Interview with new author J.P. Barnett on his series about creatures from well-known folklore

As a reader, I have always been a fan of fantasy and science fiction with a candid interest in the strange and the macabre. This past year, I was introduced to new author J.P. Barnett who gave me all new and intriguing takes on familiar folklore. Within just a few months, he has already released two titles within a single series of chasing creatures of legends, leaving myself and readers curious to see what happens next.

Synopsis of The Beast of Rose Valley: Rose Valley, Texas is a small town where everyone knows everyone and consists of a community where everyone is born, raised, and lives their full lives there. A few community members dared to venture out into the world, only to find themselves back where their lives began. Jake Rollins barely managed to survive a terrible car accident and is under the care of a well-schooled doctor and colleague in Rose Valley. On top of caring for his health, he has been present to the aftermath of some strange incidents that have been occurring around town. It may not seem like a large concern, considering the deaths that have occurred are namely livestock, but when said livestock’s remains are found turned inside out, of course concern is going to spread. The respected sheriff of Rose Valley tries to keep the multiple mutilations under wraps, but Jake knows something is going on and only with the help of a local reporter and familiar colleague, Shandi Mason, can he uncover what is terrorizing their small town. Little do they know that their terror is an unimaginable nightmare that leaves them with a near impossible decision to make: to kill the terror and save the town… or to save the terror itself.

Synopsis of The Kraken of Cape Madre: Two years have passed since the Beast terrorized the small town of Rose Valley. Two years have passed since Miriam witnessed her brother’s massacre and her life was changed forever. Trying to forget her haunting past, Miriam travels to Cape Madre with her newfound friend Macy for a fun Spring Break at the beach. The fun does not last long when Miriam finds herself saving a tourist from something lurking under the water… something big and very dangerous. Seafaring legends and Norse mythology point her in the direction of a sea creature she aims to find and destroy, yet her past as a hunter for creatures of legend is the past she so longs to forget. Now, Miriam faces the battle of her life to not only save Cape Madre from becoming the next victim to a creature of the deep, but to save herself from becoming someone she is not meant to be.

I was given the pleasure of speaking with J.P. Barnett about his books and what readers are to expect in future works. With his latest book The Kraken of Cape Madre being published today, I am personally anxious to see what happens next in his series. Until readers are able to read the third book in Barnett’s Lorestalker Series in December of this year, he has given readers excellent insight as to what they will be expecting in future books as well as his approach to his unique writing style. So, without further ado, may I introduce J.P. Barnett, author of The Beast of Rose Valley and The Kraken of Cape Madre.

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Alicia: Please tell me about yourself.

J.P.: I grew up in Texas, which is why my books are set there. I grew up in a tiny town of 2500 people, so everybody knew me. I went to school at Texas A&M and I studied computer science, which is what I did as a career for about 20 years. Then, I was in position where I just wanted to do something else. I always wanted to write a book and I was in a situation where I could do that financially, so I did. I stopped working and wrote The Beast of Rose Valley in two months, which is crazy fast. I thought that that was normal and I learned the hard way that that is not normal and it takes much longer to write a book.

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Alicia: Why do you say “the hard way”? I mean, two months? That’s awesome!

J.P.: Yeah, no, it was awesome, but when I started writing the next book, I realized it wasn’t going to always be that fast. That’s what I mean by “learn the hard way.” When I was scheduling it out, I was thinking, “Great. I will write a book every two months and then I could take two months off and I’ll write four books a year.” Yeah, it’s a little harder than that, it turns out.

I’ve definitely learned already that every book is its own journey. The Beast of Rose Valley came out really fast. I guess it was the whole lifetime of wanting to write a book. It’s also set in my hometown and a lot of the characters are based on people I knew or know, so I think [that’s why] it came out a little faster than normal.

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Alicia: Since it took you two months to write The Beast of Rose Valley, how long did it take to write The Kraken of Cape Madre?

J.P.: The Kraken of Cape Madre took a little longer, but not a whole lot. I think I finished the first draft in about four months, then it went through about two months of revision and beta reading before I sent it off to Evolved Publishing to get edited. That is the schedule I’m trying to keep now is four months. I’m working on the third book now and I’m hoping I’ll get it done in four months. We’ll see. I am a person who always meets deadlines because it stresses me out not to. I’m sure I will find a way to finish the book in time for the December release.

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Alicia: You mentioned earlier that these towns are based in Texas. Are they real towns or did you rename them as more of a fictitious sort of town?

J.P.: They are definitely renamed. The first town, Rose Valley, is based on my hometown which is Glen Rose, so I didn’t venture too far in renaming it. For Cape Madre, that’s more of a made up town. I very loosely based it off of South Padre, which is a place in Texas, but I haven’t been there for 20 some odd years when I was a teenager, so mostly, I made it up.

