Would you like a romantic summer read that is jam-packed with historical information? Boxcars, by Jim Barfield, just may be the ticket.
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Boxcars tracks the adventure and epiphanies of two hunted Nazi outcasts, a young Roma named Elsa, and David, a teenage Jewish violinist, turned French Resistance fighter. They see each other through the fog and smoke of a train wreck. Detined to cross paths again, they begin to rely on each other and deepen their relationship. David and Elsa find that despite their different backgrounds, they have more in common that their Nazi enemy.
How and why any author gets his start is intriguing. Some authors know right from the beginning
that they wish to tell stories, and migrate into writing them as soon as they begin forming their first letters. Some take a more circuitous route. I sat down with Jim Barfield and talked about his mid-life foray into novel-writing. Just how does a lawyer and judge become a novel writer? Particularly a novel about a Jewish violinist meeting and falling in love with a gypsy jazz guitarist outside of Paris?
Barfield grew up Atlanta in what is now known as Little Five Points. His Daddy ran a clinic for polio victims. Daddy Jim, was one of the few licensed physical therapists in the mid and late 1940s. He owned a storefront which housed his gym and clinic. Like many small business owners, the Barfield family, lived behind the storefront.
In those days, people were unaware of some of the nuances of disease transmission. Polio was such a devastating disease, especially for children. The neighborhood parents were afraid their children might contract polio, just by being near the Barfield children. Jim Barfield felt ostracized by the community: there were no play-dates, or birthday parties, no sleep-overs or playground friends. These early experiences helped encourage his introverted nature, a trait common to many writers. Barfield truly welcomes sitting quietly with himself and writing.
As a consequence of his early life, going to school filled Barfield with fear. He was ill-prepared for what it would be like to be around so many kids the same age as he, and in such a structured environment. A woman he didn’t even know had all this authority over him, and he hated being separated from his mother. He remembers looking at his mother and thinking, “Isn’t there anything you can do?” He knows that look all too well on the faces of his own children on their first day of school. In many ways, school is the first of many infringements on parent-child relationship.
When Barfield was about nine years old, the family moved to Clairmont Road, just outside of Atlanta. His insulation and isolation ended. By the time he got to high school, Jim was golden; one of the chosen people. Everyone revolved around a small group of his friends. He was a successful athlete and played in The Hustlers, a High school rock band, at many school functions. In some ways, he and his group were over their heads for their age. They even had gigs at the Georgia Tech fraternity parties.
Sometimes Barfield wishes he could get those days back. Instead, he balances his writing with his career as criminal defense lawyer and a county judge in juvenile court. The juvenile court system in Georgia involves working with the families to instill good parenting habits. Barfield finds it’s gratifying to work with deprived families for two or three years, and see the parents rise above circumstances and learn to meet the basic needs of their families.
The best advice Barfield has for young people is to continue to play within the rules of society and school. It really does not get you anywhere to color outside the lines. Rely on your own instincts about what you want to do with your life. That said, like Elsa and David in Boxcars, it’s important to be persistent at what you know to be true. Do not give in to something that is not honest to your own heart and soul.
Lawyers like Barfield look at issues from all the angles, to balance facts and equities. They begin to look at life that way. For better or worse, the training makes lawyers a product of that training. That’s a great attribute in developing characters for a book, because each character looks a life through a unique lens.
Another factor in writing Boxcars is Barfield’s heritage. His grandmother was an immigrant German Jew. As a small child, Barfield spent a lot of time with her. Always talking to Barfield and telling stories, Grandma often reminisced about her relatives left in Europe. She taught Barfield about his heritage while he helped her cook. She’d pull out recipes, which were all written in German. The handwriting or the recipe, or perhaps the smell of the old-world food cooking brought back memories. She allowed tears to roll down her cheeks as she recalled bygone days of her life in Germany. Perhaps she felt a little guilty that she didn’t encourage them to move to USA.
Barfield honors Grandma’s family names, Flatauer and Goettinger, in Boxcars. Grandma stayed in touch with her family and some even came to America and visited. She lost contact somewhere between 1938 and 1939 and never heard from any of them again. Back then, she had no way of finding out what became of her family. Barfield discovered that all of his grandmother’s relatives perished in the holocaust by visiting www.yadvashem.org
For Barfield, family is a huge and essential part of his life. He sees his father daily, and visits with his brother and sister, his cousins and his aunts and uncles every week. His grandmother’s loss left a lasting impression.
Barfield chose France as the setting for Boxcars partly because of the geography. The beauty of the Catholic cathedrals he saw there blew him away “a beauty and magnificence beyond description.” That’s why Elsa, the young Roma girl, was so amazed when she ventured into a cathedral outside Paris.
Barfield chose to write a young adult novel because his whole life’s work with teens and youth. He gives kudos to his young editor Anna Welsh for her insight and language arts ability, and to his cousin Mary Lawrence, for her editing skills.
Barfield’s music background had a big impact on the story line. Django, Elsa’s uncle, is important to anyone who studies and appreciates fine jazz. He is one of the great guitar innovators.
Barfield wrote the lyrics and music to the songs found in Boxcars.
Little Five Corners where Barfield grew up, went from a typical middle class neighborhood with an atypical family helping polio victims, to an avant-garde urban bohemian Greenwich Village of the south. So too, Jim Barfield is transforming himself from a defense lawyer and part-time judge to a successful novelist. Boxcars can be purchased in print form or as e-book form at Amazon.com. If you buy the print version, you also receive a CD of Barfield’s original songs “Boxcars” and “Mad at the World.” Yes indeed, Jim Barfield is accomplishments as a musician continued well after he left his young adult days behind him.