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"From heartbreak, a romanceAn island author finds inspiration in family tragedy."
"As author Jill Barnett's life has changed dramatically over several years, so has her work. Barnett, a successful paperback romance writer, breaks into the hardcover mainstream market for the first time with Sentimental Journey, the World War II novel she reads at Eagle Harbor books July 5. It was the unexpected and premature death of her husband in 1996 that brought Barnett to Bainbridge and to mainstream writing.I was half-way through a romance novel when he died, Barnett said. For the first time in my writing career, I had based a character on him. I called a friend and said, 'How can I write about him? How can I write happy, joyful stories when this has happened?'Barnett's long-term editor in New York offered to pull the book, but Barnett resisted. She feared that if she did not complete the work, she might never write another. Instead, Barnett left the Bay area and visited Bainbridge to finish, at the invitation of her best friend, writer Kristin Hannah. Barnett says the book she completed June 17 was on bookstore shelves by Aug. 3.They bent over backward to get it out, she says. Usually it takes a year. That's how kind the publisher was.Barnett came back to Bainbridge that July and bought a house on impulse. Creative spaceIt's difficult to equate the serenity of Jill Barnett's hillside deck overlooking Eagle Harbor - her writing space of choice - with the recent upheaval in both her work and personal life. One might even make the case for romantic writing encouraged by the ultra-romantic setting; the writer pens in longhand en plein air, feet propped on the rail, oblivious to the white and gold koi that stipple the surface of the pond below, the greenery unraveling down the hill to Eagle Harbor, the toy ferries that ply the Sound.Indolence and lassitude are hardly features of Barnett's psychic landscape, however; Barnett starts her writing day at 5:30 a.m. It's a deliberate move, she says, calculated to kickstart creativity before the self-conscious, self-critical functions that can inhibit writing, engage.A toughness marks Barnett's approach to the writing business as well as the business of writing.When Barnett left a master's program at the University of California at Berkeley to care for her daughter Casey and to write, she made a bargain with herself.She decided that if she hadn't sold a book before Casey, then age 3, was in school full-time, she would stop. She made the sale two years, almost to the day, after she quit school.I had always been a big reader of everything, Barnett said. Perhaps influenced by an undergraduate degree in history, she wrote historical romance. With a happy marriage and swift literary success (although financial success took a few years to catch up, Barnett says) her life seemed on a positive course. Then came the losses, in swift succession, of husband and father. Barnett's new book, Sentimental Journey, is in part a tribute to a father who was an air force pilot, Barnett says. Barnett's story is told from multiple points of view, at least two of whom are pilots - both male and female.But while the book contains a love story, Barnett says, she focuses on more weighty historical concerns. Barnett was following one of two prevalent schools of thought, she notes, when she moved into hardcover.Writers either take their developed style and genre through the transition into hardcover, or they use the change in format to springboard a change in content. With her life upended, letting go of the old seemed the right thing for Barnett. I've learned to follow my own vision, Barnett said. If plot is the spine of the book, then character is the heart - but my truth is the lifeblood.Bestselling novelists Kristin Hannah and Jill Barnett read from their newest titles, discuss writing romance and women's fiction and sign books 7:30 p.m. July 5 at Eagle Harbor Books. Call 842-5332 for information. "