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Interview: September 25, 2009

September 25, 2009

SILENT KILLER, the latest novel by award-winning romance and romantic suspense author Beverly Barton, centers on a serial killer with a rather unlikely group of targets --- members of the clergy. In this interview with’s Donna Volkenannt, Barton discusses what inspired this unique and rather timely plot, and gives readers insight into her instinctive method of writing, in which she completely immerses herself in the characters she creates. She also comments on the authenticity of non-Southern writers who attempt to portray the region's distinct feel, touts the benefits of being an active member of the Romance Writers of America, and talks about her current projects to be published over the next few years. Hypocrisy, the destructive power of both gossip and secrets, and abuse by clergy members play prominently in SILENT KILLER. What prompted you to write a book about a murderer out for vengeance against members of the clergy?

Beverly Barton: I believe that the vast majority of the clergy are good decent people who believe in the doctrines of their particular religion and do their best to live exemplary lives. But the height of hypocrisy is reached by religious leaders who profess their righteousness when in fact they are the worst of sinners. Examples of this are on the nightly news: priests who sexually abuse young boys, ministers who have affairs with church members or frequent prostitutes, clergy who dupe the gullible public into giving millions “for the Lord’s work” so they can live in the lap of luxury.

I thought about how someone mentally disturbed might retaliate against such clergymen --- both those who were guilty and those perceived to be guilty --- and that became the premise for the suspense/mystery plot of the book.

BRC: SILENT KILLER is told from multiple points of view, including the killer’s. Do you have a “magic number” of POV characters for your novels?

BB: No. I let the story guide me. I’m guilty of having “a cast of thousands” in many of my novels, but sometimes the complex plot requires numerous POV characters in order to properly tell the tale.

BRC: Your characters in SILENT KILLER, even the secondary ones, are unique and life-like. Your plot and sub-plots are detailed and well developed. My question is: Do you consider yourself a plot-driven or a character-driven novelist?

BB: That’s a difficult question to answer because at one time I knew I was a character-driven novelist. But when you write suspense/mystery in any form, you have to become plot-driven, at least to a certain extent. So I suppose the correct answer is I’m a combination writer -- probably 60% character-driven and 40% plot-driven.

BRC: Your suspense and murder scenes are graphic and at times brutal. Some of your romantic scenes are touching and tender, while others are lust-filled and earthy. What technique do you use to switch writing moods?

BB: I write by instinct. The characters and their stories guide me through each scene and from one scene to another. I immerse myself, mentally and emotionally, into the characters “on stage” and what they are doing, as well as what they are thinking and feeling, emerges from inside me onto my computer screen.

BRC: Throughout SILENT KILLER there are several clues that hint at the identity of the killer, yet I was somewhat surprised to discover who the killer was. In previous interviews, you stated when you plot a book you know who the killer is. But I’m curious if the killer’s identity ever changes as you write the story.

BB: Rarely, but in one of my older romantic suspense novels, that actually did happen. About a third of the way into the book, I knew I had chosen the wrong person as the killer. But I can recall only that one time. As a general rule, I always know the killer’s identity before I start writing the book. This is the ideal way to weave in a few red herrings and drop a few hints about the identity of the real killer so readers won’t be completely dumbfounded when his/her identity is revealed.

BRC: SILENT KILLER portrays life in the South, as well as the values of small-town living: church, family, friends --- even food and gardens. What has been your readers’ reactions to your portrayal of Southern living?

BB: Readers who are born-and-bred Southerners usually comment on how authentic the portrayals are, how perfectly I capture the South that they know so well. Some of those readers have commented that scenes from my books are like pages taken from their own lives. I try to depict as accurate a picture as possible of Southerners from various social backgrounds and of both large Southern cities and small towns. And non-Southerners seem fascinated by the South and truly appreciate the authenticity of what a sixth-generation Alabamian writes.

