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Interview with Kathleen Y’Barbo

Hi Kathleen! How does it feel to have a story in the Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection with so many other remarkable authors? Tell us how this opportunity happened.I’m thrilled! I love writing novellas for Barbour, so when I was approached to do a story for the collection, I jumped at the chance. When I saw who else was in the line-up, I was doubly thrilled!

“A Gift in Secret” is your story in the collection. Why did you write it?
I am always fascinated with feisty heroines and stories that involve two people who are opposites in every way but are forced to work toward a common goal. Add to that my love of the history of the city of New Orleans and a story was born.

Why did you choose to set your story in Louisiana and make it take place in 1871? Was there a significance in that setting and time for your story?
I grew up on the Texas coast just a scant few miles from the Louisiana border. Most of my neighbors and schoolmates were the children of Louisiana transplants, so the culture is as familiar to me as my own Texas heritage. Later I moved with my husband to the heart of Acadiana –the name for the bayou country of south Louisiana—where we lived for a little over five years and where two of my sons were born.

All of this began my fascination for the location, but my own family history is responsible for the choice to set a good number of my books in New Orleans. My mother is descended from the architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe—who designed numerous structures in New Orleans (including the center steeple on the famous Cathedral in Jackson Square) as well as the United States Capital and quite a few other famous buildings. The cool part is, I didn’t find this out until years after I published my first New Orleans based book. Would you believe one of the buildings Latrobe designed is at the same address where I set some of my scenes in that book? I had no idea!

May Bolen is the heroine of your story. Tell us about May. What makes her tick? What calms her down when she’s upset?
May Bolen is a feisty and elegant heroine with a soft heart but a strong resolve to fix things for people she loves. She's a New York society girl who has learned to handle things for her loving, but helpless, mother in her father’s absence. Taking care of her vulnerable (in May’s opinion) is her prime motivation for all she does. As a pampered and wealthy only child, she has learned to talk her way out of just about any situation—until she meets up with Sam Austin—and the thing that calms her is to do something when there’s a problem. For example, she needs to speak to Mr. Austin, so she hires a driver and heads down to the docks on the Mississippi River alone (something no woman would do) to find the elusive boat captain.

Sam Austin is the hero of your story. Describe his looks, personality, and heart. What makes him better than most men?
Samuel Austin III is the classic older brother who would do anything for his family, so he is like May in this aspect. He's the rugged outdoors type—a ship’s captain who tells the truth even when it isn’t easy to do so, unlike his younger brother who is a college professor at Tulane. His French heritage has given him dark good looks, and his mother’s family added the genetics that makes him taller than the average New Orleans native. He is loyal to family and friends and loves a good New Orleans style meal of freshly cooked seafood, or a thick steak served medium rare with an accompaniment of crabmeat or some other local side dish. In the story, he gets box lunches from a local restaurant for his excursion down the river with May. The fun part of research is that the name of the place is accurate to the time period. It really existed and really provided box lunches for picnics and travels. Sam is better than most men because he gave up everything he wanted in life to save his family.

Why does May offer Sam Austin a “marriage of convenience”? What’s her motivation behind this offer?
To tell too much of this is to give away the plot of the story. Suffice it to say that Sam and May’s fathers were once in business together. When May’s father dies, his will endeavors to remedy actions Mr. Bolen took against Mr. Austin that he later regretted. The marriage of convenience is Sam’s solution to the conundrum presented by Mr. Bolen’s will. Her motivation is the same as his: taking care of family.

What are Sam’s first thoughts when May extends this offer to him?

By the time Sam makes the offer to May, he has thought through this completely. He is resolved, but not thrilled with the situation. Ultimately, he is doing what he always does: choosing his family’s best interests over what he wants.

What is the name of the company that “drove” Sam’s company into bankruptcy and why would he want to run it now?
Bolen Shipping drove Sam’s father Samuel Austin, II into bankruptcy. I don’t name the father’s company in the story. Due to past history, Sam has no interest in running Bolen Shipping, which is what made writing a story where he had to choose to take on that role or cause further harm so much fun. Given the choice, Sam would rather be out on the open ocean as a ship’s captain, heading for the Orient on a two-year voyage that had been planned for some time. Instead, he has to choose whether to give that up in order to honor his family’s needs. I love making my characters sweat!

Why does May want to travel the world? Share her passion.
More than anything May wants her mother to be cared for. If her mother wants to travel, they will travel. The fact May has to return to the city of her birth after spending most of her life elsewhere irks her. She wants to travel to anywhere she can in order to leave the city that reminds her of her regrets involving her father.

Can you describe the scene when May and Sam meet?
May has determined to find the man who is named as the subject of her father’s will. To that end, she survives multiple near disasters on the New Orleans docks –while Sam is watching to be sure she is unharmed by the ruffians around her—to finally arrive on Sam’s docked ship. She mistakes Sam for a crewman and chaos ensues.

They are a terrible match! She’s an eternal optimist socialite who just wants to go back to New York City, and he’s a grumpy ship’s captain who prefers solitude and open seas. That’s what made writing them so much fun.

What was your favorite scene to write in this story?
Definitely the one I just described. Written first from May’s point of view then switching to Sam’s, I had so much fun with all the near-disasters that imperious May is oblivious of and of the protective side of Sam that he carefully hides from May.

What is your next standalone book? Are you writing it now? If so, what can you tell us about it?
My next stand-alone book is My Heart Belongs in Galveston, an 1880s story set in Galveston and New Orleans (of course!). The book explores the history of these two Gulf Coast cities and pairs a nosey reporter heroine with a Pinkerton agent hero as they work together—and against one another—to solve a mystery.

I see that you are a proud Texan and military wife. Do you write your stories from personal experience? If so, share the title(s) to those stories so readers can look it up!
Just about any story I write is going to have something of my experience in it. Most of them also include a Texas-related theme, either with a Texas setting or a Texan as a character. My first novella, Saving Grace—the story of my Texas ancestors and their steamboat stop in the Brazos River, is being released again in time for Christmas in a collection of novellas called Texas Christmas Brides.

If you could tell the world just one thing that you love about writing and then explain why, what would you say?
I love that I have an outlet for all these ideas and that I can turn all the glory from those ideas back to God who is the Source.


Alexis A. Goring is a passionate writer with a degree in Print Journalism and an MFA in Creative Writing. She loves the art of storytelling and hopes that her stories will connect readers with the enduring, forever love of Jesus Christ.

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