Q: What inspired you to write Waterbury Winter, and how did you create your character Barnaby Brown?
A: One year my husband and I went to visit family in a cold part of the country for Christmas. On December 26, we stopped off at a drugstore to pick up some items. The snowy parking lot was deserted, and we were the only customers inside.
When we reached the checkout counter, the middle-aged attendant asked how our Christmas was. “Fine,” we told him, “and how was yours?” “Well, I was here,” he said, “and my car broke down.” Not everyone celebrates Christmas, I thought. Some people are lonely, even unlucky, on holidays.
At my writing class a couple of weeks later, the teacher handed out prompts, short sentences designed to give us ideas for starting our stories.
With the clerk at the drugstore in mind, I chose this one: “A tall, thin, man, dressed for the weather, chips ice resolutely from his driveway. The sky is gray and the atmosphere bristles with the sensation that more snow and ice are soon to come. The man thinks that this is going to be his last winter in this God-forsaken climate, and he remembers his failed plan to change everything.”
And so I began my story with a description of Barnaby Brown, who hates winter, scraping ice from his driveway as he prepares for work at his job in a hardware store on Christmas Eve. I like writing about artists, so it was easy to imagine a middle-aged man and former artist who has lost his way, cursing at the weather, and renewing a failed plan to change his life.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “A reflective, witty, and fun story that elegantly crosses genres and addresses intriguing themes.” What do you think of that description, and do you see this as a novel that crosses genres?
A: I’m blushing. I wouldn’t have described my own book as witty, but I’m flattered that someone else did. I do think it’s reflective and fun. I wanted to write a book in these gloomy times that would be uplifting.
I agree it crosses genres, as it contains elements of drama, mystery, and romance. I hope themes such as loss and the restorative value of art will interest readers.
Q: Did you know how the book would end before you started writing it, or did you make many changes along the way?
A: I knew I wanted Barnaby to overcome his serious drinking habit. In writing fiction, it’s important to have the protagonist confront a series of obstacles before reaching, or failing to reach, a goal. I had to invent those obstacles, and I made them up as the story evolved.
In this case, because Barney’s broken-down character creates trouble for himself, that wasn’t difficuIt.
I also realized after writing the first draft that since so many of the scenes took place in a bar, I needed to add some regulars, because I couldn’t always show Barnaby having conversations with the bartender.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the story?
A: I hope readers enjoy it and learn something about art and artists. Descriptions of the artist at work might inform some about the craft of painting. I hope all readers find the book uplifting. The theme of the restorative value of art is meant to apply not just to artists but to anyone who attempts to create something. The book’s epigraph reads, “To creative spirits everywhere.”
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’ve finished a draft of a historical novel set in England at the beginning of World War II.
My first award-winning novel Estelle was published in 2020. Readers can find out more about it on my website www.lindastewarthenleyauthor.com or on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/lindastewarthenley
Thank you, Deborah, for the opportunity to respond to your thoughtful questions.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Linda Stewart Henley.