Up Close: Barb Taylor

A whole new world…

Barb Taylor is enjoying her 26th year as a high school English teacher in the Pocono Mountain School District. She also completed her first novel, Providence Square, as a graduate creative writing student at Wilkes University. Set in her hometown of Scranton during the early 1900s, the book takes a look at the Electric City during the days of coal mining, vaudeville and evangelism. Taylor took bits and pieces from legendary stories of lore she grew up with and watched the story and its characters come to life; often steering the story in directions she wasn’t expecting. Taylor is hoping to have Providence Square published in the new year with more novels to follow. Taylor will take part in The New Visions Writers Showcase on Saturday, Nov. 10 at New Visions Studio and Gallery, 201 Vine St., Scranton. She has found her calling, as well as a newly-discovered community of fellow artists. Meet Barb Taylor…


What role did reading and writing play in your life while growing up?
I can remember writing at a young age; they used to print my poems in the church bulletin. Writing was always important. As I got older, it became more personal and I never showed it to anybody. The first time I had the courage to do it professionally is when I started the Wilkes University writing program.

Was it the program that rekindled your passion?
I didn’t lose the passion, but I think teaching is such a creative endeavor and a lot of my creativity went into it for such a long time. After going through a divorce and marriage issues, I was looking to rediscover myself. I certainly hope to be published; that would be wonderful. But if that were to never happen, I still have the writing community because of the Wilkes University program. I didn’t realize what a large creative community we have. I was missing out on that. It changed my life

How did you become involved in education?
I was dating somebody who was going to be a teacher and we thought it would be fun to have summers off (laughs). That’s the truth! I think I changed my major three or four times. The choice was the right one. I was young and stupid and that was as good a reason to make the decision as any at the time. I wish I had something nobler, but that was it. It was the right choice and I love teaching.

How has 26 years as an English teacher shaped your writing style?
As a teacher, I like to mix it up. I like to change grades. You stay in a grade for a certain length of time and end up reading the same books with the kids over and over again. That has helped me with my writing. I am subconsciously studying the syntax of certain writers and the sentence structure and wording.

Who are some of your influences?
John Steinbeck, William Kennedy, William Golding, Markus Zusak and Harper Lee; anybody I read influences me. It teaches me either what to do or what not to do. I’m heavily influenced by my family. When I was little, I loved standing with the adults, hearing their stories and writing them down. I would jot down ideas and throw them in a shoebox. The shoebox became this huge plastic storage container. Anytime I moved, it would come with me and I knew I would do something with it someday. I love to watch and listen to people.

Talk about your writing process.
My agent told me that it’s organic. I don’t outline. I’ve written Providence Square and I’ve written the first draft of a second novel. In both cases, I knew where I wanted to start and where I wanted to finish. Everything else I found out when I sat down to write it. It’s exciting; it’s like reading a book, but I’m writing it. It’s amazing to meet characters that I’ve never even thought of come out of nowhere and they take on a life on their own and lead the story in a different direction. I let it happen. There’s really no formula to it.

Tell us a little bit about Providence Square.
It’s set in Scranton during the early 1900s during the time of vaudeville, evangelism and coal mining. It’s about a coal mining family and the youngest daughter, Violet, is blamed for the accidental death of her sister. The father takes to drinking and the mother, as the town says, “takes the easy way out” and goes crazy. The little girl is left on her own to find her way. It’s set from 1913 to 1914. When I was growing up, my grandmother told me she was born during the Billy Sunday snow storm. Billy Sunday, who was an evangelist at the time, came here for an event and we had a crazy snowstorm. More than 2,000 people were snowed in with him. Supposedly, they were all saved. I knew I wanted that to play into the book because religion was so important at the time. Also, my grandmother’s sister was baptized on the fourth of July and on that day, she and her friends and sister were playing with sparklers and her dress went up in flames. She survived for three days before she died. As the story goes, she sang hymns for three days and never complained. People from all over the city came to see the little girl who sang hymns before she died. As fascinating as that story is, I always wondered about my aunt, the sister who was in the yard with her, because her life wasn’t the happiest and I wondered how much of that started that day. I grew up with that story and it always fascinated me.

What are you looking forward to most about the Writers Showcase?
I’m looking forward to trying out my new beginning: I’d like to get that feedback. Writing is such a solitary endeavor that it’s nice to get feedback from people. It’s good to be out among people. It’s easy to isolate yourself when you’re writing. I love to go to New Visions and learn from the writers who are there. We have such a rich community here and I think it helps writers to hear writers. I like to be a part of that. As a writer, it just gets the juices flowing. It’s stimulating and great inspiration.

Writing has changed your life.
It really has. I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I have a whole new community in my life that I never had before. My world has gotten bigger and I love that.
— tom graham

The New Visions Writers Showcase, co-hosted by Brian Fanelli and Jason Lucarelli, will take place Saturday, Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the New Visions Studio and Gallery, 201 Vine St., Scranton. The November showcase will feature Barb Taylor, Grace Persico, Kait Burrier, Erin Delaney, Richard Fellinger and Marie Kane.

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