Friday, June 28, 2013

Author Interview with Randi Barrow

The DMS was lucky enough to interview Randi Barrow. Lizzy recently reviewed her fascinating story, Finding Zasha, and it was great to share our thoughts about it and hear yours. We are excited to learn a little bit more about the story behind the story. So, without further ado... take it away, Randi! 



What inspired you to write Finding Zasha?

I wrote Saving Zasha first. When I was finished I realized that there was much more to the story. I wanted to know where Zasha had come from, who Petr was, and why they’d ended up in the forest together. That meant I had to write the prequel, which turned out to be Finding Zasha. In addition, as I did research about Russia for the first book I learned about the siege of Leningrad. The story completely captured me, and I wanted to write a book that would share that history.

Tying the stories of Saving Zasha and Finding Zasha together was challenging, and fun. Having learned even more about Russia, and Stalin, I am now working on a sequel that will bring most of the characters, the dogs, and the puppies back for one last adventure.

How long did it take you to write Finding Zasha?

It took about fifteen months. Once it was accepted by Scholastic and my editor reviewed it, there were six or eight weeks of re-writing, and several tweaks prior to publication. By the time you’re finished with the process you’re sure you never want  to read it again. But then the book arrives with a beautiful cover, it feels like a fresh, new story, and you smile and say to yourself, “I wrote this? Really?”

What are some of your favorite books from childhood?

In grammar school I loved the OZ books, and the fairy tale series that was divided into colors: The Blue Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book etc. Gone With the Wind was a favorite in the seventh grade. My reading stuck closely to the English class reading lists as I got older with titles like The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and Animal Farm. I missed a lot of classics like To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Yearling, which I didn’t read until I was an adult.

When I was a child books came to most of us exclusively through the library. If the library didn’t carry it, chances are we didn’t get to read it. I can’t say that there were any particular authors at that time who inspired me, it was more about loving an individual book.

Where did you come up with the characters Ivan, Zasha, and Auntie?

If I could answer that with complete clarity, I could explain the mystery of creativity! I can say that I knew that I wanted a twelve year old boy to be my protagonist, and that I wanted him to be brave, but also very human. The character of Ivan was formed, to some degree, by the facts of the war. I had to examine how a child that age would respond to things as devastating as food deprivation, and being separated from his mother. From the answers to those types of questions the character emerges. It’s fascinating how real the character feels to you as time goes on.

With Auntie, I knew I wanted an older person to have a big role. I think older people are underused and underrepresented in literature, and that children need them in life, and in books. It is only someone like Auntie who suffered through the terrible events of the revolution of 1917, and the social and economic changes that followed, who really possesses the knowledge and insight to help Ivan survive. She is also full of love, and uses that love in a fiercely protective way for the people she cares about, and the values she possesses.

Zasha – that’s harder to answer. Contrary to what some have suggested, Zasha is not the German shepherd version of my dog, Manuel. Although I have to credit Manuel with teaching me a lot about the doggie mind, and the doggie way! I read all about German shepherds, talked to their owners, and was lucky enough to meet some. I knew as I wrote Saving Zasha that she’d had another owner who’d loved her, and trained her well. I just didn’t know who that was yet! But I did know that she had never been abused, and was a very smart, loving dog.

If you could befriend a character from any of your books, who would you befriend, and why?

At this moment my answer is that it’s a toss-up between Ivan, and Auntie. I’d chose Ivan because I think it would be fun to be his friend. He’s full of life, he’s musical, he faces challenges with strength in-spite of his fears, and he’s smart. I think any person who was his friend would feel good when he was with Ivan, and keep him as a friend for a lifetime. I would want to be Auntie’s friend because I‘d like to learn from her wisdom and experience. I’d feel safe if I were Auntie’s friend. She’s also joyous, and almost ageless in her embrace of life.

Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music while you are writing?

I have a desk set-up in our living room. I like writing there so that I can look out the big window in front and hear the children in the neighborhood playing, and see people passing by with their dogs. But it’s still private enough so that I can’t be seen. It keeps me from feeling isolated the way so many writers do. I am able to sense life going on all around me, and can enter into it at any moment.

I don’t listen to music when I write. For me, that would be impossible because my mind follows the music, and so it’s only half there for the writing! I know that many writers can’t write without it, or prefer it. I wish I could, but I’m a uni-tasker!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be, and why?

I wish I had a romantic answer like, “Paris!” or “Rome!” The truth is, I like it right where I am in Los Angeles, California. I like the light, and the clouds, and the air here, the friendliness of my neighborhood, the unpretentiousness of it, and the incredible flowers and trees that fill our city. The Pacific Ocean is just a little over a mile away – what more could I want?


German shepherds play a big role in Finding Zasha. Do you have any pets? If so, are they like Zasha and Thor?

We have a big white and tan Chihuahua named Manuel. He is eleven years old, and weighs twelve pounds, and is the sweetest boy in the world. They say little dogs live a long time. We are counting on Manuel to outlive us, because we don’t know how we’d stand it without him.

