Kathleen Miller Y’Barbo– Writer

What made you want to become a writer?

My earliest memories are of trips to the library. I became a reader first and then, much later, decided to try my hand at writing. I’m not sure that I began writing thinking I would publish anything. It was more like I HAD to write. Publication came later.

Was the journey difficult?

The journey was wonderful – an adventure I would never have wanted to miss a moment of. Actually, there were a few hundred rejection letters that I could have done without, but other than that I can’t complain. I’ve made wonderful and lasting friends through the world of writing, and I even landed my current “day job” as a publicist because of my writing. These friends have served to cause my manuscripts to be better and have encouraged me to keep at this rather unpredictable business.

Any obstacles I faced were of my own making. If I’d listen more and talked less, I think I would be much further along in my writing journey.

 Any lessons learned on your writer’s journey?

 The most important lesson I have learned is that no matter how many books I have in print, I can never stop learning and honing my craft. A writer’s mind should always be challenged to do better, to absorb more, and to translate honest emotions to the printed page. Of the utmost importance is to always remain teachable. Finally – and this is possibly the most important lesson – never believe you’re any better than any other writer.

 Where does that inner drive to write come from?

 I am a Christian, thus, my answer would be that my drive to write comes from God. He has gifted me with stories I must tell. I am also driven to make each book better than the next.

 How do you keep readers turning pages?

 I hope that I keep pages turning through pacing, plotting, and interesting characters. A trick of mine is to begin each novel with a compelling sentence – a hook – that will pique the reader’s curiosity. The last line of each chapter also ends with a hook. My hope is that when the reader comes to that line, nothing will do but that he or she will want to find out what happens next.

 How often will you revise and re-write your work?

 Without deadlines I would most likely revise and rewrite indefinitely. I’ve just completed my twenty-fifth book, so much of the editing comes in the planning stages so that by the time the words hit the page they’re fairly well thought out. I learned long ago not to rely on the spell check function, so a thorough read of my manuscript is a must in order to catch typos, continuity errors, and bad writing. Ideally, my critique partners will read through my book as well, but here lately I’ve been pushing too close to deadlines to avail myself of their knowledge and experience. When I can, I also like to read the manuscript aloud. You’d be surprised how much your eyes miss that speaking catches. I understand there’s a program that’s offered free on the Internet that will read your manuscript for you if you’re working off a PC. I have a Mac, so I haven’t used it but at least one of my writer friends swears by it.

 What are some creative ways you’ve learned to generate ideas?

 I love getting ideas by brainstorming gems I’ve picked up from odd places. My critique group is wonderful for that. Often a story I read or hear will spark an idea that I can adapt. Open up any newspaper and you’ll find something interesting that can be a story starter. A fun exercise is to cut interesting headlines out of newspapers and toss them into a jar or paper bag. When you’re stuck for a plot idea, close your eyes and draw two or three headlines out and try to come up with a plot that would connect the two. For example, take a look at the three headlines I chose from the October 14 issue of the Los Angeles Times:

“How E.coli Spread to Fields Remains a Mystery”

Ohio Republican Pleads Guilty in Bribery Case

“Residents Faced with Tough Choice When Mobile Home Park “Goes Condo”

By brainstorming, can you come up with a story idea using these three items? What about two of them? Half the fun is in trying to make the connections.

What are some practical solutions for writer’s block?


Seriously, I have learned that writing every day, even when you don’t feel like you have anything to write about can go a long way toward getting out of the writers rut. Also, I’ve found that reading a great book by someone else can jumpstart your own creativity. There’s something about brilliant writing that makes me want to sit down and make the attempt.

Do you have a favorite book?

 One? You’re asking the impossible. I can narrow my favorites down to a few:

A TALE OF TWO CITIES, Charles Dickens – a depth of writing like nothing I’ve ever seen. Each time I read this I come away wanting to be a better person.

GRAPES OF WRATH, John Steinbeck and  AND THE LADIES OF THE CLUB, Helen Hooven Santmeyer – unforgettable characters and settings that will stay with you years after reading them

SOME WILDFLOWER IN MY HEART, Jamie Langston Turner – characterization and reader involvement that left me breathless

AT THE SCENT OF WATER, Linda Nichols – brilliant writing with a twist at the end that I never saw coming

GONE WITH THE WIND, Margaret Mitchell – intricate plotting and characterization that could NEVER be captured in the movie

There are so many others – Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Alcott, and others…

Do you have a favorite time of day when you like to write?

 If left to my own devices, I would write half the night and sleep until noon, but I have a daughter who must leave for high school by 6:30am. Thus, I compromise. I am also a publicist, so I find myself sandwiching my writing time in between work I do for my clients. This generally translates to writing during mid-day then going back to it in the evening. Some weekends I write constantly and others I never get to it. In my opinion, a successful writer is one who balances writing with life. One who writes and lets the other areas of life pass them by will soon find that their writing suffers.

What is one saying or proverb you live by?

 I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:13

 What advice would you give kids who wish to pursue a career in writing?

Go to law school! Just kidding! Get as much education as you can. Consider broadening your horizons by studying in fields that interest you. One writer I know is a nuclear physicist. He writes science fiction well because he understands science. Another friend of mine is a doctor. She writes medical thrillers and fills them with details only a doctor would know.

Writing can be a challenging, fulfilling, disappointing, amazing roller coaster ride. Most authors I know have other jobs that pay the bills. Think about pairing your writing with a career that will support your talent. For example, I am a publicist. I represent novelists. I know the field because I am in it. Other writers I know are also journalists. They write for newspapers or magazines then supplement their income with their book royalties and advances.

I’m not saying that an author must have a second job to make a living, but please understand that the very nature of writing books is that there is no guarantee of another sale. It is the rare novelist who makes enough money off his or her first book to live comfortably for a lifetime. More likely is the scenario that a person begins by garnering small advances, working up to larger ones with time.

 Where can we find out more about your work?

My books are available on Amazon.com, Christianbooks.com, and through my website http://www.kathleenybarbo.com.


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About Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

Jolene Owen is an interactive journalist working in the transmedia sector. View all posts by Jolene Owen (Editor-at-large)

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