Family Relationships

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Reindeer Keeper

Today we are happy to welcome Barbara Briggs Ward to Nourishing Relationships for a virtual book tour. She's written a lovely book, The Reindeer Keeper: Believe Again, arriving just in time for the holidays. Barbara has a long history as the author/illustrator of children's books, especially the Snarly Sally series, and The Reindeer Keeper is her first work of fiction for adults.

NR: Welcome, Barbara. We're sure our readers would like to know more about you. For instance, what influenced you to become a writer?

Barbara: Growing up in the country provided me the biggest influence on the rest of my life for it offered me a constant backdrop to explore - and the more I played and explored, the greater my imagination grew. There were 4 houses in a row - all filled with relatives - aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, dogs and cats. My cousins and I had fields and pastures, creeks and old barns in which to play. But it was in a chicken coop converted into a clubhouse and filled with the desks/books/chalkboards of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse where we spent the majority of our time. If you go to you can follow my blog, which chronicles those times growing up in the country.

NR: When did you start writing?

Barbara: I started writing when I'd spend hours playing in my chicken coop. There was something about that old place that intrigued me. Having my favorite books around me added to the wonder. After receiving a handmade pine desk as a Christmas gift from my grandfather, I knew I wanted to be a writer - but I don't think I understood what that meant. I kept cutting paper into little pieces and folding them to make little books. I kept scribbling and drawing with my crayons. I kept scribbling as I grew up. It was just something I did. After my first child was born, scribbles turned into endless storylines. I was hooked. Intrigue turned into passion. I had to write. I started writing because I couldn't stop.

NR: What was your inspiration for The Reindeer Keeper?

Barbara: Because my father was a funeral director, I was keenly aware of how beautiful the gift of another day really is. It offers us another chance. Obituaries always fascinate me, for they chronicle what individuals did during their time on earth. The thought of knowing when we began and not having control of the end date inspires me to make a difference; to take each day and live it to the fullest while along the way appreciate the little things.

The specific inspiration for The Reindeer Keeper was a snowfall on Christmas Eve. Watching those big, beautiful flakes float by the window with Christmas lights muted in the distance filled me with an urge to write a story of the season for adults - entwining that wonder of Santa Claus we all once felt with the real life we face each day. Besides having my grandfather's barn in my thoughts, that's all I knew when I sat down to write the story but as words came out, the characters took over.

NR: The Reindeer Keeper deals with relationships on so many levels. Your main character, Abbey, struggles with her own feelings of resentment towards her mother, which are so strong that her immediate family avoids the subject of her mother in any form. From where did you draw such conflict of emotions between a mother and a daughter?

Barbara: Much of what I wrote about this complicated relationship comes from my own experience with my mother. I believe even when no such conflict exists between the two it is a challenging relationship especially as the daughter grows and spreads her wings, forging her own path and in doing so, reflecting back on how her mother handled her own path and decisions she made along the way. I now find my own daughters doing the same.

With my mother it was a build up of resentment that only widened as the years went by. I was lucky though, for in the last 6 months of her life, being the only sibling living nearby I was "forced" to deal with her. Looking back, those 6 months were a gift for slowly the walls crumbled and slowly we began to talk and slowly I learned that underneath all the anger and hate I loved her more than I could have ever imagined. I'd sit at the end of her bed and listen and she would do the same. We'd laugh. We'd cry and from that period of time I discovered how unfair it is to judge others when in fact we are not walking in their shoes. When my mother passed away I felt at peace with her. I miss her more than I ever thought possible.

NR: In the book the relationship between the two main characters - Abbey and Steve - is that of a strong, solid marriage; rather refreshing in this day and age. How were they able to do this, considering all they had to deal with?

Barbara: In The Reindeer Keeper Abbey and Steve do have a good marriage but it is also revealed how they have been able to stay so happily together over their 30 years of marriage while confronting all the difficulties life has thrown at them. They communicate. They give and take. They understand each other; their strengths, weaknesses, body language. They enjoy each other's company; laugh and cry together. Of course they've had their bumps in the road but bottom line, their love has only deepened from when they first met in the '60s. And as they face their greatest challenge it is that strength between the two of them that carries them through the darkness.

NR: How do you use language to differentiate characters and settings?

Barbara: I use language to help describe a character, to set the tone and emphasis in describing settings. In The Reindeer Keeper there is an odd little man whose use of language is short and abrupt but as you read along and learn more about this character, that all makes sense. A reader can feel close to a character by learning a character's language. This adds to that feeling of getting into the book itself.

NR: What's your favorite book? Favorite word?

Barbara: I don't have a favorite book. I have two favorite authors, both rooted in my childhood and that chicken coop. It was inside that coop where I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lousia May Alcott books. And if I wasn't reading I was folding those pieces of paper and writing books.

My favorite word is morning for it offers hope and a new beginning - a gift of another day. Watching the world wake up yet again is empowering; seeing the sky turn from black to hints of daylight is inspiring.

