t in Hollywood as everyone there is an aspiring writer (writing a script) / actor (reading a script). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Barry: Waking Paul Bunyan is starting as first person narrative, but if I switch to a third person omniscient author, I can add so much more color. Jury’s still out.
Morgen: It’s a fine balance. First person is immediate but yes, you can do more with omniscient. Do you use prologues / epilogues? What do you think of the use of them?
Barry: I had a prologue for Waking Paul Bunyan but it stalled the rest of the narrative. Created the wrong tone for the rest of the piece. But the prologue fits inside the block of the book as a discovered “lost letter”.
Morgen: Ah ha. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Barry: Absolutely. Dozens. Children in an orphanage never to find a home.
Morgen: Oh that’s really sad. 😦 What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Barry: Writing makes me happy. Gives me purpose. I know my work has touched some hearts and minds. It’s also a healthy addiction even though I am very isolated and removed from the pulse of day to day living.
Morgen: Give me isolation over hustle/bustle any day. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Barry: For aspiring actors, singers, poets and painters – stay out of politics.
Morgen: I’d agree with that. One of the writing groups (not mine, thankfully) tends to go off at a tangent once politics (or religion) are mentioned. I sit there glazing over until they (or I) bring it back on topic. What do you like to read?
Barry: This month it’s a Science Encyclopedia. Research for my fantasy novel. I’m loading up the catapult.
Morgen: I love that saying. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Barry: There are too many websites to mention. I followed several, but now they are a distraction. Everywhere I turn I’m being sold a bill of goods.
Morgen: That’s true – I’ve kept everything I do advert-free and plan to do the same (unless it’s one of my creations I’m selling :)). In which country are you based and do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Barry: I live in a backwater of Colorado, USA. Far removed from intellectual gatherings.
Morgen: See earlier suggestion for writing group. 🙂 Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Barry: I dabble with LinkedIn but it’s mostly a hodgepodge of whiners and miracle workers.
Morgen: With a few gems? 🙂 Where can we find out about you and your work?
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Barry: The world is an enormous ant colony living in a viewed formicarium. But you’ll find there are tunnels connected everywhere. We writers are a strange breed of worker ants carrying vowels and nouns in our mandibles from one tunnel to the next. We are as essential as food to the well-being or destruction of society.
Morgen: You’re very pictorial – ideal for fantasy. Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
Barry: I do hope you’ll find personal pleasure and enjoyment in my books.
Morgen: Yes readers… please do go buy. 🙂 Can we have an extract of your writing?
Sofie Richardson sat at the square linoleum-topped dinette table in the corner of the cramped kitchenette with a good view of the living room. The table had a metal edge all around with white painted legs and a pull-out drawer that held her kids’ drawings. It was the nicest piece of furniture she owned, bought for fifty dollars at a church sale the week after she first contemplated suicide.
It would have been an easy death with a real sharp knife, not one of those plastic white party knives from a backyard barbecue that couldn’t cut a warm stick of oleo. Back when she was planning her death, she sharpened the knife every night for a week, after she knew the kids were asleep. She sat with a notebook and a suicide blood red pen in front of her to write her suicide note. But she never wrote anything. Not one single word. Leaving the kids behind to a worthless friend or relative was the kink. There was no-one she trusted to raise her children proper and smart and clean.
Sofie put the suicide behind her. It had been a long, sleepless week choosing between life and death. Now she used the knife to cut apples.
Morgen: What a hook (the contrast between the nice furniture and her contemplated suicide). I have this thing about knives (won’t have a knife block in my kitchen – I blame it on the first Halloween film). And I LOVE where you’ve left it. Does make me want to read more (may have to dig out my eReader :)). Thank you Barry.
Barry James Hickey writes stories about ordinary people discovering their heart and spirit. “I like to choose unusual predicaments and environments that most readers may never experience on their own. There is laughter and joy that needs to resonate, percolate and be shared.” Barry has written three novels in the past two years: The Five Pearls, Chasing God’s River and The Glass Fence. Barry was a Hollywood actor for many years as well as a country singer. Visit his website at: http://www.barryhickey.com.
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