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Interview: August 18, 2022

New York Times bestselling author Mary Burton ascends the throne as Monarch of Suspense with THE LIES I TOLD, her 46th novel. Having won the 2019 Montlake Romance Diamond Award signifies that she has reached one million readers. In this interview, Burton chats with Bookreporter’s Dean Murphy about her intriguing romantic and psychological suspense novels, her next title, and a typical day in her writing life. Including five novellas, you now have 51 publication credits, having first published in 2000. Impressive! What drives “the Monarch” (Queen Mary?) to be prolific?

Mary Burton: I love to write, and there is always a story in my head that’s ready to be told. At any given time, I might be working on one novel, but I’m also scribbling ideas for several others.

BRC: Your novels involve many genres. What are they, and why choose the complex psych suspense genre as your current venue, changing from romantic suspense?

MB: I started in historical romance, then moved to short romantic suspense, then to single-title suspense (police procedurals) and now psychological suspense. And if that’s not crazy enough, I also write women’s fiction under the name Mary Ellen Taylor. I really enjoyed writing romantic suspense. I think I’ll always have romantic elements in my novels, just as I’ll always have mystery and suspense in my women’s fiction.

Psych suspense was uncharted territory for me, and it’s always intrigued me. I like to challenge myself creatively, and this move to psych suspense felt right.

BRC: Many psychological suspense authors incorporate protagonists with dissociative identity disorder. You chose identical twins who change personas. A bold move. Why?

MB: I’ve written twins before, and I’m still fascinated by the bond they share. For one twin to lose the other is not only incredibly painful, but each day the survivor sees the lost twin in the mirror. In my character Marisa’s case, she helped her sister, Clare, dress in Marisa’s edgier style as a party prank. Since Clare’s body was found after the party, Marisa has been riddled with guilt. Mix guilt and grief with alcoholism, and Marisa is fighting personal demons as deadly as the killer who is still free.

BRC: Marisa is a complex and tragic character: suicidal mother, domineering replacement “mom” who was a sibling only three years older, and a murdered twin. Yet she overcame substance abuse and focuses on identifying the killer, when the investigating detective retires. How could you enjoy happy hour after writing these scenes?

MB: I’m not much of a drinker, but I’m fascinated by how any substance can have such a powerful hold on an individual. It must be tremendously hard to live a life with the persistent hunger for a substance that can quickly lead to a downfall. Giving that unrelenting thirst to a character creates a level of suspense that stalks both the character and reader for the entire book.

And when I’m at a cocktail party, there’s no better conversation starter than telling someone I’m a suspense writer. J

BRC: Please identify writing commendations and awards that you have earned.

MB: I’m a three-time RITA finalist, a New York Times, USA Today and Amazon bestselling author.

BRC: This Mary Burton addict needs to know what’s in store for the next title.

MB: I’m currently working on the latest Mary Burton suspense. It’s set on the northern most beaches of the Outer Banks, which is only accessible by four-wheel drive. This area is known for its 100 wild horses, marshlands and cold winters. It takes place over several days in January when the winter storms can be most fierce.

BRC: What makes the author tick, a typical day in your writing life?

MB: I’m up early, usually by five. I work out with weights in an online group. My husband and I walk the dogs, and then I take a long walk along the beach. I’m at my desk by 9am, and I work until the daily pages are done. When I’m not at the computer, I’m reading research for the latest novel. In my spare time, I drive into my new hometown of Duck, NC to do a little shopping or take a yoga class.

BRC: You chose Montlake, an Amazon imprint, to publish this novel. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this publishing venue?

MB: I love writing for Montlake. I’ve honestly found no disadvantages. I currently write/publish two books a year, one as Mary Burton and the other as Mary Ellen Taylor. When I first created Mary Ellen Taylor, my women’s fiction books were at one publishing house and my suspense novels at another. Now the MET and MB novels are with Amazon Publishing. There’s a big advantage having both genres with Amazon Publishing because I not only have the same editor, but my deadlines don’t overlap.

BRC: Thank you for a thrilling read, and this interview. Final thoughts?

MB: So glad you enjoyed THE LIES I TOLD! My hope is to keep writing novels that not only challenge me but keep my readers turning pages to the very end. I have no idea where the next idea is going to take me, but that’s what makes what I do so fun.