Q & A with Derrick Barnes
1. Your career as a writer began at Hallmark, where you wrote greeting cards. How did this experience help you in writing for children?
Writing verse copy (rhyming words) at Hallmark, in particular for children's categories, prepared me for my career as an author for kids. I was also a local hip-hop legend (well, at least in my own mind) when I was a teenager. Writing verse has been like second nature for me. But writing for children, using colorful descriptors and a lot of action, definitely came from my years as an all-world greeting card guru.
2. You're the father of three sons, yet you write a girl character so well. How did you decide to make Ruby the star of the series, and what inspired you to create this character?
Initially the series was entitled the Booker Boys; Ruby was just a sub-character. But I had the toughest time trying to land a publishing deal with Tyner (one of the Booker Boys) as the protagonist. As soon as I changed all four of the original manuscripts around and made Ruby the Diana Ross to the Booker Boy's Supremes, we attracted all sorts of interests. She was such a dynamic player in the series initially, it just seemed like a natural transition.
3. Are Ruby's brothers, Ro, Ty, and Marcellus, based on anyone you know?
I created this family when my wife and I had only one son; he was about two years old at the time. But ironically, my fictional sons mirror the personalities of my three real-life sons, Ezra, Solomon, and Silas. Ezra and Marcellus are Mr. Do-it-alls and very much stuck on themselves. Our middle son, Solomon, is the live-in antagonist, just like Roosevelt. We sure do need his energy in the house though. Our youngest son is super-sweet, like a little teddy bear, sort of like Tyner. I guess in this case, real life imitated art.
4. Ruby loves her pet, Lady Love. Why did you decide to make her have a pet iguana, rather than a more common pet?
A common pet...BORRRRRING.
Ruby needed a pet that matched her creativity and dynamic personality. A cat or a dog would have been okay, I guess, but I thought she would really turn heads when walking her pet iguana down the block on a leash.
5. Did you ever have a pet iguana, or any pets?
In college I had a red-tailed boa constrictor named Mufasa and an iguana named Rafiki. What can I say-I loved The Lion King.
6. Ruby has so many interests, and she's good at so many things. What do you think she'll be when she grows up?
Well, she says she wants to be a rockstar, a veterinarian, or both. If I had to wager, I'd say rockstar. She loves attention and she loves to sing.
7. What advice would you give to someone who has older brothers or sisters, and is sick of living in their shadow?
I'd say two things: 1) Take advantage of being the younger sibling of a more popular one. You can learn so much from them. I know the expectations might be high, especially if your older sibling is really good at something, but it will only drive you to be exceptional at something as well. 2) You can only be who you are, so work hard at making an even cooler, smarter, more distinct you. Even though you might be the younger sibling, believe it or not, there are things that you can do that your older brother or sister would love to be able to do. And that's the truth.