NR: Barbara, thank you for inspiring us today with your candid answers. Readers, now it's your chance to continue the discussion about The Reindeer Keeper with Barbara by asking your own questions through the "Comment" link below.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My relationship with my mom has been full of resentment for years so I can relate to your comments. How did you get rid of all those bad feelings toward the end of her life?

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When you said that you learned the importance of each day from your father's job as funeral director, it really moved me. I'm a cancer survivor and I do consider each day a gift. I'm looking forward to reading your book.

1:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm an aspiring (unpublished) author myself. I was wondering how you found your publisher.

1:28 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

In answer to my relationship with my mother:
It was never my intention to have any kind of relationship with my mother even as I became her sole caretaker. It wasn't because I wanted to be that caretaker; it was because I was the only sibling still nearby. At first I'd run in and out; see what she needed; talk about the weather and moan all the way home. But slowly the stops became a little longer because she became more needy. Our roles were reversing and without other family members around the roles we normally played no longer existed. There we were-the two of us and as she needed me more-the more time I'd spend with her. So we had to actually talk and not about the weather. She is the one who started the process. Looking back I think it's because she knew her time was short and there I was-her daughter with whom there'd only been conflict. Some days I'd rub her back with powder or brush her hair and she'd tell me things I never heard-how she met my father (whom I adored); what it was like for her growing up with 6 sisters and being the 2nd born-it was her duty to work in the barn. I heard about her going to school to be a nurse; about the struggles my parents had when they first married, etc. The more she told me the more I wanted to hear so I'd stay longer and go more often. Sitting at the end of her bed I'd listen as she told me how pretty I was; how talented a writer I was; how she'd always thought I was the stongest of her children.

This all just happened but I don't think it would have if I had not made a conscious decision to allow the wall between us to fall and allow her in. And when I did I realized my mother herself had been on her own path and had her own things to deal with. I realized I never walked in her shoes and she probably had done the best she could-as I was trying to do. I was so blessed to have been given that opportunity. When she died I felt at peace with her-as did she. I was lucky. Once you let your guard down; once you realize life really is too short to let things fester; once you realize being a mother is such a complicated role-then walls will start to fall-they really will.

3:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your imagery is reminding me of my own childhood in simpler times when I could just stop and enjoy the snow falling. Thanks for reminding me! It sounds like your book would make a great stocking stuffer for my daughter.

3:30 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Comment on learning the importance of each day from my father being a funeral director:

Growing up over the funeral home death was always part of my day; running in and out of the front door past mourners daily. I never realized how all of that affected me until becoming an adult and having children. That's when lessons learned and words spoken by my father were appreciated-and time spent in that funeral home held even deeper meaning. There was the Easter when we couldn't go to my aunt's for dinner because my father had a death call-a little girl choked on a jellybean. There was that rainy March evening when all I could hear was the creaking of the lift carrying the casket of a young man coming home from Vietnam. And my father's example-caring for those in grief; telling me what a blessing each day is was appreciated.
Being a cancer survivor you've been to the edge. You realize tomorrow is a gift. You too appreciate each day.
When I sat down to write "The Reindeer Keeper" much of what I learned from my father came out in bits and pieces throughout the story-which surprised me.
I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

4:03 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

How I found a publiser:

Well it was not easy. In fact most would have gone on to something else but I had this voice inside me telling me to keep pushing. Truth is I wanted to be a writer since I was 7 and my grandfather made me my favorite Christmas present ever-a simple pine desk with a pad of paper and pencil in the single drawer.
Back when I started to take myself seriously there was nothing called the internet. I went to the library and researched publishers and agents. I decided to do my own illustrating. I'd never had any formal training so that took lots of research and lots of trial and error. I just dove in; contacted publishers and received rejections on a daily basis. It is all a learning process and with me, it was being in the right place at the right time. Someone saw my art on a product and that led to a publisher. Bottome line is if you believe in yourself do not give up. I always figured each time I was rejected-it was their loss.
Those trying to become a writer have it a little easier today with the internet. It is all at your fingertips. Sign on to Writer's Market. Join groups aligned with the genre you are writing. Try writing for magazines first. If it is children's material you are writing join the Society Of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Just keep pushing! It will happen. Use the internet as the great marketing tool it is!

4:41 PM  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Comment on my imagery:

One of the reasons I wanted to write a book like "The Reindeer Keeper" was to bring adults back to those simplier childhood times. I didn't want it like a dream and then they'd wake up and discover they'd been dreaming. I wanted adults dealing with adult joys and sorrows but becoming aware again of the wonder and possibility they felt when a child.
I believe we can still do this if we take the time to enjoy the little things such as a snowfall. Again I fall back on growing up in a funeral home where I saw death daily. From that I grew up realizing each day is a gift and each day we need to look at the little things that can easily go unnoitced in a busy adult life.

4:51 PM  
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