Lee Barwood's A Lingering Passion

My guest today is Lee Barwood. Lee writes about the plights of animals and the environment, with a paranormal edge. Her environmental suspense thriller A Dream of Drowned Hollow won Andre Norton’s Gryphon Award and garnered rave reviews, and her short fiction and poetry have been nominated for several awards, including the Balrog.

Her Haunted Ozarks series is peopled by those whose otherworldly abilities that go beyond the physical universe. She finds that mystery and the paranormal often fit together perfectly, embracing the unknown and offering clues to more than one puzzle at a time. Barwood is a long-time member of Mystery Writers of America, the Authors Guild, and Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Her latest book, The Trail Through the Mist, is set around the Cherokee Trail of Tears and will be out in 2012 from Double Dragon Publishing.

Welcome to my little corner of cyberspace, Lee. Let’s talk writing!

Anne  - Tell us about your book.

Lee - A Lingering Passion is part murder mystery, part ghost story, and part romance. A movie producer obsessed with his family history decides to revive an old theater—where his great-grandfather used to act—in what used to be a spa town in the Ozarks. In the course of uncovering why his ancestor fled the place for England in the 19th century, never to return, he stirs up ghosts hungry for revenge—and love.

Stan Richards comes to Sassafras Springs to find out the truth about the family scandal, a mystery never discussed at home but that has colored his whole life. He finds clues in the morgue of the local newspaper, and more evidence in the old theater itself, but puts the pieces together in a way that keeps him from seeing the truth about his ancestor. As he revives the theater with a production of an obscure but superb playwright, and brings a big-name cast to the small town, he becomes more and more obsessed with bringing his family’s story to the big screen—despite the fact that his version does not fit the facts of the case.

His cast members bring their own ghosts with them, in a manner of speaking. Declan Garrett, the leading man, has his own tragic secret that makes him particularly vulnerable to the theater’s hauntings. Phyllida Hancock, who has loved Declan for years, is psychic and knows Declan is in danger—but with a ghost as the third side of a romantic triangle, can she save him from its clutches? And the ghosts who haunt the theater have their own agendas. Can a ghost fall in love? Will one murder beget another? Pride and jealousy can be as strong as love, and the very survival of the cast hangs in the balance. Everything comes to a head after the production is filmed for DVD release, and the cast on screen is not the cast Declan expected.

Throw in a generations-old murder, some conflicts with the townspeople, and a healthy dose of theatrical superstition, and you have the ideal story to read on a dark and stormy night.

Anne - Is it part of a series? If so, include other titles. What do you enjoy most about writing a series? What part do you loathe?

Lee - A Lingering Passion is part of the Haunted Ozarks series, standalone books set in the same fictional Ozarks counties of Blackburn and Fulbright, where otherworldly things happen as a matter of course.
The first book in the series was A Dream of Drowned Hollow, an award-winning environmental thriller in which a girl with paranormal talents is pitted against a ruthless developer determined to bring jobs and “prosperity” to the region where he grew up—even if he destroys it in the process.

In Some Cost a Passing Bell, Camilla Carthan flees the notoriety that follows her everywhere after her husband is murdered by his mistress. Ignorant of her husband’s perfidy, she had thought they had a good marriage, but when he returns to haunt her dreams she seeks sanctuary in the only place she feels safe—a house to which she fled in a dream. The house is real—but so is the ghost who haunts it.

And next year, The Trail through the Mist will come out from Double Dragon Publishing—a YA time travel story set on the Trail of Tears, the path of the Great Removal of the Cherokee through the Ozarks in the eighteen hundreds.

A series offers the opportunity for a really deep background, for a familiar setting in which readers know they can expect certain things to happen, and a chance to play with the superstitions and rules that govern the series universe. In the case of the Haunted Ozarks books, I draw heavily on Ozark folklore and superstition, as well as actual places in the region that my characters visit or talk about—wonderful places like Mammoth Spring or Blanchard Springs Caverns—and fictional counterparts where the plot can shape the surroundings. Also, I find it a lot of fun to have characters from one story visit a location from another story, or relate the history of one location to events taking place in their own; it’s always fascinating to interweave stories and characters and gives everything involved more depth and texture.

