Friday, February 13, 2009

Interview with JEANNE BARRACK

My first interview EVER (and, I hope, the start of a series of guest spots) is with Jeanne Barrack. She's one of my fellow authors at Loose Id and will soon be a fellow author at Liquid Silver. My comments and questions, by the way, are in this color.

Jeanne is a native New Yorker, born and bred in Brooklyn and married for thirty-odd years (and they have been odd!) to her high school sweetheart. She now lives on a mountaintop -- a freakin' mountaintop! -- in rural Pennsylvania. Jeanne plays guitar, studied voice privately with a Juilliard coach, and also holds a Masters degree in Music Therapy. She sings everything from folk music to grand opera -- in ten languages, no less, including Gaelic and Hebrew. Not surprisingly, many of her stories draw inspiration from music. Her day job involves music therapy for seniors. [I must add how wonderful I think this is. Music was one of the things that made my mother smile after she'd been stricken with Alzheimer's. Even in her increasingly limited life, polkas still ruled!]

Jeanne's fiction is currently available at Loose Id, Liquid Silver Books, MLR Press, and Aspen Mountain Press. It ranges from urban fantasy to contemporary to historical and includes short stories, novellas and novels. With the publication of The Sweet Flag (at Loose Id), Jeanne added gay erotic paranormal romance to her growing list of credits. Bend in the Road, a recent release, is her first historical m/m work for the highly regarded MLR Press (click on post title). She's also very proud of the inclusion of her short story, "Finally Forever," in the I Do! anthology [see my left sidebar for more info and a clickable link]. Jeanne's goal for her m/m writing are stories grounded in her cultural heritage, be they contemporary, historical or paranormal -- or all three.

* * * * *
Has there been anybody in your life whom you’ve considered a mentor? Or just inspirational?
My parents and my mom in particular, were my first inspirations to write. But I didn't become serious about tackling to get something published until after my mom's sudden passing. I found a small notebook of hers while going through her effects and it was filled with poems and short stories. She'd always written programs and parodies for her synagogue's sisterhood productions -- but when I found the notebook I realized she'd had ambitions she'd put aside. I decided that I'd try to realize my writing ambitions that day.

What brings you more satisfaction—singing or writing?
Oh that is a very tough question. They satisfy different parts of my creativity. I've always sung -- from the time I was three years old and recorded "The Song from Moulin Rouge" at Coney Island with my mom. Unless I'm singing a song that I've written, it is an interpretation of someone else's words and music, but bringing my own special take on a piece is incredibly satisfying. I sing in quite a few different languages and I find that being able to perform in say, Irish or even German, broadens my worldview. What is perhaps music's one up on the written word is that even listening to the melody alone can convey a profound message.

Taking words and turning them into a manuscript that communicates a story and message about characters I've created in my head is very heady stuff. And of course, the written word remains after the ephemeral notes die away. So I guess I'm going to fudge and say they bring me equal -- though different types -- of satisfaction. What makes me the happiest is when I can incorporate music into my stories. I've done this with most, in fact, *all* of my work to some degree or another.

What do they have in common?
Communicating ideas and emotions to impact on others' lives. I'm thankful that I can sing and share this with others. My folks always told me my singing was something I shouldn't ignore. I hope, even though they passed away before I even thought of writing professionally, that somewhere they're also proud of my following my dream.

You’ve written contemporary, historical, and paranormal romance, m/m and m/f. With which genre do you feel the strongest connection?
All of them! LOL Actually historical perhaps because even when I've written paranormal stories and contemporary ones, in all but two works, I've incorporated a strong historical subtext.

Which do you think has proved most popular with readers?
My m/m story for Loose Id, The Sweet Flag, seemed to hit a chord with many readers. And my first contemporary paranormal, No One Else on Earth, also for Loose Id.

You have a variety of fascinating (to say the least!) Jewish heroes in some of your stories. Why is it important to you to put a distinct cultural stamp on your work?
I grew up in a fairly observant Jewish household in Brooklyn, where there are more Jews than in Tel Aviv. I also was fortunate to have parents for whom not only the religious aspect of our family was important, but also the cultural background -- including music and stories.

Although I love reading about heroes and heroines from all walks of life and from all over the world, like many minorities, I also search for characters with whom I can identify even more closely. Outside of mainstream women's fiction, I found very few Jewish characters in *current* romances that were portrayed in a positive or identifiable light, if at all. I think people tend to forget that Jews are a minority because we can *blend* in and there are those who assimilate so thoroughly they become absorbed in the mainstream culture.

I love diversity of all kinds -- history, literature, music, culture, accents -- everything. I feel that by writing memorable (hopefully) Jewish heroes and heroines, I can share if even in a very small way, to introduce the incredible wealth of knowledge, culture and history my parents, grandparents and ancestors offered.

The distinct cultural stamp in my work began with The Sweet Flag -- a gay paranormal romance -- and continues with Bend in the Road, a dual novella work from MLR Press that is set during the 1880s in a traveling Yiddish theater troupe and concerns two gay couples.

Do you think romance fiction in general is too racially and culturally homogeneous? Are readers ready to embrace greater variety?
For the longest time, I did feel that romance fiction in general was quite racially and culturally homogeneous, BUT, this is changing very quickly and I truly believe we have the growing e-book publishing industry and writers to thank for this. It's far easier to find and purchase an ebook that reflects diversity. The problem is to balance the presence of different life styles and cultures without presenting this information in a negative manner.

Which of your characters, if any, have grabbed you and won’t let go? Why?
Again, this is tough question because I always fall in love with my latest characters. One of the supporting players in "From Stage to Stage," the second story in Bend in the Road, grabbed me and will tell his own story later this year.

