Rick Barry writes Young Adult novels aimed at young men.
Just as with actors on stage or on screen, I think various aspects of myself emerge and help to flesh out the primary characters that I create for my stories. When I write about a child, I recall back to when I was a child. What interested me then? What was I afraid of? And with adult characters, I don’t recreate myself on paper, but I notice that some degree of my own emotions, interests or personality usually overflows into the protagonist that I’ve created. That might include my interest in foreign languages and international travel. Or it might be an interest in history. But as a Christian writer, I always include my Biblical worldview there somewhere.
What is the quirkiest thing you have ever done?
Well, it may not be quirky, but in my novel Gunner’s Run, the main character tumbles through the open bomb bay doors of a B-24 over Nazi Germany. I suppose I could have used my imagination, but I decided it would be more fun to experience the sensation. I signed up for a sky-diving class and jumped out of a perfectly good plane—twice!
When did you first discover that you were a writer?
In high school I noticed that writing assignments never sparked in me the moans and agony that they generated in my classmates. But not until I entered a writing contest in my sophomore year of college and had my first article printed did I stop and realize, “Hey, I can write. People will actually give me money for stuff I make up!”
Tell us the range of the kinds of books you enjoy reading.
The kind books I enjoy is probably a bizarre spectrum. Depending on my mood at the moment I can enjoy biographies of famous figures from history, or a non-fiction WW II story as told through the eyes of a man who was in the thick of the action. In fiction, I can pick up children’s novels, works by John Steinbeck, Robin Cook, Edgar Allen Poe, John Grisham, Edgar Rice Burroughs, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Brandt Dodson… I can chuckle through Nancy McArthur’s The Plant That Ate Dirty Socks or read a thriller by John Clancy or something by Michael Crichton. Just for fun, I read a woman’s novel, Sophie’s Heart by Lori Wick, to get a feel for her style. Occasionally I might leaf through a book of poems by Robert Frost and reread selected ones.
What other books have you written, whether published or not?
Besides my World War II story Gunner’s Run, I’ve written a fantasy novel for young adults. Just today my editor informed me that a contract for that manuscript is in the mail. Besides those, I’ve written over a couple hundred articles and short stories for magazines, newspapers, etc. Right now I’m working on a third novel that begins in WW II but then comes down to our own time.
How do you keep your sanity in our run, run, run world?
The best anchor for maintaining sanity is a healthy relationship with God through Jesus Christ. When that relationship is Number One in your life, other priorities fall into proper sequence more often than not. A favorite verse is Matthew 6:33, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….”
How do you choose your characters’ names?
For Gunner’s Run, I wanted the main character to come from northern Indiana. One of the most typical names there is Yoder, so I named my hero Jim Yoder. He was meant to be a normal, guy-next-door type, and I believe that name helps to capture that image.
For a series of short science fiction stories that I’m writing for Focus on the Family’s teen magazine Breakaway, the main character is Rankin Fithian. In that case, I had the name long before I ever imagined the story. It comes from a sign I once saw on an interstate highway in Illinois. One exit was the way to two local towns—Rankin and Fithian, but without “and” in the middle. As soon as I saw that sign I thought, “What a cool name for a character!” I wrote it down while I was driving but didn’t have a story to go with it until over a year later.
For my current novel, I chose to call my protagonist Roger Greene, because I wanted a name that implies life, vibrancy, and green is traditionally a word that suggests biological life and nature. So I tacked on an “e” and got Greene. But I’ll admit that once in a while I have thumbed through a phone book looking for inspiration!
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
Interesting question. They ask the same thing on the application for the reality show Survivor on TV. (I’ve applied multiple times, and so far no one at CBS realizes I’m perfect for the show!) I guess my answer would be learning to read and write and speak Russian even though I have no Russian roots in my family. I’ve traveled there over 25 times.
I'll be looking for you on the show someday. If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
Pegasus—a flying horse. I saw a statue of Pegasus once, and it evoked feelings of strength and grace, plus adventure.
What is your favorite food?
Almost anything Chinese, but especially General Tso’s chicken. The spicier, the better.
I like Chinese food, too, but keep mine mild. What is the problem with writing that was your greatest roadblock, and how did you overcome it?
For me, the time crunch is the major impediment. I’m not a full-time writer. My full-time position is with a Christian ministry that plants churches in Russia and Eastern Europe. So all my writing is done is little blocks of 20 minutes here and half a lunch hour there. Sometimes I write while at an airport waiting for an airplane, or with the last remaining brain cells before I conk out before bed. How do I deal with the time shortage? Simply by NOT succumbing to the paralyzing notion, “I don’t have time to write.” Just one paragraph a day will eventually add up to a short story or, in time, a whole novel. You just have set your sights on the long haul and keep plugging away, day after day.
What advice would you give to an author just starting out?
Learn the craft. Study how good, published authors use dialogue and transitions, and how they describe (or don’t describe) their characters. Know the proper use of all punctuation, and when you’re not sure, find out how to do it. Above all else, use proper spelling and don’t trust your computer’s spell-checker program. It will lead you astray. If you do all of the above, even your first manuscript can look like a decent, polished submission when the editor receives it. Fail to do any of the above, and the editor will say, “Oh. Another amateur wannabe,” before rejecting your story.
Although Gunner’s Run takes place in WW II, it’s not really a story about battles and bloodshed. Rather, it’s two journeys in one: a physical journey as my escaped hero tries to get out of Hitler’s Europe and back to England, and a spiritual journey as he learns to trust in God, from whom he had been running for a long time.
How can readers find you on the Internet?
Although you can Google my name, you might have to wade through a page or so of sites about the famous Rick Barry who played basketball for the Golden State Warriors in the 1970s. To save time, go straight to http://www.rick-barry.com/
Thank you for spending this time with us, Rick.
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