I am so excited the day is finally here! One of my most anticipated summer reads is releasing today! I am thrilled to be wishing a big, Happy Publication Day to The Fourth Monkey by J.D Barker. When I read this book (in case you missed it, you can find my review for The Fourth Monkey here) I was left in complete awe of Barker’s ability to craft such a brilliant story; for lack of a better word, I was basically obsessed. I knew that I had to have the author, J.D Barker, on Clues and Reviews to answer some of my burning questions about the writing process, the book and what is next!
First off, The Fourth Monkey is absolutely insane. I was glued to the pages. What inspired to write it?
Well, thank you!
I’ve known I wanted to write a serial killer thriller for a long time but the story had to be just so. The formula has been done to death and I needed something fresh. Years ago, I decided if I wrote this book, the killer should die at the beginning of the story. That created a few complex problems, the least of which was where to go from there. The story sat patiently waiting in my subconscious until a day back in 2014 when I was in line at the grocery store. There was a rather rotund woman in line ahead of me in one of those electric carts and a boy of about eight years old standing behind me with his father. The boy said something about the woman, I didn’t hear what exactly, then his father leaned down and said, “Speak no evil, son.” As soon as I heard that, a number of thoughts flooded my head – Who says that? What exactly is happening back at their house? By that night, I had the basis for my killer’s childhood and the story found its way to paper quickly.
I’ve always been fascinated with serial killers and the overall psychology behind them. What causes a person to kill? Is that urge hardwired from the moment they’re born or is it somehow a learned behaviour fueled by environment and upbringing? A combination of both? The more I studied, the more I realized that even the experts don’t really know. They love to pretend they do, psychologists love their labels and find peace in the various boxes they feel they can drop people into but that appearance of knowledge is nothing but a mask. I’ve known good people who grew up in bad places and bad people who grew up under the best circumstances. There are a lot of sociopaths out in the world and only a small fraction of them kill, not all killers are sociopaths. The world isn’t black and white but filled with gray and it’s within that gray 4MK was born. My goal was to write a book that not only entertained but blurred the line between innocent and guilty – I hoped people would not only empathize with the victims but also the killer.
Most of your other work is in the paranormal/fantasy meets horror genre, was it difficult to switch gears and write a more police procedural style story?
Part of the fun of writing is in trying something new, challenging yourself. Writing a police procedural is a bit like playing chess alone. You make a move as the bad guy, the best possible move for the bad guy, then you have to counter that move as white. Then you flip the board around and repeat. This isn’t unique to procedurals but it’s more prominent.
As more of my writing gets out in the wild, I think you’ll find suspense is really my common thread. I set out to tell a story, and that story may have elements of horror or paranormal or sci-fi in it, but that is not the backbone. While THE FOURTH MONKEY may be seen primarily as a thriller, there are horror elements present. FORSAKEN had bits of a thriller. The upcoming DRACULA prequel falls somewhere in between.
In my opinion, characters really drive the tale. It really doesn’t matter if you’re writing a horror novel, a thriller, a western or romance. The people should always be in the driver’s seat. When I worked as a book doctor, I advised clients to start with their character development – come up with the people first; get to know them. Learn their faults, their backstory. Once you have a cast, drop them into a scenario. If you create your scenario first, then manufacture characters specific to that story, they’ll read flat, they become convenient mouthpieces, robots. I knew every detail about Sam Porter long before there was a 4MK. Putting the two of them together created the story and ultimately determined the genre it fell into.
I need to know. Please tell me this book is the start of a series because that ending….
Absolutely! There will be at least three books in the current storyline and possibly three more as prequels.
If you could tell your readers three things about The Fourth Monkey, what would they be?
Absolutely everything is a clue. Not just within the story but the entire book. There are clues hidden in the dedication and the author’s note, the blurbs, the cover – even within my answers to your questions. I’ve planted a number of Easter eggs that may not hatch until further into the series, but they’re there. I’m curious to see who finds them first.
In the Fourth Monkey, part of the narration is told through the diary of a complete psychopath. Was it hard to get into that type of mindset? Did you do any research?
I’m not going to lie, there were many times in writing this book when I pushed my Mac aside and got a little concerned with the thoughts coming out of my head. As I mentioned, characters lead the charge for me – I see them as real people with minds of their own, actions of their own, I’m only there to document the events. 4MK is unique and he surprised me more than once, so did Sam.
As far as research, I’ve had an odd life. I’ve worked closely with police and helped solve the murder of a high school friend. I’ve also worked as a consultant with law enforcement on a number of cases. In one, I helped track a killer from Florida to Texas with software I wrote for the web. In another case, I helped locate a financial advisor who faked his own death in order to hide from investors. Working so close with police has helped me garner valuable insight and experience which I tapped when crafting this book. The sense of humour among law enforcement officers was a stand-out – I was told, the people who didn’t develop a sense of humour, the ones who kept the emotion inside, rarely lasted long. These people see some horrible things and they need an outlet.
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?
Any author who says they don’t is probably lying. I enjoy the feedback, whether good or bad. Useful comments help make me a better writer. I’ve been lucky in this respect – FORSAKEN averages around 4 stars and THE FOURTH MONKEY currently has an average rating of 4.52. There are people out there who abuse the system to get attention though. I saw one review last week where the reader said, “The book deserves three or four stars but I’m posting one star because I want people to see my review.” Who does that? What a tool. I remember another one from years ago where they started the review with, “This isn’t the type of book I like to read…” If that’s the case, how qualified are they to review it? I personally don’t like sushi so even though I may try it again at some point in my life, I probably won’t post a review because I know going in it most likely won’t be favourable. If I have any advice for future reviewers, it’s this – if a book doesn’t work for you, but you see that you’re in the minority, it’s probably best you hold your tongue.
When I pick books as a reader, I tend to read the reviews that hover around the average rating, particular when there are a lot. If a book has an average rating of four out of five stars, I see no need to read the one star reviews. Along the same line, if a book has an average of two of five, the handful of five star reviews are usually meaningless. I’m a data guy and wouldn’t make a decision based on a single opinion either – I believe in crowdsourcing – go with the opinion of the masses.
Which of your characters, in any of your novels, would you like to meet in person? Why?
Oh, that’s tough. I did just finish writing a prequel to DRACULA, remember? Bram Stoker appears as a character in our book so I think he’d be number one on my list – particularly after seeing all his notes and journals. DRACULA wasn’t very popular when he was alive. I’d love to share a beer with him and catch him up on the past hundred years or so. 4MK would be another but I’d like Sam at the table.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I tend to be a workaholic so I’m not sure that I ever stop working. My butt is planted firmly at my desk from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. I’d probably go longer but my dog comes to retrieve me promptly at 4 p.m. for our daily five-mile run/walk. I work out a lot of story ideas during these excursions while also taking in the outdoors. My wife and I recently bought a small lake house and during the warmer months, that’s our go to location for the weekends. Although I still write while I’m there, there is no television or internet, something I’m finding to be a blessing.
And, of course, there is reading. Whether on my kindle, a paper copy, or an audiobook, I rarely go anywhere without a good book close at hand. The imagination needs fuel and there are so many logs for that fire.
Well, folks, there ya have it, now excuse me so I can pour over the pages of this book again and hunt for clues!!