Johnston native Barry Nickerson releases first book, `Misery Falls'

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When he’s not playing rugby, Barry Nickerson is writing.

The Johnston native and current St. Louis resident has had a knack for it since his days attending Rhode Island College in Providence. This talent led him to author his first book, “Misery Falls,” which came out Oct. 7 under the pen name Barry Makepeace.

The coming-of-age story involves teens of modest means figuring themselves out while living in a small town. It also ties in the classic conflict of good versus evil. It’s an interesting premise that folks from different backgrounds can identify with.

Nickerson and I recently had a talk about what made him want to pursue this endeavor; the shared influence that both his hometown and his current surroundings have on the book; and what he hopes readers take from it.

ROB DUGUAY: What motivated you to take the time to write “Misery Falls”?

BARRY NICKERSON: I’ve always considered myself a writer and I thoroughly enjoy the process of it. I like coming up with and idea and unleashing words to convey it. I also used to write for Rhode Island College's newspaper, The Anchor, while I attended there, and it really helped me hone my craft. With “Misery Falls,” I went into it with having no rules and limitations to what I wanted to write about. I started it in 2014 and it took me five years to complete, with a bunch of different paths taken along the way.

Another thing that motivated me is the lack of the LGBTQ community’s presence when it comes to creative mediums. I wanted to make something that gave people in that community, like myself, some visibility. I also wanted to give the reader a look at what exactly gay and trans people experience while in their teens, especially in a rural town like where “Misery Falls” takes place.

RD: Did you encounter any road blocks over the five years while writing it?

BN: Plenty of them. There were times when I encountered writer’s block and I didn’t know where to go with the story. I also dealt with some traumatic experiences during those five years while battling depression to go along with it. I started writing the book while living in Providence. Then I moved to Chicago in 2016, and now I’ve been living in St. Louis since 2018, so obviously the changes of scenery got in the way, too. When it comes to having writer’s block and getting out of it, I find the best way after taking a break is to look at what you’ve done so far and where you’ve left off thoroughly.

Don’t just glance over it, but examine it. Make some edits and figure out the flow of where it’s all going. I had to do that a few times and it really helped me get started with the work again.

RD: How did you go about choosing the fictional Midwestern town of Walnut Hill, Kansas, as the setting?

BN: From a transplant’s point of view, I find the Kansas and Missouri area along with the Midwest in general to be a very interesting place. There are tons of these podunk towns with not much going on, but at the same time they’re unique in their own way. The idea of Walnut Hill is in is based off of these kinds of towns. What’s funny about them is that they’ll have these ramshackle houses with these esteemed names. For example, one place could be called something like the Anderson Estate, but all the windows are boarded up, and another place could have a name like Williams Farms, but it’s all worn down and dilapidated trailers. There’s also a bit of an influence from where I grew up in Johnston.

RD: There’s also a superhero aspect in the book with the main character, Marah Baumgard, gaining the ability to manipulate fire. Is there anything specific that inspired that characteristic?

BN: That part of the character came from seeking out a way to make Marah stand out. The first name came from a girl I went to college with who I always thought had a great name, while the last name just came from me looking up interesting last names. Her gaining the power of fire came as a representation of the angst someone like Marah can deal with at the age of 17. There’s also attachment that comes from her mother and her grandmother, with the latter character being revealed in the sequel I’m currently working on.

RD: What do you hope people take from the book after they read it?

BN: I want people who are still trying to find themselves to take some hope from it. I think Marah is relatable to a lot of different kinds of people, ranging from the scared and awkward teens trying to navigate high school, the adults who went through that phase and the ones who are still trying to figure it out.

For Johnston, the book reflects a lot of what the town was like when I was growing up. Our high school was very underfunded and understaffed. I remember taking classes that didn’t even have an official teacher and the school system couldn’t find a sub. There were a lot of parents in Johnston that would have their kids go to schools in other towns and cities because they didn't trust the schools here.

There was always a cloud of poverty around the town, which is also present in Walnut Hill. Johnston has changed a lot since I was in my teens and the problems there now pale in comparison to how it was back in my adolescence. I’m happy for my hometown because of that. I ultimately want the book to give people hope, which is something we really need in this crazy and messed up world we live in.

Misery Falls is available for purchase on Amazon.

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