If there are advantages to a series, there’s also the disadvantage of having to make sure you remember all the events and the chronology, the geography and the history, so that you don’t inadvertently mess up in one book something that you did in another. I am constantly going back and forth from existing books to the current WIP to make sure that I haven’t introduced any anachronisms or messed up a sequence of events or a character’s persona from one tale to the next. It’s somewhat less of a danger in a series of standalone books, but it’s still something that has to be accounted for.

Anne – So true. I write two series and am always afraid I’m going to mess up some detail! What activity (cause, charity, or organization) consumes your time when you’re away from the keyboard?

Lee - Animal welfare—and it spills over into my books. We share the planet with so many amazing and wonderful creatures, sentient and independent, and in such a developed and urbanized society we’ve completely lost touch with the marvels of nature. I write a lot about animals and also write stories from animals’ points of view because we’ve by and large lost the ability to “hear” their voices.

Those of us with pets perhaps have a closer tie to animals than others, but still we live in a society in which animals are more of an afterthought than a part of our daily lives, and they can suffer terribly, through cruelty and into extinction, as a result.

I try to do what I can to make people aware, and to lessen that suffering. To borrow a quotation usually attributed to Chief Seattle, “What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.”

My other big passion is the environment, which took center stage in A Dream of Drowned Hollow. As we become more divorced from nature in our daily lives, we fail to realize how important each strand of the web is not just to itself, but to all the others and the web as a whole—to borrow again from another Chief Seattle attribution, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.”
(By the way, as wonderful as those quotes are, apparently Chief Seattle, although real and known for his eloquence, never said them. Still, they express ideas that many people share.)

Anne - Of all the characters you’ve created, does one hold a special place in your heart? Why?

Lee – That would be my minstrel Hugh in “The Minstrel,” a short story I wrote quite a number of years ago that was originally published in Space & Time and republished in the e-anthology Illuminated Manuscripts. Hugh is a medieval minstrel in love with a woman who is indifferent to him because her affections lie elsewhere, although he doesn’t know that.

Blinded by his feelings, he allows himself to be bewitched, and spends eight centuries learning to rue his credibility—and to appreciate what really matters in love. When at last he is discovered and brought back to the light of day, well, let’s just say those eight hundred years of contemplation and learning have not been wasted.

Anne - Have you experienced writer's block? If so, how did you work through it?

Lee - I’ve had two kinds of writer’s block, and while I wouldn’t wish either of them on anyone, I found coping strategies for both that worked—although one was definitely easier to deal with than the other.

The first was the fairly straightforward problem of just not knowing what to do to extricate characters from whatever plot situation they are in. The most effective way I found to cope with that was to go work on another story. It’s as if my subconscious is figuring out all the options for the blocked story as I work on a different project, and when it’s reached a satisfactory solution I somehow know it’s time to go back to that first story and work on it again. For that reason, I nearly always have several projects going at once, so that I can go back and forth if either inspiration or block strikes.

The second kind of writer’s block is far more overwhelming, and it took a long time to break through. It had nothing to do with writing and everything to do with grieving.

I have been widowed twice, and each time it was a terrible, terrible loss that literally shredded my life as it had been. And one of the parts of my life those losses shredded was my ability to write fiction.

When my first husband passed away, it was devastating. My whole life was torn apart and I could barely function. But I had always loved writing, and it had always been my retreat from the world. So I foolishly thought I could just do it again, retreat from the world—shut out my feelings and lose myself in writing—because it had always been so easy to do so; formerly I could sit down and work on a book and realize several hours later to my shock that the whole day had passed and it was time to cook dinner. But after my first husband died, that part of my brain was shut down as tightly as if it had never existed, and there was simply nothing there. For years.

