An award-winning author and professional wordsmith as well as a credentialed teacher in English/Language Arts, Barbara Jean Hicks, a.k.a storyteller “Barbara Jean, the Story Queen,” is the author of seven children’s picture books. Her first book for children, after having published thirteen romance novels and novellas, was JITTERBUG JAM: A MONSTER TALE, which received numerous starred reviews and children’s book awards, including honors as an ALA Notable Children’s Book and a Banks Street Book of Outstanding Merit, was translated into five languages and released in nine countries, and sold stage and audio rights. Her additional award-winning children’s books include THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER KITTY, MONSTERS DON’T EAT BROCCOLI, and her two most recent titles, FROZEN: A SISTER MORE LIKE ME and FROZEN: AN AMAZING SNOWMAN, commissioned by Disney Studios as tie-ins to the Oscar-winning animated feature film FROZEN. In addition to writing and teaching, Barbara has provided marketing copy and editing services as a freelancer for numerous trade publishers. She also loves speaking to teachers, librarians, parents and students of all ages about writing, the writing life, and the “stories behind the stories.” For more information, visit her website.
What food do you not eat enough of?
Broccoli. Which is ironic, considering I wrote a book called Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli. I wonder what that makes me?
If you were any animal, what would you be?
My sister’s cat. I’d get special treats every day and always have a lap to sit on.
What store is represented most in your wardrobe?
My Friends’ Closets. I have more hand-me-downs in my wardrobe than anything else. My friends pay a lot more for clothes than I ever have, and I’m fortunate to be on the receiving end when they grow tired of them. Thrift stores and consignment stores are favorites, too.
If you were going to spend a year in complete solitude and you could only bring one book, one CD, and one movie, what would they be?
Book: Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, by John O’Donohue. Music: Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies with orchestration by Claude Debussy. Movie: How can I say anything other than Disney’s Frozen?!
Which of the Seven Dwarfs would you be?
Sneezy. I get sneezing fits almost every day, and my sneezes are not delicate. One former partner accused me of permanently damaging his ear drums.
How would a dictionary define your writing process?
Seat-of-the-pantser: a writer who lets stories happen rather than planning them out ahead of time.
If you opened the freezer right now, what would you love to find?
A pint of Häagen Dazs Bourboun Pecan Praline ice cream.
Do you do anything special to get your creative juices flowing?
Depending on where I am in the writing process—free writing, visualization, going for a walk, looking at paintings or photographs, reading poetry. It also helps to talk aloud to an animal. One summer I stayed with a friend in the California foothills and walked in the woods every morning with her dog Daisy, who listened well and gave marvelous feedback.
Why were you drawn to a career in writing instead of to a job that might offer more stability and security?
I have a strong need for variety, change and flexibility, and writing allows for that. I taught for several years, and I love teaching—but not everything that goes along with a teaching job. Writing and speaking in schools as a visiting author is perfect for me. I get to be creative both on the page and on the stage in ways that feel very satisfying. Plus, I just don’t like other people telling me what to do!
Who do you consider a literary genius?
At the top of the list: Will Shakespeare. In the running: Omar Khayyam, Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Robert Browning, Robert Frost,H.D.
How did you pick your writing genre?
Children’s picture books are my current genre, but not my first. I wrote short stories as a kid and poetry and song lyrics when I was in high school. My first published work was traditional romance, then inspirational romance, then romantic comedy—thirteen novels and novellas in all. When a snarky reviewer commented on one of my romantic comedies that “Ms. Hicks really ought to be writing for children—no one else could appreciate such silliness,” I took it as a challenge and discovered that picture books are my favorite genre—to date. I’ve also gone back to writing poetry, but for myself, not for publication. One of the things I love about picture books is that they are very much like poetry. Imagery and language are so important in both, and the search for just the right word is something I find fun and stimulating.
What life experiences have inspired your work?
Being a child, being read to as a child, having younger brothers to tell stories to, teaching, singing in choirs and pop and gospel groups, waiting tables, sailing, traveling, falling in love, falling out of love—in short, everything and anything can and does inspire and inform my writing. Also, my painful shyness ended up being a gift, forcing me to use the written word to express myself.
When did you know for certain that you wanted to pursue a career in writing? Have you ever questioned that decision?
When I was in fourth grade, we studied the Oregon Trail in social studies. My teacher, Mrs. Green, gave us an assignment to research life on a westward-bound wagon train and write a diary from the perspective of a nine-year-old on the journey. I hand wrote thirty pages, single-spaced, and had never had so much fun in school—perhaps not in my life. I knew then that writing would be in my future in some form, though I didn’t know it would be as an author. I studied English Lit in college, earned a teaching certificate, and have taught writing at every level from preschool to adult education—in addition to writing for publication. It’s difficult to make a living solely as an author, and teaching has always been my “back-up” career.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have compared to people who are not creative?
I believe that everyone has the potential for creativity. Those who end up producing creative work—whether it’s a painting, a poem, a novel, a recipe, or a beautiful home or garden—are the ones who find so much joy in expressing their unique vision and gifts they aren’t afraid to make mistakes and they don’t care what anyone else thinks about them or their work. They are also solution oriented—they approach life challenges as opportunities to explore options and exercise their creativity.