All though Rick and I have frequent interaction, I thought it would be nice to give everyone a chance to catch up (virtually) with our friend (and previous ACFW Indiana Chapter President) Rick Barry, since many things have changed for him since he last hung his hat in Indiana.
Hello Rick. It's been a while (January 2021) since we've caught up with you. Thank you for taking the time to chat today.
Thanks for another invitation to an interview. I’m happy to do it!
First of all, can you give us a snapshot of why you originally left Indiana and then how you ended up back?
I left Indiana in February 2016 to be Dad’s live-in caregiver in Michigan. He had reached the point where he couldn’t take care of himself anymore. Then, after nearly 3 years, my stepdad in Alabama suffered a massive stroke. So, I passed Dad to my brother and sister-in-law’s care for what I thought might be 3 or 4 weeks so I could go take care of Mom (dementia) until my stepdad got back on his feet. But he never recovered and passed away. My Alabama sojourn stretched 3 weeks into 3 ½ years. In March, Mom joined the Lord in Heaven, freeing me up to return to Indiana once I’d completed all my duties as executor.
How has self-publishing been going for you?
Of my 5 published novels, I self-published the last two, both while serving as a caregiver. Because I’d seen some extremely amateurish self-pub'd books, I didn’t rush. I wanted my finished products to look as sharp as traditionally published books.
Where did you learn how to do this?
In part, I studied guides by other authors who have self-published. There’s much to know, and the learning curve can be steep. Sometimes I posed questions in various online forums, and occasionally I simply Googled specific questions. For the covers, I hired a professional designer, the same designer who created the cover my third book, The Methuselah Project, which Kregel Publications released. I also hired experienced editors to catch mistakes in my blind spots.
What "tools" are involved?
You don’t want to simply publish your Word doc manuscript as a book. In my case, I ended up gravitating toward Vellum software, which allows you to import your story from Word and then to format it as you please, quite intuitively, whether for a print book or an ebook. Vellum will even show exactly how your story will appear page by page, both in print and on various electronic devices, which I found helpful for tweaking the final version. There are other formatting programs available. Each author must study the options, ask others who have used them, and then make a decision.
Looking back since your initial novel was published, what would you say has been the biggest change in the industry?
My first book, Gunner’s Run, released in 2007. At that time, the publisher never asked whether I have a website or whether I’m active on social media. The publisher considered marketing to be their department and didn’t expect me to get involved, except possibly for occasional book signings. But those days are as extinct as dinosaurs. Whether you’re traditionally published or self-published, nowadays you must be willing to participate in marketing your own books.
Tell us about your most recent project.
The Next Fithian: An Ordinary Teen on a Strange New World began as a series of short stories that Focus on the Family asked me to create and develop for teen guys. At the time, I considered those short stories just a one-time writing gig and then moved on. But as time passed, the essence of those stories kept coming back to me. I felt as if the story stuck inside my brain like Velcro, practically insisting I recast those initial short stories into a full-length novel. Eventually, that’s what I did.
What's currently on the writing desk? If a new genre, what makes you want to pursue that outside of your current genre writing history?
Lately I’ve been writing mainly devotionals and some short stories for various editors. And a bit of freelance editing. I’ve done such short work since the beginning of my writing journey, and in all the muddle of 2022—losing Mom, overseeing the funeral and being her executor, moving back to Indiana, resuming my job at the Christian ministry where I worked before, house hunting—I’ve felt pulled in too many directions to concentrate properly on a novel. But now that I’m settling into a new (to me) home, it’s time to resume work on something new to me: a romance novel featuring a biplane pilot. It’s a fun change of pace, and I’m a romantic at heart despite my earlier novels of WW II aviators, etc.
What advice can you give new writers?
As others have stated, read widely. Read excellent books. Without even trying, you will soak up tips and tricks regarding punctuation, description, character develop, pacing, and so much more. In my opinion, even listening to audio books is no replacement for actually reading books, since you need to picture your own story visually on a screen as you create it.
Do you have a "writing support group?"
Not a group that I meet with regularly. However, whenever I need test readers for an early version of a manuscript, I’ve been blessed with enough volunteers to spot areas that need improvement.
How do you balance a secondary writing life with your day job?
It’s a challenge. My day job consists of many hours at a computer screen. I translate Russian documents to English (and sometimes vice versa), I write articles for the ministry newsletters, I create the annual prayer calendar for our ministry, I handle correspondence… At times, the idea of going home, eating supper, and then sitting in front of a computer isn’t at all appealing. You have to love your core story enough to keep going back to the screen and adding more lines to it.
When is your favorite time of day to write?
Mid-morning and right after lunch. However, with a full-time job, I don’t often have that opportunity anymore.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I like coffee shops, particularly Panera. A place where I can commandeer a corner and write while other people and their lives swirl around me. Even though I typically tune them out as I write, it’s still nice to have human beings around. Writing for long stretches in an empty house is akin to writing in solitary confinement, lol.
What inspires you to write?
Other authors’ well-told tales. Seeing how other authors build tension, inject unexpected humor, elicit a tear, tug at your heart, or leave reader with a deeply satisfying conclusion is inspiring!
Well Rick, once again, it's been a pleasure to interview and catch up on your history.
So glad to see you back in Indiana and hope to see you at the Indiana meetings (both zoom and in-person). Thank you very much. Now that life is getting back to normal, I’m looking forward to attending more events, too!