Barbara's Essays

Dear God

Dear God,

Okay, first, full disclosure: I don’t believe You are a You.

Of course, if I’m wrong and You are a You, You already know this—and everything else, for that matter. And if You really are the all powerful You so many people imagine, the one with long white hair sitting on a throne in heaven (wherever that is), maybe You’ve got Your finger raised right now, trying to decide whether to unleash that lightning bolt smite me for being insubordinate.

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High School Spirit

The summer before I left for college, I worked second shift at a map factory. Every afternoon at two o’clock, I set out to catch the bus that would take me there. It was a long walk. It was always hot, I was always tired. I felt nauseous on the bus, I rode with my eyes closed. When I got off, I dragged myself across a busy street, across a little park, into the factory, where it felt cool--but only for a moment. Promptly at three, I punched the time clock and walked into the rhythmic din. Big steel machines lined the narrow path I followed back to the area where I worked. Maps were spitting out of them, stacking up; beautiful pastel maps of places I longed to see.

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Something About the Author

Every evening, I wait at the back door for my father to come home from work. My heart lifts when I see him turn the corner from the bus stop and start down the alley. He is so handsome, I think. My mother is busy in the kitchen; my brother is busy playing. But I wait. I am always the first one he sees.

This is my first reliable memory, and in it I am probably four. It is such a small memory, no more than a moment; yet it carries an image of my father that I have come to believe has everything to do with why, forty-five years later, I am a person who needs to write stories. It is both pleasure and pain to see him in my mind’s eye as he was then: young, handsome, smiling. Mine.

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Think Like a Teenager

I never set out to be a writer of Young Adult fiction. Years of teaching high school students had convinced me that teenagers like “real” books, not condescending romantic fluff or preachy stories meant to improve their morals—which is what I thought YA novels were. My serious teenage readers loved books like Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird, and when I was working on Wish You Were Here, a novel that explores the after-effects of divorce on 17 year-old Jackson Watt, I hoped they’d love it, too. But if pressed to name the audience I was writing for, I’d have said divorced parents who need to understand what divorce feels like from a kid’s point of view. So when my agent read the manuscript and observed that it seemed perfect for the YA market, I felt… well, put off by the idea. I was quite wrong about YA fiction as it turned out.

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Working a Jigsaw

The sky is icy blue. The line of trees across the meadow seem engraved on it, their charcoal trunks dark against the snow, their branches hazy, as if the artist has not yet brushed away the dust made by his burin. I look at this peaceful scene from inside the cabin, where I have come to work. The wood stove burns brightly. A whole week stretches before me, nothing to do in it but write, read, think. I packed everything I could imagine I might need: books, notebooks, computer, printer, paper, pens, letters to answer. As an afterthought, I brought along a puzzle.

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