Daniel J. Barrett was born in Rutland, Vermont, and lived his entire life in Troy, New York, ten miles north of Albany. He grew up in a blacktop construction company, working on construction during his teen years and then through college. What he learned about life came from these early years working in the summer heat with construction workers, who taught him that hard work paid off.
Dan is a graduate of both Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y. with a BS in Finance, and of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y, with an MBA in Management. He had a varied career, first as a commercial banker, then as the chief accountant and manager of financial and strategic planning for a large division of a major international corporation. He has had extensive international experience, traveling worldwide.
Dan also served as the first executive director for economic development for a county in New York State, and as the first lay director for a Catholic shrine in Massachusetts. For the last twenty-five years, he served as a financial, strategic planning, and educational consultant to corporations, non-profit organizations, colleges and universities, and government agencies.
Currently, he serves as a grant writing and development and strategic planning consultant for several non-profit organizations in the Capital Region of New York State. Dan continues to live in Troy with his wife of 45 years, Sandy. They have three children, Sean, Eileen, and Ryan, and four grandchildren, Shannon, Caden, Megan, and Declan.
An avid reader, and inspired by numerous authors, Dan has read over 1,500 books in the last several years in preparation to write his first novel, Conch Town Girl, published by Black Opal Books on November 1, 2014. He continues to work as a grant writer and s an education consultant, serving those most at risk in the Capital Region of New York State, while working on his next novel.
As a new member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) Debut Author Program, Mr. Barrett has his book, Conch Town Girl, showcased in the ITW’s January 2015 Newsletter sent to over 24,000 authors and readers.
Dan’s books include: Conch Town Girl [released November 1, 2014 (Book 1)] and Can’t Sing or Dance [released May 2, 2015 (Book 2)]. Upcoming books in his series include: Taking Care of Your Own [To be released fall 2015 Book 3]; Never Say Never [To be released spring 2016 Book 4]; and Death But No Taxes: Prequel [after Book 4].
Dan tells us something of his inspiration for writing…
For many years, I was fully involved with our children, sports, and coaching, working and everyday life. Seven years ago, I decided that I was tired of television, other than watching baseball, and I started reading books. I’ve read 1,700 books over that time period. I wanted to learn what made a great book fun to read. I’ve read over 450 different authors over a wide range of genres.
After reading so many books, I took the plunge and began writing novels in 2013. I’ve always learned the hard way, so I transferred writing grants to my desire to create fiction. After reading so many books, I thought I could write one. Just one. That one turned into five books in two tears and three months. I love series because a reader can pick up where he left off. He knows the characters and likes them. That’s why I started to write about Joe Traynor from Troy, New York. Julie Chapman quickly followed and became the basis for the Conch Town Girl series, named by Amazon, not me. I simply wanted to prove something to myself-that I could write a book. Writing wound up being a large part of my life. I love it! The marketing and sales portions of the equation, I don’t enjoy so much. At 67, I accomplished more than I ever thought I would and I am very happy about that. Where it takes me, I don’t know, but my expectations at 67 are a lot different from when I was 40. I am now along for the ride- not driving the bus.
What’s the craziest, bravest, or stupidest thing you’ve ever done?
I was cleaning my chimney for our fireplace when I was about 30. I was standing on the roof over the dormer from the second floor. My brother came by and I started talking to him. I forgot where I was and walked off the roof from the dormer. I started rolling off the side, hung on to the gutter and landed 15 feet later on my feet. I was okay but I had to excuse myself to head for the bathroom. I saw my father do the same thing 10 years earlier at his house. He was shoveling snow off the roof when he fell into an eight foot snow bank. Lucky. It must be heredity.
What do you write? You’re welcome to include your latest title (shameless plug).
I started a series starring a character named Joe Traynor. He was born in Vermont, raised in Troy, New York, and went to Catholic school. He received a full scholarship to MIT for math, but dropped out at the end of his first semester. He joined the Coast Guard and stayed 10 years. He met Julie Chapman when she was a 10 year old 5th grader in Key Largo. She became the second main character. I never sold the first book, Death But No Taxes, but now we are holding it back as a Prequel to the series. The book that came out first was Conch Town Girl and Amazon named the second book, Can’t Sing or Dance, Book 2 of the Conch Town Girl series. The next two books in the “Conch Town Girl Series”, Taking Care of Your Own and Never Say Never (to be released over 18 months) will be Books 3 and 4, followed by the Prequel. The series simply evolved. I had to keep track of everyone coming in and out of all 5 books, and there is a list of 175 characters over the 5 books. Once I started to write about Joe and Julie, the books simply evolved and followed their lives over time. I find that writing a series is easier than stand alone books that don’t tie into one another.
Tell us about your new release.
Can’t Sing or Dance, the second book in the series, follows Joe and Julie as they progress through their relationship with twists and turns due to Joe’s involvement in the Coast Guard as a Chief Warrant Officer and Julie as a teacher’s aide and writer with a Masters in Fine Arts from Brown University. What happened at the end of Conch Town Girl comes back full circle to haunt Julie, Tillie and Joe until Joe gets his Coastie buddies to help fix the problems created by Julie’s father.
What did you do with your earliest efforts? Did anyone read them? Do you still have them?
This appears to be a difficult question for many writers. Two of my author friends took 10 to 13 years before they were under contract by a national publisher. They are both relatively young writers who had and still have good support systems in place that allowed them the time, energy, and funding to become national well-known writers. I finished my first book one week before my 65th birthday, which was my goal. From there, I have written 5 books in two years and three months and placed all five under contract with Black Opal Books publishers. I am extremely fortunate to be connected to this national small press from Parkdale, Oregon. My friends have financial support and backing from their national publishers, but I have five books under contract in my later years. When I was 40, I never even imagined becoming a published writer.
Tell us something of the genre in which you choose to write. If you write in more than one genre is your approach different for each genre, in the manner you write, plot the book, or brainstorm ideas?
I read and write mysteries, suspense and thrillers. Hopefully my books convey a sense of loyalty among the characters. Love, friendship, faith and happiness seem to prevail throughout my writing. It is what I wish to convey. I never end a book with the reader wondering what happened. I do, however, end it knowing there will be a follow up book to the series.
What difficulties does writing this genre present?
Writing mysteries, suspense and thrillers means there has to be a thread flowing through the book so the reader knows what’s going on. There has to be twists and turns they may see or may not see, but become relevant as the story unfolds. One also needs more than one story to hold the reader’s attention. There are parallel stories in all my books that come together at the end. I have to keep track of the story and the characters so there are no mistakes in time or place or activity. That’s why I have my list of 175 names and where they fit into each story. It would be terrible to call someone “Joan” in Chapter 1 and “June” in Chapter 30. Spell check doesn’t fix this.
Retired Chief Petty Officer Tom Jones was murdered in his apartment complex in Orlando in what appeared to be a “drug deal gone bad.” The police won’t even do an autopsy on a dead drug dealer. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Joe Traynor is asked by Tom’s daughter to look into his death. His investigation ultimately leads to the largest meth case on the southeastern seaboard. In the meantime, the Russian Mafia, unhappy with being ripped off by Julie Chapman’s father, seek revenge. Her father’s death, once again, comes back to haunt her and her grandmother, Tillie, placing their lives—and Joe’s—in danger.
Excerpt from Can’t Sing or Dance (Book 2 of the Conch Town Girl Series)
Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Joe Traynor walked into his office after lunch and was welcomed by the ringing of his phone. “Hello?”
“Hi, Joe. It’s Claire Murphy.”
“Hey, Claire. How are you?”
“I’ve got some bad news.”
“What is it?”
“My father’s dead,” she said, her voice breaking. “I just had a phone call from a detective from the Orlando Police Department, Violent Crime Section. The detective’s name is Jim Butler and he’s stationed at police headquarters on South Hughey Avenue, in downtown. He said my father was involved in a drug deal that had gone bad. He said Dad was a drug dealer and was knifed to death in his apartment. They found a lot of cash–a roll of large bills that reeked of cocaine residue–and a bag of methamphetamine pills in between his mattress and box spring. My father’s no drug dealer, Joe, and now he’s dead,” she sobbed. “That detective wants me to identify the body. Can you come up and go with me, please?”
Joe was stunned. “Slow down, Claire. I barely got the fact that Tom’s dead. Where are you now?”
“I’m home,” she said. “I didn’t know who else to call. I knew you and Tom were close, so you were the first one I thought of. I’ve got a list of his other friends and I was going to call the rest after I found out what happened. I don’t really know what happened and I don’t know what to ask. I’m sure Brian doesn’t either,” she said. “Joe, can you help me? Can you come up and talk to the police? Something is wrong. My father wouldn’t deal drugs but how do I prove that? Detective Butler was adamant and upset that he even had to deal with me. And that’s just not right.”
“I’ll need permission to go to Orlando from my assignment at Islamorada as head of investigations for south Florida and the Florida Keys,” Joe said. “It’s about 2:00 p.m. now, and I have to run to a meeting at the Islamorada facility. I’ll discuss the situation with Chief Warrant Officer, Jacob Cramer. I’ll contact Detective Butler and, if necessary, meet you in Orlando as soon as I get permission from my line of command.”
“Thanks, Joe. I really appreciate it. They aren’t releasing the body for a while. Orlando’s local morgue is backed up as it is. The detective said that with over 2,500 violent crimes a year in Orlando, Dad’s death can wait in line. They aren’t planning to do an in-depth autopsy for a dead drug dealer.”
After Claire had hung up, Joe took a deep breath and called Mark Silva, his best friend and fellow Coastie, still stationed in Fort Lauderdale. Joe had to leave a message on the answering machine. He didn’t expect to get Mark at home, and he didn’t want to bother him at his office. It was Mark’s day to be at the communications station headquarters, COMMSTA, in downtown Miami, for drug enforcement meetings with the feds and local law enforcement officers, up and down the Florida coast. Mark was one of the leaders of the task force.
“Mark, it’s Joe,” he told the answering machine. “Call me when you get a chance. It’s important. Thanks.”
Before his meeting with Jacob, Joe told Joan Talbot, his long-time friend and Jacob’s administrative assistant, about Tom’s death. She was horrified. She’d met Tom a few times after he retired when he’d visited the station with Joe.
“Joan, can you find out what Coast Guard facility is closest to Orlando because I want to be in on the potential investigation into Tom’s death, if possible,” Joe asked, hoping she could run interference for him on this. “I want to clear it through the chain of command.” He was in charge of all investigations for south Florida and the Keys, but not for the northern section above Palm Beach. “I don’t want to step on any toes, but I will if I have to.”
“I’ll look up the information right after the meeting,” Joan said.
They had five investigations going on at the present time and Joe was the lead in each case. It would be difficult to add an investigation that was six hours north in Orlando, but if Joe didn’t, no one else would.
Tom’s death and classification as a drug dealer, if true, would certainly give the Coast Guard a black eye and Joe wanted to fix this situation before they simply closed the file on Tom’s murder. Tom had retired from the Coast Guard in his early fifties, only a few years ago, and moved from Cape May to Orlando, to be near his daughter, Claire, and her family.
Joe thought about how to state his case to make it clear about the black eye. Police departments across the country were very reluctant to spend time and attention on investigating the death of a drug dealer. If Joe didn’t clear this up fast, the investigation would stall. Tom and his family would be tainted. And so would the Coast Guard. Joe didn’t believe Tom had anything to do with drugs. He also wanted to find out who killed him, and why. There had to be a reason. There was always a reason. Maybe not a good one, but something to point to the truth.
Joan walked down the hall to Joe’s office. “Joe, I got your information for you. We’ve several command sites up and down the coast that aren’t in our jurisdiction. However, all of those commands report directly to our own rear admiral here in Miami and then to the sector captain of the Jacksonville port. The chief warrant officer at Station Port Canaveral, Frank Cortez, reports directly to Jacksonville. I called the rear admiral’s office and explained the situation. He’ll meet with you at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. He’d just heard about the situation and he’s not pleased.”
Joe would probably be given all the time he needed because he was in charge of investigations, with a dual reporting system, first to the rear admiral in Miami and a dotted line to the Islamorada Chief Warrant Officer, Jacob Cramer. Joe went home to pack, not knowing how much time he’d need to at least clarify what had happened to Tom and what was needed from the Coast Guard, if anything.
Joe called Claire. “Hopefully, I’ll be in Orlando no later than 3:00 p.m. tomorrow.”
“Joe, don’t get a hotel. You can stay with us.”
“I wish I could do that, but until further notice, I have to remain neutral and take the investigation, if there’s to be one, where it needs to go to find the truth,” he said. “I’ll call you when I arrive and then we should go directly to Tom’s condo, if it isn’t still roped off by the police. Then we can go to the police headquarters to meet the detective in charge. Then we’ll go to the Medical Examiner’s office and identify Tom’s body if it’s not too late in the day.”
“Call me when you’re getting close and I’ll leave early from the Hollywood Studios office and pick up the kids at daycare,” Claire said.
Claire was younger than he was, Joe mused, and had a whole lot more responsibility. He didn’t know if he could’ve handled the responsibility of a family. It was something he needed to discus with his girlfriend, Julie, before long.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY! DAN IS GENEROUSLY OFFERING 3 eBOOK COPIES OF “CAN’T SING OR DANCE.” LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR THE GIVEAWAY. THE GIVEAWAY WILL END AT MIDNIGHT ON WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 2, 2015 EDST.
© 2015 by Daniel J. Barrett
William K. Sanford Town Library
Town of Colonie, New York (Capital Region New York State):
Interviewed by Joe Nash, Librarian, of Dan Barrett, Black Opal Books Author on how he got started writing at a late age, books read, and discussion of Conch Town Girl, first book of the Conch Town Girl series.
Amazon: Conch Town Girl
Barnes & Noble: Can’t Sing or Dance
What do you enjoy most in the writing process? What parts of it do you really dislike?
What I enjoy most is the writing not the selling of the book. I lose myself in the chapter. I look up after starting at noon and it’s now 5 PM and I had no idea where the time went. I look down and wrote 3,500 words over 15-20 pages. I shake my head and wonder how that happened.
How much time do you devote to writing each day?
I try to spend three to four hours a day when I’m writing. I am still a full time grant writer and education consultant. So, some days, I’ll write a chapter then answer 10 questions in my grant and go back and forth between the two. It’s impossible to drop my grant writing because a lot of people depend on me getting the grant in, winning the award to pay salaries that wouldn’t happened if not approved or even submitted. You are caught between a rock and a hard place. I’ll never be able to separate the two and just write novels. The funding of at-risk families means too much to me and those I serve to ever give it up.
Are you more of a plotter or a pantser, or does it change from book to book?
I don’t know if I’m either. It would be up to you to decide. Every day, I walk several miles for health reasons and as I walk, I formulate the book in my head and I always have two or three books outlined ahead. Like grants, I do a synopsis of where my characters are going. I write one line sentences that I want to explore, research or include. I list names that I’ve made up that I want to use in my books. I write them down. Then, I start writing Chapter 1. I try to write the ending. I try to write the middle. Then I take it from there. After a few chapters, I then start writing chapters separately after correcting the previous ones. I include the chapter before and the chapter after the one I am writing. In the chapter after the one I am now writing, I list where I am headed and who is in it and the research I did separately to include in that following chapter. So, every chapter, I know what was immediately before and what is to follow. I then see if it matches the middle and the end. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know where I am headed. I just don’t know what I am going to write until I write it.
Is it your characters (a character-driven story) or your plot that influences you the most?
I think it’s a combination of both. My series is definitely driven by my characters as they evolve as persons. Also my locations are as important to me as the characters. I want the readers to feel like they are in Key Largo, Miami, Nashville, Orlando and Troy and Albany, New York. I point out the scenery, how far it is from here to there. How long it takes to get there. The interactions of the people as they go to the schools, the Coast Guard station, the Waffle House and St. Justin Martyr Church. These are all real places where I place my characters. I want everyone to feel what it’s like standing in front of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City on a sunny day. I think it gives the book a hometown feel so you can understand the characters better.
How do you choose your characters’ names?
Joe Traynor came directly from my background. The Traynor family came from Ireland to the United States in the late 1880s and went to Rutland, Vermont. That’s Joe’s background. I was born in Rutland and was raised in Troy, New York and went to the schools Joe attended (not MIT). My friend attended MIT on a full scholarship. My cousin was in the Coast Guard and I wanted to feature the Coast Guard because I have not read any mysteries that included them. You take from your own background, mix and match accordingly. In the International Thriller Writers Debut Author webpage, a question was asked how you pick names. We live in an area full of rich heritage from the Revolutionary War until this day. We have Irish cemeteries, Polish, Italian and any other ethnic background you can think of. My wife is Ukrainian. If I’m stuck for a name, I know where to go.
How do you keep all your research information and plot ideas organized and accessible?
For each book, I keep a separate folder. I have used a Mac since 1990. In the folder, I have separate folders for list of names, narratives, separate chapters, contractions-yes there are 52 of them that you need to use, research, quotations, pictures, articles etc. I learned this from writing grant proposals. You have to be well organized to write a grant or a book. It is the same technical process, maybe not the same creative process.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) of your current project to write and why?
My favorite section of Can’t Sing or Dance is toward the end when Joe decides to confront the Russians head-on . I enjoyed the planning process that he did. Joe has a photographic memory and is always a few steps ahead. He employs the latest technology available. When he confronted the head of the Miami Russian mafia at the Biltmore Hotel Sunday brunch, I was living the dream. I was there. I was standing next to Joe listening and hanging on every word. When I was done, I really thought I was with him. The dialogue, the answers were all mine through Joe. It was quite an experience.
How do you get past writer’s block or distractions like the Internet?
I don’t get writer’s block thankfully because I do my own distractions by writing grants in between chapters when I’m bored or don’t feel kike doing anything or have no idea where I’m going. It’s not a race with me. I’ll get there when I get there. I have to be on the internet and email doing grant research so I do all my writing on my computer. Some like to write it out longhand. That would drive me crazy. If I think of something, I’ll download the research facts and stick it into the chapter following the one I’m working on. It may not go there but it’s there when I need it. I may go back into previous chapters and clarify something with facts instead of the stuff I made up to fill in the space.
What was your favorite book from childhood?
I honestly never read as a child other than comic books. It was a different time. I was raised in a construction family. I knew more about blacktop equipment, trucks, rollers, rakes, shovels than anyone in my class. That’s why my SATs were never as high as they should have been. I didn’t know anything. In high school you read what you had to read to pass. It was not for pleasure. As I said, I read over q1,700 books in the last seven years making up for lost time.
Is there a book you know that you will never read? Or one you tried to read but just could not finish?
There are books written by writers that I know that I have a hard time reading because the books are not of the genre I like. I’ll read them because I feel obligated because of my relationships but it will be hard. I also will not read about serial killers, anyone who abuses children and young adults, murder for the sake of murder, too much violence and porn. Life is too short to waste your time. It is also a moral obligation that I feel strongly about.
Who has been the most difficult character for you to write?
I have a hard time writing about immoral people like the Russian Mafia, terrorists, drug pushers, unlikable people but they fill the pages of every book. I always wonder what has happened to those people over a life time, especially as children, that would make them the way they are.
Share a quirky fact from your research.
I like doing research for my books. It is very similar to reaching for grants. When I had to learn facts about DNA fingerprinting and how under new analysis you can tell about who a father is or mother because of the DNA in the fingerprint. I love reading about drones and how they can be programmed to do multiple functions unheard of before. A cute story came from the UCLA football coach who employed using drones on the field to pick up running and defensive lanes they never saw before. He said it would completely revolutionize football if only the coaches who were manipulating the drones would stop running them into the goalposts. It was quite costly in the beginning. It’s in the book.
What characters are lying on your “office floor”? Why didn’t they come to life on the page and do you think they ever will? Or why not?
I was going to write a book about the Irish in Vermont. Rutland, Vermont was the headquarters for the United States Air Force during World War II. Pilots were trained there before going overseas. As you may guess with as many Irish in Vermont as you may expect, there was also a very sizable IRA contingency there as well as throughout New York State and New England. During the war, I envisioned that there were several atomic bombs made, not just those that went to Japan. The plot consisted of one atomic bomb landing at the Rutland airport to head to Germany but the war had ended in Europe when it arrived. It stayed there uncovered for the last 70 years in an airplane hanger at the airport. The IRA, still in existence but now inactive in 2015, found about it. Then things happened. I had a hard time keeping all those Irish names straight and exactly what would happen. It may still get written eventually.
What is the best piece of writing advice you have ever received?
It was on a blog with Jenny Milchman a few months ago. It included John O’Connell and Lee Child. Mr. Child said he wasn’t always famous. He wasn’t popular until his 12th book became a best seller. He said just keep on writing. That’s what he did and eventually his 12th book became a bestseller. That’s what I will do regardless of books sold, fame, pressure or whatever.
How much time does it take you to write a book?
I am extremely quick once I get rolling. My books average 60 days for the actual writing and the same for the correcting before sending it off to Black Opal Books for their 2 rounds of edits and the final galley. I am now taking a break because I have written 5 books in 2 years and 3 months and that’s a lot. I’m thinking about doing a stand alone and I find that much harder and may take twice as long to complete only because of the newness of the plot, characters and setting.
What do you see as the challenges and successes of being traditionally published? Being self-published?
I would never try to self-publish because I don’t think you can get as far without the support and backing of a publisher, large or even small press. I was fortunate to get a small press interested early on and it has made all the difference. I write grants by myself because there is no one else to help with the process. It is a very lonely experience. You can only share the joy when you win. You have no one to talk to when things aren’t going well. I find I need that boost.
Any funny “researching your book stories” to share with readers?
Well at one point, I was scared to death on what popped up on my screen. I have to do a lot of research on gangs like the Mexican Mafia, the Columbians, the Russians, the Haitians etc. I was doing research on ISIS and terrorists in the US and a big disclaimer hit my screen warning me not to go any further or I would be in big trouble. I don’t think if the FBI landed at my door for doing research for my book it would hold any water. The moral: Be careful what you research!
What do you find is the hardest part of writing?
Contractions. I’ll be glad to pass along my list of 52 contractions. You need every one of them for dialogue. Without contractions you will not be received well. It will not read like dialogue. So, as soon as I do a chapter, I pop up the list and then go one by one for the entire chapter to get them right. It takes a lot of time but it is needed.
What will you be working on next?
See above. I’ll work on the 6th Book of the Conch Town Girl series, Mallory Square and a stand alone, You Don’t Know Jack. It’s also the fall 2015 and grants are nonstop for a while and I’ll have to balance the two. I am three books ahead of my editor at this point so I’ll start enjoying being 67 if I can.
What other books (either fiction or nonfiction) could you recommend?
MY favorite book, after all these years, is still Richard Russo’s Straight Man. It is the funniest non-funny novel ever written. I have my list of 495 authors that I have read. There are about 35-40 of them that I will immediately read anything they write as soon as they release their next books. It is unfair to other authors to recommend a list. Just because I don’t like it, it is still published and there are only 30,000 published authors worldwide out of a few billion people. It takes a lot of energy and patience to write a book. So, I would never give a book a bad rating in public. It’s just the way I am. If someone feels a need to rate something badly, think twice before doing it. Think about the time, effort and logistics put in place to publish it. It depends on a lot of people. The writer is only one small part of the equation. You may not like it but don’t ever discourage someone else from reading it and making up their own mind.