I was born in 1976 in Missoula, Montana to a hard-working blue collar family. While the women in my family followed traditional paths, my male role models were renaissance men; one grandpa invented the wet/dry vacuum, retired early, then spent his time building, restoring, and flying airplanes, while another worked for 36 years at the local pulp mill yet told amazing stories of his years in the South Pacific during WW2 and of his youth working his grandma’s ranch in southwestern Montana. His tall tales rooted me in local and family history and awakened within me the love of a well-told story. My father, John, a skilled construction painter, was always tinkering with things; from fabricating an aluminum airplane in our basement, to building our cabin in the woods with nothing more than hand tools, to restoring vintage cars from the ground up (he did all the work himself, overhauling motors, straightening and painting body panels, even rewiring 50-year-old cars), he instilled in his kids a strong desire to create things of our own.
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My mother Cindy, a PBS junkie and avid reader of all fiction, encouraged me to explore my imagination from an early age, reading Grimm’s Faerie Tales to me from birth and putting The Hobbit before me at age 6. While I did not particularly understand the subtleties of the book, I was instantly hooked on stories of fantastic and mysterious places and the creatures who lurked within them. Over the years I read and re-read every faerie tale I could get my hands on, moving eventually through swords and sorcery novels to modern epic fantasy. In my four years at Missoula’s Sentinel High School, I was better known for whiling away class time with the latest Robert Jordan novel beneath my desk rather than paying attention to my teachers . . . not a well-advised plan if one wishes to succeed in life, but there it is.
For two years after high school I stayed well away from college and pursued writing on my own while working at theWaldenbooks store in Missoula. I began the Child of the Myriad in those days, but did not know enough yet about the art of the novel to find much success. At the ripe old age of 19, I successfully entwined myself into the life of my then girlfriend Melissa Pfau and convinced her to marry me, which is still the single best decision I ever made. With her influence I decided to attend the University of Montana’s creative writing program where under the guidance of a few inspiring teachers, I studied the craft of the short story. It seemed only natural to find work at the Mansfield Library on campus, where I roamed the stacks, rifling through more old books than I put away. I also followed in my father’s footsteps, taking up the painting trade to work my way through school.
In the pursuit of learning enough about our world to create a realistic and interesting Land of my own, I studied geography, history, and French, as well as middle eastern culture and the Arabic language, eventually jumping on the opportunity to travel to Morocco for a semester to study Arabic as an exchange student. During my time in North Africa, I absorbed as much culture and tradition as I could, wandering through crowded bazaars and old, bustling neighborhoods in search of things I had never before seen. Since I only took the single class, I spent my time traveling, talking, and writing. I began what is still the opening scene of the Child of the Myriad in the ancient city of Fes, in the Atlas Mountains.
Morocco ignited within me a passion for seeing other places, experiencing other cultures, and speaking with people in their own languages. In an effort to expand my sense of medieval Europe, I studied Italian for 5 months before traveling to Italy in 2001. My understanding of the ancient world deepened, as did my desire to return. Our trip to Italy added so much depth to my writing that I decided to travel to France in 2004, where we visited museums, castles, and spoke with as many French people as possible, some of whom unwittingly found their way into my stories. Throughout the summer of 2006 I studied both Portugese and Spanish in preparation for a trip Melissa and I took to Iberia in November. Traipsing through Moorish castles and Spanish cathedrals brought me some great inspiration for my second novel. We even managed to return to Tangier for an afternoon to see how the city had changed in 7 years.
In the summer of 2000, after graduating from college, my brother Josh and I opened J.Barba Painting, a house painting business, something which has turned out to work to my advantage as a writer, as it offers me a flexible enough schedule to devote myself to the Child of the Myriad.
I never pursued a career aside from painting and writing other than an unsuccessful attempt at becoming a spy for the CIA (I almost got the job, but even though they flew me out to Washington DC for the final interview and psychological exam, the CIA decided not to hire me, something for which I was not happy about at the time, but am grateful for now).