Thursday, February 12, 2009

Author Interview: Barbara Worton

This morning I posted a review for Too Tall Alice, a book I truly enjoyed.  After reading the book, I had the privilege of interviewing the author, Barbara Worton.  She is such a wonderful woman!  She is also the first author that I have interviewed over the phone.  We had a great, 1 hour, conversation in which we laughed and shared stories.  I could never replicate that phone call here, but I hope that I can give you some insight into the woman behind Too Tall Alice.

Write For A Reader (WFAR):  Please tell us a little about yourself.

Barbara Worton (BW):  I live in New Jersey but was born in New York and grew up on Long Island.  My husband and I met in 1977.  He is from the UK.  In 1986 we moved to New Jersey.  I wasn't sure I would like it because I come from a real NYer family.  My family's been in NY since the 1600s.  We used to live in a condo, but now we have a house and I love it!  We don't have any kids, but do have a neice that we adore and spoil rotten, and an older nephew that we also spoil rotten.  We also have 5 godchildren and lots of friends with kids, so we have kids in our lives.  We have been married for 29 years and have a happy, good life.

WFAR:  When/how did you start writing?

BW:  I have been writing since I was 10, and I knew at 12 that I wanted to write for a living.  Growing up I did lots of reading.  My mom brought books into the home, talked about stories and did creative play with us.  I was really verbal at a young age, speaking full sentences at 14 months. 

WFAR:  What else have you written?

BW:  Bedtime Stories: Short, Long, and Tall Tales of a Sleep Writer.  I would rather do other things than sleep, so I fight it.  When my head hits the pillow, my brain starts working.  So, I would get all tucked in bed with a pad and a pencil, write the first word that popped into my head and just keep going until I got to the 3rd page.  This led to many journals.  When my mom got sick in 2005, I began going through the journals and Bedtime Stories is the best of those journal entries.  Harper Collins published a collection in 2005 called Memories of John Lennon.  I had a piece in there called London Calling.  I have written lots of poetry.  I make a living writing for newsletters and business communications.

WFAR:  Do you have any writing mentors?

BW:  Yes I do.  In school I had a teacher, poet Armand Schwerner.  He taught me how to do automatic writing with an egg timer.  Start with the first word and continue from there.  I could show him my work and he helped me to identify if it was my best or not.  He helped me learn how to put a filter on my writing.  Then, I took a journaling course from Morty Schiff.  He worked with me on self-esteem and how to be a strong person.  He was a kind and caring man who inspired me professionally and personally.

WFAR:  Where did the idea for Too Tall Alice come from?  Is it based on personal experience?

BW:  It is based on personal experience.  I was a midget until 5th grade when I went to 5'4".  Then, by 9th grade I was 5'8".  I could understand how awkward it was for Alice.  The name of the character is personal too.  My husband and I tried for years to get pregnant, and when I did, we had picked out the name Alice.  I ended up miscarrying and from then on every character I write about is named Alice.  In 1997, I was freelancing and having a rough time.  I hated writing and was getting no pleasure from it.  I shared this with my good friend and therapist, Noelle Hannon, who told me to "write for the joy of it."  After that, I was walking along and the line just popped into my head; "Alice was tall.  Not T-Rex or Empire State Building tall."  The rest of the story pretty much came all at once and then I edited it.  It came from somewhere deep inside.  In '04 I read it during a performance evening.
I wrote Too Tall Alice because I believe that self esteem is the greatest gift you can give a child.  I see so many kids today without that gift.  If kids are strong, bullying becomes less of an issue.  If they have a strong self-esteem, then it is easier to make good decisions.

WFAR:  I love the illustrations in the book, especially Alice's bedroom.  Did you work closely with the illustrator?

BW:   Yes.  Dom, Linda and I are actually the owners of Great Little Books and Alice was our guinea pig book.  I was actually blown away by the bedroom and podium (when Alice receives the award) illustrations.  When Dom showed them to me, they made me cry.  We tried very hard to make the type part of the story.  We wanted to integrate the writing and the pictures.

WFAR:  Do you have anything in the works?

BW:  I have started on the 2nd book: Too Tall Alice and Her Too Big Ideas.  It is based on the notion of wacky ideas that aren't really wacky.  People tend to discourage children when they come up with a strange idea.  I'm not happy with the ending though, so I'm still working.  Dom and I are also wrestling with how to make Alice a little different in this book.
I'm editing a YA book with my niece and her best friend and I'm writing a murder mystery.

WFAR:  What are some of your favorite books and authors?

BW:  Well, I love the Harry Potter books.  When 9/11 happened, we lived across the river from the World Trade Center and I started reading the Harry Potter books.  They helped me to escape all that was going on.  I also like Alice in Wonderland, and Wind in the Willows.  I grew up reading the Bobsey Twins and Nancy Drew.  My favorite illustrated book is The Stinky Cheese Man.  I also enjoy Mo Willems' Muffle Bunny books.  Another book I like is How Santa Really Works.  As far a adult reading, I like John Irving, especially A Prayer for Owen Meany.  I am a big mystery reader.  I typically read one mystery a week or every other week.

WFAR:  What do you do when you are not writing?

BW:  I am a runner.  For fun, I used to ice skate, until I injured my foot.  I bike ride dance  I take dance classes when I can.  Although I'm not good, I like sports.  I like to think I'm a good cook.  I love to travel and I like to shop.

WFAR:  What is your writing atmosphere like?

BW:  I am lucky to have the option of working from home or my office in the city.  My home office is in the lower level of our house and it's painted yellow.  There are pictures all over the walls and huge windows looking out into the backyard.  It is a structured office space.  I can write anywhere, but I like to be in my own space.  I have bookshelves that hold a Minnie Mouse collection that my mom started for me, pictures of my family, greeting cards, and animals.  It is a place that makes me happy.  The rest of the house has modern furniture.

WFAR:  How do you feel about book bloggers reviewing your book?

BW:  I love it!  I love the whole internet thing and free exchange of information.  I feel it brings literature back to the people.  Publishing became a giant machine, so narrow.  This puts books back in the hands of people who love books.

WFAR:  Is there anything else you'd like to say?

BW:  I think we are a good company and our books are good.  I truly believe that everyone comes into the world with the right to love themselves and be happy.  I'd like to see that for everyone.  At night, I turn on the tv, but I can't just sit still and watch it.  If I have a book, I won't move for hours and could stay up all night.  The greatest place to be is in a book.

My favorite quote is "If I think of all the places where I could spend my spare time, reality wouldn't be one of them."

Barbara, thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for taking the time to visit with me and share a part of yourself.  I am truly honored to know you!  I look forward to the next Alice story and wish you all the best with Great Little Books.


Beth F said...

What a super interview!! Really interesting and great questions. I wish Barbara all good luck!

Toni said...

What a fantastic Interview. I loved it. I really like that part about the illustrations. I can't imagine what a powerful feeling it is to write something and then get to see the illustrations. It sounds like a powerful moving experience.

Brimful Curiosities said...

Finally posted my review. Really liked your interview. Could tell you enjoyed talking with her.

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