Book Giveaway & Guest Post: on Essay Writing

Please give a warm welcome to today’s guest author, Barbara Barth. Barbara shares with us her passion for Essay Writing.

Barbara Barth likes a lot of things: turquoise jewelry, surfing the ‘net, margaritas. Then there are the dogs. Six at last count. But who can keep it straight with all those tales wagging? This Georgia antique dealer and jewelry maker published a hobby newsletter for 13 years. After her husband died she recorded the year that followed in a series of essays. When she isn’t writing you can find her at the local thrift shops or pounding another nail into the wall to hang the paintings she can’t resist.

The Unfaithful Widow is the memoir of a 59-year-old wife who suddenly finds herself a widow. She’s the member of a new club where she doesn’t fit in, trying to create a new life for herself. Along with the grief there are plenty of awkward situations, new experiences and just plain silliness. The Unfaithful Widow delves into everything from condoms to memorial services to dog companions(and a few human ones).

Leave a comment or question for Barbara before the end of the day and be entered to win a copy of her book: The Unfaithful Widow: Fragmented Memoirs on my First Year Alone

Discovering I Was An Essayist

I like to observe the world around me. I make mental notes of what I see. If I were better organized I’d have paper and pen handy at all times so I could have written notes to refer back to when I start to write. As a member of the senior moment generation not having a hard copy could be a problem. But somehow I manage to keep my impressions fresh. A talent I’ve relied on many times over many years. When I was an antique dealer I didn’t keep a log of what I paid for an item, but I could tell you to the dollar what it cost me. I remember most conversations word for word. Yet I can’t find my keys after unlocking my door. It seems I only remember what interests me and the rest is catch as catch can.

After my husband died I started writing late at night to have something to do and to clear my head. My house was so quiet I couldn’t relax. The title widow seemed surreal to me. It was shocking to me that I was suddenly alone. The mental images in my head were overwhelming me. I had to write to come to terms with the changes in my life.

I kept a journal of my feelings and experiences. Sometimes I would write the same thing over and over trying to purge the loneliness and sadness I felt.  As time passed my journal entries grew and became short stories. I decided to write a book about my first year as a widow but had trouble trying to figure out how to expand my stories into a novel.

Then one afternoon I had a quick critique session with A New York Times Best Seller Author. She read the first twenty pages of my book, put down her pen and looked me straight in the eye. “Barbara, you are not a novelist, you are an essayist.”

I wasn’t sure how to take that. So I asked her. “What is an essayist?”

I really knew the answer to that question, but I had to quiz her since she was so emphatic with her statement.

She answered, “One who writes essays.”

Cool, I thought. Now let’s go to Google for some details and figure out how this applies to me.

An essay can be defined as a short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author. It can include observations of daily life, recollections and reflections of the author.

The essay is, first and foremost, essentially true, a piece of non-fiction. Once the author starts making up characters, and fabricating a plot, the piece is no longer an essay it becomes a fictional story.

Most essays are short and all essays have definable beginnings, middles and endings.


She was absolutely right. The burden that I was trying to write a novel was taken from my shoulders. My book, The Unfaithful Widow, is a collection of essays. Each chapter is a separate story. I would finish one, then move on to do another. Once I realized that I was writing essays on my life everything fell into place for me to complete my book.

The Unfaithful Widow is my first book. I was not an English major and my writing experience was limited when I started my book.  I like to think I have a flair for words and I am a storyteller at heart. Always have been. Friends used to tell me I should have been a stand up comic. I knew that wouldn’t work, I like to sit too much.

My writing style was developed through a screenplay course I took midway through my book. I happened on a class at the back of an independent bookstore close to my house with the help of a bad online date. I didn’t get a second date, but I signed up for the rest of the class.

The teacher was a horror/zombie writer, which was intriguing to me the gal who was writing a widow book.  His genre may have been a world apart from mine, or not of this world, but his writing skills and teaching style were just what this widow needed to give life to her essays.

Arrive late and leave early, the phrase which stuck with me. Start your story with something to pull the reader right in and then wrap up and leave before it gets stale. It was like a light bulb flashed in my head and I got it. I knew how to work my essays.

As I went through my journals at home they were pretty boring. I changed my writing style to catch the reader’s attention with my first sentence, weave my story and then wrap it up tying the ending in with the beginning.  That kept me from rambling and tightened up my essays. The addition of dialog gave the punch I was after. My book flows with my fragmented memories of that first year. Each essay stands alone as a small short story, but together they form a book that is my story of that first year.

