Before we start, how have you and your loved ones been during this COVID-19 time?
My family battles genetic autoimmune diseases so we have been socially distancing since my son’s diagnosis in 2013. Wiping down groceries and avoiding crowded places has been our normal routine for years. COVID-19 has allowed me to help other families stay safe through education and acts of service. Between my background in infectious diseases and daily routine as an autoimmune warrior, families in my area come to mine for advice. From giving away the toilet paper in my couponing stash to reading Bear with Me in the Lacuna Magazine “We are in this Together” project, I have been fortunate to help others adjust to our way of life.
Please tell us a little about yourself: Do you have a nick-name? Where are you from? What do you write? Tell us something about yourself that makes you, you. :-)
I’m Marilyn Barr, paranormal romance author, homeschool mom, and enthusiast of all things witchy. My novels belong to a series surrounding the management of Bergan Pharma set in Strawberry, Kentucky because my family relocated to small Kentucky five years ago so my pharma spouse could follow his dreams. Even though we call ourselves the “three bears”, we are not ursa shifters like our #ownvoices characters in Bear with Me.
I have a diverse background containing experiences as a child prodigy turned medical school reject, published microbiologist, special education/inclusion science teacher, homeschool mother of a savant, and advocate for the autistic community. This puts me in the position to bring tales containing heroes who are regular people with different ability levels and body types, in a light where they are powerful, sexy, and appreciated. Not every person who contracts the Strawberry, KY parasite has a sleek predator lurking in their DNA. In Strawberry, there is a giraffe shifter, hawk shifter, alligator shifter, hippo shifter, weasel shifter, and turtle shifter in addition to the predators. Gentle shifters with delicate constitutions can be heroes too.
How did you become an author? Please share a bit of your journey with us.
In 2002, I started my writing career in a laboratory. I researched and wrote scientific articles on the probability and possible connections between recovering from influenza and contracting a strep-based otitis media (middle ear infection). With degrees in molecular biology and chemical engineering (read as big nerd), I was interested in the genetic interaction between the influenza infection and ear epithelial cells. Later in my career, I became fascinated with the genetic variations between all epithelial cells of the respiratory tract and how they interact with different sized droplets of infectious material. After earning my master’s degree in particle physics (read as uber-nerd), I published many articles on droplet deposition in the body.
My job as a scientist was very demanding and I gave up technical writing to pursue teaching. I loved teaching ninth-grade science and twelve grade physics. However, my son was deemed too sick for school in 2013 by his medical team and school authorities. While I could have a tutor teach him under the umbrella of “home instruction”, I decided to try to teach himself. Six years later, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
In December of 2018, my husband dared me to write a paranormal romance novel. I hadn’t written fiction since high school but leaned on my experience in technical writing. At the time I was reading 300 to 500 pages of paranormal romance a day and I believe he was trying to get out of buying another bookshelf. I wrote Bear with Me, Round of Applause, and was almost finished writing Go Scorch Yourself in four months. My spouse learned never to dare me to do anything and I learned I loved writing paranormal romance as much as I love reading it.
What are you working on now? Do you have a recent or upcoming release?Strawberry Shifters Book 2: Round of Applause is a Rapunzel retelling where she cuts society’s definition of family to find love. This steamy paranormal romance novel is a Yuletide/Christmas romance which I hope to have released before Christmas of 2020. Fans of the series will be delighted to rescue the golden-haired woman left behind in Bear with Me and to find out what animal James shifts into when he is forced to shift.
What is the most challenging part of writing romance?
When writing my first draft, I substitute my husband’s name for the love interest even if I have the character’ s name in my mind. The Strawberry shifters books have a spicy hot heat level. It makes my skin crawl to be intimate with someone else even if it is in my mind. My racy scenes are honest, emotional, and pivotal to the plot because I’m writing them from an innermost place in my heart. I couldn’t write them any other way.
What kind of research do you do when you set out to write a new book?
I insert the people I meet in the lobbies of my son’s therapy appointments into dreams I have about the wilds of Kentucky (where I live). These scenes are either the final scare or the ending of the book. I interview them, their physical/occupational therapists, parents (if they are kids), and spouses (if they are adults) on what experiences are unique to them based on their disability. None of this was necessary for Alison in Bear with Me, because she is an #ownvoices character. I have sensory processing disorder and I wrote Alison with the same combination of sensitivities and under-reactivities as I have. I hope to show others how I experience the world through her scenes.
