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Aug 12, 2019

Author Interview Series: D. A. Bartley

This week we chatted with mystery author D. A. Bartley about her new book, her latest projects and even got some tips on how to develop characters.

CritiqueMatch: What motivated you to choose mystery as your genre?

D. A. Barley: I don’t think I chose it as much as it chose me. The classic murder mystery is my happy place; it always has been. My grandmother gave me my first Agatha Christie when I was about ten, and I’ve been reading murder mysteries ever since.

CritiqueMatch: The second book in the Abish Taylor series, Death in the Covenant, will be released on August 13, 2019. What should we know about your exciting new mystery novel?

D. A. Barley: I was inspired by John Birger’s intriguing article “What Two Religions Tell Us About the Modern Dating Crisis” in which he explores how shifting demographics are affecting Mormon and Orthodox Jewish communities in this country. According to Trinity College’s American Religious Identification Survey, in 2015 there were 150 Mormon women for every 100 Mormon men in the state of Utah. This imbalance sparked a memory of a story I’d heard in Sunday school about President Polk demanding 500 Mormon men to fight in the Mexican-American War in 1846, leaving the Mormons who were fleeing violence in Illinois shorthanded, and with a distinct gender imbalance. And that’s all I can say without giving too much away.

CritiqueMatch: In book #1, which I binged-read in one evening, the Mormon church served as the key backdrop for your plot. Should the reader expect an equally thorough dive into the church’s history with book #2?

D. A. Barley: Oh, I’m so glad you liked Blessed Be the Wicked! It’s pretty difficult to write about Utah without writing about the Mormon church. I can trace my family history back to the days of Joseph Smith, so I find the history and doctrine fascinating. Having said that, I’m learning as a fiction writer to balance what the story demands with what I, as a writer, find intriguing. The two aren’t the same. With Death in the Covenant, I spent an inordinate amount of time studying polygamy case law. I found it fascinating. My editor? Not so much. She was right. I may need to know about those Supreme Court cases, but I don’t need to write about them.

CritiqueMatch: For our blog theme this month, we focus on “character development”. Tell us a little bit more about your protagonist’s character arc, compared to book #1. What is your process when developing your characters? Any advice for new writers? 

D. A. Barley: What a great theme! Great writing, clever plot, and fresh dialogue are important, but what keeps readers turning pages is a character they care about. That’s easier said than done. Most of us love—or are at least obsessed with—our protagonists and main characters, but every character on the page matters.

When I’m writing my less-central characters, I try to remember the people I meet while running errands: the dry cleaner across the street, the bakery that sells the most divine bread in all of New York City (I’m serious, I’ll go toe-to-toe for Orwashers), and the Italian market with the most amazing produce. At every stop, I see people whose names I don’t know, yet, over the years we’ve developed a friendly familiarity. We chat a little. We laugh a little. Those interactions are important in life, and they’re important in good stories. The baker who helps me choose the right bread for dinner has a life of her own, with joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, successes and challenges. It’s lovely when that three-dimensionality shows up on the page for every character.

As to Abbie? She gets tested like never before—physically and emotionally—but one thing you can count on with Detective Abish Taylor is that she’s tough. Underestimate her at your own risk.

CritiqueMatch: What do you want people to take away from reading your second book?

D. A. Barley: I hope we can all think a little bit more about what we believe. Faith is part of life in the Abish Taylor mysteries—both for the good guys and the not-so-good guys—and faith is complicated: it can be a force for good, but it isn’t always. Acknowledging the not-so-great aspects of faith makes many of us uncomfortable. We like to associate religion with what is moral and principled. All the world’s major faiths teach some form of loving others and treating our fellow human beings as we’d like to be treated. Yet, we all know that for every religious tradition that helps us be kind, honest, hopeful, and compassionate, there are variants of those same faiths that inspire hatred, deception, fear, and cruelty. As human beings sharing this one fragile planet, I hope we all challenge our own beliefs to make sure that what we are supporting—with time, money, political and social engagement—helps to bring out our kindest and best selves.

CritiqueMatch: You were recently nominated to become the President of Sisters in Crime’s New York City chapter. Tell us what your key priorities are as the new President, especially as a female mystery writer in an under-represented genre.

D. A. Barley: Sisters in Crime is such a great organization for writers! I’m absolutely thrilled to be serving as president. The organization was founded to support women crime fiction writers at a time when women were underrepresented at all levels of the publishing industry. We still care about that; the fight isn’t over. At the same time, we also want to better serve the needs of all writers as publishing evolves. That means taking stock and trying new things.

Beyond administrative goals—we’re in the process of updating our website and on-line presence—I’m very much focused both on broadening our membership and better promoting the work of our members. We’ll be introducing tiered-membership rates, with discounts both for writers under the age of thirty and for full-time students. If you’re a crime-fiction writer and you live in the NYC/Tristate area, we want to meet you!

Also, I'd love to get the word out about our first meeting of the year: Bold Voices Expanding Horizons in Crime Fiction with Cate Holahan, Richie Narvaez, Laura Joh Rowland, and Catherine Maiorisi on Thursday, September 19th. We’re going to delve into what it’s like writing crime fiction from outside the traditional box. It promises to be a thought-provoking discussion.

CritiqueMatch: What projects are you currently working on? 

D. A. Barley: Abish Taylor number three. I’m a pantser at heart and love watching the story unfold in front of my eyes. This third book has been a fascinating journey because I’ve discovered that one of my favorite secondary characters will redeem himself. I’ll stop there so not to spoil anything, but this point goes back to the question about character development: you never know when a secondary or tertiary character will take center stage.


About the author:

D. A. Bartley is a member of Daughters of Utah Pioneers. She traces her family history back to the earliest days of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She spent much of her childhood in Utah, but her parents were incurable travelers. She was born in Scotland and lived in Germany, France and Russia. After studying international relations, politics and law, D. A. worked both as an attorney and an academic in Manhattan. In the end, though, she could not escape her life-long love of mysteries. She lives in New York City with her family.

You can find her book “Death in the Covenant: An Abish Taylor Mystery” at:

-       Amazon
-       Barnes and Noble
-       Indiebound