Interview: September 24, 2010
New York Times bestselling author Beverly Barton has readers hanging on to their seats once again with her latest novel, DON’T CRY, which follows grief counselor Audrey Sherrod and Special Agent J.D. Cass as they try to unlock the key to a string of grisly murders, only to discover that the truth might lie in a series of horrific crimes that have long since been forgotten --- or at least by everyone but Audrey. In this interview with Bookreporter.com’s Donna Volkenannt, Barton discusses the places and people that inspired her most recent novel, revealing how she managed to portray a realistic police investigation and why she chose historic Chattanooga as a setting. She also contemplates Cracker Barrel’s reaction to one of the book’s creepiest murder scenes, speculates on why serial killers seem so normal, and reveals her plans for a spellbinding sequel.
Bookreporter.com: DON’T CRY, your latest romantic suspense novel, connects horrific crimes committed decades apart. Did the idea come from actual crimes you either read or heard about, or is it a total work of fiction?
Beverly Barton: DON’T CRY is a total work of fiction, but it’s based in the reality of true crimes. We have all read and heard about infant and child kidnappings and about serial killers who choose a certain type when they kill again and again. What I did was link two horrible scenarios, each storyline taken from today’s headlines. It was a matter of playing that old writer’s game of “What If” to create a unique plot.
BRC: DON’T CRY is set in historic Chattanooga, Tennessee. Your descriptions of the sights, sounds and smells of Chattanooga are picturesque and real, yet different from your novels set in Alabama. Why did you choose Chattanooga as the setting for your new book?
BB: Chattanooga is one of my favorite cities in the South. Although I was born in Alabama and have spent most of my life here, I actually grew up in Chattanooga and have family and friends who live there now. Chattanooga is a city that combines the old with the new. It is an old-fashioned, modern Southern town and one of the most scenically beautiful places on earth.
BRC: The facts, dialogue, relationships and politics involved in police investigations are an integral part of the book. How did you research the law enforcement details and specifics?
BB: I was fortunate to have Lt. Tim Carroll, Commander of the Major Crimes Division for the Chattanooga PD, as a research advisor while writing DON’T CRY. Tim answered every question I asked, no matter how mundane, and gave me a greater insight into the remarkable job police officers do on a daily basis. We corresponded via numerous e-mail messages and phone calls. And Tim, who has been promoted to Assistant Police Chief, has agreed to help me when I begin work on the proposed sequel.
BRC: The first body discovered attributed to the Rocking Chair killer is found displayed in a rocking chair in front of a Cracker Barrel restaurant. That image is vivid and memorable. The next time I visit a Cracker Barrel, I will think about that scene. What has been the response from readers about the murder scenes in DON’T CRY? Have you heard anything from people connected with the restaurant?
BB: I have eaten at this wonderful Cracker Barrel in Lookout Valley on numerous occasions. Not one reader has mentioned anything about the first victim being found in rocking chair on the CB porch. I did hear from a Cracker Barrel employee who works for another CB in a different area, who mentioned that where she works, the restaurant has a night guard who would have found the body.
BRC: J.D. Cass, the hero in DON’T CRY, is a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation agent who won’t be receiving a Father of the Year award any time soon. The heroine, Audrey Sherrod, is a grief counselor who knows about grief firsthand. J.D. and Audrey are at odds, especially over how J.D. relates to his teenage daughter, but fate throws them together and their chemistry heats up the pages. What are your plans to bring these characters back in another novel?
BB: I had intended for DON’T CRY to be a stand-alone novel, but about halfway through the first draft, I realized that these characters were not through with me, nor was I finished with them. The romance between Audrey and J.D. needs further development, as does J.D.’s relationship with his daughter. Audrey’s best friend Tam needs to rebuild her life and I’d like to explore that. And of course, there’s J.D.’s sister Julie. So readers can expect to see DON’T SAY A WORD, the tentative title for the sequel, hit the stands sometime in 2012.
BRC: Mental illness, substance abuse and dealing with the loss of a child are key issues in DON’T CRY. How did you research these topics? Did you consult mental health or other professionals?
BB: I did extensive reading on these subjects, but I also drew from real life experiences of friends and family members who have dealt with these issues --- mental illness, substance abuse and the loss of a child. And I did consult with a mental health professional and am counting on her assistance when I write the sequel.
BRC: After writing so many novels dealing with murder and other crimes, what are among the most interesting or unusual crime facts you have learned?
BB: One of the most frightening facts I’ve learned about serial killers is how ordinary and normal they appear to be. Sometimes, they’re just “the guy next door” who seems to live a relatively normal life. And just as terrifying is the fact that some of these killers are actually charming.
BRC: Your books have been in print in 15 languages. That’s an amazing accomplishment! What have been some of the responses to your novels from readers in other countries?
BB: I am always thrilled when I hear from my readers, but especially so when they are contacting me from around the world. Apparently a good mystery/thriller with a strong romance included in the storyline is appreciated universally. I receive reader mail from the UK, Australia and Canada more than any other countries, but I have heard from readers in Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, Germany and South America, to name only a few.
BRC: You have a website and a Facebook fan page. How has having a presence on the Internet changed how you interact with your readers?
BB: I’m new to Facebook, but I’ve been fascinated by the way readers respond to my posts and seem interested in everything I have to say. I’m finding Facebook a relatively easy and fun way to stay in touch with my readers. I receive e-mails daily via my website, and due to the number of messages I receive, I am unable to reply personally to each one. But I read all the messages and try to answer often-asked questions when we send out my e-mail newsletter, which we do several times a year.
BRC: Both your main and secondary characters are memorable and unique. How do you decide which characters to use in subsequent novels?
BB: Odd as it may sound, I think the characters decide for me. Certain characters demand their own book. At some point while writing the current work-in-progress, I realize that this character or that character has his or her own story that needs to be told.
BRC: What are you working on now, and when might readers expect to see it?
BB: I just completed the second book in the Dead By trilogy, DEAD BY MORNING, which is set for a May 2011 release. This book features Powell agent Maleah Perdue, as the heroine and former FBI profiler, now Powell consultant, Derek Lawrence as the hero. At present, I’m in the planning and plotting stage of the third Dead By novel in the trilogy, DEAD BY NIGHTFALL, which will feature the hero and heroine from THE MURDER GAME, Griffin Powell and Nicole Baxter Powell. Readers have been clamoring for another book for these two, a book that will reveal the complete story about Griff’s mysterious past. DEAD BY NIGHTFALL is set for a December 2011 release.
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