I met Steve Barry through a friend on Facebook, and I’m happy I did. As it turns out, both of us are products of a Catholic education and both come from blue-collar families. And most importantly, Steve is proof that one is never too old to pursue a dream and live it out.
Steve an 80-year-old retired teacher, grandfather, now an author. He grew up in San Francisco, where he attended Catholic school for eight years. After high school, he became an apprentice ship fitter in the San Francisco Naval Shipyards, where he worked for 8 years. During those years, he attended college (night, then day) and received a degree in biology and physics. After earning his credential, he taught science for 40 years in barrio high schools.
Here is my interview with Steve, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
What was it that made you decide you had a story to tell and to become an author?
I’ve known all my life that I had a story to tell. I didn’t act on it until retirement. I’ve always believed I could write the story because my writing skills are good. Still, I had to hone those skills while writing. That’s one reason it took me several years to finish the novel. I’ve heard the novelist is like a person driving at night who can only see as far as the headlight beams, a destination in mind, but uncertainty about how to get there.
As an author or writer, what sets you apart from others?
While writing the book, I never suffered writer’s block. Other than that, I’m just a person using writing to make sense out of his life.
How do ideas for your stories present themselves? How do you know what story lines to follow and which to ignore?
That’s been easy for me because my novel is a fictionalized autobiography. My challenge was to keep the story at a high pitch through the use of micro-tension, by which I mean making every word, every sentence, every paragraph, every chapter carry punch.
What genre do you write, and why?
I’ve been identifying my story as literary fiction with a YA flair. I wasn’t thinking about the genre when I started writing. I just started to tell the story. I frankly didn’t even know the term literary fiction. Through the internet, I came to understand that literary fiction fits my writing best.
Besides writing and telling a good story, do you have any other talents?
I’ve developed a lot of skill managing groups of teenagers (from my teaching). I’ve also developed the ability to work effectively with people from other cultures. I worked in a school with over 2,000 immigrant students.
If you were to name one or two books that you deem unforgettable and that had a major impact on you, what would they be, and why?
I recently read The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabella Dickerson. It helped me better understand the impact of Jim Crow on African-Americans living in the south and their migration to the north for many decades of the 20th century, then the eventual slowdown of that migration. I’ve also enjoyed all of Mark Twain, his humor, his insights, the quality of his writing.
What authors do you read regularly? Why?
Octavia E. Butler because of her imagination and how she creatively engages me fully.
If you were to have dinner with 5 individuals living or dead, who would they be and why?
My mother, so I could tell her, “Now, I understand, Mom.” Barack Obama to absorb some of the dignity he lent to us. Willie Mays to absorb some of his joyful spark. My maternal grandfather to learn more about his boyhood in Ireland. Jesus to learn what he really thought and believed.
What is your writing routine? When you write, do you plan or outline ahead or are you a “pantser”?
Every morning from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. Other times as well, but not structured. I fly by the seat of my pants when I write. I don’t use an outline.
When writing, how much do you read? Do you read in or out of your genre?
I read constantly, never missing a day. As I read, I record words and phrases (on my iPhone) that I might use in my writing.
Is there something you set out to do, but somehow, it didn’t work out for you? (In writing, or something else you felt was important to you at the time?)
I’ve been steadfast in completing what I’ve set out to do. Example: attending college: it took me eight years while simultaneously working in the shipyards building Navy ships. I can think of trivial failures: not finishing a wooden model ship I was building. It was taking more time than it was worth.
What tips would you give to new or even experienced writers?
Set regular time aside to write every day. Write from the heart and make your characters as deep as possible. Create flawed characters and build micro-tension into every word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter.
How did you “teach” yourself to write or did it just come naturally? What lessons would you pass on to others?
Much of it came naturally. I read some books on writing that helped me understand character development. As for other writers, invest time and emotion into your writing. Eventually, you will bond with your story.
How do you handle a negative critique?
Learn to roll with the punches, learn from other perspectives, dig down and deepen your belief in what you’re writing.
Is there a type of writing/genre that you find difficult to write? Why?
I can’t answer this because I’ve only written literary fiction.
How important are the elements of character, setting, and atmosphere to a story, and why?
All are crucial to a good story. Readers must identify with the characters and imagine their milieu. I found it fun to work on those aspects of story-telling.
Do you see yourself in any of the characters you create? How/Why?
The main character of my story grew from my own experiences. I made him smarter and braver than I was at age fourteen because readers want interesting characters.
Is there an unforgettable or memorable character that will not leave your head, either of your own creation or from a book you’ve read?
The Black character in my story, Samuel, stands out above all others. He is based on older Black journeymen I worked with in the shipyards sixty years ago. They profoundly affected my understanding and perspective.
Tell us about your most recent book. How did you come up with the concept? How did you come up with the title? From your book, who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite character? Why?
I’d long thought about ways to explain what it was like to grow up under a Catholic education. I wanted to explore how my spiritual life might have been affected had I encountered a thoughtful, intelligent mentor at a crucial time in my life. That is why I invented the character, Samuel. The title took me a long time to develop. I wanted it to reflect my ethnic background, along with the challenges inherent in religious indoctrination. My least favorite character in my story is Tommy Ajax, because of the negativity he brings to the story. However, I softened him near the end.
Connect with Steve on Social Media:
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/in-the-shadow-of-an-irish-god-sd-barry/1142519386
Thank you for taking the time to meet Steve and for following along on my author website. I would like to know what you thought, so please let me know by using the comment section below. Until next time …