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Interview: February 8, 2008

February 8, 2008

In this interview with's Maggie Harding, Beverly Barton --- the award-winning author of over 60 books, including CLOSE ENOUGH TO KILL, THE DYING GAME and the newly released THE MURDER GAME --- explains how she is able to maintain a balance between the romantic and thriller elements in her writing, and describes the research she performs in order to accurately portray her characters' actions from a psychological standpoint.

She also discusses how she handles the challenges of having a career that thrives under solitude and shares what she has in store for her recurring characters in future works. What was your inspiration for THE MURDER GAME?

Beverly Barton: The inspiration for the romance in the book came from the sexual tension between Nic and Griff while they were bitter adversaries in THE DYING GAME. It was one of those things that just happened. It wasn’t planned.

Also, part of the suspense/serial killer inspiration/idea for this book began in the prequel, THE DYING GAME. I knew that Pudge would want to “play” again, so from that point, it was only a matter of deciding what type of new game he would devise. Since I wanted the new game to be a very personal issue for Griffin Powell, I needed a game that would relate in some way to what had happened to him during those 10 missing years of his life. One thought led to another and then another, and the plot formed.

Writers are asked, probably more than any other question, where you get your ideas/inspiration. That is such a difficult question to answer because we usually can’t pinpoint the exact source. My mind is a convoluted storage bin of knowledge/information gathered during a lifetime, so ideas/inspiration come from everywhere and from everything.

BRC: You detail each kidnapping that leads up to the Hunter's ultimate challenge. Was that meant to underline the killer's depravity or to build suspense?

BB: Both. A “normal” person can never truly understand the mind of a depraved killer, but in a murder/suspense story, the reader needs to see into the mind of this type of person to fully grasp how mentally sick the killer is and how this type of person can justify his/her actions. With each kidnapping and murder, a writer gradually builds the suspense, making the reader wonder what is going to happen next.

BRC: The back story involving the attraction between Griff and Nic has all the elements of a stand-alone romance. How do you balance writing the romance and the suspense plotlines in your books?

BB: As most of my readers know, I began my career writing romance and there’s nothing I like better than a good love story. Writing about relationships comes as easily to me as breathing. And ever since I read my first Ellery Queen novel when I was a teenager, I’ve been intrigued by mystery/suspense novels. Blending romance with suspense is a balancing act, the precise combination --- how much of each --- is dictated by the story/plot itself and by the characters, and varies from book to book. You don’t want one to overshadow the other because you want to satisfy your romance readers and your suspense readers without shortchanging either. I plot the mystery before I write the book, and then I let my natural writer’s instincts take over while I’m writing. I go into the “zone” and simply write.

BRC: There must be quite a bit of psychological development that goes into creating a character like Pudge. Have you studied forensic psychology, or do you compile various deviant traits to craft such a vicious villain?

BB: Over the years, I have collected a small private library of books and magazines on various subjects, and I’m always adding new material. I have numerous books on serial killers, mostly written by law enforcement officers such as former FBI profilers and agents/officers who have firsthand knowledge of this type of killer. I’ve spoken to and corresponded with FBI agents, police officers, sheriffs and their deputies, highway patrol officers, district attorneys, etc., and have found their assistance invaluable. Our local RWA chapter has brought in a variety of speakers, from a SWAT team to psychologists specializing in human behavior, and I’ve learned a great deal from them. But when I am creating a killer, I try to make him/her unique, not simply a carbon copy of a true-life killer.

BRC: Pinky and Pudge as serial killers? The nicknames took me by surprise. Any significance to them?

BB: As readers know, Pinky and Pudge were distant cousins, both “odd ducks” from childhood. In THE DYING GAME, when each of them was introduced, I made some vague references to the fact that Pinky had fat rosy cheeks, which is how he got the nickname. The same is true of Pudge --- he was an overweight, “pudgy” child. Pinky and Pudge refer to each other throughout the book by these boyhood nicknames, showing readers the depth of their affection for one another. And yes, I deliberately chose cute, even endearing nicknames for these two diabolical killers. Never judge a book by its cover or a person by his/her name.

