Thursday, March 10, 2011

Author Interview: Randi Barrow, author of Saving Zasha

Randi Barrow
Q:  I'm delighted to welcome today debut young adult novelist Randi Barrow.  Randi, thanks so much for joining us at The Fourth Musketeer.  Can you tell us a little bit about how you were inspired to write Saving Zasha?
A:  Thank you so much for having me! I love your site, and think you offer an incredible amount of information and fun for your readers. I was inspired to write Saving Zasha after a chance encounter with a Russian man. At one point he pulled out a picture of his black Russian terrier, telling me briefly about the hatred of all things German that existed in Russia at that time, including the dogs, and about the work of the Red Star Kennel.  For months before I met him I'd become completely engaged by WWII, especially Russia's part in it, so what he said left a big impression.  That was it.  I was like a kid asking myself, well, what if a German Shepherd wandered into that world at that time...what would happen?  I began writing without thinking too much about who I was writing it for, or about any commercial purpose.  I just wanted to see who I'd meet and what would happen!

Q:  Can you tell us about how you conducted your research for this book?  Did you travel to Russia to interview people or rely on library sources?  Did you spend time with German shepherds? 
A:  I loved doing the research for the book. Because the place, and time, and events were still so new to me I read, and read, and read, and watched every documentary I could find. I found so many other fascinating stories waiting to be told! There was no trip to Russia (unfortunately!) but I am lucky enough to know a few owners of German shepherds. They have a passionate love for the breed, and were very generous in sharing information and anecdotes with me.

Q:  I  got my first dog as an adult, and now can't imagine living without one.  Your book jacket tells us that when dogs entered your life a dozen years ago, the effect was profound.  Please tell us more about your canine friends and how they helped you develop the character of Zasha. 
A:  When I was growing up my family had a few dogs; a boxer, two St. Bernards, and even a poodle, briefly. Although I enjoyed them, I never owned a dog once I was an adult. That changed when I met a little terrier mix who lived in my neighborhood named Pretty. It was like she opened a door somewhere in my heart or brain and suddenly there was a room there I never knew existed! It was like I was seeing animals for the first time, their awareness, their intelligence, and how much we are alike. A few years later we rescued Manuel, a Chihuahua/mix, and my education continued. Zasha’s personality owes a lot to those two dogs. All three share the traits of being kind, loving, intelligent, and (I’m quite sure) in Pretty and Manuel’s case, can read minds and speak English.

Q:  Randy, this is your first published children's book; do you have others in the pipeline and if so can you give us a sneak peak at what they will be about?
A:  I am working on three other middle grade projects right now. One is about the experience of a boy during the siege of Leningrad. (my love affair with Russia continues!) Another has to do with the POW camps in America during the war, and a third takes place in 1964 and involves music. There are several other stories that take place during the war that I want to tell. 

Q:  Please tell us about your journey to becoming a published children's author while working as an adoption attorney.  Do you hope to one day give up your "day job" and write full-time?
A:  In 2002, while still working as an adoption attorney, I had an adult non-fiction book published called Somebody's Child. It explored adoption themes, including legal issues, and changing social attitudes. After that, I was writing adult fiction, again exploring adoption cases. But in the back of my mind I knew I wanted to write for a younger market, with the stories set in historical contexts. Until I closed my practice in 2006, and finished up my remaining cases, it just wasn’t possible to give the hours to fiction that it requires. My husband was generous and crazy enough to encourage me to take a few years off and write. It was only then that I had the time and focus to devote myself completely to writing.

Q:  I love to ask authors to share what they are reading; can you tell us what books are currently on your nightstand?  
A:  I always have several books going at a time. I particularly like biographies and history. Right now I’m reading DIAGHILEV, by Scheijen, about the great Russian impresario who commissioned and encouraged so many amazing works of art. I’m just starting LENI REIFENSTAHL: A MEMOIR.  There were many minor players like her in the story of WWII that have unbelievable stories, and pose important moral questions. I’m reading William Manchester’s THE ARMS OF KRUPP, which provides an intriguing background on the war. My reading list is sounding a little dark, isn’t it? I also love the Irish crime writers, like Declan Hughes, and Ken Bruen, and Stuart Neville for plain old fun. I’m leaving out all the books I read for research, but that gives you an idea.

Q:  In addition to being an attorney, you call yourself an amateur historian.  Can you tell us about your interests in history?  Are you especially a fan of historical fiction, and if so, do you have any favorites?
A:  The phrase “amateur historian” is the way, way, way more than generous description given to me by my editor at Scholastic. Granted, any work of historical fiction takes a tremendous amount of research, reading, and investigation. But when I think of “real” historians, and compare myself to them I am compelled to run and hide! I recently heard a historian/author talking about how excited he was when he came upon 147,000 pages of information on one small aspect of what he was researching. Now THAT is a historian.  There are so many aspects of history and historical figures I'd like to explore.  For the moment, I'm trying to keep it limited to the war, Russia in the first half of the 20th century, Stalin, and as many important figures related to these events as I can manage.  

I love historical fiction, although I don’t consider myself particularly well-read in that genre. The ones I’ve read in the last year that stand out are Sarah's Key, Jacob's Ladder, and The Pillars of the Earth. If anyone has some good recommendations, I’d love to hear from them.
Thank you again, Margo, for your interest in Saving Zasha, and for sharing your wonderful blog with us all.

Reminder:  If you would like to enter to win a copy of Saving Zasha, please leave a comment at yesterday's post about the book.

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