Five years ago, Brandt Ricca had an idea. With three sisters who were having children at the time, he decided to use his writing background to create something they could enjoy: a middle grade book series he’s since named The Barris Books.
The fantasy series, set in 1952 New Orleans, follows the story of Barris Hart, who falls asleep each night into a dream world that relates to a personal problem he’s having at the beginning of the book. There he meets Gracie, a Keeper of the Universe, who serves as his guide through each world as he encounters magic and characters along the way. The first installation of the series, “Barris and the Prince of Rappa,” was released on October 5, while the second book is available for pre-order now and set to come out February 8, 2022.
What started as a passion project for the communications professional has now become a full-blown professional endeavor, albeit not until somewhat recently. While the series concept was developed five years ago, Ricca says that he let it fall by the wayside for a period before returning with a reignited determination and the artistic help of D.C.-based interior designer Matt Miller, who is the illustrator of the series.
“The series concept was developed when I was going through a huge personal change. I tend to dream about what I’m stressed out about, so that’s where the whole concept came into play,” Ricca says.
Miller was intrigued by this aspect of the plot. While he has a degree and professional experience in interior design, he’s new to the illustration world and thought the dream concept would be a good opportunity to experiment with his art.
“I feel like I pulled a lot from my own dreams too. I always tend to have vivid dreams that I remember. So that was what really captured me in the beginning, because I thought it’d be cool to try to incorporate some of my own dream visuals into the book,” he says.
The series also includes more personal throughlines for author Brandt Ricca than just dreams. As a Louisiana native, Ricca was heavily influenced by the rich culture and history of his home state and wanted to incorporate it into the plot of the series.
“I’m from outside New Orleans, and it’s actually one of my favorite cities to visit. When you’re there, you feed off the energy and creativity; it’s a very brightly colored city. I like the history of it as well, which goes back to myths and legends, voodoo, witchcraft and all that good stuff. It felt like a natural fit,” Ricca says.
Miller was also excited to represent the personality of Southern architecture with his illustrations.
“I do a lot of interior design and architectural renderings. I love architecture, so I wanted to somehow include some. Especially with the Southern architecture, I wanted a chance to draw it and make it a little more whimsical,” Miller says.
Ricca and Miller are eager for the release of book two, which Ricca says is a product of them both becoming more comfortable with the Barris Books characters and universe.
“I think Matt and I are more comfortable with the Barris Books universe in book two. I was [especially] more comfortable with the characters, so there’s a lot more dialogue and sassiness,” Ricca says. “We’re also doing a lot of historical stuff, so actual things that were going on in 1953 in New York City and New Orleans with Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day [are included]. It’s more complex issues and backstories of characters, which made it more fun to write.”
And while the Barris Books are marketed towards young adults and middle grade children, Ricca says there’s something for everybody.
“A lot of adults who read it have messaged me saying it reminded them of their imagination as a kid,” he says. “I think this book could be for anyone.”
Book two of the Barris Books series, “Barris and the Clown of Trell,” comes out February 8 and is available for pre-order now. You can purchase both books at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Target and Politics and Prose. And keep an eye out for the third installation of the series, which is set for an April release.
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