Why stories are like math equations for author Barry B. Wright
by Timothy Pike
“I have always wanted to be a writer,” says award-winning thriller author Barry B. Wright. “Yet, when I went to university, I studied mathematics and science.” It was a decision that left even Barry himself at a loss.
“Figure it,” he says. “Because I sure can’t.”
He has a working theory, though, which I’m pretty sure even many writers can relate to. “The only reason I can come up with,” he tells me, “is I did not want to write all those essays expected in a Bachelor of Arts program.”
Barry still ended up writing during his college years, though—just not the boring essays he dreaded. “It was during my second year at university that my first article was published,” he says. “When I boarded the plane at Toronto International Airport and left Canada for three and a half months to travel the United Kingdom, I never dreamt I would be writing an article on the new city of Craigavon for the Portadown Times newspaper in Northern Ireland.”
Based in Ontario, Canada—and now retired—Barry, along with his wife, divides his time between Priceville and Brampton, Ontario. But the story of how this high school math teacher became a successful author of thriller novels is itself an exciting tale, with more than a few twists.
After graduation, Barry got a job at an insurance company—indulging the left side of his brain—but it wasn’t long before he knew it was time to move on. “I think I was a restless soul at that point of my life,” he says. “I was soon to be married, and quite frankly, I did not enjoy my chosen vocation.”
He was also seeking the next challenge.
So he did what any reasonable person would do in that situation: he got as far away from the insurance industry as anyone could hope to, and started acting. “I joined two community theater groups as an actor,” he says. “It was during this period when the seed of storytelling was planted. That is when I became hooked on wanting to write.”
It wouldn’t be a walk in the park, though. “To become a writer, I not only had to be brave enough to fail, but I had to learn how to accept and respond to criticism,” he says. “Whew! Now that’s difficult.”
The difficulty, Barry observes, lies mainly in the way criticism lands with the writer. “The problem is often not the criticism itself, but how the message is sent and received,” he says. “So do not fret. Do not take it personally. Search for the nugget hidden within the message. All criticism has an element of truth and usefulness.”
To practice what he preaches, Barry entered the 10K Novel-Writing Challenge at ChapterBuzz, and asked for feedback from the community. It was a huge success: that month, he took home the Challenge Choice award for his historical fiction thriller, the soon-to-be-published Angel Maker.
“To become a writer, I not only had to be brave enough to fail, but I had to learn how to accept and respond to criticism,” Barry says. “Whew! Now that’s difficult.”
But for all his success, Barry, like the rest of us, had to start somewhere. “I joined a writing course at a nearby college and had the opportunity to study with Canadian author Sandra Birdsell. I must have rewritten Chapter One a hundred times,” he says, while admitting that may be an exaggeration. “When the course was completed, I still had not discovered my literary ‘voice.’ It must have taken at least two additional years of perseverance before I found my voice.”
Once he found it, everything clicked. “The storyline began to flow effortlessly,” he tells me. “In other words, I was not pretending to be some other writer than me.”
And soon, that effortlessly flowing storyline and his newfound voice joined forces to create a complete book. “My first novel, Betrayal of Trust, was published in 2012,” Barry says.
He then began to realize that writing, when he really thought about it, felt a lot like math. “Ideas hooked together like a series of equations,” he says, “one dependent upon the other to produce a satisfying solution.”
The similarities rang perhaps even more true for him, because when it comes to math, Barry wrote the book on it. Quite literally—he was co-author of Mathscope, the first mathematics textbook series for Prentice-Hall Canada.
Recalling lessons learned from the early days, Barry has some words of wisdom for beginning writers. “The first draft for many beginning writers is believed to be a do-or-die stage,” he says. “Let me call it out for what it is: a myth. First drafts are nothing more than first drafts. A compelling book often requires many drafts to focus, tighten, enrich, and add complexity to the story.”
“The first draft,” he continues, “ensures you have a story which holds together, a beginning that delivers an inciting incident that throws the protagonist’s world out of balance, a middle that escalates the conflict, and an ending with a satisfying climax.”
Well, when he puts it that way, storytelling does sound almost…mathematical.
But even math requires time and effort. “Writing is hard work, but your attitude is the key to your success,” he says. “Treat your writing as a relationship—as if it is one of your closest friends. Do not treat it like a job. Treat your characters with respect, and accord them the same respect that every living human being should expect and deserve.”
When it comes to math, Barry wrote the book on it. Quite literally—he was co-author of Mathscope, the first mathematics textbook series for Prentice-Hall Canada.
Barry also writes short stories, and has compiled many of them into a collection on ChapterBuzz called Welcome to My Garden. “Short story writing affords me an opportunity to experiment with my literary voice and different ideas,” he explains.
For Barry, ideas and inspiration are everywhere. “Most of those stories came from a variety of sources: life experiences, photos, different articles, prompts, songs, and online courses,” he explains, giving Greek mythology as an example of one of those courses. “Anything that captured my interest usually ended up in one of my short stories.”
But his stories are much more than just a series of events. “Storytelling, for me, represents an act of gratitude to the books and people who have shaped my life,” Barry says. “Most importantly, remember it is a lifelong journey of personal growth and fulfillment.”
And, of course, his entire teaching career has been a major influence. “Every story I write,” he says, “whether it be a short story or a novel, I see the importance of my training in mathematics being played out.”
While Barry still has work to do, he knows exactly what’s left to achieve. “My goal is to write at least five novels and a book of short stories,” he tells me. “Anything beyond that will be icing on the cake.”
Maybe it’s just me, but that sounds a lot like a math problem—with a delicious result.
Connect with Barry on ChapterBuzz and become a Fan! You’ll be the first to know when Angel Maker hits shelves, and first in line to read his new chapters.
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