Can Write: Meeting Canadian Writers and Illustrators of Children’s Books
What inspires the writers of the books your students read? How does an illustrator decide what to draw? Is it true that most authors and illustrators don’t know each other? This column features a different Canadian children’s book creator in each issue and shows you the story beyond the covers.
Steve Barwin – From Reluctant Reader to Published Author
A hockey jersey. A contagious smile under a baseball cap. Book covers with adrenaline radiating from the covers: Slam Dunk, Icebreaker, Sk8ter, Hurricane Heat. Who is the author of these books?
Margriet: Who is Steven Barwin? A teacher who writes or a writer who teaches?
Steven: I’ve been writing a lot longer than I’ve been teaching, but I do consider myself a teacher who writes. I’m in a lucky situation because both worlds fit perfectly together. I share my passion for the writing process with my students and colleagues.
Margriet: Where do you live? When do you write?
Steven: In Thornhill, Ontario. I write almost every day. Starbucks, Panera Bread, a hotel, pretty much any coffee shop with iced tea and Wi-Fi. Last December, I outlined three books while on a cruise in the Caribbean. Give me pen and paper and I can write anywhere. Whether it’s a paragraph or a page, it’s vital to stay with your characters throughout the journey of a book.
Margriet: Your books are about climbing, hockey, skateboarding. Are you an action-kind-of-guy yourself? Do you get ideas from your own interests?
Steven: It’s fun writing action and although I’d love to be known as an adrenaline junkie, the truth is that I’m not. I play floor hockey in winter and golf in summer. I coach sports for my students and my own children. While I’ve played other sports growing up, for me, having a feel for the setting is just as important. Going on location is my favourite part of doing research. Whether it’s a local hockey game, going to a rock climbing gym or Kensington Market, that’s where the five senses come alive. Last spring I flew to Naples, Florida and actually got to visit the high school where the book I’m writing now, Hardball, takes place. I loved standing on the baseball field and writing down and taking pictures of all the sights and sounds. That just helps to add so many more layers to my books.
Margriet: Your books are aimed at grades 4 to 10. Do you have an age in mind when you write or does the publisher label them later?
Steven: I have the age range in mind from the pitch through to the final draft. From the start I write with a specific audience in mind. The characters I create need to have believable dialogue and problems. Some of that comes from what I pick up in daily life, another part is based on my interactions with students. I want my stories to be relatable to them. The books I write are designed for reluctant readers. In fact, growing up I was a reluctant reader and had to push myself to get through a novel. I wish I had more books back then like the series I write. So, entering the world of creating books for reluctant readers was right up my alley. I write sports books like scripts—filled with snappy dialogue and visuals that jump off the page. My first three books were included in The Children’s Book Centre, Best Books for Kids & Teens selection.
Margriet: Does the editing process help you in teaching writing to your students?
Steven: Absolutely. My students benefit from the experiences I have during editing. I explain and show examples of how the editing process is much longer than actually writing the book. During book presentations, I’ll lay out all the drafts from copy editing to proofreading to typesetting, to illustrate the importance of revision in the real world. Many students like to write a draft and call it quits. I want to show them the benefits of editing. In my class, all students read their writing out loud and peer edit like I do with my family, editor and agent. The editing process is where you often learn the most about new ideas and literary styles that independently you just can’t see.
Margriet: Which is your latest book?
Steven: My latest book is called Hurricane Heat for Orca Book Publishers: everything stops making sense for southpaw Travis when his parents die in a car crash and he is separated from his sister, Amanda. After years of being in the foster-care system, Travis receives a puzzling postcard from Amanda and heads to southern California to try to find her. His search is a dead-end until he meets Jesse and Ethan. With the help of his new friends, Travis continues to look for Amanda. Travis’s love of baseball is rekindled when Ethan persuades him to pitch on his baseball team. His attention divided, Travis must decide between jeopardizing his chance at a future in baseball and connecting with his sister.
Margriet: What are you working on now?
Steven: Right now I’m writing a baseball mystery for Orca called Hardball. The main character, Griffin, is a senior on the high school baseball team and stands up against hazing. It’s the start to a new baseball season and there are a few new players on the team. One of them is Griffin’s cousin. The hazing starts right away behind the coach’s back. When Griffin takes a stand against it, his cousin is framed for having steroids and is kicked off the team. Griffin and his cousin investigate on and off the field—a journey that takes them into the real life of a hardened kid who’s gunning for a college scholarship and who’s not going to let anybody get in his way.
I’ve just completed a book called Spiked for Lorimer, a volleyball book dealing with social bullying and the change in friendships that happens. Girls are more likely to quit sports because of peer pressure. When they walk away from sport, they walk away from their potential.
Margriet: How do you combine life, teaching, writing and author visits, too?
Steven: Thanks to my wife and support of my family, I get to write in the early morning before work and most afternoons. I don’t need to wait for inspiration to hit. Writing is something I do every day like teaching or playing with my three kids. Sit me down and I’ll just write. My favourite writing quote is from American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist, Gloria Steinem: “Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Margriet Ruurs is the author of 28 books for children. She conducts author presentations in schools around the country. MARGRIETRUURS.COM
This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Mar/Apr 2013 issue.