Among the authors I met last year at Gallery2: Ten in Sydney, Ohio, is this month’s featured writer – Lee Barber. Dedicated to happy endings and anti-oppression living, Barber describes herself as a “late-bloomer” in the writing world. Please enjoy getting to know this Ohio author with a gift for words and a great deal of perseverance!



Janet Irvin: Welcome, Lee, to my author’s nook. How did you start writing and why?

Lee Barber: The turning point in my writing life began when I received the gift of a romance novel–The Vow by Dallas Schulze–from my daughter’s babysitter. Slightly offended, I read it to be courteous, and remember thinking, “Oh, yeah, I like stories with happy endings.” I decided to write one.

I read a book by Oscar Collier titled How to Write and Sell Your First Novel. The one piece of advice I followed was to set a writing goal and stick to it. I wrote three pages a day until I had the final draft of a whole novel. Having established a writing habit, I wrote some short stories, tied for third in a Dayton Daily News contest, and took second place in a contest sponsored by Impact Weekly. Then I went to graduate school at The Ohio State University, but not for writing. I completed a master’s in Social Work, a field that can be very time and mind-consuming. 

The novel draft sat in a desk drawer for a long time, until my daughter–at that point a teenager with discerning literary taste–encouraged me to do something with it. So I did. I hired Carol Cartaino–who I later discovered was Oscar Collier’s widow–to help with developmental editing. She sent my novel to Stephanie Hansen of Metamorphosis Literary Agency. Stefanie agreed to be my agent. She sold Getting to Grace to Touchpoint Press. It was released in December of 2020. I have recently requested and received a reversion of rights for that novel. A new and improved version will be released at some point in the future. 

JEI: Do you self-publish or are you with a small or traditional press? 

LB: My second novel, Peace of Pie, was released this May by Radiance, an imprint of Roan & Weatherford Publishing Associates. Here’s a brief synopsis: Bryony Green and Cal Forster bump into each other, literally, the first time they meet. The stars in their eyes might signal more than the impact of their heads coming together as they both bend over to pick up dropped papers. As Bryony returns to her love of baking, Cal leans into love as a life goal. Maybe they can have their pie together and eat it too, or maybe not. You have to read the ending to know. I wrote that book after watching endless hours of the Hallmark Channel with my mother. There are so often cakes, cupcakes, cookies, or pies in a Hallmark movie.

Roan &Weatherford Publishing Associates is a small publisher with a limited marketing budget. If I want my books to sell well, I have to put in the effort to help sell them. I love writing, revising multiple times, polishing, and all the other practices required to write a publishable story. Over time, I hope to love learning how to best contribute to selling them.

JEI: What theme or themes does your work present? 

LB: I write about the importance of human relationships. The same core values that led me to complete a graduate degree in Social Work keep my eyes open to how people are hurt by other individuals, by accidents, and by oppression. Throw all of those hurts into our current political climate–and the changing of the Earth’s actual climate–and there’s no end to what I could write about, but the importance of human relationships seems to connect all other values and challenges. Human relationships provide a never-ending source of struggle and delight.

I try to weave some social justice into everything I write, even if it’s subtle. I think it’s my moral duty to not be silent about systemic ways in which human relationships are squashed by patterned thinking and behavior that has nothing to do with the value and worth of each individual. That weaving in has to be done carefully. I’m not trying to play politics. Human well-being is at the center of my efforts. Creating stories with happy endings that might help others think deeper feeds my resilience, lowers my blood pressure, and keeps me hopeful.

JEI: Are your characters ever drawn from real life? In what way? 

LB: The only real-life characteristics of my characters are their faces. 

I sometimes look online to find pictures of people I would cast as my characters in a movie. I print those images and keep them near me until the novel is done. I am currently drafting a novel that might be titled Assisted Loving. The main characters in that novel are in their seventies. My visual image of the male character is a picture I have of Kurt Vonnegut. My visual image of the female is a retired educator and local mystery writer. 

Other than that, none of the life stories of my characters are drawn from people I have met or known. Because I listen well, I hear intimate details about the pain and suffering of others all the time. Those stories belong to the people who lived them. My characters are conceived in my imagination and gestated over the entire course of writing the story. I create family trees for my characters that go back generations. I make spreadsheets of significant events that happened to my characters over the course of their fabricated lifetimes, much of which will not be included in the story. I have timelines of historical events that might have impacted my characters, or their parents, or their grandparents. It’s all fiction, woven together from what I have observed and experienced about humans throughout my life, but not about any particular individuals. 

