J.D. Barker is an awarding-winning international bestselling thriller writer. His first book, the indie-published Forsaken was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, won the New Apple Medalist Award, and was nominated for Goodreads Best Debut Author and Best Horror Awards for 2014. James Patterson said that Barker's book The Fourth Monkey has "one of the most ingenious openings that I've read in years." And, his latest book, The Fifth to Die was named one of iBooks Most Anticipated Thrillers of 2018. He's been gracious enough to take a few minutes answer some questions.
MB: Let's start with your first book. You had tremendous success with Forsaken, which was indie-published. What drove your decision to publish your first book independently?
JDB: I really didn’t have much of a choice. I queried about 200 agents and only got a handful of bites. Looking back, I know it was because I wrote a horrible query letter and sent the same form letter to everyone at once, literally with “Dear Potential Agent” at the top. Had I taken the time, the outcome probably would have been different. I received several offers for publication but the advance numbers weren’t very large and when I did the math, it didn’t make sense to go the traditional route. I made a conscious decision to indie-publish but I also told myself if I went that route, I’d hire professionals across the board to ensure the book was as solid as anything coming out of the Big 5. So, that’s what I did—professional editors, proofreaders, formatters, and cover design. The book released in November 2014 with a hardcover, softcover, ebook, and audiobook. Then things got really crazy.
MB: Other than it being a damn good book, is there something in particular that you feel you can point to as being the catalyst for the incredible success you had with Forsaken?
JDB: There was the Stephen King thing. He read portions of the novel prior to publication and granted me permission to use one of his characters in the story. Anyone familiar with Needful Things will pick up on it. It’s not something he normally does and the press picked up on it. Definitely a game-changer and something I’ll be forever grateful for. There are a million books published every year and he helped make mine stand out.
MB: Your new book, The Fifth to Die was just released in July. It is the second book in your 4MK thriller series. Without giving anything away, tell us something about your book that we won't find in the jacket copy or PR material?
JDB: I’ll let you in on a little secret. Some of the best parts of that book (and the direction of the series) are hidden in plain sight. I’ve got clues in the dedications, the author’s note, even the dust jacket. If you pick up a hardcover, pay close attention to the handwriting in the background - all the answers can be found there.
MB: You've co-written a new book with Dacre Stoker, the great-grand nephew of Bram Stoker. The book, entitled Dracul, is a prequel to Bram Stoker's famous 1897 Gothic novel, Dracula. Talk for a few moments about what it was like to have access to Bram Stoker's original notes and source material?
JDB: That was an incredible experience from start to finish. It honestly felt like Bram was in the room with us as we wrote. Most people aren’t aware of this but the Dracula story we all know isn’t complete. The opening scene with Jonathan Harker on the train was actually on page 102 in the original draft of the novel. Those first 101 pages we’re cut from the book. The ending was altered as well. As crazy as it may sound, Bram originally tried to sell Dracula to his publisher as a true story but with London still reeling from the recent murders in White Chapel, he was forced to alter the book. All references to real life were removed and the remaining story was fictionalized. Our novel, Dracul, focuses on those missing parts—the truth behind the legend of Dracula.
MB: Let's talk about your writing style for a moment. Every writer has specific nuances when it comes to writing. Some outline, some don't. Some have a special place where they write. Tell us a bit about your writing process.
JDB: I’m what they call a “pantser.” I create my plot, a loose beginning, middle, and end, spend a lot of time getting to know my characters, then drop them in the middle of the story. Personally I feel if the author works from a detailed outline, and knows where the story is going, the readers will pick up on it too. Best to discover the story with our characters. Outlines may work for others, but not for me. That’s proven to be problematic on my latest project—I’m currently collaborating with James Patterson. He’s a firm believer in outlines. I think we’ve found a good rhythm, though. A comfortable method somewhere between both.
MB: Jumping over to reading for a second, is there a specific genre that you lean toward when selecting a book to read?
JDB: I’m open to just about anything. If it’s a solid story, genre doesn’t matter much to me. I do get bored easily so the plot has to move along at a good clip. I try to spend equal time reading the classics as I do the current bestsellers. Unlike movies and television, books tend to be timeless. A hundred year old tale is just as captivating today as it was the day it released.
MB: What are you currently reading?
JDB: I'm reading Shatter by Michael Robotham, and listening to Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk on audiobook when I run.
MB: Finally, what can we expect from you in the future? Are you working on any new projects?
JDB: It’s been a busy year for me with The Fifth to Die releasing in July and Dracul out this October. Next year will see the release of the final 4MK book and possibly the follow-up to Forsaken. I’ve got several others still in super-secret-double-probation mode that I can’t talk about just yet :)
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Good luck with The Fifth to Die, and the upcoming Dracul, which will be available on October 2nd.