Today's interview is with author Elizabeth Barlo (35)who has recently completed her first novel, ‘Ruth 66’, about a music-mad teenager who is forced to babysit his crazy grandmother on a summer road-trip down Route 66 that will change his life forever. Elizabeth is a mother of three who works part-time in the family business. After completing a Bachelor Degree in International Business & Languages, she forwent a legal career for an adventure in London, UK, where she worked in finance journalism. Her heart then took her to Sydney, Australia, where she worked for a boutique corporate communications agency for several years. She is now in the process of trying to build a career as a novelist.
Books & Writing: Do you remember the first story you wrote?
Elizabeth Barlo: Yes I do. I was about eight years old and really into books about girls having adventures at their pony-riding clubs. My first story was about a girl whose pony was stolen and her quest to find him.
Books & Writing: Were you inspired by someone or something?
Elizabeth Barlo: I grew up with a grandfather who was a great storyteller, and from the moment I was able to read I got my inspiration from books as well. I really enjoyed reading books by authors such as Roald Dahl and Astrid Lindgren.
Books & Writing: What do you love about writing a story?
Elizabeth Barlo: I love that a story never unfolds the way I thought it would. Before I start writing I come up with a beginning and an end, but I don’t know how the characters will get from A to B until I’m actually writing the story. They are telling me what happens, not the other way around.
Books & Writing: Can you tell us a bit about your upcoming book ‘Ruth 66’ and the main characters?
Elizabeth Barlo: ‘Ruth 66’ is a novel aimed at young adults about a music-mad teenage boy, Charlie, who has to babysit his crazy grandmother, Ruth, on a summer road-trip down Route 66 that will change his life forever. Charlie is a quiet boy whose once middle-class, now bankrupt, parents are divorced. His dad was sent to prison for tax fraud and assault, forcing his Mom to move to the shabby side of town with him and his evil twin Becky. When his only real friend, his grandfather opa Bill, dies unexpectedly, he is devastated and tries to find solace in his music.
The morning he is supposed to start his dream job at the local record store, his grandmother and former country club maven, oma Ruth, shows up out of the blue in an old bus with Bill’s ashes on the dash and says she is going on a summer road-trip in the spirit of the ‘60s, along the iconic Route 66. His Mom goes nuts at Ruth’s seemingly uncharacteristic transformation and orders him to ditch his job so he can babysit Ruth on her trip. He initially hates the idea of having to spend the whole summer with his crazy grandmother, especially when she bans all modern means of communication, including social media, but soon realizes it’s a great way to escape his family for a while. When he discovers Ruth’s hidden agenda and meets a mysterious girl in the middle of nowhere, the trip takes a turn that will change his life forever.
Books & Writing: How did you come up with the story for the book?
Elizabeth Barlo: A few years ago I bought a certain music player that can hold many songs, so I could start building a music library for my family (we love to sing and dance in our household and have regular after-dinner-swing-sessions). It got me thinking about how music has influenced my life. The music you hear over the years is like a soundtrack to your life, and while one song may give you memories of utter bliss, it may bring deep sadness onto someone else. And that's the magic of music. It just becomes part of who you are and you carry it with you for as long as you may live. In ‘Ruth 66’, Charlie carries this soundtrack of life with him, in his head, and every situation in which he finds himself is accompanied by a song. His soundtrack is heavily inspired by the music to which his grandfather introduced him when he was a little boy.
So that's how ‘Ruth 66’ came to life in my mind and the rest of the story just flowed on from there.
Books & Writing: How long did it take you to write the book?
Elizabeth Barlo: I started writing in February 2010 and wrote about a quarter of the book before I fell pregnant with our third child. I can’t write when I’m pregnant or looking after a little baby (my brain goes into baby-mode and sleep-deprivation doesn’t help either) so I didn’t start again until March this year. I really got stuck into it and finished it in June. So all together it took me about nine months.
Books & Writing: Do you have any tips for aspiring writers?
Elizabeth Barlo: I am still only at the beginning of my career as an author, but from my experience thus far I’d say:
Get organized and make time to write.
Trust your characters and don’t be afraid to let them take the lead.
Believe in yourself.
Books & Writing: Which author inspires you?
Elizabeth Barlo: There are several authors who have made lasting impressions on me. I always love reading Isabel Allende, John Irving, Gabriel García Márquez and Margaret Atwood. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of my all-time favorites.
Books & Writing: Where can people go and read your work?
Elizabeth Barlo: You can check out my blog: http://www.ruth66anovel.blogspot.com
Books & Writing: Where can people find you on the internet?
Elizabeth Barlo: On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/Ruth66ElizabethBarlo
Below is an excerpt from ‘Ruth 66’!
Hesitantly he walked to the front door, not knowing what to expect when he got outside, but not even in his wildest dreams could he have imagined the scenario that was about to unfold.
He opened the door and walked down the three steps. As he got closer to the bus he saw that it had been converted into a camper, with cosy red curtains behind each window. He could now see what looked like a woman behind the wheel. She honked again – he cringed at the sound – and when she saw him approach she smiled and opened the bi-fold door.
Who was this woman?
There was something familiar about her, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. She had long, dark hair with a hint of grey that fell over her shoulders and was wearing a long, flowing yellow dress with bright flowers - its wide sleeves blowing behind her in the breeze as she walked towards him on her platform sandals. She was wearing a long beaded necklace and a plethora of bracelets around both wrists, which jingled at every step.
She looked like she had been teleported directly from the sixties. He vaguely recognized the dress and the shoes, but couldn’t remember where he had seen them before.
“Sjarlie!” she called out, waving at him as she came closer.
He froze on the spot and his mouth fell open.
Holy shit! It was oma Ruth...
She smiled at him, and her face... it was different... her frozen mask had disappeared. He saw little wrinkles next to her eyes and her mouth and she looked so... alive.
“Close your mouth, darling,” she said as she stopped before him, “you look like a fool.”
He snapped it shut.
“HEY YOU FUCKING HIPPIE!”
He looked up and saw Mr. Wolzicki, who lived across the street, hang his pasty, bloated torso out of the window.
“KEEP IT DOWN! DON’T MAKE ME COME OVER THERE!”
“Sorry Mr Wolzicki!” he yelled, and put his hand up apologetically. But before he had the chance to say anything else, oma Ruth did the same, but then turned her hand and flipped Mr. Wolzicki the bird.
“CLIMB THIS, TARZAN!” she shouted back.
So did Mr Wolzicki, and he saw the man’s stunned face turn purple with anger. He pulled himself back inside and slammed the window shut with a bang.