BookView Interview with Barbara Macpherson Reyelts

Welcome to BookView Interview, a conversation series where BookView talks to authors.

Recently, we interviewed Barbara Macpherson Reyelts, Emmy-Award winning broadcast journalist and author of Winston’s Big Win, an entertaining work that’s sure to deliver big laughs. (Read the review here.)

Barbara Macpherson Reyelts was an Emmy-Award winning broadcast journalist who spent almost forty years as a television anchor, reporter and news director. She was inducted into the Minnesota Broadcast Hall of Fame and was honored by the Governor of Minnesota for her “outstanding contributions to journalism and investigative reporting.” She spent her working life writing facts but when she retired, she wanted to try her hand at fiction and published her first novel, Dying to Live. But as a children’s dance teacher for five decades and a grandmother of six, Barbara wanted to write a book specifically for children. Out of that desire, Winston’s Big Wind gusted into being.

Winston’s Big Wind has a goofy premise perfect for kids.  What inspired you to write this story?

The one thing that never fails to make my grandchildren, including five boys and one girl, laugh, is flatulence.  Laughs come whether they hear it from each other or someone else, or in just talking about it.   Those laughs, if there’s an adult around, are invariably followed by reprimands about manners. 

But flatulence is a natural part of life for most people so I decided to cast aside the barriers and, using this natural bodily function, make people laugh through little Winston’s antics.

Alliteration is a big feature in this book—the title says it all!  What led you to that writing choice?

Through the years I’ve read hundreds of children’s books; first when I worked in a pre-kindergarten school during my summers in high school and then to my children and currently to my grandkids.  To me it seems when a book has the rhythm created by alliteration it helps to keep the kids’ attention.  I find even the littlest ones feel that rhythm and like the flow of a story better when there’s alliteration.

Are any of your characters based on real people you know?

A 3: My second-to-youngest grandchild is a mischievous little boy.  He tends to laugh the hardest at unexpected toots.  He also has curly red hair and big blue eyes.   I described him to the book’s illustrator and she captured not only his looks but also his silly sense of humor.  However, the characters are really a composite of all the little ones I’ve read stories to over the years.

Which scene or chapter in the book is your favorite? Why?  

I think my favorite part of the story is when Winston finds out he has the incredible power of using his embarrassing windy pops to do something good.  When Winston sees the little girl crying and clutching her puppy while stuck in a cold, muddy pit, he desperately wants to help her.  When he inadvertently passes gas and it catapults him into the pit with the little girl, he is shocked and doesn’t know what to do.   All he can do is hug the little girl and her puppy tightly in his arms to give some comfort.  But when another sudden bottom burp pitches him and the little girl and puppy out of the pit, he discovers he’s not just a laughingstock but can actually help others with his explosive expulsions.   It’s a turning point for Winston and a feel-good part of what has just seemed like a funny story up until this point.

What do you hope readers will take away from this story?

On the surface I hope readers get a good laugh out of the scatological humor.  I mean, who doesn’t laugh at accidental bodily functions.  But on a deeper read I hope people understand that there’s more to this story.  A little boy has a medical problem that often puts him in embarrassing situations.  While little Winston handles his embarrassment pretty well, he does suffer from the laughs and jibes of his peers and some adults.  While not everyone can turn their physical problems into heroic behavior, Winston’s Big Wind suggests that physical problems can be handled with some grace and a lot of humor.

What’s the most difficult thing about writing a children’s book?

I wanted to write this story on two levels: one that appeals to younger children with a simple humorous approach and one that subtly shows adults how laughing at someone’s disability can cause pain and embarrassment.  The difficulty lies in keeping the story light and fun while sharing a message on a deeper level without getting preachy.  Not all children’s books have a deeper message, but I bet that the authors of those books written on two levels have a similar problem to mine.

What is your favorite childhood book?

My favorite book from childhood is Love You Forever by Robert Munsch.  It’s the story of a VERY naughty little boy who drives his mother crazy with his erratic and mischievous behavior.  All day long he creates messes in the house, won’t follow directions, and seems to revel in causing problems.  While his mother tries hard not to get mad at the little toddler, he does drive her around the bend.  In the end, though, when he’s sleepily lying in bed and reaching up to give his mommy a hug, she leans down to his level telling him she’ll love him forever, no matter what he does.  It’s the simple, but complex, story of motherhood and I love the story.

Your first book, Dying to Live, is very different from Winston’s Big Wind.  What inspired you to pivot to children’s books after debuting with adult fiction?

I got a lot of feedback from my family on my first book.  Most of it was good, thank goodness, but my grandchildren, ranging from two to seventeen, at the time the book was released, couldn’t really understand or get into this adult, science fiction story.  It was either too complex for them or they were just too young to understand or enjoy it.  One day my ten-year-old grandson asked, “Grandma why don’t you write a story for us kids?”  So that was my inspiration.  I wanted to write something my grandchildren could understand and get a good laugh out of!

What’s next for you?

I’m actually working on two very different types of books right now.  One is a sequel to Dying to Live with the same fictional protagonist, reincarnated in a different life in a surprising place.  To give you a hint of where my main character is reborn, the novel is called The Orb of Night

I’m also working, with a former colleague at the television news station where we both worked, on a true crime story.  The true story involves a serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered many women including a teenager who lives within our news coverage area.  My colleague and I wrote and disseminated dozens of stories on this despicable man through the search, arrest, and trial over more than a year.  Both of us have interviewed the killer and we hope to share not only the facts of his violent killing spree across the Midwest, but also the chilling story of his life and the emotional fallout from the communities who lost loved ones.

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