Monday, 10 April 2017

I find my stories everywhere...

Interview with Barbara Wood
by Agnes A. Rose

Barbara Wood is an American author but she was born in Warrington (Lancashire, England). She was born to an English mother and a Polish father, and her maiden name was Lewandowski. She immigrated to the United States with her parents and older brother. She grew up in Southern California and attended Los Angeles Schools. After High School, Barbara attended the University of California at Santa Barbara but left to train as a surgical technician. She sold her first book in 1976. So far she has written twenty nine books, including three under a pen name Kathryn Harvey. These books are quite different from the Barbara Wood’s novels. Now she is at work on her thirtieth. She is an international best selling author with books translated into over thirty languages. The reader is transported to exotic countries that Barbara has meticulously researched to provide her fans with a true sense of the culture and history relevant to each story. At the heart of every book, is a strong, independent woman. When not writing, Barbara often takes time to enjoy the work of other authors.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you so much that you accepted my invitation to take part in this interview. I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. As I understood you trained as a surgical technician. Could you tell us what made you change your mind and you decided to start writing books?

Barbara Wood:  And I am honored that you have invited me to participate! Yes, I worked in a hospital in the operating room. About writing: I never changed my mind. I have always told stories, ever since I was a little girl. I started actually writing them down on paper when I was around twelve. Writing was my hobby, something I did in the evenings after working at the hospital. It was only after I had published three novels that I was persuaded to quit my “day” job and stay home and write full time. It was a very strange transition, to go from working with a surgical team to working entirely alone.

AAR: Did you have any difficulties during the release of your first book? If so, how did you deal with them?

BW: The only difficulty I had was going into a bookstore and see my book there! My friends literally had to push me through the door!

AAR: On your website I read that you wrote your first book at the age of 16. I think it’s very early. I am very curious what that book was about. Do you still remember it?

BW: Oh, I remember it! I still have it all these years later. It is called ATON’S KINGDOM and is a romance set in ancient Egypt in the time of Nefertiti and Akhenaton. There is a lot of hand-holding in it and starry gazes. LOL! I have left instructions that it is to be burned upon my death.

AAR: Before you became the international bestselling author you had held many different jobs, such as waitress, secretary, switchboard operator, and even dog walker. Was that your own way of searching for your place in your life?

BW: I suppose it was. Plus, I guess I was looking for myself through my writing, except that I didn’t know it at the time. I always thought of writing as a hobby. I never thought I’d be published. I wrote complete novels and put them in a drawer. It was my husband who suggested I try submitting one. I sold it on my first try. I was very surprised!

AAR: On the pages of your books you usually invite readers to visit some exotic countries. Sometimes you also write about the prehistoric times. How do you collect necessary information for this kind of stories?

BW: I do a lot of research. And I have visited every place I have written about. I won’t write about a place I have never been to.

AAR: Since you have visited all countries you have written about, could you tell us about your travel impressions? What country did you like most? Why?

BW: I have loved every country I have ever visited, but each for a different reason.  (Italy, the food; Germany, the wine; Egypt, the ancient sites; Australia, the beer). But in all cases, I have loved the people. I love meeting strangers, asking them about themselves, listening to their stories. People fascinate me. Plus, everywhere else in the world has a longer history than America (there are no written records for when the Indians were the sole inhabitants here). It is such a treat to visit a country that has such old streets and monuments, and where famous people walked.

AAR: I have been reading your books for many years and I love them very much. In Poland your readers can read most of them. A few weeks ago I read DOMINA. In my opinion it’s a very beautiful story. The main character of this novel is Samantha Hargrave who wants to be a doctor but all the time she must struggle with the world dominated by men. She is a brave woman who does not want to give up. What motivated you to create this female character living in the conservative Victorian era?

BW: I love the medical world. I loved working in the operating room, I am fascinated – even to this day – about women who enter medicine, especially as doctors, and I have always had an interest in the history of medicine. It was always a male dominated profession. In the Middle Ages women who tried to practice medicine were burned as witches. I think the men were jealous. I wanted to show readers what it was like for women in the Victorian era. Nursing became an accepted profession for women, but not the role of physician.  A few brave women succeeded. Samantha Hargrave is a composite of several real women doctors in the 19th century.

AAR: The second of your book I have read recently is THE LAST SHAMAN. What a great idea for the story! In this novel you take your readers to the pre-Columbian era. Could you tell us how your work on this book looked like? Was it difficult to create the world of the Toltec culture?

BW: Of course I visited the ruins in Chaco Canyon and tried to imagine what it was like back then.  No one really knows. Experts (scientists, historians, archaeologists) can’t agree on how the Toltecs came to New Mexico, or why, or even if they were there at all. And most mysteriously – why did they suddenly vanish without a trace? Although I did as much research as I could, most of the book comes from my imagination.

