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Interview with YA fantasy author T.A. Barron

August 17, 2010

Interview with T.A. Barron, Colorado author of over twenty highly acclaimed novels, children’s books, and nature books, many of which are international best sellers.

T.A.’s latest book, Ultimate Magic is due out in stores October of 2010.  Read my review HERE.

He has won the Nautilus Award, given to books that inspire a better world, along with many honors from the American Library Association and the International Reading Association. His books, now in twelve languages, include The Lost Years of Merlin (currently being developed into a feature film), The Great Tree of Avalon (a New York Times best-selling series), The Ancient One (the tale of a brave girl and a magical tree), and The Hero’s Trail (nonfiction stories of courageous kids).

Colorado Parent: Why dragons?  What made this your next choice?

Barron: For me, a dragon is a metaphor for a powerful person. That’s what most kids want to be—someone who really matters, who can’t be ignored, whose actions make a difference. In the Merlin’s Dragon trilogy, I take this idea one step further by making Basil start out as far away as you can imagine from a fully-grown dragon:  He begins as a tiny, abused little guy who is everyone’s favorite food … but who wants to be someone more, someone who matters.  Ultimately, after he saves the wizard Merlin’s life, he grows into the greatest dragon of all times!  But he never forgets what it was like to be small—and always stands up for the tiny, weak creatures who are attacked by bullies (including other dragons).  That’s how he earns the nickname “Wings of Peace.”

Colorado Parent: Do you always try to have mythological elements in your books — hero, good and evil, etc.?  why?

Barron: Heroes are in all my books—and always will be. Why? Because heroes are important—today more than ever. Heroes (whether real or fictional) remind us who we really are, what we can become, and just how far we can go. Best of all, they remind us of our own heroic potential. For anyone, no matter how young or small or unlikely, can find heroic qualities down inside. Just like that half-drowned boy I once wrote about:  He washed ashore on a strange, hostile coastline…and ultimately became Merlin, the greatest wizard of all times.

I’d also like to say a few words about what a hero does not mean: a celebrity. In our society, we often confuse the two, but they couldn’t be more different. A hero is someone who, faced with a tough challenge, reaches down inside—and finds the courage, perseverance, or wisdom to triumph. That someone could be utterly unknown to most of the world. It could be a girl or a boy; a Tibetan refugee you’ve never met or the person next door; a member of any race, culture, or economic group. But in every case, it’s someone with impressive qualities of character.

By contrast, a celebrity is just someone who has won our attention—whether for fifteen seconds or fifteen years. You can see the difference, can’t you? For a celebrity, what counts is fame—period. For a hero, though, what counts is character.

More than anything, heroes are important because they show that every person—young or old, black or white, rich or poor—can make a positive difference to the world.  Each of us can be more than just what Madison Avenue calls consumers: We can be creators! Of our own lives, our own destinies.

That’s why I created a national award to honor heroic kids from all backgrounds: the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.  I named it after my mother, who was a hero in my own life. My highest hope for the Prize, which honors 25 kids each year, is that the examples of these young people will inspire others to do whatever they can to help make the world a better place.

Colorado Parent:  (We love this prize and your work with children!)

Will we see more from Merlin in this series, Merlin’s Dragon or will you focus on his son, Krystallus?

Barron: Merlin and I have had a great long journey together—12 books over the past 18 years. Together, we’ve seen all sorts of unexpected surprises—international editions, a movie project in the works, and friends everywhere.  So it’s been quite a ride. The best experience any writer could ask for. And Merlin, whose greatest wisdom came from nature, continues to light up my life and teach me valuable ideas. He is my hero in the deepest mythical sense of that word. That’s why you are likely to see him again!  When and where?  Well … that’s up to the wizard. I’m just his scribe.

Colorado Parent:  Are there real places you’ve used to inspire the different settings on the Isle of Fincayra?

Barron: Fincayra is a place I made up. But I wanted it to have an authentic Celtic feeling, since Merlin’s origins are from Celtic myth. So I chose Fincayra, whose name I found in a 12th century ballad, to be the place where Merlin would grow to be the greatest wizard of all times. As you know, Fincayra is part mortal and part immortal—just the right place for a young wizard!

Colorado Parent:  What is your advice to young authors who have an interest in writing?

Barron: Write a story that you yourself would enjoy reading! That way you can stay close to your truest passions. The writing may not come easier (writing is just plain hard work) but it will be better and truer to your writer’s soul.

And I would add three things: First, notice the world around you, with all your senses wide open. Second, remember that writing is a great way to explore the universe–not just in space and time, but also in the realm of ideas. Third, don’t forget that writing is a craft, and the best way to improve is by practicing every chance you can.

For more ideas, check out my brief essay “For Aspiring Writers,” on my website:  www.tabarron.com/for-aspiring-writers. Hope it helps!

Colorado Parent:  Do you have any advice for parents to encourage their children to develop their imaginations?

Barron: A child’s imagination is a wondrous thing—like a small seed that can grow into a mighty oak tree.  But like any seed, it needs lots of sunlight and water and nutrients. Those come in many forms. Being read aloud to when they are young, discussing books and films when they are older—that is essential. Turning off the television and computer is also hugely important! Otherwise, how will kids ever learn to develop their own imaginations, expand their minds, improve their vocabulary, and discover the sheer joy of creating their own worlds and characters and magical places?

Colorado Parent:  Anything else you want to share?

Barron: Lots of resources for parents and teachers are on my website:  www.tabarron.com. I hope your readers will find it full of helpful ideas and materials!

Colorado Parent: We so appreciate your time, thank you very much T.A.!

For a fun dinner-time activity, read T.A.’s idea about a Story Circle on Imagination Soup.

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