My next stop is the zoo.
For the shifters themselves, I study animal behavior in nature documentaries, but I spend hours in zoos. While writing Go Scorch Yourself, I became friends with the bat’s caretakers at my local zoo from the amount of time I spent watching the bat’s wing patterns at a local zoo. Being a biomedical scientist for seven years, I have training in many animal medical procedures which gave us common ground. When it was time for some of the bat’s annual checkups and vaccinations. My spouse had signed me up for a behind-the-scenes animal encounter with the bats. It was a dream come true to go into the back of the zoo exhibit and hold one. The caretakers said the encounters with elephants are the most popular and no one had ever requested the bats. They claimed to have guessed it was me before I arrived.
What/who do you like to read and do you have a favorite genre/author?
My favorite author is Lora Leigh. Every element to her stories seems to be lifted a notch above the other books in the weres and shifters genre, from the sentence structure and the vocabulary, to story arcs and character differentiation. I love how she blends complex characters, a fast-moving plot, and steamy scenes. Her books are brain candy that I usually devour in a single day. I can only hope that someday my Strawberry Shifters reach the caliber of her Breeds books.
What are some of your favorite comfort foods?
There is a reason the social center of Strawberry KY is a pizzeria. I absolutely love it. Being half Sicilian, I believe pizza is the ultimate comfort food. The problem is that I am mildly allergic to tomatoes. I cannot eat them raw without my lips going numb and the inside of my mouth itching. I can have them cooked in small amounts. An Easter egg for all my fans is to count all the Italian dishes without tomatoes in my books. There is even a character who moves to Strawberry in a later book with a tomato allergy. Currently, I am receiving Natural Allergy Elimination Therapy to try to reverse it. If it works, the Strawberry Shifters character will receive the same therapy from Dr. Van Dijk, Strawberry’s resident chiropractor. Stay tuned!
I write on a stool at my kitchen counter instead of at a desk with my favorite snack: salt & vinegar chips. To keep my senses engaged in my writing I burn a scented candle assigned to each character and play the song of the main couple on repeat. Alison’s scent is Lilac and Grant’s is Cozy Cabin (smells like a toasted marshmallow). Their song is “Harmony Hall” by Vampire Weekend.
Which of your own characters is your favorite?
It is no secret that I modeled ultra-responsible Grant after my spouse so he is my favorite Strawberry Shifters character. It was easy to write Alison’s swooning over him because I was swooning at my laptop. From his ability to create a structure for Alison to his sensitivity to her boundaries, he’s a modern alpha male. He verbalizes his feelings even if they are bulldozing over the opinions of others sometimes. I gave him all of my weaknesses. It says so on the back of the book: blue eyes, dimples, and shaggy brown hair… I hope readers fall in love with him too as he navigates his way through saving his marriage.
If Grant isn’t your cup-of-tea, then you will love Nate in Round of Applause. The happy-go-lucky cinnamon roll male is Grant’s opposite. I wanted to challenge myself to write a romance for the guy who is the antithesis of my type. Nate is a prankster with a focus on having fun rather than the serious parts of life. He lives for today and not for the spotlight.
Bear With Me
June 3, 2020
paranormal romance ~ shifter romance ~ witch romance
Blue eyes, dimples, and silky brown hair; Grant Luther has all of Alison's weaknesses. When he asks for one last chance to save their marriage, she agrees to relocate their family to isolated Strawberry, Kentucky in pursuit of his career dreams.
Grant views Alison's sensory issues as limitations and protects her from outside threats. When he finds his new job includes changing him into a shifter in a war against the soul-sucking Sluagh he vows to keep the changes a secret.
What he doesn't know is Alison has been hiding a magical secret of her own. One that makes her a target of the Sluagh. Will Alison emerge from Grant's shadow to protect her family? And can Grant learn that being different can be a strength not a weakness?
More About Marilyn
Marilyn Barr currently resides in the wilds of Kentucky with her husband, son, and rescue cats. When engaging with the real world, she is collecting characters, empty coffee cups, and unused homeschool curricula. She has a diverse background containing experiences as a child prodigy turned medical school reject, biodefense microbiologist, high school science teacher, homeschool mother of a savant, and advocate for the autistic community.