Now that I’ve finished writing my book I have time for some changes. Time saving changes. I have finally purchased a laptop so I can be mobile. There is a pencil tucked in my purse and a small pad for notes. An antique hook is screwed tightly in the wall next to my kitchen door. I can toss my keys on it when I enter and find them when I leave.

 Armed and dangerous I am going about the business of writing essays on life as I see it.

Barbara will be answering your questions all day! Leave them in the comment box.

Barbara’s website:

Barbara’s blog:

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Filed under Advice, Author Interviews, books, Creative Essays, Give Aways

6 responses to “Book Giveaway & Guest Post: on Essay Writing

  1. THANK YOU for posting this Mary Jo. Barbara, even if I don’t win your book, I’m going to buy it for my mom and have you sign it. We lost my 58 year old dad several years ago to melanoma–leaving us and my 58 year old mom stunned: Too young to go to the elderly grieving groups. I would love to hear about how you “wrote through” the pain? I was only able to write essays quite a few years after he died.

    • Hi Kristine – I am so sorry to hear about your dad. Such a young age too. If you wind up buying my book thru my web there is a place for you to request an autograph and I’ll send the book out myself.
      I wrote late at night to keep from going crazy. I ‘d send out e-mails to friends that were scary – then I’d get a grip and write back ….never mind. I decided to stop the insane e-mails and write for myself. It kept me busy since the house was so quiet. From there it became essays, then a book.
      I could not go to grief counseling, I wanted to be in the middle of life. My own pityparty was enough to deal with. I had a great group of friends. No one judged me on what I did, which was key in getting my confidence and we laughed about everything stupid that happened. My husband’s best friend gave me the best advice, he told me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things. He was right. If something worked I continued in that direction, if not, I’d stop and try something else. The important part was to keep moving and not let fear or grief stop me.
      I was depressed the other day and realized it had nothing to do with being a widow. I had my own life that was giving me a problem. Realizing that made me smile.
      Good luck to both of you and if you want to write I’d love to chat with you or your mom. Barbara

  2. Barbara- I love your advice to “arrive late and leave early”, in regards to essay writing. In college, I was taught to “tell them what you are going to tell them”, “tell them”, and finally, “tell them what you told them”. This may be perfect for academic writing, but makes for tedious personal essays! As a personal essayist myself, I’m wondering what you found the most difficult part of going from journal writing, to writing essays that read like stories. I have trouble re-creating dialog.

    • Hi Cara – the screenplay course put me on track. I followed more the rules for writing a screenplay on my essays. I would complete each one before going on to the next. So it was like small stories that became a whole. I did eight rounds of edits on the book because each time I’d read it something sounded flat. I also had that author critique and she scribbled large words and circled text saying this is good, you are showing, this is bad, exposition (I guess that would be telling and boring). So I tried to figure out how to take the boring telling and make it fun. I’d look at the essay and figure how I could get across the same thoughts only with my characters telling it. I actually looked at books to see how dialog was laid out, punctuation, etc. Then I went to work to do my own. Once I started adding dialog the actual personal side of my story seemed more distant and I felt comfortable telling it. Everything in my book is true and I had many of the conversations with my friends, but maybe in a little different sequence.
      I love dialog. Like it short and snappy. I am still figuring out punctuation on it.
      Thanks for your question. If you would like to touch base I’d love to hear from you. Barbara

  3. wranglerdani

    Hi Barbara –
    You have an incredible story. How did you make each chapter work in the book as a whole? I find that too often my essays are so scattered that I’m afraid that a creative non-fiction book would never really work. Thanks for being so vulnerable!

    • Hi Dani – the essays all worked together because of the central theme of my first year as a widow. They are my fragmented thoughts as I like to call them. The book is divided into seasons starting with Spring when my husband died. Summer brought more remembering things and family essays but ended with my starting to date online and buying my vintage corvette. “No muscular man for me that month, but a muscle car to chase away the blues.” Fall is the season of dates, Winter has its own stories and then I end back up with Spring. I had trouble trying to figure what went where, then the season idea grounded the stories. Each season brought something new. Thanks for your lovely comments. It was a little worrisome to present the book at first, but by the time I played with the dialog I could let it go. Barbara

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