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Interview: February 26, 2010

February 26, 2010

Beverly Barton's most recent romantic thriller, DEAD BY MIDNIGHT, features Lorie Hammonds and Sheriff Mike Birkett --- secondary characters from the previous novel SILENT KILLER --- who find themselves caught up in a serial murder plot against the cast of an adult film. In this interview with's Donna Volkenannt, Barton credits her editor for the initial inspiration to create a protagonist with a sordid past and explains how much of her hometown influenced the book's fictional setting of Dunmore, Alabama. She also discusses the process of finding evocative titles for each of her books, singles out a few of her favorite characters from her backlist of over 60 titles, and shares details about various projects in the works --- including a new series and two follow-ups to DEAD BY MIDNIGHT. DEAD BY MIDNIGHT is a chilling romantic thriller about a deranged serial murderer, dubbed the “Midnight Killer,” who is killing people associated with a porn movie. The romantic part of the novel focuses on a woman who returns home and tries to rise above a sordid past to find love and self-respect. Where did the idea for this book come from?

Beverly Barton: In a roundabout way, the tiny idea “seed” came from my editor, John Scognamiglio, during a conversation we had several years ago. We were discussing plot ideas, as we’ve often done, and John mentioned my having a heroine with a sordid past, saying perhaps she’d been a Call Girl and something from her past had come back to destroy the new life she had built. I told John that I didn’t think I could write a heroine with that type of background, so I dismissed the thought. But when I was writing SILENT KILLER and gave my heroine, Cathy, a best friend, I decided that the friend, Lori, could have a sordid past. Little did I know at that point how much I would like and admire Lori or how much I wanted to see her reunited with her teenage sweetheart.

BRC: Lorie Hammonds and Sheriff Mike Birkett, secondary characters in SILENT KILLER, are the heroine and hero in DEAD BY MIDNIGHT. Some of your other characters from previous novels who appear here include Maleah Perdue and Derek Lawrence. When writing a continuing series such as this, how many books do you plot out in advance? How do you decide which characters to make as the main characters for subsequent books?

BB: Often I don’t plot ahead, even in my mind, except for the next book. And I’m seldom certain about which secondary characters will demand their own story be told next. I usually realize when a secondary character “speaks” to me on a certain level that he/she will be featured in another book. All that said, I will admit that I have the basic plot ideas for three upcoming novels, the second and third Dead By books and the sequel to my September 2010 novel, DON'T CRY.

BRC: Titles are important to a book’s success. DEAD BY MIDNIGHT is a provocative and eye-catching title, as are titles of other novels you have written. What process do you use to determine the titles for your books? Do you suggest several to your editor, or does your publisher select them?

BB: I always have a “working title” that I use and this title always has a connection to the story and means something to me. But often these titles are not “marketable titles” and my editor gives me a thumbs down and we work together to come up with something better. John has a remarkable knack for coming up with eye-catching titles. Some of my book titles were the “working titles,” some came about by discussions with John, and many are John’s titles. SILENT KILLER and COLD HEARTED were John’s titles. DEAD BY MIDNIGHT was mine, as was the idea to do a Dead By trilogy.

BRC: To readers who are fans of your novels, the town of Dunmore, Alabama, is a familiar place, as are many of its inhabitants. As a small fictional Southern town, Dunmore is a perfect setting with the atmosphere for a compelling romantic thriller --- secrets, passion, gossip, romance and murder. What can you tell readers not familiar with your books about Dunmore and the people who call it home?

BB: True confessions --- I loosely based Dunmore on my hometown of Tuscumbia. It’s entirely fictional, of course, as are the characters. Dunmore has a population of around 10,000. It is the county seat and boasts a beautiful old courthouse in the center of town. Many of the buildings date back to pre-Civil War days. The citizens are your typical small-town Southerners --- good, God-fearing Christian people, a mixture of races, religions and politics, but for the most part, old fashioned and conservative in their beliefs.