JEI: Whom do you consider your mentors? How have they helped your writing? 

LB: Every single author of every book I have read has been my mentor. They modeled that this can be done, a book can be written and published whether it’s a literary masterpiece or a choppy tale with typos, one-dimensional characters, and a cheesy plot. Books are cool. The more the merrier. 

Susan Carpenter read my stories and offered advice a long, long time ago. Dee Krieg started a writing group in Yellow Springs and I engaged with that for many meetings. Bomani Moyenda and I have supported each other as writers throughout the years. As I mentioned earlier, Carol Cartaino and Stephanie Hansen have given me a huge hand-up. The Cowans–Casey and Amy–and Staci Troilo at Roan & Weatherford are offering terrific assistance.

My biggest supporter is my spouse. He reads my novels and rereads them when necessary. I also have an awesome writing group (Beth Motta writing as Beatrice Markham, Michele H. Porter, Rhonda Havig, and Christina Scott).

JEI: What are you working on in 2024?

LB: I just sent a finished draft–currently titled Picture This–to my publisher. The main characters in that novel are in their late thirties. Ani is a social worker in a nursing home with a new, inexperienced, arrogant administrator. Ani’s roommate is a mixed-heritage CPA who provides both chaos and stability. Jesse is a recovering addict who recently started working his first full-time job with benefits. His father is an emotionally abusive blatant racist and his mother a beleaguered gem of a woman. Family ties bind them all together for a patchwork of connection and discontent that could come apart at the seams at any moment. Do they make it? You have to read the ending to be sure. 

If the publisher likes that one, I will be revising it later this year.

As I said earlier, I’m also drafting Assisted Loving and thinking about those stunning countenances of Kurt and Janet.

JEI: What is the best thing about being a published author?  

LB: Having a book in my hand, an actual book that I wrote, with cover art, and ISBN identifiers, gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. I can move on now. Or not, as in the case of planning to re-release Getting to Grace. 

JEI: Do you write in other genres or concentrate solely on romance? 

LB: My novels best fit in the romance genre, but I’m eclectic when it comes to shorter pieces. I’ve written a short story about genetically engineered pigs who can communicate with humans and a flash fiction piece about a social worker caught in a murderous situation. I also had a story published in Mock Turtle zine about the relationships between a teenage girl, her widowed father, and his challenging brother.

My plots are probably most like those found in a Christian romance novel without the religion and with a bit more social justice thrown in. I have discovered I have no interest in writing about sex. I allude to sex, but I’ve given up thinking I should learn how to write the juicy, sizzling, sweaty details. I’ll leave that to others. 

I like to write about middle-aged and older adults because aging can result in becoming invisible. Keeping one’s inner spark alive requires discovering how to stay connected with others, sometimes in romantic ways. I love real-life stories about couples who meet or reunite in their seventies, eighties, and nineties.

JEI: What occupies your time when you’re not writing? 

LB: So much occupies my time when I’m not writing! I teach Guided Autobiography. For more info about that, see  I also do lots of peer counseling. To be an ethical, effective social worker requires being a lifelong learner. 

Social workers have a P.I.E. (person in environment) perspective, which means I am trained to think about the whole person in the context of their particular situation and their place in the wider world. I gravitate toward reading about positive psychology, older adults, disability challenges, and the history, impact, and ending of racism. 

When I’m not attending to those interests, I read for fun, often–but not exclusively–romance novels. I watch crime series–currently my second time through Bosch– with my spouse and mother-in-law. I walk, look for hawks, hang out, do yoga, meditate, draw, make collages, de-clutter, and clean the house. I love organizing and cleaning, in that order.

JEI: Name one thing you’d like to learn how to do and tell readers why.

LB: One of the many things I would love to learn how to do is line dance. Many years ago, I went on the Great Ohio Bike Adventure and rode my bike fifty or so miles a day for seven days. Going in the same direction with thousands of riders was transformative. I think line dancing might be a mini version of that experience. 

I want to dance with a group of people moving in the same direction because exercising our natural human ability to act cooperatively is a beautiful thing.



JEI: My thanks to Lee for spending August with me and my readers. For more information about this author, visit her Facebook page:

Barber also has a blog at