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Author J.D. Barker's childhood fears have served his readers well

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop
| Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
J.D. Barker of Brentwood
J.D. Barker of Brentwood
“The Fifth To Die” by J.D. Barker
“The Fifth To Die” by J.D. Barker
“The Fourth Monkey” by J.D. Barker
“The Fourth Monkey” by J.D. Barker
“Dracul” co-authored by J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker
“Dracul” co-authored by J.D. Barker and Dacre Stoker

Before going to sleep as a child, J.D. Barker would make sure the closet door was closed tight.

After checking under the bed at least twice — and usually a few more times — he would climb under the sheet and covers, pulling them up and over his head.

“No monster could penetrate the safety of the sheets,” says Barker of Brentwood, an international best-selling American author.

Works have been broadly described as suspenseful thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction and the supernatural. “I would never go down to the basement. Never. I had seen enough to know better. I had read enough stories to know what happens to little boys who wandered off in dark, dismal places.”

Thoughts of those dark, dismal places turned into pages and pages of bone-chilling manuscripts telling stories of ghosts and gremlins, spinning tales that would give readers the same angst Barker felt at bedtime during his childhood.

Who is Barker?

Barker was born in Illinois, before his family moved to Florida when he was 14 years old. He wrote his first novel “Forsaken,” which published Nov. 14, 2014, and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award.

He moved to Pittsburgh three years ago.

In addition to “Forsaken,” he is the author of “The Fourth Monkey” and “The Fifth To Die.” His works have been translated into 19 languages and optioned for both film and television. Barker says he wouldn’t mind doing a cameo sometime, but adds that books don’t always translate well to the screen.

Paramount has the film rights to his most recent creation — “Dracul,” which is co-written with Dacre Stoker, who is the great-grandnephew of Bram Stoker and the international bestselling co-author of “Dracula: The Un-Dead.”

“Dracul” (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), released Oct. 2 and is a prequel to “Dracula.” It’s a supernatural thriller that reveals not only Dracula’s true origin but Bram Stoker’s – and the tale of the enigmatic woman who connects them. It is based on the notes Bram Stoker left behind.

“Dracul” follows Bram Stoker and his siblings as they hunt a dark presence from their childhood home in Ireland to locations across Europe to a final confrontation not to be missed. Featuring figures from history as well as characters drawn from fiction, “Dracul” reveals a new angle on our scariest — and most enduring – tale.

“I’m not happy unless a book is full of twists and turns and keeps the readers on the edge of their seat,” Barker says. “I recently read a Facebook thread between two women who were reading ‘The Fourth Monkey’ and during the course of the day, they skipped work, got someone else to pick up their kids from school and ordered pizza to feed their family, all so they could keep reading. That may not be the best way to run your household, but as an author, knowing you are entertaining someone at that level is unbelievably fulfilling.”

Fascination with books

Books are like films in the minds with unlimited budgets, Barker says. They can transport you to places you’ve never been, introduce you to people you’ve never met and entertain you for days at a time, all for less than a cup of coffee.

“If you pick up a book and enjoy it, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, tell someone about it. Turn off the television for a while and take the kids down to the local library or the book store.”

Barker didn’t watch much television as a child. His mother, Terry Hartman, owned an antique store and he and his sister, Angelique Waltimyer, would travel to estate sales and other markets with her, where he would buy books.

His fascination with books, and eventually writing his own stories, came from his first readings of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. He and his sister created a library in the family home and Barker would lend those books, as well as tales he crafted to his sister, who often kept them.

“So I would charge her a late fee,” he says. “She still owes me money.”

Full-time writer

Barker embarked on a full-time writing career after leaving his job as a chief compliance officer for a brokerage firm. He had been working there all day and then writing at night as a ghost writer.

“I learned how to write editing other people’s writing and my stories ended up on the New York Times best-sellers list with other people’s names on them,” he says. “And one day I thought, ‘That could be me.’ ”

He says his wife Dayna has been his inspiration in following his dream to be an author. He says she helped him by giving him the time to develop his craft after he left his full-time job in the spring of 2016. “The Fourth Monkey” had gone to auction, meaning several publishers wanted to buy it. He and his wife went out to dinner to celebrate, and, by the time the check came, the book had brought in more than seven figures, making that decision to quit his job an easy one.

“I have been really lucky to not have had writer’s block,” Barker says. “I lock myself in my office and write. I do need structure, however. I usually get up at 8 a.m. and make some coffee, turn off the internet and write, usually compiling 2,000 to 3,000 words before lunch. At 4 p.m., I go for a run and think about what I will write the next day. It keeps my subconscious focused on the story.”

Teaming with a pro’s pro

Barker is working on a book with New York Times best-selling author James Patterson, who Barker says has the worst timing. Patterson will call at all the wrong times, but when he calls, Barker answers.

Working with Patterson is like going back to school.

“It’s both challenging and incredibly rewarding on so many levels,” Barker says. “I’m pretty good at crafting a solid thriller, but Patterson has taught me how to dial it up to 11. Our two styles are different, but blend perfectly.”

Their collaboration is expected to be done by 2020.

“J.D. Barker is a one-of-a-kind writer, and that’s a rare and special thing,” says Patterson, in a news release. “ ‘The Fourth Monkey’ has one of the most ingenious openings that I’ve read in years. This thriller never disappoints.”

JoAnne Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062 or or via Twitter @Jharrop_Trib.

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