By Karen Harper
It was great fun to interview prolific author R. Barri Flowers—partly because his novels whisk us away to beautiful Hawaii, but also because his work can be categorized as Hawaii noir in some ways, which makes it all the more intriguing. With his amazing background and varied stories, Flowers’s tales of crime in paradise will pull the reader right in.
The Big Thrill caught up with Flowers, whose bibliography includes adult and YA thrillers, true crime, and even children’s books, for a talk about his new novel, his background in criminology, and maintaining his relentless publishing pace.
Please tell us what your new book, KAANAPALI BEACH PARADISE, is about.
KAANAPALI BEACH PARADISE is a contemporary suspense novel set amidst the lush playground of Maui [and] Hawaii’s famed Kaanapali Beach Resort. The soap opera-style tale of adultery, ambition, dark secrets, love, lust, hate, romance, betrayal, revenge, and murder revolves around the anticipated grand opening of Kaanapali Palms Hotel, the latest luxury accommodation on this three-mile-long oceanfront stretch of paradise on the island’s western shore.
KAANAPALI BEACH PARADISE promises to keep readers engaged as lives and loves are turned upside down with intriguing twists at every turn and a shocking conclusion amidst the grandeur of a world-famous Hawaii beach resort.
You’re a prolific author who has published in many genres and written for different age groups. Do you rotate your work in a particular pattern to satisfy your varied readers, or do you write the story that comes to you at that time?
This is a great question, Karen. I do tend to rotate my books in a certain order to keep too much time from elapsing between projects in the various genres in which I write. It can be challenging at times to switch tracks, but lots of fun. Definitely keeps the creative juices flowing and allows me to stretch my capabilities in reaching the widest audience possible.
As an avid reader of books in many genres my entire life, I came to realize that using my own love of fiction and nonfiction motivated me as an author to take on the genres that so captivated me in reading. And in that sense, I also love the idea of having a selection of books that everyone in the family, from children to adults, can enjoy.
Can you give us a little detail on your criminologist background? Many crime and thriller writers would love to have your expertise.
Way back when, I attended Michigan State University, where I received my BA and MS in Criminal Justice—providing me with the framework to pursue a writing career. My very first book, entitled Criminal Jurisdiction in Indian Country, was based on my master’s thesis. It became one of the foremost criminology and law books on criminality, law enforcement, and jurisdictional issues on reservations.
From there, I went on to write many other criminology titles on everything from homicide to sex crimes to juvenile delinquency, you name it. Wanting to branch out even further to reach mainstream [readers], I started writing true crime books. My first, The Sex Slave Murders, was published by St. Martin’s Press. It was about a husband and wife serial killer team that terrorized western states in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This led to many other true crime titles.
As a natural progression, I turned to writing crime fiction, including thrillers, mysteries, and suspense novels, and have enjoyed expanding my repertoire. What separates my crime novels from some other novelists is that I am able to use my real-life knowledge of criminal behavior, victimization, and law enforcement to give more verisimilitude to my narratives and characterizations.
You’ve served as an expert on true crime for such outlets as the Biography Channel, Investigation Discovery, and Oxygen television. Does this endeavor overlap with your writing skills? Can you share some of the topics you’ve weighed in on?
Yes, being a true crime expert on television documentary series certainly overlaps with my writing skills. The two typically go hand in hand. Writing and research on true crime prepares me to talk in depth about the subject matter. Conversely, discussing criminal behavior and related dynamics further motivates me to write on related true crime stories, as well as talk about the topic in other outlets.
Some of the themes I have weighed in on include serial killers (such as Gerald and Charlene Gallego, Aileen Wuornos, Fred and Rosemary West, Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo, Martha Beck and Raymond Fernandez, and others), mass killers, domestic violence, juvenile delinquency, white collar criminality, prostitution, child abuse and neglect, police discretion, racial and ethnic disparities in arrests, conviction, and incarceration and other crime-related issues, and prison reform. I try to bring rationality to every topic I talk about, as well as perspective that will hopefully shed the proper light on [the subject].
For both readers and other writers, can you clarify the differences between suspense and psychological suspense?
I love this question. I regard the crime subgenre of suspense fiction as focusing largely on keeping the reader in anticipation throughout the book as to the eventual conclusion of the story, while having a healthy dose of mystery and interesting plot twists, along with compelling characters and settings.