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Alicia: Where did the idea for your whole series come from?

J.P.: It’s an amalgamation of things. For an overview of the whole series, as a kid, my grandmother subscribed to Time Life’s Mysteries of the Unknown, which was this thing you could subscribe to and they would send you a book every month or every other month and it was all about weird things. There were alien books, witch books, and my favorite one was her book about cryptids. I remember in particular there was this part in the book which talked about things we used to think were made up, but then we found them, which nowadays doesn’t happen as often, obviously, but back then, it was still a thing. I was so mesmerized by that, so that is something I have always enjoyed, just cryptids in general, and I kind of follow that as a news item. Every now and then, we’ll find something really cool. Usually it’s small, little things, but occasionally, they’ll find a frog they didn’t know existed or a bird and I think that that’s awesome. It is amazing that you can do that in a world that is so connected and we think we know everything and we don’t. That’s the origins of cryptids being an inspiration for me.

For The Beast of Rose Valley, when I was in college, I think I started writing a book about a guy who was a werewolf and didn’t know it. So when he was a werewolf, he didn’t know what he was doing as a werewolf. I didn’t get really far with that because I never got really far with my novels until The Beast of Rose Valley, but I took that idea and kind of revamped it for The Beast of Rose Valley. I wanted some story that I could set in my hometown and I felt like that was something I could set there and I could also tie it to Bigfoot a little bit.

For The Kraken of Cape Madre, at this point, I was already into the cryptid space and I wasn’t getting out of it. I actually started writing a completely different book called The Demon of Dobie. I got three or four chapters into it, but just wasn’t feeling it, didn’t love it. I wrote the first chapter of The Kraken of Cape Madre on a whim and I fell in love with it from the first chapter and I knew that was the book I needed to write instead. People seem to really respond to the Kraken. As a cryptid, I think it’s something people already enjoy, they already have an idea in their mind of what a Kraken is, so I think it was a good choice.

For The Beast of Rose Valley, “beast” is a very generic term and it wasn’t very clear. I don’t think that we use the word “Bigfoot” in the book blurb either, so I think it was less obvious, while with The Kraken of Cape Madre, they can see the title and immediately kind of know what they’re getting, which I think is good. I definitely see people responding to that more than they did with the beast.

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Alicia: It makes more sense now when you say that the first Beast was supposed to be Bigfoot cause for me, personally, I saw it more as almost like Frankenstein’s monster.

J.P.: You know, you were the first person to mention that and I didn’t consider it when I was writing it, that there was a lot of Frankenstein in it, but I can totally see it. That happens a lot. I think we read things, we see things over a lifetime, stories become a part of who we are, and that is both a really fun thing about writing and a really hard thing about writing: to not just rip off everything that’s come before because some of that has just become so ingrained and you’re kind of regurgitating scripts that you’ve always been given and I think Frankenstein’s monster did kind of make its way into the story a little bit.

I’m glad you pointed that out. That’s one of my favorite things about this so far: hearing people’s interpretations of what I wrote. It’s so cool to do something and then have people take it in their own direction.

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Alicia: Going back to the places these creatures are appearing in, are you planning on staying within towns in Texas or do you think you may branch out a bit more?

J.P.: So the third book is still in Texas. It takes place in the deserts of West Texas. I think that, eventually, I will branch out if, for no other reason, I run out of interesting places in Texas. I live in Texas, I’ve lived here almost my whole life. I spent ten years up in Northern Virginia. So I know Texas pretty well and the other thing I like about Texas is that Texans are super gung ho about Texas. It’s actually a pretty good sales pitch. I think around here, it’s pretty easy to be like, “Hey, I have a book that’s set in Texas” and, if you’re a Texan, you’re like, “I’m a Texan, I read books, I want to read that.” It’s like, they’ll read outside their genre just because it’s set in Texas, so it’s a nice built-in audience that way. 

It’s a lot easier to write what you know and that is why The Beast of Rose Valley was so easy, but I think overtime, it will get easier to make up places, so I’ll probably venture outside of Texas. I think that, right now, it makes sense because it’s a series and the characters live in Texas so for them to take big trips elsewhere doesn’t really make sense in the context of the story yet.

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Alicia: That’s good with what you did, especially with the transition between your first and your second book since you focus more on Miriam in the second book. With the events that took place, it makes the story more realistic.

J.P.: I love Miriam as a main character and I wish I had invented her in full for The Beast of Rose Valley. I think it would have changed the story significantly if I had, but she really came into her own in The Kraken of Cape Madre and I’m proud of how she turned out.