BRC: No matter how much we like the main characters, we often get frustrated with their difficulty to communicate honestly with one another. For example, Nicole seems to go to extremes to be rude to Griff. How do you decide when to let her lighten up?

BB: Human relationships are complex, and we are hostile to another person for various reasons. Often, we assume we know a person and misjudge them. Nic and Griff did just that. Nic was a woman who, because of her chauvinistic father, felt she had to prove she was tough and strong and as good as any man. Also, she was dealing with her guilt over her husband’s death. The last thing she wanted was to become emotionally involved with a strong, macho guy she thought was a lot like her father. She used hostility to protect herself from Griff. She begins to “lighten up” gradually as she gets to know Griff on a personal level and realizes she has misjudged him.

BRC: You’ve managed to capture the essence of so many different types of people in THE MURDER GAME. How do you switch your thinking from the loyal Sanders to the twisted killer?

BB: I’ve actually never thought about how I do it. But just think about how many people you encounter on an average day. How you act and react with each one is different. You can go from screaming at your children to answering the phone with a pleasant voice, all in the span of seconds. In that same way, I go from writing about a depraved killer to writing about a loyal, trusted friend by simply switching gears. Being able to do this may be because, as a writer, I have a host of characters inside my head all the time, each vying for attention. 

BRC: Speaking of Sanders, he is such a great friend and assistant to Griff. Do you have any plans for him and Barbara to have bigger roles in a future book?

BB: I don’t have any exact plans, but I hope to include Griff and Nic, as well as Sanders and Barbara Jean, in future books. I’d like the opportunity to delve deeper into Sanders’s life and also into Dr. Yvette Meng’s life. Who knows, maybe one day each will have his/her own book.

BRC: Even your minor characters are memorable and elicit emotions from the reader. What are some of the techniques you use to develop them? Do you ever allow the characters to pull the story in unexpected directions?

BB: I really don’t have any special technique to develop my secondary characters. Just as my main characters are very real to me, so are my minor characters and I find all of them utterly fascinating. The story dictates the characters, who they are, what their purpose is in the book, etc. I get to know them as I’m writing about them, and oddly enough, they reveal unexpected things about themselves to me. I want my readers to know them as I do. As for characters pulling me in unexpected directions --- it happens in every book.

BRC: Do you think that every violent, deviant person has some compelling psychological reason behind their behavior, or are some people just plain evil?

BB: I’m not an expert by any means, but I believe that many killers do have compelling psychological problems caused either by some genetic malfunction or from horrific childhood experiences. But I also believe that it is possible some people are innately amoral, totally without a conscience.

BRC: How would you describe your writing style? Can you think of anyone that directly influenced or inspired it?

BB: My writing style: fast-paced, lean, character-driven.

Anyone who inspired it: Probably every writer that I’ve read whose style appealed to me.

BRC: Writers often refer to loneliness that they experience while writing. Since you often write more than one book a year, how do you deal with that aspect of your career?

BB: I believe that the loneliness we experience as writers is essential. We have to live, at least part of the time, in the world we’re creating, and that means cutting ourselves off from others. We work in solitary confinement day after day. What keeps us sane are the same things that nurture and comfort every human being --- family and friends. I make time for my family and my friends. Two of my best friends are writers, and we email one another daily. We share our ups and downs, our problems, our frustrations, our triumphs. We talk about writing, our husbands, our children, our grandchildren, our pets, our diets, our health, shopping, etc. 

BRC: What can we expect in your next book? Can we look forward to more of Griff in future novels?

BB: My next novel for Kensington’s Zebra imprint is COLD HEARTED, due out in September this year. My hero, Rick Carson, is an agent for Griffin Powell’s private security and investigation agency. Rick is hired by the wealthy, influential Price family of Georgia to investigate the death of Senator Daniel Price. The police ruled the senator’s death a suicide, but his brother believes it was homicide. As Rick searches for the truth, he unearths startling information that leads him and the authorities to suspect that the late senator’s wife, Jordan, could be a Black Widow. Complicating matters is Rick’s sexual attraction to the lovely, vulnerable widow.

Yes, I hope to include Griff and Nic in future books, probably as secondary characters. They make several appearances in COLD HEARTED.