There’s nothing worse than a book set in the South, with Southern characters, written by a non-Southerner who thinks he/she knows the South because they watched "The Beverly Hillbillies" or "Dallas" or “The Andy Griffith Show,” or because they’ve read Southern writers. Inevitably, a non-Southern writer will butcher true Southern dialect and, more times than not, create caricatures instead of true-to-life characters.

BRC: Everyone in SILENT KILLER seems to have a secret. The secrets are of a serious nature, but what about you? Do you have any not-so-serious secrets --- either humorous or playful --- you’d care to share with your readers?

BB: My life is pretty much an open book. I’m the outgoing, gregarious type who loves to talk about herself. I can keep other people’s secrets quite well, but I’m always “telling on myself” to friends, acquaintances, audiences at workshops and during speaking engagements. Whenever I do something outrageous or silly, I share that personal info, and occasionally friends use my experiences in their novels. When I “killed” a computer monitor by beating it to death with a huge hammer, a friend had her heroine’s mother in the book she was writing do exactly that.

BRC: You’ve been a two-time Maggie Award winner, a two-time National Reader’s Choice Award winner and a recipient of a Romantic Times Career Achievement Award for Series Romantic Adventure. Those are some amazing accomplishments. Does any award have a particular meaning to you?

BB: Receiving any award is great for the ego and I treasure each award. But when I won my first Maggie, I felt greatly honored because the other two finalists were writers who had judged me only a few years earlier in the unpublished division. One of these judges was Sandra Chastain, a lady I greatly admired and absolutely adored.

BRC: You are a prolific writer with more than 50 contemporary romance novels published, which means you’ve been writing for quite some time. What inspired you to become a writer, and how did you go about becoming one?

BB: I think I was born a storyteller. It’s as simple as that. I’m a storyteller first and foremost. Even as a young child, I had a vivid imagination and was always making up stories. I didn’t realize until I was in junior high school that everyone else didn’t have characters and stories floating around inside their heads all the time. I wrote my first book when I was nine and continued writing short stories, poetry and my teenage version of TV scripts throughout my high school years.

As for what inspired me --- I come from a family of storytellers. Members of my family, past and present, can take the most mundane event and retell it in a dramatic fashion. My father was an avid movie fan and introduced me to movies at a very young age. I became utterly fascinated by what I saw on the big screen. I often went home and rewrote the movie I’d just watched, especially if I didn’t like the ending.

BRC: Do you think it is beneficial to join a writer’s organization? If so, what advice do you have for writers before joining one?

BB: I don’t think one answer fits all. But as a general rule, I would advise anyone interested in writing any form of romance to join Romance Writers of America. The local chapter meetings can be worth their weight in gold if you’re lucky enough to belong to an active, vital chapter where the published and unpublished support and encourage one another. As an unpublished writer, joining RWA and helping found our Alabama chapter more than 20 years ago opened up a new and wonderful world for me, allowing me to take advantage of the knowledge so freely shared by brilliant, talented published writers. The local, regional and national conferences give writers not only a chance to network with other writers, but can introduce them to their future editor and/or agent.

BRC: Without giving too much away, what can you tell your readers about repeat performances from Griff and Nicole? Lorie and Mike? Maleah and Derek? What are you working on now?

BB: Lorie and Mike’s book, DEAD BY MIDNIGHT, is written and set for a February 2010 release. Lorie’s notorious past comes back to haunt her in a deadly way when someone starts killing off cast members from the one porno movie she made years ago. Mike is torn between his determination to never forgive Lorie and his need to protect her.

In September 2010, look for a stand-alone romantic suspense novel set in Chattanooga, Tennessee. My working title is ROCK ME TO SLEEP and features a TBI agent hero and a grief counselor heroine.

If all goes as planned, two more Dead By books will follow in 2011 and 2012. The 2011 novel will feature Maleah and Derek as they hunt down an unknown assassin who is killing Powell agents. Then in 2012, Griffin and Nicole Powell will take center stage once again as the major players in a novel that tests the couple’s marriage when all of Griff’s secrets are revealed and he comes face-to-face with horrors from his past.

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