I should explain that I’ve worked as a writer and editor all my life, for various kinds of nonfiction publications, and the nonfiction/editing parts of my brain still worked. It was the fiction and poetry part—the part that required imagination and dreams and creativity rather than analysis—that was walled off so that I couldn’t reach it. When I lost my husband, it felt as if I had lost half of myself; we had been very close, and done everything together. When I realized that my writing was gone, it felt as if I had lost the other half as well.

What finally cracked open the door was an invitation from Andre Norton to write a story for one of the Catfantastic anthologies. I had continued to edit and to write nonfiction—it was my job, after all—and I could manage that. I edited articles others had written, and could even edit old fiction work of my own and make it better. But I couldn’t come up with anything new, although I tried and tried. Then Andre invited me to write for Catfantastic, and I was both honored and terrified—terrified that I wouldn’t be able to produce a good enough story, from scratch, by the deadline. But I wasn’t going to say no.

She had been so supportive of my writing, from the time I had gotten honorable mention in the first Gryphon Award competition (I won the award itself the following year), that there was no way I was going to disappoint her. And she knew my personal situation—that I was widowed; not, of course, that I was blocked; I didn’t tell anybody about that, really.

So I forced myself to get to work and somehow managed to come up with a story that she liked enough to buy—and then invite me to submit to yet another Catfantastic anthology. I owe her more than I can say.

After my second husband died, I took what I had learned from the first horrible experience and began to edit some of my older work that had been put aside and never published. And that opened the door to writing again. Now, as in the early days, my main complaint is that I don’t have enough time to write.

Anne – My deepest condolences, Lee. I can’t imagine losing one husband let alone two. You’re an inspiration. Would you share an excerpt from A Lingering Passion with us?

Lee – Of course.

…The town wasn’t quite as elegant as it had been during its heyday as a spa, so there really wasn’t the money to be concerned with such things.  Much easier, much cheaper, just to leave it alone, let it be.

And so the theater still stood, despite the dreadful legend of betrayal and murder that scarred its history.

But prosperity had come with a vengeance of late to this little town of Sassafras Springs, hidden away deep in the Ozarks; the prosperity of tourism.  Money and insight had done what mere ambition could not, and the town was on its way back up again.  All its streets and buildings were undergoing facelifts, being reclaimed from obscurity or decay, being capitalized on as the town awakened to the demands of travelers hungry for obscure little retreats with unique and charming features to tempt their jaded tastes.  The town that had been a health spa in the 1880s was experiencing a resurgence the like of which it had never even dreamed, and now nothing within its perimeter was exempt from the fever for restoration and renewal that had seized all the inhabitants like a happy epidemic….


…Now the council had decided that it was the theater’s turn….

The decision had been made:  look for a buyer for the theater, someone who would revive it, put on elaborate shows, and make full use of the theater’s Victorian opulence.  That would put Sassafras Springs on the map for good and all, they thought, and give them something to really boast about in next year’s Chamber of Commerce advertising leaflets.

The council conveniently forgot all the stories about the theater being haunted.  Nobody believed that sort of thing in this day and age, anyway.  They also conveniently forgot all the acting troupes who had tried without success to revive the theater.  None of them had been very good anyway, and that had probably been the real reason for all those failures, not some oddball happenings that couldn’t be explained. This council was populated with movers and shakers, many new to the area, led by the town’s mayor for the last seven years; its members were determined to complete the town’s resurrection, provide the best they could in everything to ensure that it continued to prosper.  A worthy notion, to be sure, and one that so far had worked admirably.

But nobody had thought to wonder what would happen if the theater itself refused to cooperate.  Or if more than just the theater were about to be revived. . . .

And just outside town, within the theater’s dark and echoing emptiness, a presence stirred and woke to the forces of change.

Anne – Oh! What a fantastic ending! Now I really have to read more. Where can we get a copy of A Lingering Passion?

Anne – One final question. Where can readers reach you online?

Lee – At my website.

Anne – Thank you so much for dropping by today, Lee. Happy writing!

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Lee Barwood said...

Thank you so much for hosting me!

Anne K. Albert said...

You're very welcome, Lee!