Why did Nassi grab me? He's cocky, vulnerable, smart, adorable and very, very lonely. He sprang from the lyrics of an old Yiddish song called "Papirossin" or "Cigarettes." The singer is a young man who sells cigarettes on the street corners. I ran with the idea and turned it into something quite a bit different. ;~D

What historical periods/places fascinate you the most?
I love the 19th century, pretty much the entire period as it changed from a fairly insular world to a world where people traveled more easily from one corner to the other.

How did your interest in the Celtic era and peoples get started?
Ah, through the music at first. Back in the 60s when folk music was so popular, The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were big in the field. I heard one of their songs on the radio and that was it. Melodically and lyrically it struck a deep and abiding chord in my heart. I identified with the Irish history of partition, discrimination and their love of words. Remember, when the rest of Europe was in the Dark Ages, Irish monks were preserving so much of what might have been lost.

Even the Irish language shares some words that are similar in Hebrew. The minor chords of traditional Irish music are shared by Jewish music. The more I read of Irish history, literature, the more I fell in love. I studied Gaelic in New York, competed in Irish music contests and honeymooned in Ireland. Both my Terran Realm books for Liquid Silver -- The Shimmering Flame and its sequel, A Perfect Symmetry -- are solidly rooted in Irish history and legend. A Song of the Sidhe took its inspiration from an old Gaelic folks song. I'll also be writing a dark fae story about a lesser known Irish sidhe.

Do you have any sequels planned for any of your books?
Yes, indeed. A Perfect Symmetry, a sequel to The Shimmering Flame, comes out early this spring from LSB. I'm also working on a sequel to The Sweet Flag for LI. And there'll be a connected story, though not a straight (LOL) sequel to Bend in the Road.

Do you have any unrealized dreams you care to share?
I've wanted to sing with Antonio Banderas ever since I heard him in the film version of "Evita." He was better than Madonna!

Any aspects of your life that might surprise your readers, fellow authors, and publishers? (You don’t have to divulge the stuff that would surprise your husband!)
Other than the fact that I can whistle like a bird, I think I've pretty much bared my soul!

What’s your view of the afterlife?
I believe in one.

Do you feel you’ve had past lives?
Yes, I think I was Irish in another life!


K. Z. Snow said...

Just wanted to welcome you, Jeanne, and thank you for being so forthright in answering my questions. Hope I didn't mess this up too badly!

Kris said...

Very interesting....I learned something that I didn't know about Jeanne. Aloha

jessewave said...

Hi K.Z. and Jeanne
This is a wonderful interview and I learned a lot of Jeanne's background, which makes Jeanne "the writer" very real. Karen you have a real talent for interviewing and I look forward to checking out your upcoming interviews.

I have two very close friends who are Jewish, (we've been friends for 25 years) and by extension their families are also my friends. I'm probably the only Black person in Toronto who celebrates every Jewish holiday. *g*

Jeanne I would love to interview you on my blog at some future date. I was hoping you would have responded to my recent post calling for authors to be interviewed on my "Author of the Week" spots, but you seem to have found a much better gig here.:)

Btw Karen, I see that the cover for your newest book is on your blog and I was wondering .....where is my copy? :)

Jeanne said...

Thanks so much for having me here today, KZ. I think part of the reason I've retained my connection with my heritage is that the first places we lived after I married were in small towns where there were very few Jews and a lot of prejudice.
I grew up in an area so different from the south, that I was shocked to hear so many racist and bigoted remarks spoken by elected officials in public places.
Over the years we did a lot of moving and I learned that most people knew only the little bit they saw on TV or in movies about Jewish people.
Kris: Here I thought I'd told you all my secrets! :~D
Wave: I figured your spots were all filled up by now otherwise I would have begged for a spot. I'd love to be interviewed.

K. Z. Snow said...

I envy your singing, Jeanne! Come on, bust out "Respect" for me!

On a more serious note . . . had I not gone to college (UW-Madison, which at one time had an enormous number of students from New York and New Jersey), I doubt I would've met many Jews, either. Not that Milwaukee, where I grew up, doesn't have a thriving Jewish community, but I was in a different part of town -- the one dominated by Polish Catholics.

As is the case with so many aspects of our lives, where and how we were raised makes all the difference in the breadth of our experience with people and, as a result, our open-mindedness.

Hi, Kris and Wave! It was very nice of you to stop by; I know how busy you are with your own blogs.

Mykola Dementiuk said...

I feel Jewish even though I'm not (I'm Ukrainian). Still my favorite writer is Isaac Bashvesis Singer, and I've read and re-read him for years, that's why I like Jeanna Barrack so much, something Jewishness connects us there.

Jeanne said...

Hi Mick
Singer has always been one of my favorites, too.
Despite Streisand's reworking of Yentl. :~D

jessewave said...

Send me an email and we'll work something out about an interview. It's really nice to see you and your books getting so much attention.

KZ steals all my best candidates. :)


Jeanne said...

Thanks, Wave.
I'd love it.
I've got the time if you've got the inclination. ;~D

K. Z. Snow said...

Oh, I love playing matchmaker!

Jardonn Smith said...

Thanks to this interview, I am soon off to learn more of how Irish monks preserved ancient knowledge through the Dark Ages. Very much enjoyed the thoughtful questions and insightful answers.

Jeanne, you are so right about music. No matter how bad things are going on any given day, one melody can turn it all around.

Thank you both.

K. Z. Snow said...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jardonn. I'm glad you liked the interview.

The history of monasticism is indeed fascinating. I've been reading about the lives of monks for a number of years, so I was delighted Jeanne's brought up the subject.

So much to learn, so little time!

Jeanne said...

Hi Jardonn, I'm so glad you stopped by.
Music has always been the constant in my life. My mother had a beautiful voice and I grew up hearing her sing all kinds of music.