AAR: I know that you are the co-author of the story about Poland occupied by Nazi Germans. It’s entitled NIGHT TRAINS. The time is 1941 and the place is the strategic town of Sofia. I wonder why the name of the town is Sofia. In Poland there has never been the town with such a name. Is it fictional one? The novel has not been translated into Polish yet. Could you tell us something more about this book, please?

BW: I wrote NIGHT TRAINS with a surgeon I was working with at the time. He found an article in a medical journal about a town in Poland that cleverly kept the Nazis out by faking a typhus epidemic. So it’s a true story. But there was no way we could find out the details, so we decided to fictionalize it. Sofia is a fictional town.*

AAR: You have written so many books. Could you tell us where you continue to find new, fresh ideas for the plots?

BW: I find my stories everywhere. I read newspapers, I discover interesting things online, or I overhear conversations in restaurants. I am always writing things down. I carry a notepad with me all the time, and when I see something or hear something that sounds interesting, I write it down. I am currently working on my 30th book and have enough material for thirty more!

AAR: In my opinion so many old-school romance novels feature needy, kinda pitiful women. I am very interested in the fact why did you decide to do the exact opposite and feature strong, successful, go-getter female characters?

BW: I guess it’s because I’m not a soft, needy woman and so I can’t relate to such a heroine and can’t write about one. I’m a fighter and so that’s the kind of woman I write about.

AAR: What is the message you want readers to take away from your books?

BW: I have just two hopes for the readers of my books: that they have been entertained and possibly forgotten their worries for a while (that’s why I read books), and also that they have learned something new, that I have given them something to think about (another reason why I read books).

AAR: Could you describe your writing schedule? Do you outline? Any habits?

BW: I outline as I go along, never ahead of time. The story reveals itself to me as I write it so that, many times, I am just as surprised by a twist or a secret revealed as the reader is. I only keep an outline for reference. A book can take up to a year or more to write, so I need to go back and remind myself where the characters have been and what they have been doing.

My schedule is the same every day: I get up and go straight to my favorite chair by a window, curl up with my cat, my writing pad, and my coffee and I write by hand. I take a break and go for walks around the neighborhood, and then in the afternoon I transfer my handwritten material onto the computer.

AAR: As I mentioned above you also writes as Kathryn Harvey. You have written three books under a pen name. Why did you decide to change your name to write these stories? How much different are they from those you create as Barbara Wood?

BW: The Kathryn Harvey books contain explicit sex. A lot of authors use pen names when they change their style. I didn’t want Barbara Wood readers to be shocked.

AAR: Could you tell us about your next project or projects?

BW: The book I just turned in to my publisher is called THE FAR RIVER. It’s about German immigrants who come to California in 1912 to establish a winery (California is famous for its wines). It’s a three-generation family saga. That book is finished and will be out next year. Now I am starting another family story, three-generations, and it starts with three sisters in the present day who come into a startling inheritance, and they eventually uncover some shocking family secrets.

AAR: Thank you once again for this conversation. I wish you further success in your writing. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers?

BW: Thank you, Agnes, it was my pleasure. Your questions gave me something to think about!  And your English is excellent by the way. Unfortunately, the only Polish I ever learned was when I was a little girl and my father taught me to say my prayers in Polish. I suspect he thought the Virgin Mary preferred Polish to English.  J

And to your Polish readers I would like to say that I have a very special place in my heart for Poland. After the war, my father could never go back, and so he was cut off from his family there. So I would like to take this opportunity, if I may, to say hello not only to your blog visitors, Agnes, but also: if there are any Lewandowskis reading this blog, Greetings from your cousin in California!

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here

* It is probably a fictitious epidemic of typhus that was caused by two Polish doctors at the turn of 1941 and 1942: Eugeniusz Lazanowski (1913-2006) and Stanislaw Matulewicz (?). One day Matulewicz discovered a benign bacterium that being present in the human body showed in medical texts the same results as typhoid fever. Then the doctors began injecting the non-lethal bacteria into their patients’ bodies and next sending their blood samples to German laboratories. The whole situation took place in the neighbourhood of Stalowa Wola (the town which is located in the Podkarpackie Province). And so the Germans, horrified by the "epidemic" of typhus, began to escape from the endangered area. The evacuation referred not only to German officers but also ordinary German citizens. Due to the fear of plague, the Nazi abandoned the arrests and mass deportations of people to Nazi concentration camps. In this way the Polish doctors saved many people, including Jews. In order to avoid being uncovered a conspiracy, the doctors concealed the fact of using the complete innocent bacteria even from their patients. For the first time the novel “Night Trains” was published in 1979. Its co-author is Gareth Wootton.   


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