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Barbara Taylor Sissel

Picture for author Barbara Taylor Sissel

"At the heart of every crime lies a family, someone you love..."

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Barbara's top writing themes

Emotional expression - wit
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The body
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Cars and road trips - rural
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About Barbara

I am never sure what to say when someone asks me where I'm from. I was born in Honolulu, Hawaii, but that didn't last two years. I grew up mostly in the Midwest: Kansas, Iowa, Illinois. Once, in third grade, I attended three different schools. I finally landed in Texas, but my children were born in Kentucky. People wondered if I was an Army brat. The question made me uncomfortable because the moves came about as the result of family woes. I'm glad for them now, not the woes so much, but the moves. They taught me to adapt. They taught me that you carry your joy with you, and you can unpack that first, no matter the circumstances. Uncrate the joy, then the books.

The one constant refuge in my life is reading. My sister taught me when she was seven and I was three. We've been reading together ever since. I remember almost the very moment when I first knew I wanted to write. I was in bed, flat on my belly, reading Wuthering Heights. I was eleven or so, I think, and very affected by the story. I remember looking up from the light falling over the book's pages and saying to myself, I want to do this. I want to write so that people are engaged in the way that I am now. I want to give back this gift of enchantment, this sense of being transported. How does it happen, I wondered? That an entire world, vivid in every sense, can rise from a group of printed words? I guess it sounds odd in relation to how dark the story of Wuthering Heights is; it is odd to imagine that I was broken out in the gooseflesh of happiness at the dream of one day mastering the ability to write in just such a manner while reading something so sad, but the desire spread through me, as light and effervescent as champagne bubbles. I've never forgotten the sensation, or the longing to write, to be able to say, legitimately, I am an author. It persisted through all the hullabaloo of moving around the countryside like vagabonds. It waited while I distracted myself with other employment: department store fashion model and salesgirl, college student, flight attendant, chair-side dental assistant, then marriage in Texas followed by a next-day relocation to Kentucky and the births of two children.

The move to Kentucky added a focus I wasn't aware of until I sat down to write my first novel. We lived on the grounds of a first-offender prison (my then-husband was a warden) in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Employees were housed in trailers clustered around a common area on a cleared rise of land, while the inmates were housed in dormitory-like buildings below. There were no cells, no bars. The facility really did look and operate more like a college campus than a prison, but the inmates were smart enough to know that if they escaped they would likely die of starvation or exposure before they would ever find their way out of the mountains, and only a few tried. They were boys, mostly, late teens, early twenties, and part of our daily lives. They mowed the grass, fixed the cars, tinkered with the electricity and the plumbing, and the most reliable of them babysat our children. I got to know them. I heard their stories, how they came to commit their crimes, from petty theft of a pig to manslaughter. I heard about their families. Many of their stories were heartrending; the wrong turns, the regrets, the battles they waged with addiction, with themselves and their wrongdoing. I saw the psychological impact of crime on their mothers and fathers, wives and siblings, who were, so often simply ordinary people much like myself. It was upfront, hands-on learning, and when I sat down to write, that's what I wrote about. A guy who goes to prison. Injustice versus justice. What is it? Where's the line? What is the nature of forgiveness? Why is it so hard?

I can't imagine a life in which I wouldn't write, any more than I can imagine a life where I wouldn't read. Both pastimes have provided me with a roadmap, a set of tools, a way to navigate. They are like fixed points in the constantly evolving landscape of my life. As a writer I was frequently rejected but continued to persist. I may have had doubts, but that childhood vision never doubted and never left. Along the way, in related work, I have, and still do, occasionally freelance for clients from a variety of professions. I've been an editor at a small, local literary press and raised two wonderful sons. I currently work with a fabulous set of critique partners and in February of 2012, in a dream come true moment in time, I was offered agent representation by my dream agent Barbara Poelle at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. By March of 2012, in another dream come true moment, she had me under contract with MIRA for two books and paired with a wonderful editor, Erika Imranyi.

For me, a book is a miracle in the way that it can create such a magical connection between an author and a reader. As a kid I loved how a story could carry me into another world. It's what drew me to writing. Now as an author, I'm in hope of passing along that gift, of being able to transport the readers of my books into the worlds I create. I'm grateful to so many people for the opportunity to pursue this dream, and I'm especially grateful to readers everywhere. Books couldn't exist without reader love. It's what makes the whole experience come alive.

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New Year, New Man

  • eBook
  • £27.92
  • £9.99