Bree Barton is completing a young-adult trilogy: “Heart of Thorns” (Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, 2018), “Tears of Frost” (2019) and “Soul of Cinder” (due in 2021). But on February 12, Barton was hosting a writing workshop for middle-school students at Paul Revere.
She took seventh and eighth graders through several writing prompts. For example, “You’re in someone’s room. You hear them coming and you jump in their closet. They have someone with them, and they are talking about you. It’s killing you to be in the closet, listening to them. It’s excruciating. One of the two people are going to say the truest thing about you that has ever been said.
“Now you need some sort of exit line,” Barton told the students.
After they finished writing, she asked: “How was that for you? Was it easier than if you didn’t have prompts?”
When she asked if anyone wanted to read what they had written, most of the kids raised their hands, wanting to share.
Afterwards, the students had lots of questions. Writer’s block? “I just write what I see,” Barton said.
How do you make writing enjoyable? “Take a little bit of yourself and fold it in; this will surprise and delight you, which will surprise and delight the reader,” she advised.
How do you make a story longer? “Write pages about your characters, it will give you more material to use.”
Between the two workshops, Barton said she started writing when she was 8, but drama was her focus in high school, even starring as Sandy in the high school production of “Grease.”
“In college I came back to writing,” said Barton, who grew up in Texas and attended Amherst. She noted that it took until she was 30 to get “Heart of Thorns” published.
Meanwhile, she worked as a ghost writer on about a dozen books. “It gave me a way to hone skills and finish books,” Barton said, “and it gave me a body of work I could present to people.”
On her website, she notes that she was the writer behind one international bestseller and three Amazon bestsellers, and that she worked for Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin/Portfolio, St. Martin’s and Hyperion.
One novel she helped write was adapted for television and aired as a primetime series. “I’ve never actually seen the show,” she said, but although she can’t reveal the names of any of the books she’s written, “It gave me legitimacy to publishers. I wasn’t untested.”
The young-adult genre became especially popular with the Harry Potter series, which bridged audiences. “It has opened up so many markets,” Barton said. “So many people are reading young-adult novels.”
Although she is working on the third book in her trilogy, she also has a younger reader book that she hopes will be published called “All the Words I’ve Never Said.”
“This book draws on my first bout of depression,” said Barton, who started the book because her agent told her “write the book you needed in sixth grade.”
“This book would have saved me,” Barton said, because it would have made her feel like she was not alone. She acknowledges that parents often have a tough time facing what is really happening with their children because “parents don’t want you to be unhappy.”
Barton’s story is clever. A main character is given a magical dictionary and learns if she erases a word, such as fear, it disappears from the world. What words do you erase from life and what are the consequences?
At Revere, the next group of students enters the library and Barton’s enthusiasm and focus is back with them. “Write something about yourself that makes you different,” she tells them.
Barton, who lives in Los Angeles, has hosted workshops at high schools, but this was her first middle school.
Revere’s librarian Gabriela Gualano, who was hired last August as a result of the teachers’ strike, is the first librarian the school has had in years. She said that she had heard about Barton through a librarian website.
“I’m having another author, Cathleen Young, who is from Santa Monica, for a homeroom assembly for sixth grade,” Gualano said. “She published her first book last year [“Pumpkin Wars”] and she will be returning for writing workshops as well.”