Paul A. Barra is a decorated war veteran, a teacher and a freelance journalist. He previously was a reporter for local newspapers and won numerous awards from the South Carolina Press Association. He was the senior staff writer for the Diocese of Charleston and won numerous awards from the Catholic Press Association, a national organization. Earlier publications include four independent science readers (Houghton Mifflin), a novel (“Crimson Ring,” Eagle Press) and a nonfiction book about the formation and success of a Catholic high school, despite diocesan opposition (“St. Joe’s Remarkable Journey,” Tumblar House). He is under contract for the publication of a historical novel called “Murder in the Charleston Cathedral.”(Chesterton Press).
His latest book is the children’s/middle grade novel, The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp.
Thank you for this interview, Paul. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?
I’ve been writing for what seems like forever, but I’ve been making money at it since the mid-eighties - as a reporter and feature writer for magazines and newspapers. I wrote an adult novel 15 years ago that is now out of print but available on Amazon and some non-fiction books over the years. Now, I am working full time on book-length fiction. My latest, “The Secret of Maggie’s Swamp,” was released by Brownridge Publishing on November 27, 2012 and is my first book for children.
Can you tell us briefly what your book is about?
It’s set in the South of 1980 and features a fifth-grade girl who discovers that her neighbor is living in the woods surrounding her homestead. He had been falsely accused of bank robbery and imprisoned, leaving his wife and small children in dire straits. The protagonist and two unlikely friends must find the stolen money, probably hidden in a black-water swamp where a rogue gator roams, before the real, and dangerous, criminal works his way back to it.
Why did you choose your particular genre?
I like to read mysteries and remember as a child loving books with lots of drama and tension. I also tell stories to my children and grandchildren, and they seem to enjoy the same thing.
What was your greatest challenge writing this book?
Before I began, I thought the big challenge was going to be the constraints of writing for youngsters: limited vocabulary and simple sentence structure, concepts the reader can grasp and will not scandalize his conscience, presenting realities without too many vulgarities .... That turned out not to be much of a difficulty, but I had to do a lot of rewriting with the editor at Brownridge to keep the story moving. Kids don’t like too much exposition or too many dead spots in the action. I think they might appreciate good writing but they don’t want it to get in the way.
Are you published by a traditional house, small press or are you self-published?
Brownridge Publishing is a small press.
Was it the right choice for you?
Perfectly. I had the complete attention of my editor for the months it took to smooth out the wrinkles and get the manuscript ready for the children’s market. My advance was not as large as a New York publisher might have offered - had any been interested - but the editorial assistance was worth a small fortune to me. I recommend a good, small house for entry-level novels in any genre.
How are you promoting your book thus far?
My publisher has hired a PR firm that specializes in setting up virtual book tours and I speak at any school whose classes will read Maggie’s Swamp. And I sign the kids’ books while I’m there. I also sent out email blasts to members of organizations I belong to, even including a veteran’s group. Those guys have grans too.
How is that going for you?
It’s too early for sales figures yet, but I sell everything I can buy at my author’s discount and the publisher still returns my emails, so I guess things are going very well.
Can you tell us one thing you have done that actually resulted in one or more sales?
I took a free copy of the book to the local elementary school and gave it to the school secretary; I asked her to pass it on to the fourth-grade teachers when she was finished with it. Some teachers subsequently bought copies and some are talking about buying class sets. I promised to talk to their students if they do.
Do you have another job besides writing?
Not any longer. I’m retired from teaching chemistry to high schoolers and from freelance journalism.
If you could give one book promotion tip to new authors, what would that be?
Start your career as a novelist once you retire. Age not only gives you a perspective for fiction and patience to write, it also relieves you of the tension and frustration of trying to raise a family and squeeze in writing. As far as promotions go, retirement gives you time to work groups and blogs and schools (in the case of juveniles).
What’s next for you?
I have an adult historical coming out from Chesterton Press later this Spring and I’m through the rough draft of another juvenile novel. I also have two other adults works in progress.
Thank you for this interview, Paul. Can you tell us where we can find you on the web?
Please try www.paulbarra.com; you can read the first chapter of my books there. Thank you for your kindness in inviting me to do this interview.