Monday, March 14, 2016

A Conversation with Crime Novelist Trey R. Barker

Omnimystery News: Author Interview with Trey R. Barker

We are delighted to welcome author Trey R. Barker to Omnimystery News today.

Trey's new crime novel, No Harder Prison (Down & Out Books; March 2016 trade paperback), is published today and we recently had the chance to catch up with him to talk more about his work.

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Omnimystery News: Tell us a little more about No Harder Prison. It's a stand-alone, right? But you also write crime novels featuring a recurring character.

Trey R. Barker
Photo provided courtesy of
Trey R. Barker

Trey R. Barker: No Harder Prison is a stand-alone. It's something I wrote a few years ago based on a news story I read in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, about a guy who, when he got outta the cut, had to take all the doors off in his apartment. Bathroom door, bedroom doors, cabinet doors, everything. He'd learned, in his years in prison, that scary — and maybe deadly — things hid behind closed doors. From that I banged up No Harder Prison, starring Dana Oldham.

After a decade in prison, Dana is being released. And he drives right into a shitstorm of bullets and stolen money and threats. As the novel progresses, the threats get worse, the amount of snatched money increases, and Dana finds himself just as lost as when he was in prison.

Dana is a good man, or at least the Dana I know is. He's got some stiletto-sharp edges but his heart is the heart of a good man; an innocent man (wrongly convicted because the DA at the time hid exculpatory evidence that should have kept Dana from ever being arrested). He wants to put his life back together, say prayers for his dead Mamas, rediscover his brother and niece, and play a little blues guitar.

Dana wants what we all want, what shrink David McClelland calls the affiliation need — the need to feel a sense of belonging. That's a great and mighty fine term but no one thinks about all that psychobabble stuff. People just boogie on down the road, trying to keep their heads straight and not wanting to be alone.

Dana is no different, nor are the other characters in the book. A low-rent thief, two low-level soldiers working for a gun-runner and looking to leave their mark though in very different ways. Even Dana's brother Del, who wants to keep moving up at his job and raise his daughter right.

It's a novel of belonging, or of trying to belong, in spite of what other people to do drive wedges and stakes through the heart of the affiliation need. Ultimately, No Harder Prison is, like almost all my fiction, a love story.

Good luck figuring out who loves what.

Stephen King once wrote that a short story was a quick kiss in the dark while a novel was like a satisfying love affair. If that's true, then a series is a long term relationship, with the ups and downs, challenges and triumphs of a spouse. In a series, the reader gets to see characters grow and change, become older, less certain of themselves, perhaps die or maybe worse … walk away from their calling.

Jace Salome is my on-going series character (Slow Bleed and the forthcoming East of the Sun). She's in her middle twenties and as I write this, is only a year or so into her job as a jailer at the Zachary County Sheriff's Office (ZCSO). She's been lost for most of her life, wandering in the might-have-been of her mother's death at the hands of a drunk driver. She grew up with her grandmother and joined the ZCSO on a lark, but as it happens, she has a talent for law enforcement and enjoys it. Perhaps, someday, she'll leave the jail and go to the road, but for now she's happy where she is.

OMN: What are your intentions on character development with Jace?

TRB: Here's my problem with authors who keep their characters roughly the same … eventually it gets to be as boring as whale shit. It's the same song with just another verse … imagine Charlie Daniels' Uneasy Rider, which is a perfectly fine song for five minutes … on an endless loop with another new couplet every fifteen seconds for the rest of forever. Holy shit blow my brains out now.

If the characters aren't growing and trying new things, meeting new people, falling in and out of love, deciding they really don't like broccoli but totally love Forty Creek whiskey, then why are we reading? Why are we investing time with them?

I specifically made Jace a female in her twenties because I'm a guy in my forties. I wanted to explore something different, something seriously outside my comfort zone. And I put her at the beginning of her career because every time I discover a new character, even one I come to love, he or she is already who they are. They are already a captain of the Chicago PD violent crime unit, or a homicide detective in Balto City, or a coroner in Seattle or whatever. I, as a writer and reader, as a living, breathing human, want to see how Jace gets to where ever she's going. If she moves from the jail to the road, I want to know how that happened. What did she do well to get moved up? If she moves from the road to investigations, what big cases did she solve?

If I couldn't let the characters breathe, grow and change, I'd stop writing them out of sheer boredom.

OMN: Into which genre would you place your books?

