A Conversation with Barbara Howard

Traci Simmons must decide if it’s time to give up her home and start fresh in another town — Final Harvest (Finding Home) by @BarbaraHoward

What inspired the idea for your book?  
I was inspired by my observations and the people in the different cities and towns where I have lived. I wanted to write a series that lands between standard mystery (without the blood and grime) and the cozy mystery (without the sugary sweetness). The theme involves homelessness and coping with anxiety and how much strength it takes for some people to achieve what others may consider simple milestones in life. So that required well-developed characters and a strong setting because that’s what I look for when I read a book. 

What was the most surprising thing you learned in writing this book? 
I received reader feedback that the story touched them at a very emotional level. And, a minor character in the story was quite beloved and they were anticipating Milo’s Journey, Book Three in the series.

If you were friends with a character in this book, what kinds of things would you do together? 
I would be friends with Moe and help develop recipes from the Bent Willow produce. I would definitely like to hang out at the farm.

Who is your audience? 
My audience is a cross-over of romance and mystery readers who love solving crimes without the grime.

What has been your favorite reader feedback? 
My favorite reader feedback was that Traci Simmons is a memorable character, they cried with her, and they couldn’t put the book down

What was the defining moment that made you say to yourself, “Today, I am going to write a book that I will publish.”? 
I was encouraging some younger family members to pursue their goals without fear. 

How do you interact with your readers?  
I receive messages through social media from readers about my stories and future projects. I post online through my website, social media accounts, and a weekly podcast across all platforms. I participate in virtual book fairs and author panels whenever possible.

What are you reading now?  
Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson and A Spy in the Struggle by Aya De Leon

What difference do you see between a writer and an author?  
I’ve heard that an author is a writer that has published their work. I believe an author is one who focuses on literary projects verses writing various content like copy writing, articles, and marketing advertisement.

What is an underrated book, series or author that you think everyone should read at least once?  
Pamela Stewart.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?  
Study craft and the specifics of your chosen genre. Then, trust your own voice to create a work that someone will love. 

What would your dream library look like? 
I have two spare bedrooms with overflowing bookshelves and totes. I would love to have all of the books in hardcover (including the ones in my Kindle) and arranged in one floor of my home with stained-glass windows, a comfy sofa and kitchenette. I would live there actually.

If you had your own talk show, what would the topic be and who would be your first guest(s)?
I had an online talk show and we talked about various cuisines and cookbooks. I would probably do another version of that but include sustainable agriculture and small producers. My first guest would be a young boy named Salu who wants to be an entomologist. We would talk about good bugs. I met him after publishing my series and it’s remarkable how much he reminds me of the main character, Milo.

Aside from writing or reading, what are your hobbies or interests? 
I’ve been a master gardener volunteer and spend time outdoors with my hands in the soil when the weather permits. I’m also a quilter, so you’ll see lots of that in my stories.

If you had a secret room that opened by pulling a book on a shelf, what book would you choose?  
The thesaurus because I would automatically reach for it.

If you could have lunch with 3 authors (past or present) who would they be and what do you think you would all talk about during lunch?Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, and P.D. James. Writing craft, legacy and building a catalog of inspiring work as a woman when the odds were stacked against them.

Name three fun facts about you or your work.
1) The vegetables mentioned in the book are my favorites to grow in my garden.
2) I’m a quilter and the one mentioned in the story is one of my favorite designs.
3) I gathered some of the street names from rural counties where my ancestors lived.

Describe yourself in as few words as possible
I’m a not-so-cozy mystery author, first generation tech geek turned master gardener with a passion for fresh air, vegan cuisine, and tracing my roots. I like to create stories about strong women building a better world. And then I share their stories with the world.

What is something you can do better than anyone else you know?  
Decide not to adopt another pet and then add more without blinking.

If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?  
Write a screenplay. PS: I’m doing that.

Do you have any quirky writing rituals?  
I don’t have any writing rituals, but I don’t start without my Dr Tuna lip balm and peony-scented hand sanitizer.

What comes first for you — the plot or the characters?  
I’m a hard-core plotter. Definitely, plot comes first for me.

As an author what do you think makes a good story? 
Character development throughout the story. Otherwise, it falls flat.

How do you avoid or defeat writer’s block?  
That’s so interesting because I just recorded a podcast episode about “Facing the Blank Page”. I believe that a writer is always writing. Sometimes it’s on paper, and sometimes it’s inside your head. I’m always jotting down notes and ideas, even in the middle of the night

Final Harvest is the first book in a new series. The mystery is subtle as the story is more focused on Traci and her growth as a character. She has grown up in foster care and is having a hard time of it being an adult. She is a wonderfully vulnerable charter that immediately resonates with the reader. It is obvious that she has great potential and inner strength, but she doesn’t know it yet.

After losing yet another job, she finds herself taking the long way home and in her travels comes across a neighborhood she hadn’t quite explored yet. She finds Rowena Garrett’s urban farm and a group of misfit people who don’t seem to really fit in anywhere but belong together somehow. When Rowena turns up dead and one of her young workers is sure it is murder, Traci finds herself digging into Rowena’s past to find a way to keep developers from taking the farm from the group.

Though a bit tetchy at first glance several of the secondary characters bring warmth and color to the story. There is Moe, formerly of Moe’s Tavern, who has been knocked down by life, but is resolved to find his way again, and there is Milo a young man who knows his way through back alleys and finds in Traci a kindred spirit. Then there is Officer Wells. He doesn’t talk much about Rowena’s case, except to warn Traci to be careful. He has set himself to watching over her and her new friends. While he does produce warm and fuzzies for her, she realizes she is a bit of a hot mess and doesn’t pursue his subtle encouragement. I am looking forward to seeing that develop in further books. 

This would be a five-star read for me, the bones of the story are solid and the characters are wonderful. Still, I think the mystery end of things needed a bit of filling in it felt a bit rushed at the end. I am very much looking forward to the next two books, as the characters introduced in this story, will be terrific with their own storylines.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Traci Simmons has been fired from another job and must decide if it’s time to give up her home and start fresh in another town. But, when her elderly neighbor dies mysteriously, she is pulled into leading a crusade to save the neighbor’s urban farm and find the killer. Through her new and unexpected relationship with these invisible people, Traci faces her own insecurities to learn what home really means.

Buy Links: Amazon 

Barbara Howard is a “not-so-cozy” mystery and YA author of a dozen books, including her most recent trilogy, Finding Home Mystery Series; Final Harvest, Charlotte’s Revenge, and Milo’s Journey. She is a first-generation tech geek turned master gardener with a passion for fresh air, vegan cuisine, and tracing her roots. A big city girl with a small town heart, she returned to her family home in the Midwest after an extensive career as a Department of Defense Project Manager at the Pentagon and spends most of her time treasure hunting, spoiling her fur-babies, growing veggies, and raising chickens.

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