Monday, February 27, 2012

OMN Welcomes Suspense Novelist Mary Burton

Omnimystery News: Authors on Tour

Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome suspense novelist Mary Burton, whose latest thriller is Before She Dies (Zebra Books, February 2012 Mass Market Paperback and ebook editions).

Today Mary tells us about one of her favorite characters: setting.

— ◊ —

Way back in the day before I'd sold my first book, I didn't put much thought into setting. A book could be anywhere, by my way of thinking. Then I got a nibble on my third unpublished manuscript. The agent said she liked everything but the setting. Thrilled for any kind of feedback, I decided I had nothing to loose by changing the setting. I mean, how hard could it be?

Mary Burton
Photo provided courtesy of
Mary Burton

Turns out the setting changed the entire book. Not only did moving the book's setting from the eastern U.S. to the west change the character back stories, but it changed weather conditions, travel times and housing. In a word it changed everything.

That valuable rewrite taught me a powerful lesson about Setting.

With that old but never forgotten lesson in mind, I sat down to write Before She Dies, Senseless and Merciless. I put a great deal of thought into where I staged the books. Did I want my next romantic suspense to be set in a big city? What about the country? A coastal town? The mountains? I considered all these questions. I ended up choosing Alexandria, Virginia.

I had lived in Alexandria for several years. I knew the streets, the general layout and the overall energy of the place. Alexandria has a great and rich history. Modern buildings sit side by side with structures built in the eighteenth century. It is close to Washington, D.C. Though urban, it is less than an hour from the country. By my way of thinking it had all the best elements for my books.

And it did not disappoint.

On an historic tour of the city last year, our guide took us down cobblestone streets and along the shores of the Potomac. She explained the history behind the colonial style buildings, many of which are now home to trendy shops and restaurants. We visited the Torpedo Factory Art Center, which at one time had been a munitions factory. Even showed us an abandoned building set for demolition. It was that abandoned building that really caught my attention. It became the first crime scene detailed in Before She Dies.

As you read Before She Dies, know that I've walked the streets that the characters walked. I hope you enjoy reading about Alexandria as much as I enjoyed visiting and reading about it.

Thanks for letting me visit!

— ◊ —

A Virginia native whose family's Richmond roots run as deep as the nation's, Mary was born, raised in, and raised her own family there. She graduated from Hollins University and began a career in marketing before writing her first novel, a historical romance, published in 2000. Eleven more novels and three novellas for Harlequin followed. In total, she has written nineteen novels and four novellas.

When not killing people — the total is upwards of a dozen now — or researching, Mary can be found pursuing her second love, baking, practicing Astanga yoga, enjoying her family, playing with her miniature dachshunds Buddy and Bella, or pursuing her Baking & Pastry Arts Certificate at the University of Richmond.

For more information about Mary and her books, visit her website at

— ◊ —

Before She Dies by Mary Burton Print and/or Kindle Edition

Barnes&Noble Print Edition and/or Nook Book

Indie Bound: Independent Bookstores

About Before She Dies:

In death, they are purified. Holding his victims under water, he washes away their sins as they struggle for their last breath. Then he stakes their bodies to the ground, exposing them for what they really are. Witches, sent to tempt and to corrupt …

No one knows about defense attorney Charlotte Wellington's murdered sister, or about her childhood spent with the carnival that's just arrived in town. For Charlotte, what's past is past. But others don't agree. And as a madman's body count rises, she and Detective Daniel Rokov are drawn into a mission that's become terrifyingly personal …

At last, she is within his reach. All his victims deserve their fate, but her guilt is greatest. And with every scream, he will make her see what it means to suffer and repent–before she dies …

— ◊ —

Read an excerpt from Before She Dies below, an example of Mary's detailed attention to setting, in this case the crime scene:

 "Identification?" Sinclair knelt by the body and stared into the woman's face half cloaked by her hair.

 "No ID. No jewelry. And there are red marks on the side of her neck. Looks like he got her with a stun gun several times." Paulie knelt down and examined the hair draping her forehead. He snapped more pictures and then gently moved the hair back. "Have a look at this."

 Sinclair squatted and glanced down. "She's been tattooed with the word Witch." The bold letters covered most of the delicate forehead skin, still puckered red and raw from the tattoo needle. "Shit."

 Rokov's half-baked theory had been correct, but it gave him no pleasure. "She have any other tats or markings?"

 "Not on the exposed areas. But there could be other body art under the clothes."

 "I can't imagine anyone willingly doing this to themselves," Sinclair said. "But we've seen all kinds of oddities."

 Rokov glanced around the room. The flowered wallpaper was peeling off in frayed strips, and the ceiling was soiled with a dozen watermarks. All the furniture had been stripped out, and a shadow imprint on the back wall suggested there'd been a bar at one point. A thick coating of dust covered the room. "Footprints?"

 "Two distinct sets," Paulie said. "The first I identified as Barrows. He was kind enough not to trample all over the floor, which left me with clear impressions of the second set." Paulie pointed to the window. "The best impression is over by the window, and I've marked it with a cone. I've got an electrostatic dust print collector. It will pull an impression."

 "Rokov moved toward the footprints carefully to mirror Barrow's path. "It looks like a size eleven or twelve." He studied the grooved pattern. "Sneakers?"

 "That's my guess, but it will take time to narrow the brand."

 "The impressions are clear and defined. He walked carefully and with precision."

 Paulie shrugged. "You know I don't make impulsive calls."

 "I'm not holding you to it," Rokov said.

 "That's what they all say. I'll have a report by tomorrow."

 Rokov studied the impression. "Inside back right heel looks worn. He's favoring the foot."

 Paulie snapped more pictures. "Could be an injury or he could have had a wart at one time, and it changed the way he walks. Doesn't mean he noticeably favors the foot now."

 "So he moved her here," Rokov says. "Positions her, stakes her, and then moves to the window to stare at what?"

 "The river. The full moon. It was a clear night last night. He stops to enjoy the full moon. Maybe he heard a sound."

 "If he's got a thing about witches, the moon makes sense," Rokov said. "The full moon has a lot of power in some circles. Stands to reason he'd be drawn to the moon."

 Sinclair rose. "We need to figure out who she is. I'll head downstairs and put a call into Missing Persons and see what they have."

 "Good." Rokov turned to Paulie. "Does she have defensive wounds? Did she fight for her life?"

 "I'm going to bag her hands. Hopefully, the medical examiner will find something under her nails."

 Rokov knelt by the victim's right hand and studied the crude stake that had pierced the flesh of her palm. It would have taken tremendous force to drive the wood through the flesh. He wondered if she'd known her attacker. Most murdered women knew their killers. Lovers. Husbands. Boyfriends. Love could turn vicious instantly.

 "I wanted you to see her before I pulled the stakes. If I can pull them out now, I can roll her over."

 "Need a hand?" Rokov said.

 "I got it." Paulie slid on workman's gloves over his surgical gloves and grabbed a hold of the stake. "The floor boards are rotted." He pulled hard, and the stake wriggled free of the floor and the victim's palm. Carefully, he moved to the other side and repeated. Then it was on to the feet. The last stake proved stubborn and it took assistance from Rokov to free it.

 Paulie laid the stakes out and photographed them. Then very carefully, he turned the body on its side. The victim's jacket was embossed with the word Magic.

(Excerpt © Mary Burton.)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I spend a great deal of time teaching my students about the impact a setting has on a story -- I'm going to share your post with them so they can see that I'm not making it up! Authors really do think about the impact of setting! Thanks -- Can't wait to read Before She Dies.


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