My guest today is my very dear friend Billie Houston, aka Barri Bryan. I met Billie and her husband Herb at the San Antonio Romance Writers. They had already electronically published several books when my novel Stroke of Luck came out, and they invited me to join them on an e-booksigning tour to Hastings Book Stores. None of the three of us has a good sense of direction, and we invariably got lost driving through the little towns. We always seemed to find the county courthouse everywhere we went! We had a lot of fun and developed a great friendship during our travels.
Billie and Herb introduced me to EPIC; we went to several conferences together, and Billie and Herb were part of my ideal writing weekend after one of the conferences. Billie and I will be attending the eFiesta at EPICon on March 17, and I’m really looking forward to both the event and seeing Billie.
Billie has recently released a book of poetry—Four Part Harmony, which I have reviewed.
Lillie: Welcome to A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye, Billie.
Billie: I’m glad to be here. Thank you for inviting me.
Lillie: As I mentioned in my review, I’m not normally an aficionado of poetry, but I love your work. When did you develop a love of poetry, and how long have been writing it?
Billie: I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t fascinated by the magic of words set to meter and rhyme. The first poems I recall hearing were nursery rhymes that were printed on my little brother’s baby powder can. My mother would read them to me over and over again, and I never tired of hearing them. I wrote my first poem when I was in the second grade.
Lillie: Two of my favorite poems in Four Part Harmony are “After the Fact” and “Hindsight.” I really identify with them because they so poignantly express the feelings of someone who has a loved one with dementia. Alzheimer’s is often called “the long goodbye” because the person loses cognitive skills, memory, and the ability to communicate even though their body is functional. We know our loved one is still there, but it’s difficult to connect. How were you able to capture those feelings so movingly?
Billie: The inspiration for both these poems was sparked by a fleeting moment of insight as I pondered a question my granddaughter asked. “Grandma, what will you do when Granddad is gone?” I suddenly realized the man I had loved for so many years, the man who had been my husband, my friend, my lover, my partner, and my protector may still be alive, but he was already gone. That brief and heartbreaking revelation was the beginning. Later I would work many hours to control and match the language of my imagination to the rhythm I heard in my head and the visions of my inner eye. Composing verse may seem on the surface to be simple and easy. It is arguably the most disciplined and structured of all literary undertakings
Lillie: I have no doubt that poetry is extremely challenging to write. What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from Four Part Harmony?
Billie: I hope readers will take away from Four Part Harmony the idea that poetry is not something esoteric and removed from daily life. It is a reflection of daily life.
Lillie: That’s what I like most about your poems—they address real life. You’re also the author of a book on writing. Tell my readers a little about that.
Billie: The title of my book on writing is A Core Curriculum for Creative Writing. Occasionally someone asks me, “What is creative writing?” I am always honest and tell them that I don’t have a definitive answer for that question. I do know that every creative writing act overpasses the recognized order in some way, that creativity is a process, and that a creative writer always begins with that small spark that fuels imagination.
I taught English in public schools for several years. I became convinced during that time that the best way to learn to write is to write. A Core Curriculum for Creative Writing is predicated on the belief that learning to write well is not about reading, remembering, and reciting. It is about comprehension, perception, and recognition. The aim of A Core Curriculum is threefold: to help writers understand the importance of purpose, to perceive writing as a process, and to recognize the underlying principles that govern that process.
Lillie: You and Herb have also written a number of romances under the name Barri Bryan. I got such a kick out of the story of how and why you and Herb came up with the pseudonym. Please share that delightful story with my readers.
Billie: Twenty-two years ago when Herb and I first began writing as a team, we used our own names Billie and Herb Houston. One afternoon our then-quite-young-son came roaring into our front yard on his motorcycle. He came into the house, scowled at Herb and me, and announced, “You two are embarrassing me.”
I looked at his several tattoos, the ring in his ear, and his pony tail and wondered how I had managed that feat.
Herb ventured to ask, “How?”
Our son has a business in San Antonio. It seems that some of his employees had found one of our publisher’s web sites. A steamy love scene from one of our romantic novels was posted there. They read it and immediately began to ask, “Are these Houstons related to you?”
I seriously doubt that our son admitted that we were his parents.
It was then that we decided, or rather he decided, we needed a pen name. We chose Barri Bryan because two of our grandsons are named Barry and Brian.
Lillie: Where can readers learn more about you and your books?
Lillie: Plenty of places to find your books! Several years ago, as a part of EPIC, you and I worked together to start the New Voices writing competition for junior high and high school students. That competition has grown dramatically and is now one of EPIC’s showcase programs. You came up with the rules, guidelines, and categories, and they have changed little through the years. What in your experience enabled you to come up with such an effective competition?
Billie: The idea for the rules, guidelines, and categories for New Voices came for my experience as a teacher. There were often contests that students could enter to compete for scholarship money or other prizes. I remembered rules, guideline1,s and categories from several different contests I had worked with in the past, and I drew on that knowledge to put together what I thought would best work for New Voices.
I am proud to have had a small part in starting this work. It is such a great way to encourage fledgling writers and to recognize young talent.
Lillie: Is there anything I’ve failed to ask that you would like to share with my readers?
Billie: My current WIP (work in progress) is titled Forbidden. It’s, of course, a love story. It’s almost complete. Below is a blurb:
Forbidden delights are sweeter by far than any other pleasures are.
It seemed the perfect summer job, in a perfect setting, a luxurious ranch in far West Texas. Then the mystery and intrigue that surround this isolated utopia begin to unravel. Zoë Martin finds herself caught in a web of deceit and lies and falling in love with the one man in the world that she has no right to claim.
Can she find her way through the maze of secrets and taboos that haunt this forbidden place or has fate conspired with circumstance to ensnare her in a net of cunning and deceit?
Lillie: Sounds great, Billie. I’ll be watching for it. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing about your writing with my readers. They will probably have more questions for you. Will you check in during the day to respond to comments and answer questions?
Billie: Yes, I will be happy to do that.
Lillie: If you have questions for Billie, leave a comment below.
Barri Bryan is the pen name for Billie Houston. I acquired a pseudonym at the behest of my adult children when one of them discovered a steamy excerpt from one of my romances at the website of a publisher.
I am a former teacher and educator. I like poetry, George Strait’s music, old movies, and Earl Grey tea. My hobbies are reading, quilting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, taking long walks, and growing houseplants and herbs.
I’m a four-time EPPIE winner and a published author with over twenty novels, four books of poetry, numerous essays, several short stories, and one non-fiction how-to-write-book to my credit. I have been writing since 1990. I write the kind of books I enjoy reading — romantic tales about relationships, stories that explore feelings and probe emotions. The plots revolve around ordinary people caught in extraordinary circumstances and faced with difficult decisions.