Truth be told, when I wrote the original, it wasn’t meant to be a series. The Beast of Rose Valley was just a standalone book to try to find a publisher. When I did find a publisher, when I found Evolved Publishing, one of the things they recommended was that I write a series. That’s a little bit why the series pivots to Miriam because I realized, at that point, I needed a series main character. I didn’t feel like The Beast of Rose Valley really had that, so that’s where Miriam came from and I think that it worked out okay because I tell people now that The Beast of Rose Valley is kind of like a prologue to Miriam’s story. It’s kind of setting up how Miriam got to where she is when The Kraken of Cape Madre begins. It’s a good reading, but not necessary reading. I think people can start with The Kraken of Cape Madre if they really wanted to and they would be okay.

I’ve gone back and reread the Miriam chapters in The Beast of Rose Valley and I think it’s fun to see how she changes between the two books. In the first book, my editor and I went back and forth quite a bit on Miriam. He felt like she was super detached and not very compelling of a character for The Beast of Rose Valley, and I kept pushing back saying, “Yeah, that’s important, that’s the point.” I wanted her to be like this monster killing robot that doesn’t know how to be a human yet because that’s the arc I wanted to take her on.

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Alicia: Would you say that Miriam is your favorite character so far to write or is there maybe another character or multiple characters that you love to write?

J.P.: There are definitely multiple characters I love to write. Miriam is one of my favorites and, at this point, she comes easiest to me and after writing The Kraken of Cape Madre, I feel like I understand her on a fundamental level.

My favorite character from The Beast of Rose Valley is Cam Donner, the sheriff. I really like him because he reminds me so much of my grandfather. My grandfather was this rough, mean man and, if you met him for just a little while, he would probably say something crude or rude, he would offend you in some way. But when the chips were down and it mattered, he was the most caring, loving person there was. I used that kind of personality as inspiration for Cam and I really like that about Cam. I like that he seems so gruff when you see him from Jake and Shandi’s perspective, but when it really matters, he’s not the bad guy. I really enjoyed writing his character a lot.

For The Kraken of Cape Madre, I would say my favorite character was probably Bark. I had a whole lot of fun writing Bark just because he was such a conflicted character. I really like how he turned out, he’s a good character.

(*Note: Not much will be said about Bark due to potential spoiler alerts*)

I wanted the main characters to be equally complex. Hopefully, everybody has a character that they like. I know that a lot of people are responding well to Tommy, as well. I think there’s maybe a little bit of me in Tommy.

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Alicia: As far as your storytelling goes, you have actually accomplished something in just your first two books that many authors I’ve noticed struggle with and that is maintaining the mystery behind your monsters without giving away too much detail right at the get and that is really impressive. Is it difficult to place your mystery bread crumb trail for your readers to follow or does it come pretty easily for you?

J.P.: I would say medium difficulty. Luckily, I do get to revise them, so in some cases I’ve taken out or added hints because it was either too vague or too strong, so I do get that benefit. But I think the groundwork of it comes out fairly naturally just because of the way I write. I’m a pantser by a lot and nowhere near a plotter, so I will put things in the book and I kind of reverse engineer it. When I want to write the next chapter, I’ll say, “What did I say in the last chapter and how can I use that hint to mean something?” And I think that allows me to have that slow reveal because I didn’t even know what it meant when I wrote it. I can’t give away too much information because I didn’t know what it was.

I think in The Beast of Rose Valley, I didn’t have the exact idea of who the beast was and how he was related to the main characters until probably almost halfway through the book. When I was writing, I didn’t even know where I was going with it. That is how I manage it. Whether I’ll be able to do it forever, I don’t know, but so far, it has served me pretty well.

I joke with my wife and my friends about how the characters are writing my book. I’m not really writing it. There have been a lot of times when I had in my head what I thought was going to happen and when I got there, it would be like no, Miriam wouldn’t do that. It’s a fun process. It’s weird, almost crazy to say that these made up characters on the page have their own agenda, but they really do and if you don’t let them do what they want to do, then I think the story doesn’t seem genuine. I was at a writing retreat recently and someone said that sometimes, a character comes into your scene and plants a flag and you realize they’re not leaving. They may have been a minor character to start with and I feel that is how Miriam was. She wasn’t supposed to be a big part of the story and she just came in and took over. Now, she’s taken over the whole series.

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Alicia: Do you think you’re going to bring back past characters in future books or you think you might want to stick with Miriam and then introduce new characters?

