The Reindeer Keeper

Today we are happy to welcome Barbara Briggs Ward to Nourishing Relationships for a virtual book tour. She’s written a lovely book, The Reindeer Keeper: Believe Again, arriving just in time for the holidays. Barbara has a long history as the author/illustrator of children’s books, especially the Snarly Sally series, and The Reindeer Keeper is her first work of fiction for adults.

NR: Welcome, Barbara. We’re sure our readers would like to know more about you. For instance, what influenced you to become a writer?

Barbara: Growing up in the country provided me the biggest influence on the rest of my life for it offered me a constant backdrop to explore – and the more I played and explored, the greater my imagination grew. There were 4 houses in a row – all filled with relatives – aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, dogs and cats. My cousins and I had fields and pastures, creeks and old barns in which to play. But it was in a chicken coop converted into a clubhouse and filled with the desks/books/chalkboards of an abandoned one-room schoolhouse where we spent the majority of our time. If you go to www.thereindeerkeeper.com you can follow my blog, which chronicles those times growing up in the country.

NR: When did you start writing?

Barbara: I started writing when I’d spend hours playing in my chicken coop. There was something about that old place that intrigued me. Having my favorite books around me added to the wonder. After receiving a handmade pine desk as a Christmas gift from my grandfather, I knew I wanted to be a writer – but I don’t think I understood what that meant. I kept cutting paper into little pieces and folding them to make little books. I kept scribbling and drawing with my crayons. I kept scribbling as I grew up. It was just something I did. After my first child was born, scribbles turned into endless storylines. I was hooked. Intrigue turned into passion. I had to write. I started writing because I couldn’t stop.

NR: What was your inspiration for The Reindeer Keeper?

Barbara: Because my father was a funeral director, I was keenly aware of how beautiful the gift of another day really is. It offers us another chance. Obituaries always fascinate me, for they chronicle what individuals did during their time on earth. The thought of knowing when we began and not having control of the end date inspires me to make a difference; to take each day and live it to the fullest while along the way appreciate the little things.

The specific inspiration for The Reindeer Keeper was a snowfall on Christmas Eve. Watching those big, beautiful flakes float by the window with Christmas lights muted in the distance filled me with an urge to write a story of the season for adults – entwining that wonder of Santa Claus we all once felt with the real life we face each day. Besides having my grandfather’s barn in my thoughts, that’s all I knew when I sat down to write the story but as words came out, the characters took over.

NR: The Reindeer Keeper deals with relationships on so many levels. Your main character, Abbey, struggles with her own feelings of resentment towards her mother, which are so strong that her immediate family avoids the subject of her mother in any form. From where did you draw such conflict of emotions between a mother and a daughter?

Barbara: Much of what I wrote about this complicated relationship comes from my own experience with my mother. I believe even when no such conflict exists between the two it is a challenging relationship especially as the daughter grows and spreads her wings, forging her own path and in doing so, reflecting back on how her mother handled her own path and decisions she made along the way. I now find my own daughters doing the same.

With my mother it was a build up of resentment that only widened as the years went by. I was lucky though, for in the last 6 months of her life, being the only sibling living nearby I was “forced” to deal with her. Looking back, those 6 months were a gift for slowly the walls crumbled and slowly we began to talk and slowly I learned that underneath all the anger and hate I loved her more than I could have ever imagined. I’d sit at the end of her bed and listen and she would do the same. We’d laugh. We’d cry and from that period of time I discovered how unfair it is to judge others when in fact we are not walking in their shoes. When my mother passed away I felt at peace with her. I miss her more than I ever thought possible.

NR: In the book the relationship between the two main characters – Abbey and Steve – is that of a strong, solid marriage; rather refreshing in this day and age. How were they able to do this, considering all they had to deal with?

Barbara: In The Reindeer Keeper Abbey and Steve do have a good marriage but it is also revealed how they have been able to stay so happily together over their 30 years of marriage while confronting all the difficulties life has thrown at them. They communicate. They give and take. They understand each other; their strengths, weaknesses, body language. They enjoy each other’s company; laugh and cry together. Of course they’ve had their bumps in the road but bottom line, their love has only deepened from when they first met in the ’60s. And as they face their greatest challenge it is that strength between the two of them that carries them through the darkness.

NR: How do you use language to differentiate characters and settings?

Barbara: I use language to help describe a character, to set the tone and emphasis in describing settings. In The Reindeer Keeper there is an odd little man whose use of language is short and abrupt but as you read along and learn more about this character, that all makes sense. A reader can feel close to a character by learning a character’s language. This adds to that feeling of getting into the book itself.

NR: What’s your favorite book? Favorite word?

Barbara: I don’t have a favorite book. I have two favorite authors, both rooted in my childhood and that chicken coop. It was inside that coop where I read all the Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lousia May Alcott books. And if I wasn’t reading I was folding those pieces of paper and writing books.

My favorite word is morning for it offers hope and a new beginning – a gift of another day. Watching the world wake up yet again is empowering; seeing the sky turn from black to hints of daylight is inspiring.

NR: Barbara, thank you for inspiring us today with your candid answers. Readers, now it’s your chance to continue the discussion about The Reindeer Keeper with Barbara by asking your own questions through the “Comment” link below.

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