Allison's Book Bag

Interview with Scott T. Barnes

Posted on: August 19, 2013

ScottBarnesToday I’d like to introduce you to Scott T. Barnes. Along with award-winning illustrator Sarah Duque, he recently completed the fourth-grade illustrated reader Rancho San Felipe, published by the Wieghorst Western Heritage Center. 

Born in California, Barnes spent most of his early life working on the family farm in the mountain town of Julian. According to Writers of the Future, he loved science fiction from an early age. His mom would leave him at the mall bookstore for hours, on her shopping trips to San Diego, knowing she could later find him in the science fiction section reading everything he could reach. Since childhood, Barnes also wanted to be a writer and wrote his first science fiction story at age eleven on an old manual typewriter. After graduating high school, Barnes obtained his Bachelor of Arts in journalism and Spanish, Master of Business Administration, and worked in a variety of places including Mexico and France. When he finally returned to his first love of writing, he set himself publication goals and achieved them. Today, he is a stay-at-home dad and editor of the online magazine New Myths. This past week, he took sometime to answer a few questions for me.

ALLISON: Share a memorable farm story from childhood.

SCOTT: There are too many to pick from. I can only say that growing up on a farm in a small town is the best childhood anyone could ask for. I wish I could offer the same to my two girls, but my wife refuses to live more than 20 minutes from a Macy’s.

ALLISON:  You wrote a novel once on a typewriter. Do you miss the typewriter?

SCOTT: I do not miss the typewriter one bit. I started on an old manual and my parents got me a selectric at an early age. The huge advantage of that was that it could erase words. Also you wouldn’t wear out your fingers with the manual keys. But I have grown accustomed to cutting and pasting. I don’t worry much about where I start writing, beginning, middle, or end. So it would be very hard for me to go back to a manual typewriter.

ALLISON: Dare I ask…. United States or Europe?

SCOTT: I moved to France to follow a girlfriend. Not a reason I would recommend these days, but when you are in your early 20s you are entitled to rashness. It all worked out, and the experience was fabulous. I lived there around 8 years out of 14. But I’d suggest there is no “Europe.” Every country is so different that I don’t like saying “Europe this” and “Europe that.” I really only know France. (This is certainly one of the problems the EU is having; they have tried to pretend the differences didn’t exist, hoping they would go away if ignored.)

One thing I absolutely love about the United States is that everyone has a personal project for betterment. For example, this person is taking acting classes in the evening, someone else is studying knitting, another person makes pilates videos to upload to YouTube and a third person reviews books online. 🙂 Everyone has some project with a goal of making money or becoming a better person. Or both. You don’t find that in France. People work very hard, equally hard as Americans. However, outside of work most of the people spend their time thinking about food or vacations. Really. Those are the French obsessions. And family, of course. But those “extra projects” are lacking. As long as we have that spirit of entrepreneurship in this country, I wouldn’t pick anyplace else.

ALLISON:  In your twenties and thirties, you spend a lot of time studying flamenco guitar and kenjitsu. What is a flamenco guitar? What is kenjitsu?

Flamenco culture is native to Andalusia.

Flamenco culture is native to Andalusia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SCOTT: Flamenco music is the music of Spanish gypsies. Its history and development have been obscured by time and illiteracy, but it has roots in Spanish, Moorish, Romanian, and possibly Indian music. It has taken a lot of influence from the Americas as well. It is rhythmically complex, often with alternating rhythms within the same piece of music. I’m planning a fantasy novel around Flamenco music and the gypsies. I have been blessed with some extraordinary teachers, from Juan Serrano and Diego Corriente in Flamenco music, to Thierry Blot, a French classical guitar player, composer, and conductor.

Kenjitsu is Japanese sword fighting which I continue to study with one of the world’s great masters, James Williams. We have just finished a nonfiction manuscript together called Edged Weapon Combat. Black Belt magazine offered a contract for the book on very poor terms which we declined, but we are confident we will find a publisher.

ALLISON:  What drove you back to writing?

SCOTT: I have wanted to be a writer since I was 11. My problem has been discipline and focus. It takes tremendous discipline to sit down and write every day. And because I have so many interests, I have a tendency to try to do too many things. I had to give up guitar playing to finally focus on writing. Now I write the first two hours every day.

ALLISON: How did a writer of fantasy end up writing historical fiction?

SCOTT: I have always loved multiple disciplines. History comes with my family. My grandmother was born at a gold mine in my small town of Julian, California. My great-grandfather raised lemons on the beach, literally, in Pacific Beach, now a resort community. The local university has done oral histories of all the elders in my family. So history and the love thereof is in my blood. I don’t know where the love of fantasy and science fiction comes from. My parents don’t care for anything that they haven’t read about either in Science magazine or the newspaper, so maybe I was unconsciously rebelling against them.

ALLISON: How did you come across the story of Rancho San Felipe and decide to tell it?

SCOTT:  I hesitate to admit the time period, but around 20 years ago the illustrator for Rancho San Felipe, Sarah Duque, approached me with 40 full color illustrations and a draft book and asked if I would collaborate on it. She had written the first version of Rancho San Felipe and no one wanted to publish it. I took a look. It was a “slice of life” story, this happened, then that happened, then something else. I felt I could help with the rewrite, so I agreed. The “slice of life” is how life really happens but that’s not what people want to read. I rewrote the book so that it had a beginning, middle and end by focusing on the friendship between Victor and the donkey, Pedro. This unifies everything while keeping it a true story.

With this new version in hand we found a publisher (Sunbelt) and a partner for distribution, the Olaf Wieghorst Western Heritage Center. After working on the production and financing for some time, we decided to publish with the Olaf Western Heritage Center, keep copyright in-house and leave Sunbelt out of it.

ALLISON:  What’s next?

SCOTT: For the Rancho San Felipe project I am working with two teachers to develop a study guide. This should be available by the end of October.
I’m always writing short stories. But my big project is a fiction novel from the salmon point of view. The outline is nearly finished; I hope to have the book written by April of 2014. It is an epic journey along the lines of Watership Down, though the salmon “culture” is far different from that of rabbits. In real life only about 2 in 750 salmon survive the migration to the ocean and back. The book deals with the effects this has on their culture and how one salmon must break their instinctual pattern of behavior or an introduced species of bass will destroy them.

Set in 1905, Rancho San Felipe has been promoted as a tale of adventure and an unlikely friendship on one of California’s last ranchos. Finally 11-year-old Victor is old enough to work on his family’s cattle ranch in the Southern California desert–Rancho San Felipe. If he proves himself a real cowboy Victor will be allowed to ride on the fall cattle drive to Temecula. But how can he prove himself without new boots, a new rope, and a well-trained horse? Please return tomorrow for my review. Save the date: August 20!

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