This week I had the privilege of interviewing Kelly F. Barr! I met her at Scribes Oasis, a writing group we were both part of in Lancaster, PA. We became fast friends and I’ve valued her encouragement and inspiration in the time that I’ve known her. Welcome Kelly!
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in Lancaster County, PA, and I still live there with my husband, three boys and our black Labrador Retriever. I am a homeschool mom of three wonderful boys, although two have already graduated from our homeschool and moved on, one to college and one to a Bible school. I love to read, take photographs, and write fictional stories. I love spending time with my family playing games, watching movies, talking or taking walks or family vacations. I love the Lord and hope that he will use my writing to touch other people’s hearts and lives. Lastly, one of my dreams is to live on Chincoteague Island, Virginia.
At what age were you bitten by the writing ‘bug’?
I began to like to write when I was assigned to write a “Pioneer Journal” in 5th grade, so I would’ve been ten years old. However, I didn’t really start doing a lot of writing until I was 12+. My seventh grade English teacher said that I had writing talent and told my mom to encourage me in my writing. I wrote a lot of poetry and short stories in my teen years and dreamed of becoming a published author one day.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your writing career? How about the most rewarding?
The biggest challenge in my writing career has been believing in myself — believing that I can really write well. I never got a lot of encouragement on my writing. Then I got married and we adopted our children so I put off writing for many years, until one day my oldest son, after being praised by people in a writing field, said to me, “Mom, why do you think you can’t write? I have been told by several people that I am a good writer, and you are the one who taught me. So, if I am a good writer, then you must be a good writer.” This was a big encouragement to me and I began to consider the possibility of writing again, and in another year or two, I finally connected with a local writers’ group, but I had been out of the writing world for so long that I decided to spend the first whole year just listening and learning, and then I began to write again. That was three years ago.
Therefore, I would have to say the most rewarding thing in my writing career has been those words from my son, as well as becoming part of several writing groups and connecting with other writers because that has encouraged me and taught me that my struggle is not mine alone.
Are there any organizations or conferences you’ve attend to broaden your circle?
Yes, the first one I joined is “Lancaster Christian Writers” and I have attended three of their one-day Writers’ Conferences. I also started a small group of writers when I found out that several of my homeschool mom friends had a strong desire to write as well. We meet once a week and try to model our group after C. S. Lewis’s “Inklings” group. We call ourselves “Scribes Oasis”. I am also a member of “American Christian Fiction Writers” and attended their first PA Chapter Writers’ Conference last year. I also attended a one-day small writers’ conference held by “Susquehanna Valley Writers’ Group”. I hope to attend some bigger conferences in the future, if my budget allows. I find the conferences very helpful, encouraging and educational.
What have you learned from your journey as a writer? Is there anything you hope to accomplish?
I have learned that writing is hard work. It takes a lot of time, energy and persistence because you can’t just write a story and get it published. You need to let a finished story rest and come back read it after a few months. You need to get others to read it and critique it, maybe even have a few beta readers read it and give you feedback. You also need to have an editor edit it, and you need to do multiple rewrites. Those are all very necessary things, if you really want your writing to be of good quality. Bad writing is everywhere, but good writing is becoming harder to find, and I want to be a good writer.
Where do the ideas for your stories come from? What is the biggest influence in how you create your characters and the main themes of your books?
Ideas for my stories can come from so many places — my environment, a conversation I may overhear in public, daydreaming, magazine articles, other books I read, places I go, things I see, activities I participate in. Ideas come from EVERYWHERE! The biggest influence in how I create my characters and the main themes of my books, I would say come from God, as I pray about my writing all the time asking for His guidance and leading in what I write, and from my own life experiences or dreams I have had that have not and never will come true, or dreams that I still have living inside me.
Do you have a writing routine?
No, I hate to admit, but I have not been able to establish a regular writing routine. As much as I love writing and want to publish, and have heard everyone tell me that “if you want to write, you have to do it and you have to treat it like any other job and sit down and do it EVERYDAY, at least five days a week”, my family still takes priority over my writing. Therefore, as long as aging parents and in-laws need help and care and as long as my children need my time and attention, my writing will still come after those things.
What is your favorite book(s) and why? Has it influenced your writing?
I’m glad you put the (s) on the end of book because it would be too difficult to pick a single book, I have loved to read ever since I learned how to read and I wish I would have kept a list of every book I have ever read because I would love to know the number of books I read. My favorite books are: the Bible, as it is my guide for life and yes, I believe it heavily influences my writing as it influences my life; “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee because its characters are so rich, realistic and believable; C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” series, especially “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” because it’s a wonderful fantasy story with a powerful message; “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett because it is the only book I have ever read that addressed the race/slave issue from the side of the black woman; “Fire and Water” by Betsy Graziani Fasbinder because she created characters, one in particular, that was so compelling and complicated because he had a mental illness — this book touched me deeper than any other fictional work I have ever read.
I believe that all of the above books, as well as every book I have read or will read, influence my writing because I believe I learn from them all. I learn what not to do from the badly written books and I learn what to strive for from the well written books, and not all bestsellers are well written.
Is there any advice you can give to other writers who are just beginning their journey?
Yes, I strongly encourage other writers to never give up if they believe writing is what they are meant to do. I would also strongly suggest that all writers find a good critique group to get involved with and quickly grow a thick skin; know that good critique groups are not harsh criticisms but helpful tips, advice and suggestions to help you improve your writing. Know that if several people say similar things about your writing it’s probably something you should really consider, but if only one person says it, you may take it with a grain of salt because some people have a hard time critiquing a genre they don’t normally enjoy reading. Also, attend several writing conferences. You can attend a one-day conference for a reasonable price, and any number of larger, multiple-day conferences, if it’s in your budget, and these conferences are of great value. Finally, know that writing is hard but commit yourself to do the hard stuff — the rewrites, to put out the best writing you are capable of writing, and ALWAYS strive to improve.