 Zasha, Thor, and Manuel are all very different dogs. Chihuahuas are known for being loving companions who appreciate their creature comforts. German shepherds have a different set of personality building blocks. They’re smart, strong, and protective, they excel as guards, herders, and workers. That is not to say Manuel is not smart or protective, or that Zasha and Thor aren’t loving companions. But the two breeds are so different it’s hard for me to imagine Manuel herding sheep, or Zasha and Thor demanding little treats before they do something they know they’re supposed to be doing anyway!





39 comments:

  1. Great interview, thank you. I was especially fascinated by Zasha and Manuel.

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    1. Hi Petty,
      I'm so glad you liked Zasha. And Manuel is excited that he was mentioned, too!
      Randi

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  2. Thank you for such a great interview. I liked both of the Zasha books and now I'm looking forward to reading the third book. It is always interesting to hear how an author came to their story ideas.

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    1. Hi Alex,
      Thank you for reading the Zasha books. I appreciate it so much. I will try to write faster to get #3 out there!
      Randi

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    2. Any idea when book 3 will come out? Am excited!

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    3. Denise- I haven't heard yet, but I am hoping it will be soon! If I hear of a release date I will post it here for you. :)
      ~L

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  3. What a fun interview! Manuel looks like such a cutie :) Sounds like an amazing read, too!

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    1. Hi Meradeth,
      Thanks for saying that you enjoyed the interview. I was asked good questions, which made it much easier. And thanks for the sweet words about Manuel. He is a gem.
      Randi

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    1. Thank you, Patty, for the feed-back. I appreciate it. And it's a great website, don't you think?
      Randi

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  5. Oh the dogs are adorable. I have such a soft heart when it comes to animals, I could read this as long as one of the dogs doesn't die, that gets me every time! Have a great weekend!

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    1. Hi Heidi,
      I am on record as saying no dogs will ever die in one of my books! You have a great weekend, too.
      Randi

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  6. I enjoyed Randi's interview. Many of the books she loved were favorites of mine, too, especially the Oz series, and I love the fact that if she could live anywhere in the world, she'd chooser her own CA. "There's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's ..."

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    1. Hi Lexa,
      You are way ahead of me! How could I have mentioned the Oz books and not contected it to home. Glad you were there to remind me.
      Randi

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  7. I love interviews, and getting a peek at the story behind the story. Thanks for this! (And that IS a beautiful cover!)

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    1. Hi Ruth,
      I am so glad you mentioned the covers. I think they're beautiful,too, and because I had nothing to do with creating them it allows me to say so!
      Randi

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  8. How wonderful to be exactly in the place you're happiest. I also love that after writing the story the author returned to explore what went before.

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    1. Hello!
      I am so glad you understood what it meant to want to know more about your own story. It sounds so bizarre!I hope that you, too, are in the place where you are happiest.
      Randi

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  9. I like the dog character. Good interview!

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    1. Hi Catherine,
      You liked the dog character - thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed the interview.
      Randi

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  10. What a great interview! I love the stories behind the story and Randi expresses them so well. Finding Zasha sounds like great historical novel I'm definitely going to check out. I love the book cover! I simply love German Shepherds, they are so smart and loyal. I took several to obedience class and enjoyed helping them revolve into remarkable companions for my children while they were growing up.

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    1. Thank you, Anna Maria. And you love German shepherds! You were so smart to take them to obedience classes. A well trained dog brings more affection, and acceptance for the breed. Thanks for your kind words.
      Randi

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  11. Great interview... really enjoyed your answers. I think I would probably choose home as well if I could live anywhere, but I'd still want to travel the world.

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    1. tfwalsh- Thanks for stopping by! Living at home and traveling sounds perfect to me! :) ~L

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  12. I have two German shepherds. They are amazing dogs.

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  13. Now this sounds like an interesting read! A dog story that takes place in Stalinist Russia has got to have some adventure in it. Excellent interview.

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    1. Bish- It is an interesting read. Thanks for stopping by. So glad you enjoyed the review. :) ~L

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  14. I love the comment about being sure you never want to read your book again after all the revisions. Everyone knows that feeling. Great interview! I love the sound of this book, as I mentioned in Lizzy's review. Best of Luck!

    Paul R. Hewlett

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    1. Paul- I hope you get to read this one soon- I think you will really enjoy it. Thanks for visiting. :) ~l

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  15. I love dogs. I will try these books out! :D

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    1. Erik- I think you will love this series! :) ~L

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  16. What a sweet storyline. Well, you know me, anything with dogs is sweet. Nice interview.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by Donna! I think this is a book you would enjoy. :) ~L

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  19. Hi my name is haley and im 11 years old and I really enjoy your books! I was a little confused because I didn't know what happened to Ivan and the others. I was wondering when you think the 3rd book might come out, I loved both books so much and I can't wait for the 3rd:)

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    1. Hi Hales- Thanks so much for stopping by our middle grade blog where we spotlight books and authors.

      It sounds like you enjoy Randi Barrow's books about Zasha too! The first book gave us the history of Zasha and the second book let us know what happened to her after the end of book 1 (that is why there are different characters because Zasha was missing and then was found). I am not sure if there will be a third book- but I would love to read one! Thanks for stopping by. :) ~L

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