Trey R. Barker is the author of the Jace Salome series, as well as the Barefield Trio. His short fiction has appeared just about everywhere and in every genre. He spent nearly two decades as an on-again/off-again journalist before moving into law enforcement in North-Central Illinois. He is currently a sergeant of patrol with a specialty in crisis negotiations and on-line child sexual exploitation.
Crazy facts about Trey? Here are two:
1. He once had a temporary job as a doll assembler. In a giant, single room warehouse stockpiled high with body parts. The three-foot tall dolls were built to look like the pictures that customers sent in of their daughters or wives. He was responsible for gluing on the hair and he stood next to the guy responsible for popping eyeballs into the skulls.
2. Back in 1987, Trey got into quite an argument with a Lyndon LaRouche supporter just outside the White House when he was headed to a press briefing as a student reporter from Texas Tech. The LaRouche supporter had a sign that said, “Even with Don Regan gone, AIDS is still a threat. Quarantine them.” He thought that was moronic and voiced his opinion. Washington DC metro police had to break it up.
What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?
I can remember a ton of books I read while growing up, but the one that made me want to write was Stephen King’s The Shining (specifically chapters 25 and 30).
In The Shining, which is still one of my favorite King novels, the maddeningly slow disassemblage of Jack Torrance is a thing of disturbing beauty. When I first read it, it was the summer of 1980, I was on vacation with my mother and brother in Colorado, I had just finished the 7th grade, and had never read anything with the intensity of The Shining. What King did to Danny in Chapter 25 in Room 217 still has the ability to haunt me in dreams. I can remember, clearly, watching Danny pull back the shower curtain and find the rotting woman. Later, in Chapter 30, King brought Jack into the room but of course there was no woman there, even though I knew there would be. Then, after Jack left, there she was, fussing about behind the door.
At that moment, I hated King and loved him. Never had anyone gotten such a physical or emotional reaction out of me. King led me exactly where he wanted me, and got exactly what he wanted out of me. It was the first time I realized writing was more than simply telling stories. It was about art and craft and taking someone by the hand and leading them down a path. I was in awe, for the first time, of what a great writer could do. It was the same thing Peter Straub did in Ghost Story and the Blue Rose Trilogy and what James Lee Burke still does to me in his best novels. But like all first loves, The Shining lives most vibrantly in my heart.
Tell us something about you that isn’t common knowledge.
I am much cuter and sexier than people realize.
Due to oppressive taxation you have to move into a tiny house. What are the ten books you aren’t giving up?
The entire series of Best American True Crime Writing (which I consider one book…a cheat, I know but there it is).
Dixie City Jam and Purple Cane Road, by James Lee Burke
L.A. Requiem, by Robert Crais
The Poet, by Michael Connolly
Apollo 8, Jeffrey Kluger
Samuel Pepys Diary, by Samuel Pepys
Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, by Edgar Allan Poe
Any two Matt Scudder novels
The Grifters, Jim Thompson
At the Foot of the Story Tree, by Bill Sheehan
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
Do you listen to music when you’re writing? How does music/art influence you creatively?
I am a musician and my tastes run the gamut. I have always written or edited to music. Usually, when I know the tone of the piece I’m working on, I’ll try and find music that matches that tone.
For the Jace Salome series, I listen to quite a bit of jazz. Jace is a jazz fan (a little of everything but mostly the cool West Coast bop of the ‘50s) and I spin those records to better tune into her head. Her sidekick, Rory, is more of a classical fan so sometimes I’ll write to that.
When I was younger, more able to focus on multiple things, I could compose new words while someone sang something unrelated in the background. I cannot do that any longer. If I’m composing, I can’t have lyrics or I risk the scene getting hijacked.
When I edit, however, I can listen to anything. Usually faster, heavier rock and metal because that gets my blood boiling and I am much more ruthless with the words on the page.
While I wrote the Barefield Trio, I listened to very specific artists with each novel because I wanted that artist and that artist’s look at the world to permeate the books.
Lastly, I believe that if you want to understand a culture, listen to their music. It’s all in there…their murder and death, their customs and hopes, their fears.
Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?
An interesting question. I think that Jace Salome sometimes believes—metaphorically—she’s insane because there is some serious baggage banging around in her head, most of it based on her mother’s death when she was young. There are also aspects of law enforcement that make her nutty.
However, for Jace, the biggest thing is justice, which it’s many shifting meanings and iterations and colorations and degrees. I could absolutely see her ending up in prison because of something she believed to be the right thing but was considered outside of society’s bounds by the public or by superior officers. I do believe, personally, that is a conundrum that affects many, many officers on a daily basis. Many times, true justice simply does not exist with official justice. I believe that will touch Jace regularly throughout her career.
What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?
I’m not sure we’ve discovered her biggest fear yet. Personally, I believe it is Gramma’s death. Jace’s mother was killed by a drunk driver when she was very young and she went to live with Gramma and Grapa. Grapa was taken by cancer and Gramma is the only person Jace has left
Having said that, I do think there are some darker secrets buried deeper inside Jace that we haven’t plumbed yet. I know she fears losing herself in the law enforcement culture and norms. I know that she worries she won’t be up to the task if something serious and huge jumps off or if one of her police partners needs her to go the extra mile to protect them.
Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?
With this newest published book, When the Lonesome Dog Barks, I wanted to cut Jace free. In the previous two books, she and Rory had investigated everything together. In this book, Rory is at the academy to transition to a road position rather than jailer and that meant Jace had to step out on her own and solve a crime solo, within the boundaries of no officer in the history of the world solving any crime 100% solo. I wanted Jace to make decisions and analyses that turned out to be correct or correct enough that it kept her on the right track. But I also wanted her to make mistakes in those decisions and analyses that illustrated to her there are always obstacles in law enforcement and the mark of a true officer is how he or she handles those obstacles. Can she find a workaround or does she let those obstacles stop her progress dead.
In the book I’m currently writing, I’m exploring two very specific things: Jace arresting a friend for the first time, and the nature of the misperception of relationships within the officer/criminal context. It is something I had to deal with when I started in law enforcement and it has always fascinated me to see how different officers deal with those issues.
Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?
I am a hobbyist musician and photographer. I am terrible at both of those things but enjoy the hell out of trying. I am also a two-bit genealogist who has been tracking obscure branches of my broken family tree. Those have always allowed me to use different muscles and prioritize different aspects of my life, thus completely recharging me.
What strategies do you use to keep your books fresh? Particularly if you write a series character, how do you keep them consistent without retelling the same content book to book?
For me, the journey itself is the freshness. Law enforcement deals with so many aspects of humanity, and those parameters are broadening constantly, thus giving Jace an entirely different set of boundaries within which to exist. Crime is so general and the definition so basic—someone taking advantage of someone else—that how can anyone possibly have anything new to say about it, or have any new way of looking at it, or method of dissecting it. But when one begins to look at the specifics, how can one not have anything new to say about it, or a new way of looking at it?
Gary Gilmore is one example. His story is that of a guy who murdered a couple of people over a couple of nights and was tried, convicted, and executed. Same old story. But look at that same journey as recounted by his brother Mikal Gilmore. Now the story has nuance and detail and now the entire thing is fresh. Ditto the story of Sante Kimes, a cheap con artist who ultimately was convicted of murder. She whacked people to get their stuff, a story as old and banal as any evil on the planet. But read her son Kent Walker’s history of that story and now suddenly you see an abusive mother who coerced at least one, and maybe both, of her sons into her con games and it’s a wholly new tale.
I take from all of that, from everything I read and have experience as a copper and put that into my characters so that their journey is as fresh an interesting as I can make it.