Author T.S. Barnett is fascinated by what makes people tick — be it deeply-rooted emotional issues, childhood trauma, or old-fashioned hedonism — and uses these motivations as thematic devices in her writing. Throw in a heaping helping of action and violence, a sprinkling of steamy bits, and a whisper of alliterative wit, and you have her idea of a perfect novel. She believes in telling stories about real people who live in less-real worlds full of werewolves, witches, demons, vampires, and the occasional alien.
Born and bred in the South, T.S. started writing at a young age, but began writing real novels while working full time as a legal secretary. When she’s not writing, she reads other people’s books, plays video games, watches movies, and spends time with her husband and daughter.
Growing up in the South makes a person want to live slowly, I think. It’s all long summer evenings on porch swings, the smell of wisteria on a warm breeze, and a cold beer while the grill heats up. I spent a lot of time as a kid fishing, sitting by bonfires, and getting mosquito bites. In some ways I think living here has made me into a very typical Southerner. I say “y’all” and “bless his heart” and “ain’t that nice,” and drink sweet tea, and my Yankee husband can tell you about my ability to use the fewest number of words possible to cut to the quick of someone’s guilty conscience. I eat grits, I swear like a sailor, and I never have a problem inviting people into my home if it’s time for dinner.
At the same time, growing up around so many evangelical Christians gave me a very jaded view of religion early on. My mother is an English immigrant and a pagan, and she had no patience for people who used their religion as a shield to cover the hate in their hearts. She always wanted me to think for myself, and that’s how I ended up as a woman with all the characteristics of a Southern woman, except for being decidedly non-religious and covered in tattoos.
Creatively-speaking, who has inspired you over the course of your life?
I read a lot of the classics when I was younger, but it took me a while to realize that what drew me to the books I read over and over was the psychology of the characters. I wanted to know why they were the way they were, and how their thought processes worked. One of my favorite literary characters is Inspector Javert from Les Misérables. He grew up dirt poor around criminals and prostitutes, and it shaped him into this person who has absolute, unshakeable faith in order and the law — so much so that when he realizes that breaking the law and allowing Valjean to escape is the morally right choice, he kills himself rather than face that. That’s insane. What a fascinating person.
A close second is Raskolnikov from Crime and Punishment. This is a guy who murders an old woman and her sister for money — or maybe it’s just to see if he can — and then gives that money away to almost everyone he meets, then calls himself an idiot for doing it. He imagines himself as something more than the average man but he’s constantly terrified of being discovered. He seems so disconnected from the people around him, but he has such deep love for his sister and Sonia. It’s this kind of character that has inspired me to make every character in my novels a real, living, breathing person, with quirks and foibles and good traits and bad. I love figuring them out.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Under the Devil’s Wing?
The most challenging part, I think, was the main character, Sam. I set out to create a guy with absolutely no redeeming qualities — he’s a werewolf who kills people for fun. He picks up girls in bars and murders them, he kills campers when it’s a full moon, and sometimes he straight up eats them. He turns people, sometimes on purpose and sometimes not, and then he abandons them. He’s a boozer and a drifter and he doesn’t seem to care about anyone or anything. He doesn’t think of humans as people. I wanted him to be this completely unlikable person and I wanted you to like him anyway. I think I succeeded. He’s a smartass with a temper and a thick Southern drawl, and he’s definitely charismatic and attractive in a crazy way.
What has been the most unexpectedly-rewarding part of raising a child?
Learning to just be cool, you know? I’ve always been a person with very little patience and a lot of anxiety, but when you have a baby, you don’t get to be impatient and anxious. She’s going to cry sometimes and you aren’t going to know why, and she’s going to fling food everywhere and get into things she shouldn’t. She’s not trying to make you mad. So I learned to be a little more like a duck, just letting things roll off my back. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if I have to spend five minutes cleaning yogurt off the floor, or if I’m going to be finding lost pacifiers and Gerber puffs in strange places until the day I die. What matters is that when I come home from work, my daughter sees me and smiles, and that she’s happy and healthy and loved. I try to apply it in other aspects of my life, and I think I’m a much more chill person.
What’s the best video game you’ve played recently?
You know, if I was answering these a bit later, and Watch_dogs was out, I might have a different answer for you. But as of now, I think the best game I’ve played recently was Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. It’s this huge open world, with a fascinating main character and an interesting story. The mechanics in the Assassin’s Creed games keep getting better, and this time they gave me a boat and told me to go plunder the West Indies. Are you kidding me? I don’t know how many hours I wasted, sitting on the couch as a very pregnant lady, sinking ships and hunting treasure and generally being a badass pirate.
I did, however, have a pang of guilt the first time I tried the harpooning minigame and realized I was about to kill a hammerhead shark. I definitely said, “No no no, I don’t want to do this; how do I quit?” I love sharks. Still, it was an amazing game.
What would you like to do that you simply haven’t found the time for yet?
As far as real-life things, I would like to travel more. My husband and I were actually planning a trip to Italy, and then I got pregnant. Oops. It’ll have to wait now. I have family in England and France, and I’ll want to take my daughter when she’s old enough.
As far as writing, for a while I’ve wanted to write a BDSM romance that goes the way I think 50 Shades of Grey should have. I wanted that book to be sexy so badly, and I just didn’t think it was. Everybody knows the problems with it, so I won’t get into it. Suffice it to say that since reading them, I’ve wanted to write about a healthy, adult BDSM relationship. With lots of steamy bits, of course.
When it comes to literary sex scenes, what separates a good one from a bad or mediocre one? And what is your approach to writing your “steamy bits”?
That’s a tricky question. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in my time, but what exactly makes a sexy scene is hard to pin down. I think it depends on the type of sex. There’s slow, loving sex, and hurried, desperate sex, and familiar sex and new sex and I-swear-this-is-the-last-time sex. That will change the character’s motives, their feelings, and even how they respond to the stimuli.
When I begin a sex scene, I try to keep those things in mind. As far as the actual writing, I believe in less is more. Some writers go straight for the anatomical terms, and that’s fine, but if sex is good, I tend not to lie there thinking, “Oh, my vagina is trembling right now,” you know? I prefer to gloss over the details and instead give a sense of what the people are feeling and what the sex is really like — whether that’s fast and intense or lazy and attentive.
On a hot summer day, what’s your alcoholic beverage of choice?
Definitely beer or a margarita, depending on if I have anywhere to be later.
What are you working on next?
The second book in The Beast of Birmingham series, Into the Bear’s Den, is being released in the next few weeks. I’m super excited about it. There are lots of fight scenes, lots of steamy bits, and a healthy dose of bromance. While I work on the edits for that, I’m also writing my first attempt at steampunk, featuring a witch who’s kind of an opportunist, and who ends up taking credit for creating the most realistic automaton the world has ever seen, with one tiny secret — it’s actually a golem, and each one he creates and sends to market costs one human soul. It’s about his descent from decent guy into monster, and all the repercussions of his actions. I think it’s going to be exciting.