Linda Berry’s love of the written word and the visuals arts culminated in a twenty-five-year career as an award-winning copywriter and art director. Now retired, Linda writes mysteries and intense, fast-paced thrillers. As our Author of the Day, she tells us all about her latest book, Quiet Scream.
Please give us a short introduction to what Quiet Scream is about.
This is a suspenseful story of a murder that takes place in rural Oregon—a setting of rolling ranchland, stunning forests, a pristine lake, and a perfectly preserved historical town that boasts of hardworking cowboys and farmers.
The town has seen little crime other than the usual rash of misdemeanors, but then a young woman is found murdered in the forest. The staging of her body is chilling—similar to that of another woman murdered three years earlier, which confirms the worst—a serial killer is loose in their county. That changes everything. A climate of suspicion and fear descends upon the residents.
The job of apprehending the killer falls upon the small police force, composed of a seasoned police chief, Sidney Becker, and three inexperienced officers. Understaffed, and pitted against a cunning and dangerous killer, they must perform at optimum capacity, on little sleep, before the murderer strikes again.
Woven into the central story of murder is the delicate stirrings of romance, the devoted relationship Sidney has with her younger sister, and her steadfast commitment to protecting her junior officers, whose safety she holds in her hands.
Tell us more about your main character, Sidney Becker - what makes her tick?
Sidney is one of those rare investigators who has uncanny intuition and the persistence of a bulldog when following the scent of murder. A former lead detective of a homicide unit in California, she closed most of her cases, but years of gruesome crime scenes left her jaundiced and near emotional collapse. Taking the job of police chief in her former hometown was an attempt to preserve her mental health and restore her faith in human decency.
The murder forces Sidney to hone her investigative skills while at the same time, suppress the mounting anxiety that threatens to upend her investigation.
What inspired you to write about a serial killer?
The term serial killer is relative and can plant a dark, disturbing image in a reader’s mind. But even cozy mysteries have serial killers. Granted, what lurks in the mind of a killer is dark and evil, but that is not the tone of this novel throughout. There is also the setting of the town itself, which is stunning in autumn color. There are warm and touching friendships, the fluttering of romance, quirky side stories of people and animals, and luscious descriptions of food, since several of the characters lives revolve around food and cooking.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
I was an art director in California for 25 years, with clients ranging from high tech companies to lifestyle magazines. I directed photo shoots of fashion models, celebrities, and even a CEO of Hewlett Packard, and designed a wide assortment of printed materials—brochures, ads, company branding, and magazine layouts. It was a diverse and really fun career.
Why did you pick a small, artsy town as the backdrop of your book?
I love small towns that are integrated with nature and steeped in history. My fictional town of Garnerville has many seductive possibilities and a broad range of characters to draw from. Cowboys, farmers, the sophisticated artists and urbanites in town, the roughshod people who live in the woods, and even a community of Native Americans, who will be strongly featured in my next novel.
Your readers say you kept them guessing up until the end who the serial killer can be - how did you pull this off?
A ton of analysis. Hundreds of hours ruminating while driving, hiking, brushing my teeth, lying awake in the middle of the night. Brainstorming countless possibilities with anyone who would listen. I puzzled over which character had the most interesting secret motives. Who would the reader least suspect? In Quiet Scream, I changed my mind about the murderer when I was only chapters away from the ending. Even I was surprised by who dunnit.
This book also contains a couple of interesting pets - from a raven to a sable hound and cats. Why did you write them into the story?
I love animals. I love their antics and ability to make us smile, to make us laugh, to discover things within ourselves. Animals as characters fill the little empty niches of a story, and can bring comfort to a character, and to the reader, when the story takes us to a dark place.
Tell us a bit about your writing process. Do you plot out your twists before you start writing?
I have to admit, I am not a planner. I’ve been waylaid too many times when I’ve tried to follow an outline. In the research phase, I pad files with info on each character, so when I begin to write, they are living beings in my imagination. The story has a way of taking off in unimagined directions once I start developing the structure. Often, I feel the story is a breathing thing, writing itself, and I am just the conduit.
For your own entertainment, what type of books do you enjoy reading?
I read everything. The only prerequisite is that the story is engaging, well crafted, and has a fresh and original storyline. I want to be surprised, and eager to find out what happens on the next page. Since I write suspenseful mysteries, I read a lot of that genre, for entertainment and research.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
That is difficult to answer because I love so many books. But some of my favorites are The Chatham School Affair by Thomas Cook, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doer, and the Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. These books transport you to another time and place, introduce you to characters you will never forget, and mesmerize you with the quality of the prose.
Your characters are very realistic. Are any of them based on real people?
They are composites of people I know and people who only exist in my imagination. What is important to me is creating a unique character that I’ve never met before in a book or movie. Originality is key. I, too, want to discover the facets of my characters, like the unfolding of a friend you get to know a little more deeply every time you meet.
In your mind, what happens to the characters after you write their final chapters? Do they continue to "live on" in your imagination?
Absolutely. Quiet Scream is the first in a series of Sidney Becker Murder Mysteries. I’m already writing the next story with the same core of base characters. Quiet Scream took place in autumn, a season bristling with color. My next book will take place in winter with a stark backdrop of pristine snow, ice glazed trees, and frozen creeks.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I enjoy interacting with readers, and welcome all comments. I invite readers to follow me at www.lindaberry.net. My other three books are listed there with reviews and links to their Amazon book pages. Readers can also follow me on Goodreads, Twitter, and Face book, or contact me directly at [email protected]