TRB: I tell people I hate labels and organically I suppose that's true, but I also go straight to the mystery/crime or travel writing or history section in a book store. I'll browse other sections and frequently buy from those other sections, but I know what I prefer and that's where I go first. Do I believe labels and sections hurt books and authors? I don't know. Maybe I used to, but I'm not sure I do anymore. If someone loves crime novels and that's all they want to read, then let them chill in that section and buy to their heart's content. If they aren't ballsy enough to venture into other sections, that's on them, but as long as they want to support writers, give them the sections and labels that make them comfortable. Perhaps, if all their crimes novels were mixed in with all fiction, they'd find it overwhelming and not buy anything. I don't know.

My novels? Eh … call 'em novels. If you need more than that, check the mystery/crime shelves.

OMN: How much of your own personal or professional experience have you included in your stories?

TRB: Every word I write is based on something; I've stolen it all, like any good writer! (Parenthetically, it's the same with every writer on the face of the planet and if they tell you otherwise, they're full of shit. Humans are built on socialization and experience and it is not-possible to turn off 200,000 years of DNA programming).

All my characters are composites of everyone I've ever known or met. Maybe it's a physical trait, or a way of speaking, or a way of looking at the world, but it's come from someone somewhere. The fun is taking those boring people you know and giving them some odd trait you saw from the old wino pissing in the gutter or the slightly deranged Elvis-reincarnate that hangs out at the Dollar General and see what happens. Or taking that asshole you work with for forty damned hours a week delivering furniture and give him the heart of your pastor and see what cooks up.

The situations, the crimes and inhumanity, comes almost exclusively from something I dealt with in my day job or heard about from another cop. I take them and grind them through a MixMaster until they fit what I need but they all have some basis in truth somewhere.

OMN: Where do you most often find yourself writing?

TRB: An easy one, this. I compose at my computer. As I write this, I've got a lamp that has a tall, narrow shade made of pink fringe burning in the corner. I have a 60 minute hour glass on the other side of my desk. The top of my desk is littered with the detritus of life. Some pay stubs, tax documents I'm gathering for my annual IRS check-in. Taped to the side of my monitor is a strip of photos of me and a dear friend … the kind of pix you get in one of those 4-for$1 photo booths (except they ain't no fucking dollar anymore!). And no, for those of you who know me, the pictures are perfectly G-rated.

Mostly.

My environment is simple. I turn on Jazzradio.com or Pandora and compose. When I compose, the music has to be instrumental. When I edit, it can be vocal. When I'm hot and bothered and need to hit a deadline, it tends to be metal because that moves me faster. Usually there's a glass of whiskey within reach and frequently something sweet to keep my sugar high going.

Steve Rasnic Tem (one of the most incredible writers working today) is an old friend of mine from my Denver days and he and I once talked about writing environments. He enjoyed experimenting with sensory stimuli. Steve's experiments included writing in different rooms in his shambling Victorian home, using different computers or keyboards, writing longhand with different pads or paper or even pens. It was all done to experience different sensory input and see where that put his head while he wrote.

I am neither as ambitious nor as intelligent as Steve so I keep it relatively simple. I jot notes on Evernote on my phone and synch those to my rig to translate later, but that's more about brainstorming on the fly rather than actual composition.

So now we're at the end of this bit of navel gazing and, ultimately, what the 1800 or so words of this interview come down to is … check out my books. Buy one or two, see what you think. If you like them, buy more, buy them as gifts. Hell, buy them as doorstops if you don't particularly dig them. You can check me out on my blog Bullets and Whiskey, though I don't update it as often as I should.

And always remember, even if you don't buy my stuff, buy somebody's. Read and then read some more. And when you get done, read something else. Then start again.

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Trey R. Barker has published hundreds of short stories, plays, poems, and thousands of articles as a former journalist. Currently, he is a sergeant with the Bureau County Sheriff's Office, and an investigator with the Illinois Attorney General's Internet Crimes Against Children task force.

For more information about the author, please visit his website at TreyRBarker.com and his author page on Goodreads, or find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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No Harder Prison by Trey R. Barker

No Harder Prison by Trey R. Barker

A Crime Novel

Publisher: Down & Out Books

Amazon.com Print/Kindle Format(s)BN.com Print/Nook Format(s)Kobo eBook Format

Two hours out of prison and already someone is shooting at Dana Oldham.

Dana has traded the stain of "convict" for the freedom of "wrongly convicted." But before he can get home, his car is shot up and the shooters demand the return of $50,000 Dana swiped from a gun runner. To punctuate their demand, they shoot his niece.

But Dana hasn't stolen anything, and as the amount of stolen money rises, so does the violence directed against him.

No Harder Prison by Trey R. Barker. Click here to take a Look Inside the book.

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