Beverly Barton: Southern Towns and Bad Boys

(May 18, 1999)

"The love story must dominate the book and everything else takes a backseat to what's going on between the hero and heroine."

Do you ever get the feeling that most series romances are set in either the West or Pacific Northwest? Well then, grab a Beverly Barton title and settle down to smell the magnolias. Most of Beverly Barton's books are set in the South, where she has a wonderful knack of capturing small-town Southern life and atmosphere. After you've read one of her books you'll know the correct way to use "y'all" in a sentence. Trust me, I'm from Kentucky. Beverly often has a "Bad Boy" as a main character and writes some of the best bad boy stories in the business. Above all, Beverly's books are marked by a deep and extraordinary passion between the main characters. The hero and heroine may be thrown together by chance or accident and seem like an odd or even unsuitable couple at first, but by the end of the book they are totally devoted to each other - lovers and friends.

I first read Beverly Barton when I bought one of her Protectors mini-series books. I was struck both by her heroes who are intensely masculine but never cruel and her heroines who are kind and loving but do not allow themselves to be doormats. I haunted the bookstores until I accumulated all her titles and her books are some of my favorite "comfort reads." Beverly was kind enough to consent to an e-mail interview and had some interesting answers to some of the questions I have been dying to ask her.

--Ellen Micheletti

Hi, Beverly! I'll begin with the obvious - how did you get started as a writer?

I've been writing since I was a child. Actually I created stories before I could write and thought every other child had all those "stories going on inside their heads" the way I did. I began my first book at the age of nine, then wrote short stories, poetry, plays and novels throughout high school and into college. But once I married and started a family, I put the writing aside and didn't return to it until I was in my mid-thirties. At that time it was a hobby, and not until I was almost forty did I pursue being published. I sold my first book in 1989 (released as Yankee Lover in July '90) approximately two years after I became determined to be a published writer.

Do you find it very different to write for both the Desire and Intimate Moments lines?

Although my "voice" doesn't change and I think my style for both Desires and Intimate Moments are similar, there are differences in the two lines that require a different mind-set when writing. The main thing both lines have in common, as I think all romance lines do, is that the love story must dominate the book and everything else takes a backseat to what's going on between the hero and heroine. In Desires you don't have room for anything extra - your writing must be very lean and you must concentrate solely on the relationship between your protagonists. With Intimate Moments' longer format, you have room to expand the storyline and actually include more mainstream-type elements. I love writing for both lines and I think moving between the two lines helps keep my writing fresh.

You sometimes use class differences in your books. In Talk of the Town, Lydia was from an old wealthy family and married Wade who was a struggling farmer. In Sugar Hill, Carter was from an old family and Bonnie was from a lower class family and in A Child of Her Own, Rick was a real bad boy from the other side of the tracks and Lori was a "golden girl" from the upper crust. Do you think this class difference makes for a more interesting story?

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Oh, yes! One of my favorite movies of all time is Long Hot Summer (the 50's version and the newer made for TV version). This movie is a classic example not only of class differences between hero and heroine adding tremendous tension to the romantic plot, but it also epitomizes the "bad boy/good girl" theme that I love. When you have someone's entire family, indeed their entire social set opposed to the relationship, then you create the "two of us against the world" scenario. And don't forget that bad boys or bad girls from "the wrong side of the tracks" add that forbidden element - that irresistible temptation.

Often the heroine of your books has an older friend or relative who acts as a confidante and surrogate mom (reminds me of my Aunt Nena) - Could you tell us more about this type of character?

I absolutely love the characters I create to act as surrogate moms to my heroines. Usually this person is an aunt or a grandmother - someone older, wiser and strong willed, who doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks of her because she is confident in who she is and her place in this world. I didn't realize that I had this type of character in most of my books, until a friend pointed it out to me. That's when I understood that I'd given each of my heroines a little piece of my paternal grandmother, who raised me and was the only mother I ever knew. My Mammy was a very wise, self-confident woman who loved me unconditionally and from whom I learned how to be a good mother, a good wife and a strong woman. Unconsciously, I give my heroines that type of role model and confidante. However, I must admit that most of these characters, who are sometimes male, are much more colorful than my grandmother. She was a true, genteel Southern lady. The closest I came to really capturing her was in the character of Eula Hammond, my heroine's grandmother in Lover and Deceiver.

Where did you get the idea for The Protectors mini-series and will it be an on-going thing?

I honestly don't know where I got the idea, just that I've always loved the theme of a big strong man prepared to lay down his life to protect his woman - a man not only willing and capable of killing to protect, but willing to die if necessary. Originally I sent in a three-book proposal and called it The Protectors. Silhouette bought those three books, which were very successful for me and when I submitted three more, they bought those and asked for more. I wrote the blurb on each book that reads:

"Ready to lay their lives on the line, but unprepared for the power of love."

I have since written the 7th book in The Protectors series, Keeping Annie Safe (July '99), and am contracted for two more. I certainly hope to continue this series and have every reason to believe that Silhouette wants more. At present I have story ideas for the two contracted books and for four more, which would bring the total to thirteen.

Earlier at All About Romance, we discussed the Alpha Hero and some of us feel the terminology is outdated. Your heroes are very masculine and authoritative, but they are not cruel or arrogant, which I usually associate with the term Alpha male. Do you think your heroes are Alphas, or has that term lost its use as a description of a particular kind of male character?

