Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Author Interview: Barbara Claypole White

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I first met Barbara Claypole White when the WFWA email loop formed before the association took official flight in September 2013. Be sure to check out Barbara’s website www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com  Her first book—The Unfinished Garden—was an amazing, deep look at OCD. The examination of an emotional illness made me sit up and cheer! Barbara is an author who can take complex issues and distill them into captivating stories. I’ve been a fan ever since.

The Unfinished Garden is a lovely story with two damaged characters finding the road a bit bumpy, but worth the trip. This is a good read that takes readers on a tour of living with OCD, and the problems it presents for those who love the sufferer. White's ability to share the journey of her characters allows readers to have empathy.

The In-Between Hour is an absolutely fabulous story! I'm never forget Will, Hannah, Jacob, and Galen. They're not characters; they're living, breathing people. Grief and are true to life and White’s story is deeply moving.

What's the worst thing that can happen when you must have everything in control? That's exactly the question in Barbara Claypole White's latest--The Perfect Son. Her insightful and delicate touch with characters suffering from mental illness is a hallmark of her novels.  The Perfect Son solidifies my opinion of her expert story telling.

ZM: Welcome to In the Shade of the Cherry Tree, Barbara! I love your books and the truth of families that live with OCD, dementia, grief, and Tourette’s. What’s been your inspiration for “Hopeful Family Drama with a Healthy Dose of Mental Illness”?

Barbara: Thank you. I’m thrilled to be here, WFWA sister! Everything I write comes back to being the mother of a brilliant young man who has battled obsessive-compulsive disorder for the last sixteen years. We’ve visited hell together numerous times, and even when the OCD monster retreats into the shadows, I’m waiting for it to pounce. The sad reality is that mental illness is treatable not curable, demands constant management, and can often be fatal. As a mom I need to believe tomorrow can be better. And you know what? Often it is.

ZM: The Perfect Son is trending on Amazon—I saw you listed with the likes of Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon. Tell us what the road to publication for your latest book has been.

Barbara: I still can’t believe what’s happened with THE PERFECT SON. From day one this was my wild child, and it was written to the ticking clock of deadline. I had horrible problems with research and plot, lost more titles than anyone should have to lose, and right after I turned in the completed manuscript…my publisher cancelled my contract. But Cinderella does go to the ball if she has a kick-ass agent, and within two weeks I had another offer. When my new editor mentioned putting the book forward for the Kindle First Program, I didn’t want to even hope…

ZM: How do you work to flesh out your characters? Do they come to you fully formed, or do you have to mold them? I also noticed that many of them garden. Is that a nod to your own gardening experience?

I have a sense of the characters when I start, but nothing more. I research, research, research and then I rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. I spend months trying to get those first few chapters to speak to me. When a character says something that makes me punch the air and go, “yes!” I know I’ve found his or her voice. Once I have my characters’ voices, I can move forward with the story.

Yes, a number of my characters garden. I’m a huge woodland gardener, and that definitely plays a role. But I think it’s more about trying to understand the creative side of my characters’ personalities. Most of them battle some form of invisible disability and how they relate to art and music is fascinating to me. Is it therapeutic for them, does it give them escape? I devote a ridiculous amount of time to thinking through each character’s relationship to music, for example, because music is such a great manipulator of emotions.

ZM: You and I both write Women’s Fiction. It’s a very broad genre with many sub-categories. I love your use of family drama to help define your niche. What’s your definition of women’s fiction and how you deal with the misunderstanding that the entire genre is Chick Lit or another sub-genre?

Barbara: I wasted so much energy in the early days trying to explain—even to family members—that I didn’t write romance, and now I just tune it all out. I’m dark and I’m quirky, and I write emotionally layered drama that focuses on what it means to be part of a family, whether that role is as a husband or wife, a daughter or a son. Because I lean toward the male POV—I really am fascinated by the emotional lives of messed-up men!—some readers claim I don’t write women’s fiction. The truth is that many novels don’t fit neat genre definitions. For example, look at the work of Jodi Picoult or Diana Gabaldon. I think writers should write their passion and not worry about labels. That’s not exactly an answer, is it? 

ZM—Many craft books stress that writers must read and read a lot. Who is your favorite author, or what is your favorite genre? What draws you to a book you read for enjoyment?

Barbara: I don’t think I have a favorite genre, because I read all over the place. Basically if someone hands me a book and says, “This is really good, you should read it,” I do. I read a lot of memoirs, often for research, but sometimes I’m in the mood for a fast-paced thriller and sometimes I want to slow the world down with beautifully written literary fiction. I reread classics when I can (REBECCA is on my list for the summer), and I like to pick up debut fiction. If I had to single out favorite authors, I would choose Jodi Picoult, Marian Keyes, and the Irish writer Denyse Devlin/Woods. I’ve pretty much read everything those three authors have written.

ZM: What’s next? What story are you working on now?

Barbara: Hmm. I can’t answer that right now but stay tuned.

ZM: I, for one, can't wait! Thank you, Barbara for stopping In the Shade with us. Bring your next story on!

English born and educated, Barbara Claypole White lives in the North Carolina forest with her family. Inspired by her poet/musician son’s courageous battles against obsessive-compulsive disorder, Barbara writes hopeful stories about troubled families with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and The In-Between Hour was chosen by SIBA (the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. For more information, or to connect with Barbara, please visit www.barbaraclaypolewhite.com.

 Next Week: The origins of Cherry Hill in pictures and snips!