Monday, March 21, 2016

Please Welcome Back Crime Novelist Trey R. Barker

Omnimystery News: Guest Post by Trey R. Barker

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

Last week we had a conversation with Trey, whose new crime novel is No Harder Prison (Down & Out Books; March 2016 trade paperback), and when we were done I asked him if he could tell us more about the backstory to the book in a guest post, to which he generously agreed.

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

I remember both dates.

February 12, 2001.

February 14, 2001.

February 12 was when Richard Laymon, a wonderful and wonderfully fun writer, emailed me about a novel that came to be called No Harder Prison. At the time he emailed me, the book was a complete fucking mess. In fact, there might have been multiple late night primal scream therapy sessions in my Denver backyard. Maybe the cops showed up, batons and pepper spray at the ready, maybe they didn't; who really can remember for sure lo these many years later?

The novel I'd been writing was huge and ambitious and drawn on a canvass that was about 100% beyond my grasp, and it had crashed, leaving bloody literary viscera all over my computer, my carpet, and even my soul. I was certain the novel was shit worthless. I had begun to realize that just a few days earlier when a friend who knew I was having trouble asked me to tell it to him. Twenty-seven hours later I was still explaining it and I realized the monstrosity had gone from complex to complicated.

Two very different things; one good, one not good at all.

So I was bemoaning this problem to Alan Beatts at San Francisco's Borderlands Bookstore and he suggested I call Dick and yank his brain for suggestions. It was such a delicious idea I called immediately.

" … damned thing ain't working for shit," I said to Richard.

Dick said, "You know, sometimes when I get stuck, I go to the end. Write that last scene and then see what you need directly before it and write that. Then go right before that scene and write that."

Hello, Mr. Epiphany.

"If that doesn't work for you, send me the manuscript and I'll give it a read. Maybe I can figure out what's wrong with it."

"I don't know," I said. "I've fucked it up pretty good."

He laughed. "I'm sure it's fine, it's just hard to see sometimes when you're that close to a project."

(If you want to read that entire conversation with Richard Laymon, check out Cemetery Dance, Issue #34 … or maybe I'll post it on the blog, who the hell knows.)

Dick's approach was a complete paradigm shift for me. I knew how I wanted the book to end and so I wrote that, then I backed up, then backed up again, and by the time I had backed up four or five times, I understood exactly what wasn't working in the book. But more importantly, I realized what needed to happen in order to fix the thing. So I set about repairing the damage and ultimately, the better novel, the publishable novel, was still big and ambitious and longer and more involved than anything I've done before or since, but now it made sense and all the constituent pieces fit together … you know, like they do with real writers.

Sadly, that book never found a home. For one publisher it was too dark, for another it was too light (something rarely heard in reference to my projects). For this publisher it was too that and for that publisher it was too this.

Thus did the thing sit in my cyber store house, collecting dust but never blowing too far away from my memory. Then along came Eric Campbell at Down & Out Books, who keeps throwing good money at various Trey R. Barker projects and to whom I said, "Hey, take this old thing and see what, if anything, tickles your tush."

So this is a confession that No Harder Prison is an old novel. Not a trunk novel, though I do have some of those, and cripes knows if there is any literary justice in the cosmos, those damn things will go in the coffin with me so I and they become worm food together. 'Cause they're just that good.

Don't believe? How about this, then … the novel I wrote in my freshman year in college has four protagonists: Dave, Eddie, Michael, and Alex. Sound familiar? Ask any late '70s or early '80s hair banger, they'll explain it. It was called Razor King and it was named for a song by Ronnie Montrose's post-Montrose band Gamma, who I'm actually listening to as I write this (useless trivia? Gamma's original bass player was Alan Fitzgerald who later joined Night Ranger as their keyboardist).

Eric and I had gotten to know each other through Sandi Loper and he had snatched up the Barefield series (2,000 Miles to Open Road, Exit Blood, and Death is Not Forever), as well as a few short items. When it became obvious that the fourth Barefield novel was stuck in gestation, Eric asked if I had anything else publishable and that was all Dana Oldham needed. He'd been waiting patiently for his chance to get on stage and bang his guitar to some Buddy Guy or Howlin' Wolf and this was it.

Then a sort of freaky thing happened. Eric dug the damned book.

Understand, Eric and I have been connected literarily since the beginning. Hell, we even dig the same kind of Irish whiskey and Kentucky bourbon, too, so there's that. He had loved the Barefield novels, but No Harder Prison was so different I wasn't sure what he'd think. Turns out he loved it and offered me a $75,000 advance to publish it so suck on that, bitches.

Okay, well … that last bit's not entirely true but whatever.

No Harder Prison centers on Dana Oldham, fresh outta prison after a dime for a crime he didn't commit, but as he's going home, driven by his brother and niece, his car gets shot to shit. The two shooters then brutally explain that their employer would appreciate it if Dana would return the thousands of dollars he had stolen while he was incarcerated.

Uh … what?

I love books that don't make no sense for a good long while.

Trust me, it all comes together, and along the way, we get to know Dana and Del extremely well. We fall in love with Del's daughter Marcille, as does Danny Ray, a low-rent thief living in a storage unit. We get to know Fred and Ginger, as Danny Ray calls them, aka Hal and Pen, two gun runners desperate to make their mark. We meet Noverto Griego and his henchman Stefan, and an old man called Ennis, fresh out of prison after a life time and fairly certain he has no life left.

And that huge cast was actually the problem that Dick's approach helped me see. It was larger than what my skills could handle at the time. The Barefield novels, written after No Harder Prison, had large casts as well but those people were mostly whacked out freaks and melt-downs, sadists and the gently deranged (the cop-gone-security guard at the shitty casino in 2,000 Miles, the banker with a fetish for made-up Federal law in Exit Blood, the truck driver hauling coffins filled with dope in Death is Not Forever) They were on stage just long enough for whatever their goody bag was and then they were gone in a puff of blood or smoke or washing machines.

In No Harder Prison I was wrestling with a far larger cast that wasn't there for simple appearances, and I just wasn't able to get the staging right. Dick made me see it was far too complicated, had far too many cast members (there were actually five or six more main characters in the original draft), and had too many threads that were interesting but didn't do anything for the overall story arc.

The published version is readable, and one of my favorite novels, because of Dick Laymon and Alan Beatts (who fixed all my fucked up gun stuff), and Jude Feldman (who fixed all my fucked up character stuff). So buy lots of copies, give them to all your friends, and enjoy it. And email me what you think … If you like it, it's because of those three people. If you don't … well, that's probably on me.

And the second date, February 14, 2001?

It was the day Dick died of a massive heart attack.

He never got to read any of the manuscript.

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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 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 Print/Kindle Format(s) 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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