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Interview With Rick Barry

With over 200 published articles and short stories to his credit, former textbook editor Rick Barry joins us this month to talk about his second book, Kiriath’s Quest, a YA fantasy about a prince on a secret mission.

Rick, your first book, Gunner’s Run, is a historical fiction. What made you want to not only write a book for young adults but venture into the world of fantasy as well with Kiriath’s Quest?

I gained an appreciation for quality fantasy at a young age. In 5th grade I discovered an old, battered hardbound book in the elementary school library. It was from the 1950s and had the curious title The Hobbit. I read it and loved it, but not knowing better I assumed there were no other novels by Tolkien. Wrong. In the summer after 6th grade I discovered The Lord of the Rings in a bookstore. LOTR has been my favorite piece of literature ever since. So, although Kiriath’s Quest is a totally different story, my inspiration ultimately stemmed from an appreciation for Tolkien’s works.

Reflecting back, what do you see as most significant to your publication journey thus far?

I was not a creative writing or journalism major in college. But in my sophomore year I saw an ad for a writing contest in a Christian magazine. Just for fun, I wrote an article and entered. I didn’t win, but the publisher wrote and asked if they could still buy my submission and print it. I was surprised and thrilled. For the first time, it dawned on me that I could actually earn money for stuff that I simply made up and wrote down. Had I not entered that contest, I might not be writing today.

You’ve participated in over 25 mission trips to Russia and the Ukraine. How do you balance your writing time with your traveling and other responsibilities?

Like most freelancers, I’m not a full-time writer. Time for writing is always a precious commodity. Every day, in addition to my regular responsibilities at the Christian ministry where I work, I receive questions by email, online chat requests, Facebook messages that need replies, offers from millionaires in Nigeria who simply can’t wait to bequeath their entire fortunes to me… So I don’t usually enjoy large blocks of time for my personal writing. Instead I compel myself to write in the most unsatisfying way possible—using short chunks of 20 or 30 minutes in the morning, sometimes during half of my lunch break at noon, or for a glorious whole hour or so before bedtime. I’m also married, so I need to make sure I’m not neglecting my wife while I’m pecking away at a keyboard. In addition I carry a laptop to write while in airports and in the air.

And how do your faith and spiritual life play into the picture?

As a Christian, I possess a God-centered worldview. There are many books and films that I won’t watch because I don’t want to pollute my mind with things God hates. In the same way, I want the stories and articles that I create to reflect that same worldview. I want them to be wholesome, even when they don’t overtly speak about God or spiritual matters. Kiriath’s Quest is a prime example. The tale takes place in a mythical world that I dreamed up. Nobody gets saved, and nobody talks about God. However, as a believer I have woven various biblical principles into the tapestry of the tale. These principles touch upon faith, family, love, and loyalty, among others. During our generation, when many teens are embarrassed by their “old-fashioned” parents, my hero Kiriath risks his own life in a quest to save his father.

What would you describe as your biggest obstacle in writing and how do you overcome it?

The “time barrier” mentioned above is probably the biggest obstacle. But distractions in general constitute a constant threat to creative time. For example, nowadays we face constant information overload. I recently heard that every couple of days we are barraged with more information than the previous generation absorbed in a month. Information overload can be mind-numbing. At some point you have to say “No” and limit the flow of news, technology updates, etc., in order to free up the brain. I can’t know everything, and trying to know everything will spell disaster for my writing time.

What do you consider the highest moment of your writing/publishing career?

For a moment I was going to reply, “Getting my historical novel Gunner’s Run published.” However, publication alone is an empty victory if no one reads your work. So I’m going to say that the highest, most-satisfying moments are when I receive notes from readers who have read my material and loved it enough to write and tell me how it affected them.

For instance, a high school girl in Illinois who was facing serious surgery read Gunner’s Run for the story, but ended up gaining hope for her own situation. Then I heard from a travel agent in Texas who had a stroke and was diagnosed with cancer, too. She wrote to say that, as she read Gunner’s Run, Jim Yoder’s spiritual journey from anger back to peace with God mirrored her own. I was truly touched. Just recently an 88-year-old WW II pilot read it and let me know he and his wife loved it. (I was relieved that he found no historical mistakes!) These kinds of responses far outweigh the income I receive in royalties.

Who/What is your greatest inspiration to write? Where do your story and character ideas come from?

I can’t say that any one person or thing provides my inspiration to write. But I seriously believe that God—as he bestows various gifts on mankind—instills within some people a creative compulsion. For some individuals that compulsion manifests itself by driving them to paint pictures, or to take artistic photographs, or to design blueprints for homes. My breed of creative compulsion drives me to invent people, places, and situations in my mind, and then to weave words together in such a way that I can invite readers to mentally travel with me on an adventure.

It’s tiring; it’s work; but it’s also fun. If for some reason I couldn’t write, I would soon become very frustrated and feel unfulfilled.

What do you think makes your style of storytelling unique?

Judging from many of the books that I have read, I’ve come to the conclusion that quite a few modern authors are more influenced by movies and TV than they realize. In other words, a movie normally involves only two of the five senses: sight and hearing. (An exception: back in the 1970s a movie called Earthquake was shown in cinemas “in Sensesurround,” which consisted of large speakers intended to blast movie-goers with powerful bass rumbling sounds that they could literally feel.)

Writers, however, need not limit their talent to describing sights and sounds. When possible, I want the reader to smell the fetid stench of the Grishnaki’s valley, to feel the sting of sweat dripping into Kiriath’s eyes as he battles Grishnaki hoards under a sweltering sun, to taste the swirling dust and grit kicked up by horses and men as they duel to the death with the enemy… Certainly, I’m not the only writer attempting to involve all five senses, but I want that to be a hallmark of my style.

Finish this question. I see my books and stories as…

… God’s way of allowing me to reach out and touch the minds and souls of thousands of people whom I will never personally meet on this side of Heaven.

Any parting words?

More than once I have led critique groups at writers’ conferences, and without fail someone will make the comment, “I love to write, but I never submit my stories for publication.” What a pity. Imagine that Michelangelo had sculpted his masterpiece David—and then hid it in a cave where the world could never enjoy it. What if Da Vinci had painted his Mona Lisa or The Last Supper—and then hid them lest somebody snicker at him? Just before Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings appeared in print, he confided to a friend that he dreaded its publication, because he felt as though he was exposing his heart for the world to shoot at it. If you honestly believe God has called you to write, then don’t hide your literary light under a bushel basket!

Sure, every writer faces rejection. Even the best authors endure their share of rejections. But don’t let a fear of rejection paralyze you. Study the craft, then polish your craft through practice, and submit your work for publication.

In closing, I invite all readers to drop by my website:

Thanks for sharing with us, Rick!

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