Today I'd like to welcome Barbara J. Rebbeck, author of “NOLA Gals” to The Thursday Interview. Before we get started, a quick intro!
Barbara J. Rebbeck is a teacher and author who lives in Royal Oak, Michigan, USA. She has degrees in French and English and has published poetry, essay and professional articles. She is a past-president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English and a former Director of the Oakland Writing Project. She is currently a writer-in-residence for two schools. Barbara’s father was born in England so she loves to visit there to see lots of theater and her British relatives. On this side of the Atlantic, Barbara loves spending time with her many nieces and nephews although they are scattered across the country from California to Georgia, two of them serving in the military. Barbara loves to read and write and visit classrooms. Having a teary-eyed teen say, “I’ve never met a real author before. Will you sign my book?” makes her day.
OK - HERE WE GO !!
No.1 Would you break the law to save a loved one?…why?
A tough question. If the loved one were in my car as I sped towards a hospital ER and a red light loomed. Would I run it? Probably. If the loved one sought shelter with me after committing a felony? Probably not. It would certainly depend on the situation, the loved one, and the severity of the crime I would be perpetrating. Unconditional love has its limits.
No.2 What is the difference between being alive and truly living?
I recently participated in a workshop on writing memoir. We were asked to make a list of ten transformative moments in our lives. Being an over-achiever and having lived many years, I stopped myself at forty-three moments. These times to me, whether sad or joyous, are the times in our lives when we are truly living. I can pinpoint exact moments that lift you above daily routines: holding a newborn, taking wedding vows, saying goodbye to a loved one, feeling that “Aha! I get it” instant with a student, applauding a truly great performance in the theatre, putting down a great book with regret that it’s over, skipping down the road, watching marathoners in Chicago, receiving the proof copy of your novel. As Hallmark would say, “The times of your lives.” Those moments that change us forever. Truly living.
No.3 What motivates you to write?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write. As a kid, I wrote plays for the neighborhood and taught the block how to read whether they wanted to or not. My younger siblings were my class. I helped them write little books. As an adult, I am motivated by working with students in schools with my writing. I have made the transition from writing teacher to author and now I’m back in classrooms. I love it, especially co-teaching with gifted teachers. This week I was in a classroom and one young guy said he was stretching out finishing a book he loved to time it with buying another in the series. He just didn’t want to be without reading a book by that author for even one day. Now that’s magic and extreme motivation to get the sequel to my novel, NOLA Gals written. This week in class they listened in hushed silence as I read them the first sentence of the sequel. In two weeks I will return to them with the first chapter. That’s motivation.
No.4 Why do humans want children?
Some do, some don’t. Some put a lot of thought into parenting, some don’t. Someone has to do it or we’d be gone. I’ve never had children myself, but have taught thousands of kids for many years and admire adults who take on the serious task of re-stocking the world. I’ve seen many fine parents over the years at parent conferences, some struggling with teen angst, but most doing their best.
No.5 What was the biggest challenge in creating your book “NOLA Gals”?
By far, the attempt to publish my novel was the most difficult and exasperating stage of the creation of NOLA Gals. To say an author needs persistence is a gross understatement. You need P E R S I S T E N C E and then some. You need to first write the query letter, which is an awful form of writing. To squish your novel into one paragraph and yourself into another is ludicrous. And the thought of sending the query out to a legion of twenty-somethings who have a “list” of expected themes is even worse. Then follow the years of rejections. Five years in my case. My favorite letter began… “Dear Author, Please don’t feel this is a form letter…” Why would I feel that? Perhaps because you don’t even know my name? Crazy days, and still I went on until a friend suggested the small press, Neverland Publishing who finally understood my vision and it fit their list! They “got it.” Now with the book in print, I deal on a daily basis with the bias against small press. Sigh!
No.6 What is the most important thing you have learned in life so far?
At my age, the “so far” no longer applies. My big lesson in life has been that life isn’t fair, and sometimes you do your best and still lose. There is no rhyme or reason, and friendships and professional ties are fleeting. In the end you have yourself, and your strength and persistence alone will determine your life. Be curious and learn something new every day. Oh, crossword puzzles will never let you down.
No.7 How did you come up with the title “NOLA Gals”?
NOLA Gals to me encapsulated the southern setting and the two teens, Grace and Essence caught up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I was not sure if the readers would understand that NOLA stands for New Orleans, Louisiana so soon into the book, I make sure that I explain it. I liked the title and was surprised no editor questioned it. The cover design by Joe Fonte captures it all in a simple design. I recently had a reader tell me how much she liked the cover, especially the fleur-de-lis inside the letter O. The sequel is tentatively called, NOLA Ma’am.
No.8 How do you handle personal criticism?
I never ask anyone if they have read NOLA Gals or if they liked it. Sometimes among friends the silence is deafening, but I’d rather not know at this point. You also have to get used to people telling you they’ll do something for the book in terms of promotion, and then they don’t follow through. My first negative review threw me for a loop, but now I know not to let the bad news overshadow the good. The review did hit at me personally, and I was not ready for that, but now I’m armed with the terrific positive reactions. The eyes of kids in classrooms affirm my work every day. The comments of adults at book clubs, signings and conferences buoy my spirits and push me on to write more.
No.9 Why should people read your book?
I could quote reviews, but let me just say that NOLA Gals is a coming-of-age story that comes out of a terrible time in our country when a natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, combined with incompetency and racial prejudice to drown a great cultural center of America, New Orleans. In the ten years since, the city slowly has revived. Essence and Grace are two teens from very different walks of life who are thrown together after the storm only to face a new storm in Houston when Essence arrives at the posh private school Grace attends. Together the girls struggle to survive in an ugly climate. Reading the classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee gives the girls a blueprint for recovery. NOLA Gals is uplifting and offers hope. As one student said, “I’ve never read a book that made me feel so deeply.”
No.10 Why is there something rather than nothing?
There will be something as long as the last person on Earth draws breath. As long as a newborn cries. As long as a kitten knocks a lamp off a table. As long as a dog pounces on you as you come in a door. As long as a kid sits uncomfortably in a desk and listens to your words. As long as a player pushes his way to a touchdown. As long as a factory worker screws that glovebox into place. As long as a nurse takes a pulse. As long as a toddler takes first steps. As long as a soldier stands guard. As long as humans love. Something.
Thank you Barbara :)
For taking the time to answer my questions
& the best of luck with your new book!
Check out “NOLA Gals” on
Essence LaFontaine and Grace Woodson don’t know each other, but soon Hurricane Katrina will blow into their lives, forcing them together into a different kind of storm—a storm swirling with the winds of bigotry and prejudice.
This is the story of two girls from completely different walks of life and their journey to bring about a healing that will change their lives forever.