Monday, April 14, 2008

Put your hands together for ... M.P. Barker

Please welcome M.P. Barker, debut young adult author of A Difficult Boy.

M.P. is a very interesting and unique member of the Class of 2k8. And we wish you all got a chance to hang around her the way we do. But since you don't, we're doing this interview to help you get to know her. 

Best of all, M.P. is letting us give away her biggest secret.

Here goes ...

M.P. Barker is a TIME TRAVELER!

M.P. Barker: Actually, I'm an archivist and historian. Which, I guess, is sort of the same thing.

2k8: But you worked in nineteenth-century rural New England, right?

M.P. Barker: I was a costumed historical interpreter at Old Sturbridge Village. I milked cows, mucked out barns and found inspiration for my historical novel, A Difficult Boy.

2k8: That mucking out of barns sounds ewwww. But the rest sounds very cool. Are you still time traveling?

M.P. Barker: Well, I work now as an archivist at the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum. This gives me the opportunity to read other people's diaries and letters and snoop through their photo albums.

2k8: Love it! Old-time gossip! What else do you do?

M.P. Barker: I'm also a freelance historical consultant. I've written exhibit text, scripts for historical dramatizations, nominations to the National Register of Historic Places, fundraising materials, and planning studies.

Thanks, M.P. And, now, onto A Difficult Boy. First off, here's the wonderful cover.

cover art credit: Marc Tauss

And here's the flap copy:

It's 1839. Nine-year-old Ethan doesn't want to be an indentured servant. But his family has no other way to pay off their debt, so Ethan must work for Mr. Lyman, a wealthy shopkeeper in their Massachusetts town. At first, Ethan tries to make friends with the Lymans’ other indentured servant, Daniel, a moody Irish teenager. But Daniel, as everyone says, is a difficult boy, and wants nothing to do with him. Then Ethan is shocked to see Mr. Lyman beat Daniel. Soon, Ethan, too, is suffering Mr. Lyman’s blows. Self-preservation finally drives the two boys together, and they begin to form a friendship, but when the boys discover a dark secret about the patron, their lives may be changed forever.

2k8: How in the world did you ever come up with this fantastic idea for a book?

M.P. Barker: I was cataloguing some documents in the archives and came across a 275-year-old bill that an indentured servant’s master had sent to the boy’s mother, charging her for the cost of finding and bringing back her runaway son. That got me thinking: Why did the boy run away? What would happen if his mother couldn’t pay the bill? What kind of crummy cheapskate was that master?

photo credit: Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, from their archives

2k8: And how did the bill become your novel?

M.P. Barker: Well, the document was still on my mind when I went to my weekly writing group. So I began doing a few character sketches. Since I didn’t know as much about the 1770s as I ought to, I transferred the time to the 1830s, which I did know about from working at Sturbridge Village. Once the characters started growing, they began to take on their own lives, as characters have a way of doing, and I sort of lost control. My first draft was 700 pages! Luckily for readers, the published version is now just shy of 300 pages with two discontented indentured servants (one of them Irish), one cruel master with a closet full of skeletons, one son of said cruel master with a deep, dark secret of his own, one dairymaid with a serious crush on the master’s son, and one mysterious peddler who wanders in and out inadvertently stirring up trouble.

2k8: Those characters sound fascinating!

M.P. Barker: Thanks! Turning that material into historical fiction was an adventure and a challenge. I wanted to create characters that readers could identify with, while allowing them to see that those characters aren’t merely modern people wearing funny clothes and living without indoor plumbing. Daniel’s and Ethan’s thoughts and beliefs are very different from ours, yet they grapple with familiar problems: prejudice, abuse, poverty, grief, and loneliness. And they cherish the same things that matter to kids and adults today: loyalty, kindness, trust and most of all, friendship.

2k8: Congratulations, M.P. You are a published author now! And, hey, don't forget you're featured on our blog this entire week. So, make sure you time-travel your little self back here for Tuesday's interview.


PJ Hoover said...

I love the inspiration for your novel! So interesting :)

TJ Brown said...

YAY! Congrats, MP!

Barrie said...

MP, you are the first time traveler I've ever met! A Difficult Boy looks great, BTW!!!

Anonymous said...

Such a fun post!

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

it sounds so, so good, MP, i can't wait to read it!

M.P. Barker said...

Thanks, gang!

I can't wait to see the book in a store!

Marissa Doyle said...

I'm trying to be patient while I await my copy in the mail, but it isn't easy. :(

Congratulations, Michele! This is going to be a great week.

RR2 said...


Regina Scott said...

Hi, MP! As you know, I've already read the book, and I'm a big fan. I love the descriptions in your story--I could really feel myself there with Daniel and Ethan, and I was rooting for them all the way. Can't wait until the rest of the world discovers your talent!

Kristin Tubb said...

The story behind your story is fascinating. Thanks for the great interview, MP! :-)

Anonymous said...

So how do you become a historian and an archivist? I've been looking for the answer to this for about a year, but I can't seem to find anything. What sort of college degree is needed? What sort of experience? Thanks!

M.P. Barker said...

Hi, superwench! Sorry for taking so long to respond to your comment.

How do you become a historian and an archivist? Well, my background is a Bachelor's degree in History, a Master's in Historic Preservation, lots of on-the-job training, and the ability to lift 50 pounds over my head (no kidding, that really is one of the job requirements for being an archivist--those boxes of documents are HEAVY!) As an interpreter at Sturbridge Village and a freelance historical consultant I had a lot of experience using archival materials as a researcher, so I think that was one of the things that helped get me the archives job, even though I don't have a certification or degree in archives.

Although most of my archival training was learn-as-you-go supplemented by lots of reading and workshops from New England Archivists and the Society of American Archivists, you can get formal training, usually through any college that offers a Masters in Library Science. Check out the Society of American Archivists web site for lots and lots of information:

Good luck!