1)What made you interested in history when you where younger?
When I was a kid, we used to watch lots of old (I mean REALLY old—like 1930s) movies on TV, and I always loved the costume dramas with Errol Flynn and Ronald Coleman and Laurence Olivier and all that. Of course, the history was totally inaccurate, but I loved the sense of adventure and the fantasy of living in a different time (without having to actually DO it, that is!)
Then when I began to study history seriously, I ended up getting more fascinated with all the every-day details of ordinary people’s lives than with the big “important” events and famous people.
2) Where did you get the idea for A Difficult Boy ?
I’m an archivist at a local history museum, which means I catalog all sorts of old documents and photographs for researchers to use. I came across a bill from the 1770s that a man sent to the mother of an indentured boy who had run away. The bill charged the woman for the cost of catching the boy and the value of the lost work while the boy was missing. So I started wondering why the boy might have wanted to run away, what the master was like, and so on. I used to work at Old Sturbridge Village, which is a living history museum about New England in the 1830s. Since I knew more about the 1830s than the 1770s, and indentured servitude was still around then, I moved the story into the 1830s. The boy became Ethan and the master became Mr. Lyman.
3) Did anyone in your life inspire Ethan, Daniel, Silas, Mr. Lyman?
That’s a hard question to answer. I can’t think of any one person that I deliberately used as a model for my characters, although Mr. Stocking, the peddler in the story, did turn out to resemble a couple of folks I knew. I didn’t realize that until after I’d finished writing about him and a friend said, “Hey, he’s just like so-and-so!” Then a second friend said he was just like somebody entirely different, so I suppose he's really a combination of those two people with some invented stuff mixed in. So I guess the answer is that the characters probably do contain elements of people I knew, but I didn’t do it on purpose!
4) Are you more like Ethan or Daniel?
That’s a really good question. I think that I’m more like Ethan in some ways—although not as naïve. I like to try to make the best of things and get along with people. I hope that I’m as loyal to my friends as Ethan is to Daniel. I try to have some of Ethan’s idealism and optimism, although sometimes I feel as cynical as Daniel does. But I’m not nearly as brave as either one of them!
5) What kind of research did you do while writing A Difficult Boy?
Some things I’d learned by doing them at Old Sturbridge Village, like how to milk a cow and how to do many of the chores the boys did. While I worked there, I also learned what the clothes and buildings would have been like, what they would have eaten, or what sort of attitudes people might have had. But there were things I didn’t know or couldn’t remember, like some of the legal ins and outs of indentured servitude and laws relating to debts. I had to research those issues by reading Massachusetts state laws and publications from the 1830s that told businessmen how to set up their accounts or what forms to use when paying off a mortgage (not terribly exciting, I’m afraid). I also read old newspapers from the 1830s to get an idea of what sorts of jokes people told and what their everyday concerns were and what sort of events were taking place that might influence my characters’ lives. I did a lot of reading about why Irish Catholics came to America during the 1820s and 1830s. I also asked several of my former co-workers from Old Sturbridge Village to double-check the story and make sure I got all the information right.
6) Can you give us an update on any future projects you are doing (what they are about, when they are being released)
I’m working on a sequel to A Difficult Boy that involves Daniel and the peddler, Mr. Stocking. They’re going to travel together and join up with a circus that has six “dancing ponies” that Daniel will have to learn how to train. They’ll also get involved with some Irish railroad workers and a child custody case, which is about all I can tell you without giving the story away. I’m about half-way through writing it, and need to do a lot of research to get it finished. So I still have to get it done before I’ll know when it will be released!
I’m also working on a book about a sea captain’s wife and daughter and how they cope with life after he’s lost at sea. I haven’t done much with that project yet, since I’m trying to concentrate on the Daniel book.
7)What made you want to be a writer?
I’ve always loved books. When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a novelist and wrote some very bad short stories. I had some ideas for books, but I never could come up with endings for anything. Anyway, when I was in high school I decided that it was terribly unrealistic to want to be a novelist, so I put that idea on the shelf (although I’ve always done all sorts of work-related writing—reports and papers and such). Anyway, after I’d been working for many years, I started trying to write stories again, just for fun. I never really thought I could do a whole book until Ethan and Daniel’s story came along. Part of it was just wanting to see if I could do it, and part of it was wanting to find out how their story would end. And a really HUGE part was two friends who challenged me to write five pages a week until I got it finished.
8) What was your favorite part of a Difficult Boy to write?
The scenes with Ivy, the horse that Daniel takes care of. I’ve always wanted a horse, and writing the story allowed me to create the horse I could never own. I did take riding lessons for a while, and I used a lot of those memories to write about Daniel and Ethan riding Ivy.
9)I know some authors "miss" characters when they are done writing about them. Are you going to miss any particular character?
If I weren’t working on a sequel, I would miss Daniel the most. I don’t really mind leaving Ethan, because I feel that he’s going to be okay. But I’m not so sure about Daniel; I think life is still going to be pretty tough for him. That’s why I’m sticking with him to find out what happens. Mr. Stocking is also a hard character to let go—which is why he turns up twice in the book (he was only supposed to be in one scene). I really want to find out more about what he’s all about. So that’s why Daniel and Mr. Stocking are getting their stories continued into another book.
10) and......The Trainspotting Reads/ Vita Dei Question-that-is-asked-to
Well, I have to confess that most of what I know about vampires comes from the original Dracula book (no, I wasn’t around when it first came out—I’m not THAT old). I’ve heard that vampire stories have gotten pretty sexy these days, though, so I’m thinking I ought to check some out and get myself up to date.There you go!
A Difficult Boy by M.P Barker is out NOW!