BRC: I love the book trailer for DEAD BY MIDNIGHT. It is mysterious and evocative, and makes the characters seem real and the death threats ominous. What has been the response from other readers to the trailer?

BB: Everyone seems to love the trailer. Most of my readers have been impressed with how well the trailer fits the book. My agent was even impressed and posted a link on his blog. Pamela Fryer, the talented lady who designed my website and keeps it updated, also creates a video trailer for each new book.

BRC: As a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, you have created a winning recipe for writing romantic suspense novels. What are your special ingredients for creating a compelling romantic suspense story?

BB: Nothing is more important than creating a hero and heroine that I like and believe my readers will like as well. I want readers to become involved in the characters’ lives and invested in the outcome of their romance. I want my characters to be as realistic as possible, to have real problems, to have hopes and fears and the types of flaws that all humans have. Once I create these compelling characters, I then place them in the middle of a mystery/suspense situation that is personal to them. They are never simply bystanders to the action, but are mentally and/or emotionally involved.

BRC: After writing more than 50 novels, you have created hundreds of fictional characters. It must be difficult to pick out a few favorite characters from such a large list, but could you share the names of a few standout ones and tell us why they are your favorites?

BB: Usually the book I’m working on at the time is my favorite book and those characters are my favorites. But looking back, I have to admit that from my long-running The Protectors series, my favorite hero was Sam Dundee. And there are two men who stand out in my mind from the Zebra romantic suspense novels --- Johnny Mack Cahill (AFTER DARK) and Griffin Powell.

BRC: What happens after you write your first draft? Do you have a first reader? On average, how many drafts do you complete before you send a manuscript to your editor?

BB: What seems to work best for me is to write a first draft, and then do a second draft that consists of revising and polishing, and finish by doing a final proof reading before I turn the manuscript over to my editor. My first drafts are fairly solid and it is the truly “hard part” of producing a novel.

BRC: I read on your website that you grew up loving movies and used to rewrite films to give their stories happy endings. What were some of your favorite movies growing up, and what are your favorites now?

BB: It would take at least a page or two to list all my favorite old movies because there are so many. I love anything starring Tyrone Power. I’m a big Barbara Stanwyck fan, especially of her comedies like Christmas in Connecticut and Remember the Night. John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara in The Quiet Man and Clark Gable and Geer Garson in Adventure. Then there are Portrait of Jennie (from the wonderful Robert Nathan novel), An Affair to Remember and The African Queen. Those are only a few of my favorites. And I have a passion for all the versions of Pride and Prejudice and own four versions on DVD, including the 1940 film starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson as Darcy and Elizabeth, the 1985 BBC production, the 2001 A&E/BBC miniseries with Colin Firth as Darcy, and the 2006 film with Keira Knightley as Elizabeth.

As for now? I don’t have many favorites, although I enjoy many of the more recent movies I’ve seen and liked King Arthur with Clive Owen and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’ve enjoyed the Harry Potter movies I’ve watched with my grandsons. And I liked the two Batman movies with Christian Bale.

BRC: What are you working on now? When will we learn more about mysterious billionaire Griffin Powell and company?

BB: I’m finishing up DON'T CRY, a novel set in Chattanooga, Tennessee, featuring Dr. Audrey Sherrod, a mental health counselor, and J.D. Cass, a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent. I originally plotted this book to be a single, stand-alone romantic suspense novel, but about halfway through the writing process, I realized it would have a sequel. DON'T CRY is scheduled for a September 2010 release, followed in 2011 by the sequel tentatively titled DON'T SAY A WORD.

Readers can expect to see more of Griffin Powell, his wife Nicole, and his old friends Sanders and Dr. Yvette Meng in the next two Dead By books (tentatively set for releases in 2011 and 2012). When I first introduced Griffin Powell as a minor secondary character in the second and third Cheroke Pointe trilogy novels, I had no idea that my fascination with this mysterious billionaire would ignite such an interest from my readers. Look for Nic and Griff’s marital problems to escalate in the next Dead By book, featuring Maleah Perdue and Derek Lawrence as the main protagonists.

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