J.P.: I think there is always a possibility. I would love to bring back some of those characters and an interesting thing is that that original intention was that the Lorestalker Series would be an anthology so every book would have a different main character. Book three was actually supposed to be all about Dub Higgens and his wife, Marie, who were minor characters in the first book. Once I finished The Kraken of Cape Madre, not only internally but also talking to my beta readers, everybody was too enamored with Miriam to let her go and I had one beta reader try to revolt if I abandoned Miriam. For the foreseeable future, Miriam will be THE Lorestalker, I guess, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t have fun cameos from other characters. Macy is a good in because she is tied to [a few other characters], so bringing any of those characters back in the future will be pretty easy.

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Alicia: So far, have you been receiving really good feedback for both of your books? From both beta readers and other readers in general?

J.P.: Yeah, so far, feedback has been pretty good. I’m grateful for fairly positive reviews across the board. I think that anyone who writes books is a little bit unsure of themselves and there are days where I think, “Are people just being nice? I don’t know.” So it feels good to get the good reviews, for sure. It’s hard not to obsess about it a little bit starting out to not just every day check them and see what people say. And even when it’s not star ratings, just reading people’s reactions, the things that they respond to, the characters they like, it’s great. I love that people respond to things that, to me, weren’t that important. I’m really proud of The Kraken of Cape Madre and I joke with some of my friends that I worry that I’ll never write a book that good again. Not to sound cocky, I’m just really proud of it and I think it turned out to be a really good book and I’m excited to start seeing people’s reactions roll in after my release.

The Kraken of Cape Madre is going to release [June 3rd], but nothing is going to happen. It’s kind of a surreal thing to think, “Ooh, my book release!”, but no one has time to read or review it the day it releases. Really, you don’t start getting the feedback until way later, so it’s definitely more of a marathon than a sprint.

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Alicia: What has it been like working with Evolved Publishing?

J.P.: It’s been great. They’re my first publisher, so I don’t have anyone to compare them against, but considering I knew nothing going in, it’s been great to have a partner in editing, cover design, and marketing. Marketing is a huge one that is very difficult, so just having a partner in all of that has been a really big deal. It has also given me access to other authors and a network of people I wouldn’t have had access to otherwise, so it’s been great.

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Alicia: During your writing process, both before and even now, who has been your biggest support?

J.P.: My biggest support has to be my wife. She is literally paying the bills so I can do this. But she also reads everything I write and gives me pretty good feedback. My favorite question to ask her after she reads my stuff is, “What do you think is going to happen next?” I almost never do what she says, but it’s really helpful to hear a reader’s perspective on, “Here is what I think is going to happen,” and that makes it easier for me to subvert expectations, which I think is a big part of my series. She’s hugely helpful in all of those things.

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Alicia: I think you’re already off to a really strong start with your series by having three come out just this year. That’s definitely going to help keep you on readers’ radars. How long do you anticipate your series to be? Do you have a set number or are you going to keep it going for as long as you can?

J.P.: I don’t have a set number. I like the characters and, as long as I do, I’d be happy to keep writing Lorestalker books if people want to read them. That being said, though, I do have other books I want to write, other ideas for books and other genres, so eventually, I’ll want to get to those, but while I’m building a readership, I think that there’s a lot of value in having a single series. I really don’t think more than one book ahead, though, so right now I’m working on book three and I really can’t because of the way I write. I don’t really know what’s going to happen so, without knowing where my characters are going to end up at the end of book three, it’s really hard to plan a book four, but I think there will be one.

[As far as my other ideas go,] I really like science fiction, so I think one day I would like to write some more science fiction. I may dabble in it more. Not so much Star Trek or Star Wars science fiction in the stars, but one of my favorite authors of all time is Michael Crichton and I really like the way he would take real world science, amp it up ten notches, and write a story about it. I like that kind of science fiction. I also really enjoy alternate history fiction, so I actually have an idea of mixing up a couple of those genres that I really want to get to. I actually started writing the book, but then I got a publisher for The Beast of Rose Valley and went on the Lorestalker train which I think, in the end, will probably service the science fiction book better, to learning a lot with every book.

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Alicia: What do you hope readers will take away from reading your books?

J.P.: First off, I want readers to have fun. I want you to be able to pick up my book, I want you to be able to read it in less than five hours, and I want you to feel like you just watched a really good movie. Those are my favorite kind of books and those are the kind of books I want to write.

My second take away I want readers to have is I want them to learn something about humanity. Characters are very important to me and I want there to be takeaways there. Sometimes, I’m surprised by the takeaways people have. They’re not always the ones I have intended. At the end of the day, the “kraken” or the “beast” are just there so that it is more fun, but really, it’s about the characters and learning something about not only the characters, but something about yourself or someone you know or some relationship you have.

 

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