Author Interview: Barbara Pronin

  • Are there any books or authors that inspired you to become a writer?     I’d been writing little poems since I was 8 or 9, but when I was in sixth grade, we had a visit from Scott O’Dell, the author of Island of the Blue Dolphins. I was mesmerized by his charisma, his graciousness, and his tale of how the novel came to be. I think knew right then what my life’s dream would be – I would one day write novels of my own.
  • Do you have any suggestions to help me a better writer? Write from passion. Write about times, places, and characters you care about, and do enough research to make the world you create believable.
  • Have you ever written under a pseudonym? … I have written three of my seven mysteries under the pseudonym Barbara Nickolae. That’s because the first of the three, Finder’s Keepers, was a collaboration with a writer friend named Nickolae Gerstner. As a result of its great reviews and international sales, we signed a contract for two more Barbara Nickolae titles. The partnership fizzled, but I fulfilled the contract by writing two additional books under our pseudonym.
  • How do you come up with character names for your stories? …My characters seem to dance onstage in my head pretty fully formed and with names.  Only once has an editor asked me to change a name, because the character was a bad guy and someone in their editing pool had the same name!
  • How many books have you written and which is your favorite?   I’ve now written eight, and although I alternately love and hate every one of them during various times in the writing process, each is my favorite while I am writing it.  But I have just finished a ninth novel – a historical set in The Netherlands near the end of WW II – and although it is still in search of a publisher, it is absolutely and without question my very, very favorite.
  • What advice would you give a writer working on their first book?  Finish it! Get that first draft down on paper even when you doubt it’s any good. You can edit, refine, and play with it several times before you begin to believe in it. But if you don’t finish that first draft, you will never get to that point.
  • What are the essential characteristics of a character you can root for?  The character must be real, likeable, and well-motivated to reach a worthy goal. Whether it’s finding a partner or saving the world, the reader must want him or her to succeed. There have been novels with unlikeable main characters – Frederick Forsythe’s wonderful The Day of the Jackal, for example – but for the most part, if readers don’t fall in love with your character and his or her journey, they are likely to put the book down midway through it.
  • What inspired the idea for The Miner’s Canary?  We visited South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore – which is awe-inspiring, by the way – and toured the infamous town of Deadwood, where Wild Bill Hickock met his Maker, and which once was home to the largest goldmine in the nation. The mine is now closed to all but tourists, but seeing it up close and personal set off a spark in my head, and by the time I got home, I knew I had a story. It wasn’t the first time a little vacation sparked a story. Ties That Bind, a Barbara Nickolae title, was born while touring the Santa Barbara Mission.
  • What is the most valuable bit of advice you’ve been given about writing? At a writer’s conference years ago, Ray Bradbury told me that if you can write a short story, you can write a novel. You just surround the protagonist with some interesting characters, juicy sub-plots and motivations and see where it takes you. And my advice, if you want it,  is that every writer at any stage should go to as many writer’s conferences as possible. They are wonderful sources of knowledge, encouragement and contacts.
  • What’s your favorite and least favorite parts of publishing?   The editing stage can be tough, and the wait until pub date can seem like forever. But it’s thrilling beyond words to see the cover design for the first time and to know the baby that so absorbed you will soon be out in the world.

Leave a Reply