Psychological suspense as a subgenre of crime fiction encompasses many of the same dynamics, but the focus is more on the mental or emotional aspects of the characters or the plotline itself, as well as the criminal behavior at issue, rather than the law enforcement aspect.
I have written both suspense and psychological suspense and enjoy differentiating the nuances of the two in carving out a sustainable plot.
The title of your new book, KAANAPALI BEACH PARADISE, sounds lovely, lush, and romantic rather than suspenseful or crime-focused. Does this novel straddle more than one genre?
Indeed it does. KAANAPALI BEACH PARADISE originally started off as a series of novelettes. But due to their popularity, I decided to broaden [them] into a novel that encompasses elements of contemporary romance, romantic suspense, mystery, suspense, mainstream, and crime fiction as a melodrama. Years ago, I loved watching those glitzy soap opera-style miniseries on television that seemed to have a little of everything as a guilty pleasure. KAANAPALI BEACH PARADISE attempts to do the same as an entertaining novel. In that regard, Maui, Hawaii, seemed the perfect setting for such a fun and enticing plot, where, in the beauty and calm waters of paradise, the weaknesses of the human condition lie beneath the surface and are brought to light.
You’re obviously an author who has massive demands on your time. How do you balance your career with “real life”?
Another great question. Well, I have always tried to keep my priorities in order and [maintain] a proper perspective on things. As such, my real life has been of utmost importance when it comes to managing my time and making sure I give adequate attention to healthy living, family, friends, and enjoyment of life. My wife and I love to travel, entertain, work out, watch quality TV programming, attend festivals, fairs, sports events, and more.
I also love my career and consider it a gift to be able to lend my voice to a readership that includes fiction and nonfiction fans of all age groups. I certainly hope I can continue to juggle writing and real life for years to come, while counting my blessings every step of the way.
Are you working on anything new that you care to share?
Yes, I am excited to share the news of my upcoming new Hawaii FBI crime thriller series. The first book is entitled Murder on the Big Island.
FBI profiler Heather Augustine is assigned to a serial killer investigation on the Island of Hawaii. The perpetrator, known as “The Foot Fetish Killer,” has murdered three young women in the town of Hilo. Each victim died from asphyxiation and had bite marks on her feet.
Three years earlier, Heather’s FBI agent brother, Simon Augustine, vanished during a case, was found wandering around naked and in a daze, institutionalized, and eventually committed suicide. When Heather freaks out after seeing the remains of the latest victim, bringing back painful memories, she requests a couple of days off to get her head together. But when she doesn’t show up for work afterward, it is feared that the stress got to her and she went AWOL, following in her brother’s footsteps.
FBI Special Agent Diane Pakaki is brought in to assist in the serial killer case, teaming up with Detective Glenn Sugimoto of the Hawaii Police Department’s Criminal Investigations Section. As more women are murdered, Diane and Sugimoto race against the clock to rescue their colleague and stop a cold-blooded serial killer in his tracks.
Murder on the Big Island will be published this fall.
In the meantime, for fans of Hawaii fiction, I invite you to check out my current Hawaii thriller series, Leila Kahana Maui Mysteries, Eddie Naku Maui Mysteries, and the Skye Delaney private eye mysteries first title, Murder in Honolulu, as well as my standalone psychological suspense novel Kauai Killer.
R. Barri Flowers is the bestselling author of relationship, mystery, and thriller fiction, as well as young adult novels.
Relationship and romance novels include A Reason to Live, Aloha Fantasy, Christmas Heat, Forever Sweethearts, Graduate Circles, Pleasure in Hawaii, and Private Luau.
Mysteries and thrillers include Alive in the Rose City, Before He Kills Again, Dark Streets of Whitechapel, Dead in the Rose City, Deadly Defense, Kauai Killer, Murder in Honolulu, Murder in Maui, Murdered in the Gourmet Kitchen, and Murdered in the Man Cave.
Teen novels include Christmas Wishes, Count Dracula’s Teenage Daughter, Ghost Girl in Shadow Bay, Summer at Paradise Ranch, and Teen Ghost at Dead Lake.
The author’s books can be found in audio, eBook, and print.
Follow R. Barri Flowers on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest Goodreads, Google+, LinkedIn, LibraryThing, and on his website.