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Interview: April 13, 2007

April 13, 2007

Bestselling author Beverly Barton has written over 60 books, including CLOSE ENOUGH TO KILL, KILLING HER SOFTLY and THE LAST TO DIE. In this interview with's Hillary Wagy, Barton discusses how she became inspired to write her latest novel, THE DYING GAME, and explains the motivations and inner workings behind its main characters, Judd Walker and Lindsay McAllister.

She also talks about the difficulty she experiences when writing violent scenes, shares her thoughts on one of the key elements of the romance novel and reveals what she has in store for two secondary characters in a future work. What gave you the idea for THE DYING GAME?

Beverly Barton: When I wrote KILLING HER SOFTLY, I introduced a secondary character, Judd Walker, who was engaged to a former Miss Tennessee. When I decided to write a book about Judd, the idea just hit me from out of the blue that his bride should be the victim of a serial killer. The fact that she was a former beauty queen sparked the idea that all the victims were former beauty queens. It's like a domino effect; one idea hits another and then another and another. Maybe it's a domino effect in reverse because instead of destroying, I was creating.

BRC: The murder scenes are gruesome and graphic. Were these scenes created from your imagination, or were they based on actual murder cases investigated by the FBI?

BB: Whenever I write a scene, it is from my imagination, but it's always affected by my research on any given subject, so that sometimes I don't know for sure where actual facts leave off and my imagination begins --- or vice/versa.

BRC: There is a prevalent dichotomy between the graphic murder scenes and the steamy romantic scenes. How do you mentally shift from writing the twisted thoughts of the murderer and the gruesome sights he left behind to writing tender moments between the lovers?

BB: I don't write a murder scene and a love scene the same day. Love scenes come to me as naturally as breathing and that's one of the reasons I've been writing romance for most of my career. The graphic murder scenes take a huge toll on me, mentally and emotionally. I'm a very emotional person, thus a very emotional writer. I "feel" my characters' emotions, so when I go into a dark, frightening, often sadistic person's mind, I don't come out untouched by the darkness. After writing that type of scene, I walk away from the computer and do something "happy" that brings me back to reality, back into the light.

BRC: While reading THE DYING GAME, I found myself more aware of my surroundings and less trusting in certain situations. Did you intentionally portray the female victims as trusting to warn women that we too can be victims of brutal crimes?

BB: I suppose, subconsciously, I did just that. I try to portray characters in a realistic manner, make them seem like real people and not just characters in a book. Many women, perhaps most women, are far too trusting, and it would be very easy for a criminal to get the upper hand. Most women want to be helpful, caring and obliging, all wonderful traits. My villain studied his victim, figured out the best way to trick her into being alone with him, and then went in for the kill. Unfortunately, this type of killer is not fictitious; these men exist. We women need to learn to be aware without being paranoid.

BRC: Why choose beauty queens as victims? The juxtapositions of beauty and brutality, bombshell and blood, were very gripping.

BB: As I mentioned, Judd Walker's wife being a former beauty queen triggered this idea. The villain was playing a game, each victim a trophy, a prize. Who better to fill that role than a woman who had been singled out for her beauty and talent?

BRC: Each of the brutal murders is shocking, but the first murder we are introduced to hits the reader the hardest. The visual and emotional trauma of a man holding his beloved wife minus her hands is heartbreaking to read. Was there some special intent in having each victim's gruesome remains found in most cases by their husbands or lovers?

BB: Often in this type of case, the husband does discover the body and becomes a suspect. That's a documented fact. But on a purely emotional level, I wanted readers to see the effect this type of crime has on the man who loved the victim. How does he feel? How does he react? How does this affect his life? So often a suspense/thriller novel is seen through the investigators' eyes --- cold, hard facts. I want readers to see what this type of crime does to a victim's family, as well as the toll it takes on the investigators.

BRC: Fear is a powerful presence in THE DYING GAME. How did you research the elements of fear before dying for the riveting scenes just before each beauty queen is brutally murdered?

BB: I simply put myself into the victim's place and let my emotions take over completely. How would I feel? How would I react? What would I say or do if I were this particular woman? If I were she, would I fight, would I beg, would I pray? As a writer, I must be capable of, to some degree, becoming each of my characters as I write about her or him. Yes, even my villain. It is a strange "empathic" ability that many writers have to emotionally connect with their characters.

BRC: Judd's pain as the widower and his consuming desire for revenge is understandable. He is a broken man, who is an alcoholic, cynical and alone. It was nice to read the character of a woman who takes on the role of knight in shining armor. Was Lindsay patterned after someone you know, or a combination of all the traits that make women strong?

BB: Lindsay was definitely a combination, a composite of strong, dependable and loyal women, steel magnolias who are caretakers to their families and friends. I have been fortunate in my life to be surrounded by such women, those with the capacity to love deeply and unselfishly. These women were not/are not only capable of taking care of themselves, but were/are the glue that holds their families together through good times and bad.

BRC: Judd's character is also strong, despite the unbearable grief that is destroying his soul. A man who admits his shortcomings and asks for help is rare and exemplifies inner strength. Take us through your thought process as you transformed the Judd who is incapable of "human emotions, other than hatred and revenge," to the Judd who faces his demons in an attempt to recapture his life.

BB: Judd was a man who loved with everything in him. A man capable of loving that deeply would be almost destroyed by losing the love of his life. He had to reach rock bottom before he realized he wanted to live again. When Judd emotionally brutalized Lindsay and understood how deeply he had hurt a woman who would do anything to help him, he slowly began to feel emotions other than hatred, anger and revenge. Faced with the choice of losing Lindsay and the new life she offered him, or sinking deeper into alcoholism and depression, he knew he needed professional help. He had relied on Lindsay, used her, abused her love, and depended upon her to never forsake him. He came to realize that she was his salvation, and if he lost her, he would lose not only his life but also his soul.

BRC: "She was born to love this man and only this man. Now and forever." This is the essence of a romance novel. What is your personal opinion? Is it fantasy to believe this phrase, or is it a plausible reality?

BB: It is both fantasy and plausible reality. It depends on the person. I do believe that for some people, it is true. They may love many people during their lifetime, but there is only one true love for them. Others can find that rare gift of exceptional physical and emotional love with more than one person. As we love each of our children equally but differently, we can love others that way. First love is new and exciting, and for some of us it lasts a lifetime. For others, first love is only a prelude to a stronger, more enduring love later in life.

BRC: Griff Powell, Judd's loyal best friend and diligent private investigator, also has a mysterious past. Will we learn more about this past in a future novel?

BB: Most definitely. With each book in which Griff appeared as a minor character, he intrigued me more and more. I don't remember at which point I realized he would one day have his own book. Griffin Powell's story is in the works. It picks up where THE DYING GAME leaves off. And everything about those 10 missing years of Griff's life will be revealed.

BRC: FBI agent Nic Baxter and Griff Powell have a current of sexual electricity that sizzles. Will they appear in your next novel? Can you tell us more about this book and when it will be released?

BB: Yes, Griff and Nic will be forced to work together by a diabolical villain who is choosing very special victims to play his "murder game." Only after the villain sends both Nic and Griff messages about several recent murders in various states do they connect the crimes and realize a serial killer is on the loose, a killer who wants them to play along, to match wits with them, to accept that he can outsmart them. The hostility and sexual tension between Griff and Nic will reach an explosive point when the villain chooses Nic as a participant in his evil game. THE MURDER GAME will be released in February 2008.