Interesting question. I've never thought Alpha Male meant an arrogrant or cruel man, although many heroes in romance novels have indeed been both. I suppose I think Alpha Male means strong, tough and extremely masculine. Yes, I think of my heroes as Alpha Males, but with Beta tendencies. My heroes are the type of man I love, respect and admire - strong, masculine, authoritative and very protective, but also with a heart of gold, a man capable of deep, faithful love and a man who likes and respects women. These are the traits I found in both of my grandfathers, in my father, my husband, my son and son-in-law. The men in my life would cut off their right arm before lifting a finger to harm their women - wives, daugthers, etc. - and my heroes share that trait.

Your heroines are very different physically. Some writers use the same general physical type for their heroines (they are all petite for example), but you have had tall skinny heroines like Addie in Paladin's Woman, petite ones like Cleo in Roarke's Wife, Anna Rose in Cameron who was not beautiful and Aurora in Gabriel Hawk's Lady was plump. Can you tell us more about this aspect of your heroines?

I think some writers feel more comfortable creating heroines with similar physical traits and often those traits will belong to the writer herself. If I did that, all my heroines would be gorgeous, fat, middle-aged blondes with Southern accents and loud mouths. <g>

I like variety in my heroines, especially in their physical attributes. I think more readers will identify with the various types. Women of all heights, weights, ages, etc. fall in love and each deserves an incredible romance. I would become bored if there were no differences in my heroines. Although all my heroines, except one - in Nine Months for the 36 Hours mini-series - have been Southern women, I try to give each a distinct personality as well as make her physically different from the others. What all my heroines have in common is that I personally like them - and they share enough of my values for me to respect them. Usually, I ask myself, if I were in my heroine's shoes and came from her background, what would I do in this or that situation? To me, my heroines are like real people, not cookie cutter creations.

Who are some of your favorite writers - romance and non-romance?

Sandra Brown and Linda Howard top my list. Robert R. McCammon and Dick Francis have written some fabulous books. I read and enjoy many of the books written by Mary Higgins Clark, Iris Johansen, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Elmore Leonard, Karen Robards, John Grisham, Diana Gabaldon and Pat Conroy. My reading tastes are very eclectic, so my list could go on and on and on. There are too many "favorites" among romance writers to name them all.

You've had a few books - Blackwood's Woman and Lone Wolf's Lady - that have a Western setting. Do you approach those books differently?

Only in that I have to do more research for books set outside the South or even those set in a Southern area that I don't know personally. I want the settings to have an authentic feel to them, which often requires a trip to that region and/or extensive research and the help of someone who lives in that area and knows it well.

You have used some paranormal elements in some of your books - one heroine was a telepath and one was an empath - Do you like using paranormal elements and will we see more of them?

I love using paranormal elements, but limit their use. For a while, anything paranormal seemed to be "in fashion," but now it seems to be less so. In the books I've written where a paranormal element was used, I didn't think ahead of time that I was going to write a book about something paranormal. I always started with the character and everything else evolved from that point. In my first Intimate Moments title, This Side of Heaven, the prologue takes place from the point of view of two ancient lovers, whose spirits are doomed to stay earth until a modern set of lovers fulfill a prophecy and set them free to enter paradise. In The Outcast, Elizabeth was psychic and in Guarding Jeannie, Jeannie was an empath and telepath, and these two characters made a repeat performance in Gabriel Hawk's Lady and Jeannie will show up in Keeping Annie Safe.

Will I use paranormal elements in future books? Maybe. Probably.

Lone Wolf's Lady had a scene where Luke, who believes Deanna's testimony in a court case was the deciding factor in sending him to prison, forces her to perform a sexual act. Normally I would have hated him forever, but you set the scene so we understood that he was acting out of character and he felt guilt and shame for his actions. How did you go about writing that scene that so we would understand and not be disgusted with him?

With great diffculty. I had such a difficult time writing that scene, but knew it was what Luke would have done. He was a good man whom life had sorely mistreated. He was filled with anger and rage. Deanna loved him enough to give him the type of revenge he thought he wanted. I knew that I had to prepare the readers and try to make them understand where this cruelty inside Luke came from and what prompted his actions. I think letting the reader see Luke through Deanna's eyes made him more sympathetic. Also, even though Luke "forced" Deanna, in the end, it was her choice. She loved him enough to give him what he wanted and she understood why he asked it of her. Also, a later scene, where Luke was eaten alive with guilt and made such sweet, unselfish love to Deanna as a means of atonement, gave the readers great insight into the real Luke.

How does your family feel about having a romance writer among them?

My husband and children are very proud of me. And they're happy that I love my job. My family is very supportive and always has been.

Were you the Beverly Beaver who made a cameo appearance in Linda Howard's Dream Man?

Yes, Linda used my name in that book and numerous friends picked up on it immediately. I'm also, the Beverly Beaver to whom she dedicated Shades of Twilight.

Can you tell us some of your plans for future books?

After the 3 Babies For 3 Brothers Desire trilogy books which are March, April and May '99 releases, I have the next The Protectors installment, with Keeping Annie Safe, a July Intimate Moment. Then I'll be in a New Year's anthology, 3-2-1 Marriage, with Marie Ferrarella and Sharon Sala, which will be on sale in December '99. I've written Book #10, tentatively titled In The Arms of a Hero, for The Fortunes of Texas series and that is a June 2000 release. At present I'm contracted to write two more The Protectors books, with Murdock and Joe Ornelas as the heroes.

I have ideas for four more The Protectors books and another Desire trilogy, which are only in the planning stages. Also, I'm working on an idea for a single title romance, but don't want to say too much about that project until it is further along.

 




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