Award-winning author, speaker, historian and tourism consultant Lili DeBarbieri’s best-selling travel guidebooks books explore the intersection of travel, history, community and art. Her debut children’s book Sand Dune Daisy: A Pocket Mouse Tale just released by Big Earth Publishing, was named a National Science Teachers Association recommends selection.
Lili’s blog “Farm Traveler” appears in Hobby Farms Magazine where she writes on sustainable farms sharing tips for both travelers and homesteaders. Her work continues to be featured in a diverse range of print and digital publications including forthcoming title The Mighty Colorado River: From the Glaciers to the Gulf.
A Philadelphia native, Lili’s lived in Japan, Greece and South Africa to start and has extensive independent travel experience across six continents. She calls Tucson home where she can also be found working on a fledgling novel loosely based on her experiences abroad, cooking, playing with her kitten Aladdin and contributing to causes in the arts, environment and community.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about Sand Dune Daisy, A Pocket Mouse Tale, and what compelled you to write it.
Lili DeBarbieri: I wrote Sand Dune Daisy as the result of a combination of life-long interest in travel and wildlife along with a love of reading both fiction and nonfiction equally I’d say. After writing non-fiction for years and still going, though, I wanted a change, to branch out into other areas. I had begun writing fiction in the form of short stories in high school which are lost forever…and so this was a chance to re-discover that side of the creative process and see where it took me…I’m sure working as a teacher and school librarian might have played a small role! It struck me how children respond to suspense in a story where we usually associate that genre or literary device with adults! The manuscript was written before I published my first book actually.
One of my favourite stories as a little girl was “Two Bad Mice” by Beatrix Potter so I’m sure that was a huge influence…I wanted a subject to use as the main character that was charming, an underdog in ways, native to the entire south western region, and therefore accessible to young readers but still mysterious. I think “pocket” anything is adorable too … stories for children need that little cute.
I was inspired and really catalysed though initially by a day trip to White Sands National Monument and the surrounding areas…New Mexico is magic it’s so true and there was something about being there that just got to me as I was watching other people hike, looking at the details of the ecology and have fun in this particular environment. The other part of the story that is based on real life is my experience as a field researcher documenting a fox’s predation behaviour on prairie dogs in Bryce Canyon National Park. Those two key ingredients were the batter for the cake.
M.C.: What is your book about?
L. D.: Daisy is a young pocket mouse who is still honing her ability to survive in her sand dune ecosystem and learning about her environment and in the process becomes lost and must find her way home. She encounters various characters and situations as she makes her way back to her burrow.
M.C.: What themes do you explore in Sand Dune Daisy?
L.D.: This book specifically explores themes of perspective, perception and survival. There is no villain, “bad buy” though…each character has their own challenges and outlook.
M.C.: Why do you write?
L.D.: I never thought about that, maybe just a process of elimination? I think most writers are introverts in some way and I’m no different…for me writing is a form of self-expression and a way to explore a lot of things I’m interested in. I need a place to put them all! There was an evolution from journalism to writing fiction…I just felt that was where things would be going intuitively. Travel in particular has underpinned everything I’ve written in one way or another.
M.C.: When do you feel the most creative?
L. D.: After a large and strong cup of coffee J Trying something new, setting new goals makes me feel the most creative and excited about what I’m doing.
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
L.D.: I try not to get too bogged down in word choice because I know that structure, plot, character development are all extremely important but I want to get each sentence, word as good as can be to capture what I really want to say…and the first few sentences of any type of writing are extremely important.
M.C.: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
L.D.: I definitely get lost in it and forget where I am sometimes, what’s going on around me in my thoughts for where the characters might go or what they might say occur to me as I write in some very surprising ways…where did THAT idea come from?
M.C.: What is your worst time as a writer?
L.D.: It’s hardest at the beginning, you should see my first drafts…on second thought maybe not…My worst though is when I’m so engrossed in a project that I resemble Jack Nicholson in The Shining with only slightly more on the page but just as irritable!
M.C.: Your best?
L. D.: When I get that feeling of being “on a roll” and the words are just pouring out of me…that just feels so great!
M.C.: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
L.D.: I have bursts of creativity followed by long lulls so there’s already a natural rhythm of starting and stopping…I’m not someone who writes a little every day unless I really discipline myself…I think even if I took a break I’d always go back to it in one way or another.
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
L.D.: The opportunities that I’ve had as a result of the writing I’ve done have been so interesting and meaningful looking back (and forward).
M.C.: Is writing an obsession to you?
L.D.: Not exactly but the ideas behind the books, articles certainly have been or became a kind of fixation…I do think there is a thrill of the hunt effect where you become adrenalized by trying to chase down publisher, editor etc. and then that feeds into characters I create J
M.C.: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
L.D.: They seem to be getting more personal and somewhat autobiographical as things progress over the years, in each piece I’ve written…but yes even before, every story, book has had pieces of me in them: people, thoughts, places, memories, beliefs or experiences…the very fact that I’ve chosen to write on a certain subject says a lot I think to the reader I’d imagine and they would draw some conclusions there.
M.C.: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
L.D.: I guess it depends on your reality because reality can also heal, inspire, recharge but I know what he means; there has to be a love of creating that keeps you going, the work must be enough in and of itself because of all the rejection and a good amount of negative feedback that you’ll receive, oh the stories! Then there’s the depressing realizations like your novel may never be traditionally published and I think it’s a fair bet to say that making money (reality) will disappoint if that’s your aim and only your aim. There is an upside though, I disagree with Jack London’s statement that you must case down inspiration…really I’ve found that the longer I’ve done this, inspiration isn’t the problem at all—it’s choosing which ideas to focus on at that point in time that you most want to develop and go the distance with…
M.C.: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
L.D.: Yes, they can check out here.