|Credit: Barbara Lockhart|
As a mother and teacher, how did you embark upon the opportunity to publish several of your books among competing priorities? Have you been an author since a young age?
As a mother of three without a degree, I had a long way to go from the first scribblings of poems and thoughts that I never showed anyone. When I finally did get through college at the age of 36 and began teaching, I started work for my first book written for parents and children on the best in children’s literature and language development. The children called the books their homework, and with great cooperation from parents, the program went very well. It was implemented nationwide and later bought up by Houghton Mifflin. Two of my children’s books were written while I was teaching and the language and ideas came easily. I was fortunate that my daughter, Lynne, illustrated the first two books, and we found a publisher and got launched.
As an award winning author of several pieces of published work, what lessons did you acquire in the process of writing children's books? Are there any differences in how you approach writing a children's book versus producing a literary piece for an adult audience?
While teaching, I would test out a book by reading the manuscript to the children and they were quick to add ideas, like “That story needs a dog.” --one of my favorite suggestions. That kindergartener was so right. Of course writing for adults is a whole different matter. For children’s books, I am always thinking about the audience and about teaching. Writing for adults, I don’t consider the audience. It’s really all about the emotional content (not sentimental please) or the poetic prose or the development of scene. What you write may be subtle or abstract or succinct—but whatever you put before the reader he/she may have to bring their own experience and understanding to the fore. While for children, the literature may be part of their education and language growth, for adults it may, or hopefully, as Franz Kafka said, break “the frozen sea within us.”
Your book Elizabeth's Field is about a free black woman who owns five acres of land in the part of Maryland where Harriet Tubman was born. The story focuses on Elizabeth and her loved ones facing challenges as she co-exists among the enslaved population facing unrest. As a New York city native, how were you introduced you to these five acres of land on the Eastern Shore of Maryland?
Elizabeth in Elizabeth’s Field owned all of 22 acres. On the deed to my farm, she was labeled as a “free negress.” That sparked my imagination. How did she, a single black woman, acquire the farm in 1852 and lose it in 1857? I never thought I would be writing a historical novel about African American history pre-Civil War, but having moved from the city to a rural area in Dorchester County Maryland 45 years ago, my eyes were opened as to the real life education that had been missing from my education in suburban New York. Once I began digging into the figurative soil of a heretofore rather silent history, I couldn’t stop. I researched for 9 years.
Elizabeth's Field is made available before audiences by Secant Publishing. What guidance do you have for new authors shopping around for publishers? Does this guidance differ for seasoned writers?
There’s always a combination of good and bad luck involved. After sending out the manuscript for Elizabeth’s Field for 2 years, I couldn’t find a publisher. One editor said it was too regional a book, a fact that really hit home when the book, published by Creative Space, won a silver medal for best in regional historical fiction. As the book was well received, Ron Sauder of Secant Publishing, became interested in re-releasing it.
Which character from Elizabeth's Field was the most challenging to develop while writing the book? Why?
All the characters came easily as I did my research. The person who helped give me voice was Mary Taylor, friend and neighbor, who so generously gave me her oral history. My association with her, and the fact that her life was not much better than Elizabeth’s although she worked the same fields 150 years later, taught me history that was no longer on the periphery, but very real. I know the field, and the land, and the surrounding towns, and while the history awakened me, it was Mary’s voice that taught me, and it was Mary who became Mattie, one of the main characters.
A few of your works have been published by TideWater Publishers, Schiffer and Secant Publishing to name a few. As an award winning writer, what inspired you to self publish on Amazon Create Space?
Did your self publishing experience match your expectations?
What did you learn about the self publishing market space?
Creative Space did a good job as far as the physical appearance of the book is concerned, but the responsibility of marketing was a learning experience. My first novel, Requiem for a Summer Cottage, was published by SMU Press where the editor, Kathryn Lang helped me make the book the best it could be and SMU did the marketing, too. Those were the days. The publishing industry is a far different matter now. Editors: Hang in there! You are much needed! Especially when anyone with a few dollars can publish and the market is flooded.
You've credited Chris Noel of Vermont College as your mentor. What has Chris taught you about yourself as a person? How have those discoveries groomed you to become a better writer along your journey?
Chris Noel and Walter Wetherell were my mentors at Vermont College where I earned my MFA. Both exceptional writers in their own right, they each gave me the courage to move forward on a vague dream. We can’t teach you how to write, was the philosophy at Vermont, we can only tell you what is good and what needs more work. The encouragement I received from both mentors had me thinking, “I am a writer and I have something to say.” It was Chris who gave me the quote that I’ve always loved, “In my doubt I go on believing.”
As a mother, what have you taught your children about the art of writing? Do you believe writers are born or are they created?
My offspring are in their own creative worlds, one as a full time artist, one as a sculptor and one as a musician. I’ve watched them strive and grow over the years. We have each had our own paths to follow. I think creativity comes from a way of thinking, an inborn proclivity to try to reach perfection that of course is never achieved, but the journey, the struggle itself is the real teacher. Encouragement and circumstances can open the door, but that’s only the beginning. The rest is an internal whisper that no one can really teach.
What is the best constructive guidance you've received from an editor? What recommendation do you have for writers that struggle with acknowledging constructive feedback?
Kathryn Lang at SMU Press said, when I sent her the manuscript for Requiem, “I don’t want to know the facts so much, but I want to know how it felt.” The emotional growth and understanding of a character goes way beyond anything else. It connects us to each other. It is the struggle that names our humanity.
For constructive feedback, find people who have you in their heart, will read against you, and who will be honest. I’m not good at giving advice, but listen respectfully, try out the idea, and think for yourself. Ultimately, you decide. It’s never as easy as “That story needs a dog!” but after a while, you’ll know darn well what has to be deleted, revised, or kept.
How do you relax when you're not writing? Writers are often thinkers. Thinking about life, thinking about their next prospective projects. Are you planning to release any new literary pieces in the near future?
I think about writing nearly all the time, so that by the time I get to the blank page or empty screen I can get started. There’s nothing worse than staring at a blank screen. Doing something – dishes, gardening, walking – things that don’t need a lot of my attention, things that don’t require a lot of distractive thinking. That would be my advice before the pandemic, but societal circumstances seem to loom over everything now. I have new work planned and research begun. We’ll see. I don’t talk about new work much. I find that if it’s said, it doesn’t get written.
Please share with audiences how they can support your work.
My website is www.barbaramarielockhart.com.
I post blogs regularly. Visitors can find my blog at https://barbaramarielockhart.com/blog/
People can follow me on Facebook at @barbaralockhartauthor.
Links to where my books can be purchased are found on my website at:
My books are available on Amazon:
The following online retailers also carry my books:
An Audiobook of The Night is Young is also available here: