An Interview With Richard Barre

By Denise Baton


Richard Barre, among many things is a recipient of the Shamus for best first PI novel. Before that he owned his own public relations and advertising company with his wife, Susan, for fifteen years. Now, he’s joined Capra Press as Associate Publisher and Senior Editor. Bob Bason, new owner and publisher at Capra Press says, “Rich’s empathy as an author and his skills in public relations are going to make an indelible mark on the new Capra Press. We are delighted and lucky to have him with us. It’s a great match.”

Did you know that Capra Press is the oldest continuously operated small press on the West Coast? Do you own a Capra book? Did you know that they are valuable collectibles? First editions by Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Lawrence Durrell, Gretel Ehrlich and Ross McDonald can garner a nice return. As associate publisher and editor at Capra Press, Richard Barre has ambitious plans to carry on the Capra tradition. This is a man who dead on intends to make a difference in the world of quality literature. It was my pleasure to bump into Richard Barre at Left Coast Crime last year and to connect with an author who is already a true “personality” in the world of independent publishing. His book, BURNING MOON, is another masterpiece in a series of Wil Hardesty PI novels and is worthy of special recognition.

DENISE: Having read THE INNOCENTS, BEARING SECRETS, THE GHOSTS OF MORNING, BLACKHEART HIGHWAY and now, finally BURNING MOON, all of which were distinct and evocative of completely different cultures, I find my first question has to do with research and genesis. I'd be very interested to know how each of these characters and plots came to live in your psyche and why you felt drawn to tell these particular stories.

BARRE: Each arose from a media trigger. In the case of The Innocents, it was a newspaper article about a man of God doing amazing outreach work and whom I thought might have another side to him. Fictionally, of course, he did indeed. Bearing Secrets came from my fascination with watching the SLA burn to cinders under siege combined with a newspaper article concerning what was being discovered in California’s drying lakes at the height of the early 90s drought. Ghosts came from a TV magazine interview with a number of bush-vets, aging Vietnam veterans who had retreated from “civilization” into the benign jungles of Hawaii. Blackheart arose from researching a travel guide to Bakersfield and the Central Valley, Burning Moon from a riveting book on Asian gangs called Born to Kill. Don’t ask me why, but each of these stuck like emotional burrs, demanding attention.

DENISE: Wil Hardesty is a very decent guy with the ladies. He side steps more than a few advances and is in most cases quite respectful and sincere in his relationships with women. Was this a conscious decision on your part or did that distinctive aspect of the character just naturally develop?

BARRE: It came from working to be a warm, wonderful human being and from being married 35 years to the same woman. I mean, you have to learn something in all that time.

DENISE: You have been christened "The legitimate heir to Ross McDonald... the dark poet king of California mysteries" by the Chicago Tribune. How do you feel about that?

BARRE: You can’t imagine how thrilling it is to be compared to one of the most influential writers in my genre, a writer who transcended genre, let alone moved it forward. As it happens I just reread one of his best, The Instant Enemy, and if I’m known for nothing else, that comparison to him will be fine with me. It’s also a thrill to be bringing out—as Associate Publisher at Capra Press—a collection of Ross Macdonald essays and letters compiled by his biographer, Tom Nolan.

DENISE: Each one of your mystery novels are a journey into a different culture beset with its own set of demons, toughs and beauties each overflowing with intrigue and danger. Wil Hardesty has a knack for becoming intimately involved with both the good and the bad guys. His experience of the personalities he comes across is deeper than even the famous Ross McDonald character. Why is that, do you think?

BARRE: Number one, because I believe today that readers expect more character depth—baggage, if you will—than when Macdonald or Chandler was writing. I know I do. Secondly, as a writer, I can’t resist wondering what makes a character tick. Knowing means caring, which means I feel something when something happens to them; point being, a reader will feel the same thing. Story may be the reason you pick up a book, but character is why you stay with it. This applies to villains, in particular. There’s nothing so ho-hum as villains who pose no threat because they’re simply bowling pins to knock down. I’d rather watch curling.

DENISE: Let's talk writing style. Some say you're a lyricist, others call your style clean and sparse. Which one is it?

BARRE: The answer is Yes. I write to haunt your sleepless nights (and my own), evoke what you may recall about a place even if you’ve not been there, rip you along or move you to reflect, turn you inside out, make you cry. Style to me is like a character essential to my interest, a dimension to explore. The extent to which I succeed at it is generally in direct proportion to the blood and sweat I leave on my computer screen.

DENISE: In BLACKHEART HIGHWAY I was nearly breathless with the twists and quite amazed at how you managed to take us, the readers, to such depths and heights in one story. Since then, several big name authors have copied some of your rather original twists. Have you noticed that? What is your take on that?

BARRE: If that’s the case, I’m flattered. The fact is I owe great debts to Chandler, Macdonald, Cain, Fanté and a host of contemporary masters such as Ellroy and Burke. Frequently while writing, I’ll reread portions of writers I admire, along the lines of, “This is how good I have to be today.” For me, that’s just toolbox. So if something of mine happens to provide inspiration, more power. Heaven knows, this trip is hard enough.

DENISE: Your journey has gone from advertising to novelist and now novelist as well as editor/publisher. Tell us about what your life is like now that you’re an entity at CAPRA PRESS.

BARRE: Publishing is as all-consuming as writing, only more so. Reading manuscripts, editing, budgeting, design and production, printer liason, author contact, marketing and advertising, website supervision…all in a 25-hour day’s work as associate publisher. Did I mention waste management?

DENISE: What do you project for your future involvement at CAPRA PRESS?

BARRE: This business is about as secure as tightrope walking, so that’s hard to say. The economy will play a part, but the hope and plan is that Capra will be home and haven to the kind of quality mystery writing that’s falling through New York’s ever-widening cracks. Having a hand in that, bring out the best writing is what excites me about it.

DENISE: Your wife, Susan, has been by your side every step of the way, how exactly will she participate at this point in the adventure?

BARRE: Poor dear, every time she think’s she’s out I keep pulling her back in. Despite her best efforts Susan is currently Capra’s VP Editing plus its Fulfillment (Shipping and Handling) Department. In other words, she’s indispensible.

DENISE: What do you perceive to be the trends of mystery and crime publishing and how do feel about it?

BARRE: More and more, New York is in the best-seller business…which means good writing and the diversity that used to define the mystery field are not necessarily its current benchmarks. This presents possibilities for small presses like Capra, who can find markets (P.I, for instance) within our economies of scale. In other words we don’t need to publish the quantities New York needs to fulfill profit expectations. In a sense, we can keep alive what used to define mysteries. Assuming we can keep ourselves alive.

DENISE: Looking into future, do you see big things for independent publishers?

BARRE: See above…for all I know. I mean, I went from writing to publishing: How smart can I be?

DENISE: How does your experience as a novelist and your advertising background affect the choices you make for publication, for cover design and the advertising and public relations strategy for the books you publish?

BARRE: Having been the recipient of one of the most misguided covers of all time, I can promise that won’t happen at Capra, not while I‘m here. Strong design is bedrock. Buzz is next and we do what we can within budget to create it. Regarding the choices we make for publication, I look for writing that smacks and surprises, dares me to ignore it, writing with a sense of style and purpose.

DENISE: Hmmm, I think that is going to pay off. Thanks Rich. You're an inspiration.

Take the time to venture over to and there you will find a splendid list of more than a dozen additions to a long list of distinguished Capra titles. It’s a new Capra Press with a delectable medley of literature, mysteries, poetry and general interest books. You’ll even see books with forwards written by Pulitzer and Nobel Peace Prize-winners. The books are exquisitely printed and the designs will knock you out. Nestled in there, among some of California’s finest contributions to the literary world, you’ll find the notorious Kent Harrington’s DIA DE LOS MUERTOS. Kent’s DEA agent,Vincent Calhoun, has adventures that can only be described as “noir all the way.” Take a ride to Tijuana, Mexico. It ain’t Acapulco! MYSTERICAL-E is sure to review this book and, hopefully, interview this exciting author. It’s another excellent choice in the history of Capra Press. What else would we expect from Richard Barre, an author, publisher, and advertising genius? MYSTERICAL-E looks forward with anticipation to more of Wil Hardesty and the re-emergence of CAPRA PRESS.