Saturday, March 5, 2022

Q&A with Barbara Newman




Barbara Newman is the author of the new young adult novel The Dreamcatcher Codes. Also a filmmaker, she lives in Western Massachusetts.


Q: What inspired you to write The Dreamcatcher Codes?


A: I had been working on a documentary film project about the American cowgirl and fell in love with the landscape of the West—the desert, the mountains, the colors, the wildlife, and of course horses. I have always been drawn to the natural world, but this felt different, almost ancient, especially after coming across pottery sherds that were thousands of years old. I felt the same way when visiting Israel.


On my travels for the film, I made sure to carve out some sacred time, in solitude, which is when I discovered how, if we listen, the land and elements speak to us. I went into canyons, saw petroglyphs, visited with indigenous women. It was a powerful experience.


All the women I interviewed for the film embodied strength, perseverance, independence, a kind of “cowgirl spirit” that inspired and informed my life, and the characters in my book.


When the film funding was put on hold, I dreamt I was standing in the desert, wearing an animal skin on my back. The mountains and sky bathed in the glow of the sunset. My feet were planted in a mandala, and the sand art was the logo for the film.


A wild wind came, lifted the logo into a spiral, and it came down next to me in the form of a book. I knew it was a message. Things began to come to me. Four girls from the four directions, each one representing an element: earth, air, fire, water.


I saw flying horses. Ravens. Crystals. A white buffalo. The environment and climate change were on my mind. I started to create a vision board--it took up an entire wall in my office. And then the characters began to gel.


Q: Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?


A: I had no idea how it was going to end. I didn’t have an outline; I followed the classic Heroine’s Journey, but the book is a fantasy, and I thought having an outline would limit my imagination. I didn’t want to write a dystopian story. While the climate crisis is central to this book, I wanted it to be hopeful. In the end, it’s really a love story.

Q: How would you describe the dynamic among your four protagonists?


A: They are a sisterhood. There is so much power in that. Of course, each are different and have unique personalities, but their shared purpose is bigger than any single girl. They see that they are stronger together.


They are all going out of their comfort zones on this quest, so each gets raised up by the others when they are in doubt. They have their moments, like any 14-year-old. Like any human for that matter. 


But each of them grows during this daring summer adventure into the unknown. They learn patience, acceptance, and compassion, for themselves and each other. This circle of four is very strong, chosen to be guardians of the earth because of their determination, fearlessness, and passion for nature.


Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?


A: Connection. I’d like for my readers see that we are all connected, no matter where we come from or who we are. We share the same planet, and each of us can make a difference. We are also not separate from the earth, we are a part of her, she is a part of us.


Sisterhood. I’d like for my readers to understand the power of sisterhood, and how beautiful it is to work together for the common good, how our differences, our uniqueness, whether cultural or personal, enhance our lives. Raising each other up brings out the best in us.


Resiliency. Strong girls grow into strong women. I think this book inspires courage, strength and perseverance.


Stewardship. I hope my readers see the natural world through new and wondrous eyes and fall so in love with Mother Earth that they are compelled to protect the precious planet we call home. I have a resources page at the end of the book listing a few of the organizations that have programs that inspire young people to become allies for the earth.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: My sanity. Authors, especially debut authors like myself have the incredibly intense job of marketing their book once it’s been released. I’m usually pretty tireless, but this has been a challenge, especially when so many book festivals and public readings have been postponed due to the pandemic.


So, I’m still giving this book the mama love it deserves, nudging it out of the nest finding my readers, and underwriting books for donations to organizations like Girl Scouts of America, Little Free Library Read in Color Program, and Pace Center for Girls, where I’ll be facilitating a Girls’ Leadership Program based on the principles of cowgirl spirit.


It’s called Codes of the Cowgirl: Catch Your Dreams. It will be a little book which will be a guide for girls to find their strongest, most authentic selves so that they can live more courageously in the world. It’s based on the characters in The Dreamcatcher Codes.


I’ve also been asked to write a treatment—several production companies have expressed interest. It’s such a visual story, with lots of magic, too. I can see it as a film, but I know it’s a longshot. Honestly, I need a nap!


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I’ve heard that mothers and younger daughters, 10 and up, are reading this book together and loving the experience. Often, YA is crossover.


I’m going to share a humble brag—not easy for me. I received the news that The Dreamcatcher Codes won the International Impact Award in two categories, Multicultural Fiction, and the Environment. It’s also a finalist in Best Book Award in the category of Fiction/Fantasy. I am beyond proud. I’m also grateful to you for this interview.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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