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-Steve Floyd, chief executive officer of August House books

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- Jose Lucio, self-published author of Heave Ho!

3.24.2017

A Conversation with Terry John Barto



Before writing children's books, Terry John Barto directed and choreographed more than 200 regional theater productions. In addition, he was the creative mind behind numerous television and cruise ship shows throughout the world.

He currently lives in Los Angeles and was good enough to talk about two books he wrote which I reviewed recently:
Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon and Gollywood, Here I Come!

What themes connect these two books?

Following your dreams, perseverance, and being true to yourself.
What was your own journey like? Was working in theater something you wanted to do as a child?
I'd always put together little shows in the living room when I was young, making tickets and charging admission for my family to come. The productions became more elaborate and I forced my little brother to perform on the pool's diving board.

In High School, I was in a singing group that got me interested in performing. I trained as a dancer and performed in theater productions and various roles at Disneyland, then choreographed a group called The Great American Entertainment Company founded by Bob Jani, who had created the Main Street Electrical Parade! I continued choreographing several musical theater shows and a few years later was directing as well.

So having worked in theater, why did you decide to pursue picture books?

While I was directing a show, an actress had asked me to be part of her new production company. She thought I had good story-telling abilities - as a director - and wanted me to help hone her ideas. We developed scripts for animation and out of one story, we created dolls. The company only lasted a couple of years, but I gained so much experience that I could then add to my resume.

I sent it out to about a hundred animation affiliated companies and got a response from the VP of Walt Disney Television Animation. He encouraged me to start developing my own ideas. One thing led to another and along the way, I met an editor who encouraged me and worked with me to develop these picture books.

Do you work with comedians in your theater work? Did any of them influence the character of Nickerbacher?

I performed with someone that had become a comedian, and consulted with her on Nickerbacher. I passed on a bunch of jokes…. some were tossed aside and others were tweaked. The comedy was the hardest part!

I contacted another comedian friend with regards to the overall story. She had a suggestion for the approach that a comedian would take... when Nickerbacher is practicing in his room, I had originally written - He auditioned and auditioned. After awhile, he finally got his big break. My friend told me that comedians practice on audiences and prepare, so that line became - After many hours of practicing and preparation, he finally got his big break. 

On a side note; In Nickerbacher's room, the pictures on the wall are supposed to be his idols, and they are my comedian friends that helped!

How much back and forth did you have with the artist with regard to character design and the overall look of the books?

For Gollywood, Here I Come!, I tried to get an artist who was extremely busy so I worked out all the scenes in advance. Ultimately, she couldn't do it and I ended up with a great artist from Italy, Mattia Cerato. I e-mailed him the scenes that I had already developed and for reference, sent him a book about Southern California in the 1950's. I had specific ideas for each of the characters, even the smaller parts.

With Nickerbacher The Funniest Dragon, Kim Sponaugle and I created the scenarios over the phone. We went page by page, then she set out to draw preliminary sketches. Before she did the coloring, I offered suggestions and insight.

Is writing children's book been just a part time hobby for you, or has it become the new focus of your career?

I continue to focus on my writing career and have other projects I'm working on.

For example, Nickerbacher, The Funniest Dragon has evolved to a newly released chapter book called (just) Nickerbacher. This time I've taken a step further of what comedians do. They speak from personal experience and truth., so Nickerbacher learns that being a comedian is more the puns and jokes. It's about telling a compelling story. All 3 books can be found on my author page at Amazon. amazon.com/author/terryjohnbarto

 Part of the Conversations with Storytellers series.

1 comment:

  1. Oh My God!I did not know about these picture book's, i am in love with them.I am definitely going to read one of his books,I am always in a search for good book's.Thanks to your blog post that i got know such an amazing author, Otherwise i would not have got know this author.

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