Independent book reviewer Kathy Sandish interviews John Alvah Barnes, Jr. and Naomi Lynn Barnes about their book "ROADWORK"
KS: What inspired the two of you to write Roadwork?
JAB: I think my wife will agree that this is a story we've wanted to write for many years. It's basically the story of our relationship for the first three years, from 1975 to 1978. I write in a genre that I call autobiographical fiction, fictionalized accounts of my life experiences, but much of the book chronicles the things that we actually experienced.
NLB: I became involved after reading a very rough draft of the first fifty pages. We agreed a female perspective was needed, especially for rounding out Valerie's character.
KS: Why the title Roadwork?
JAB: I've been a musician all my life and when we met, I had been playing in small clubs. As our relationship progressed, I played more and more music with various bands in several states which made me a road musician, thus Roadwork. Besides, the idea for the Roadwork sign on the cover came to me early and I liked the concept.
NLB: I was concerned the cover would detract from interest in the story because many people would not understand the reference. If you pick up this book in the library, the last thing you would expect is that it's a love story. Hopefully readers will check out the description before moving on.
KS: I agree. I thought the title meant the challenge of building the relationship as well as Kyle's music career. I wasn't familiar with the term as it relates to musicians.
JAB: I still think it's a cool looking cover.
KS: How challenging was it going back in time to the 1970's?
NLB: We take so many things for granted today that didn't exist only fifty years ago. The story would have been very different if it took place today with the convenience of cell phones, for example. The best part of writing about the 70's was going back and reliving those years again from a different perspective. It was an interesting time historically and fun to remember things like the Yes concert at JFK stadium in 1976.
JAB: For me it wasn't challenging at all. I remembered a bunch of stuff, wrote it down, and then she told me all the things that I remembered wrong.
KS: Everyone who's read the book wants to know how much of the story of your love affair depicted in the book is true.
JAB: I plead the fifth.
NLB: That's not an easy question to answer. Much of it is true, and some of the experiences did happen but are depicted differently in the book. For example, all of Valerie's issues with vehicles actually happened to me, but the circumstances were altered for dramatic effect.
JAB: You have to break it down. Many of the things that happened to us are depicted in the book more or less accurately. The feelings that we went through are honest, and I think that comes through. We went through many trials and tribulations; it wasn't all just sex.
KS: Another frequent question is how did you work out the logistics of writing together? Did you each work on separate sections? Did you write every scene together?
NLB: I agree. Some scenes we wrote together, and others were written separately by one of us while the other edited and fine-tuned. It actually worked out better than I expected it to.
JAB: We've been together for four and a half decades. We've gotten pretty used to figuring out how to work together. It took us a little while to work out the process, but once we did, we had fun with it, and I think that comes out in the novel.
KS: In spite of the fact that the book discusses some serious issues and traumatic experiences, you managed to write it with humor. I found many parts to be very funny. Why did you take that approach?
JAB: If we couldn't laugh at life and ourselves, we never would have made it this far.
Naomi Lynn Barnes interviews John Alvah Barnes, Jr. about his novel "Rollover"
NLB: What inspired you to write Rollover?
JAB: I'd been using a wheelchair for a couple of years when I started thinking about the challenges and what I might write about them. It wasn't until I became a docent at the National Air and Space Museum and started giving tours from my chair that I thought about combining the two things. The Museum helped get me back on my feet, so to speak.
NLB: How much does Jay's struggle with his disability reflect on your own experience?
JAB: Jay's struggles reflect heavily on my own experiences, though he suffered from a spinal cord injury from an accident, while my disabilities are hereditary. His injury was immediate, while my own situation progressed over time. It wasn't too hard for me to imagine how it would feel if it happened all at once though.
NLB: Your novel raises awareness of the obstacles faced by people who are confined to wheelchairs. Why did you feel this was necessary to include in the novel?
JAB: You answered part of the question when you mentioned raising awareness. I included many things that I've actually experienced because I wanted people to think about how the disabled person feels. There have been times when I've been using my chair that I've felt invisible. There have been other times when people have been friendly and helpful. I'd like for people to pause a moment when they see a disabled person and strive for the latter.
NLB: Why 1918?
JAB: As I say in the credits, when I was eleven or twelve years old my father handed me a copy of Eddie Rickenbacker's 1967 autobiography. Rickenbacker was a fascinating character. He raced at, and eventually owned, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After the war he founded Eastern Airlines. And during WWI he became the preeminent Ace, shooting down 26 confirmed enemy planes. I was enthralled, and it led to my interest in vintage planes and early flight.
NLB: Are any of the adventures Jay experiences in 1918 based on true events?
JAB: Many of them. I spent a lot of time at the museum becoming a docent and learning new things about flight and pilots that I hadn't known. Besides my earlier reading, I did a lot of research for the book, and many events and pilots depicted are based on actual history.
NLB: You're not a pilot. How were you able to describe piloting old planes?
JAB: Many of my friends at the museum were pilots who liked to regale me with their exploits. In the credits I mention Colonel Melvin F. Brown. Colonel Brown was a veteran of Korea and Vietnam, and he became a fighter pilot instructor. He also became a good friend who loved to tell me about his experiences, and we did many museum tours together. As for flying time, I had a good simulator that I spent many hours with learning to "fly" WWI aircraft. Eventually I even learned to land them without crashing. The rest was all imagination.
NLB: Without giving away the surprise ending, what are your views on the possibility of time travel?
JAB: According to my younger son, the physicist, time travel is impossible. I bow to his informed wisdom, but I will tell you it was a lot of fun to think about.