Many visitors to this blog are likely to recognize the name Barry Hoffman from his award winning,
specialty press called Gauntlet Press, which hosts the release of several legendary authors in the realm of quality dark fiction. Barry has also seen a side to our society that most fear to tread let alone teach in from within the inner-city streets of Philadelphia were true life horror stories were on the sleeves of the kids trying to make it through their school days. Through Gauntlet Press Magazine, Barry ensured that every word in every article, no matter – hell, especially – if the material would fire up controversy and gave a stage for voices to be
heard and perspectives to be shared. In other words, expect Barry to pull no punches with his point-blank narrative as an author who speaks from the heart on behalf of his experiences as a teacher, a father and a man with a razor-sharp point to make.
DARK BITES: You clearly pay tribute to your home town of Philadelphia through your characters, most of whom happen to work for the Philadelphia Police Department. Considering how central a role the police department lends to Blood
Sacrifice, was there much homework required of you by way of researching this world first-hand above and beyond the borders of your own imagination?
BARRY HOFFMAN: No offense to Philadelphia,
but my hometown is New York City and to this day I consider myself a New Yorker. Philadelphia is actually far smaller than NYC and there are parts of the city I am very familiar with. I worked at a South Philly school where if you walked one block you go from an all-black neighborhood to one that is 100% Italian. I also taught in Center City and was quite familiar with that area of the city. I did a lot of observing while I lived in the city (close to 30 years). I also interviewed two homicide detectives early on and was shown the offices they worked. That’s where I got the description of the offices of the homicide unit of the police department. For my novel Born Bad I took my youngest daughter (who was in high school) on a tour of the University of Pennsylvania. I asked dozens of questions and the guide gave me some odd looks (some of my questions were unusual). I interviewed the head of the campus police at the U. of Penn, as well. And when I took my students on field trips and concerts at Penn I also learned a lot about the campus. The city could be considered a character in my novels.
DB: Even though Blood Sacrifice reads just fine as a stand alone novel, I love how you intertwine characters from previous books from the Eyes series with your current cast of Philly’s finest. Was there a process to this that differed at all from previous entries such as planning which characters would cross paths, how they may have evolved since the last book, etc.?
BH: I came to the conclusion early on with my novels that there would be just so many detectives and their sargents working in the homicide unit of the Philadelphia Police Department. I knew from my second novel in the series (Eyes of Prey) that
various characters would cross paths. Ariel, Thea’s partner in Blood Sacrifice, is introduced in Born Bad. When I considered who Thea’s partner would be Ariel jumped out at me. I was also able to tie up some loose ends dealing with Ariel from Born Bad. One character who appears in countless of my novels is Russ McGowan who is called The Teflon Man behind his back. He’s a villain without having committed any crime. He’s your typical bureaucrat. He wants to further his career advancement at the cost of all else. He was a nemesis of Ariel’s because he felt female detectives were promoted over males for political motives. And, he’s no friend of minorities or, in the case of Blood Sacrifice, lesbians. I’ve become used to having various characters appear, sometimes with a cameo appearance and other times as important secondary characters. I didn’t do anything different with Blood Sacrifice. Once I chose Ariel as Thea’s partner, their sargent Estefan Morales had to be included. And, Ariel’s bad blood with McGowan resurfaces. Nina Rios, who appeared in Born Bad, is fleshed out in far greater detail in this novel. It’s a lot of fun having these characters interact with one another as I introduce new characters like Thea. You get to feel the internal infighting within the homicide unit. I’m working on a novel now that traces the history between Morales and McGowan that spans thirty years. Both appear so often I felt it time to see what made them tick and why they end up becoming enemies.
DB: As with your previous works, beneath the horrors of urban tragedy you perfectly depict in Blood Sacrifice, is an undercurrent of social unrest. Your key players not only struggle with an elusive serial killer, but must also fight with inner demons of their own, particularly with their racial and social identity. How do you feel we, as a society, have been doing as far as being better connected with ourselves as well as those around
us the torch is passed from one generation to the next?
BH: In some areas there has been significant progress, but when it comes to race I think we’re regressing a in recent years. The greatest strides have been the expansion of rights for the LGBT community. Now gays and lesbians can get married where twenty years ago it was unthinkable that it would be the law of the land. You see gay, lesbian and transgender characters appear on television shows as major characters. They’re not stereotypes but layered characters the viewer can relate to. However, there is still bullying of LGBT students in high schools and a lot of cyberbullying I find horrifying. As for race last year almost every week there was another black male being shot by a policeman. And, the black community took to the streets to protest what appears to be pointless shootings. So, there has been backsliding there. Woman are still making less money than their male counterparts doing the same job. And while Hillary Clinton lost the election for any number of reasons (of her own making) all analysts mention her being a woman as at least one reason. In a close election that could have meant the difference between victory and defeat. In the senate now the Republicans have a committee to come up with a replacement for Obamacare. The entire committee is made up of white men. In this day and age I find that tragic. And that’s not to mention the attack on undocumented Hispanics by Trump as well as his desire to keep Muslims from entering the US. Lastly, anti-Semitism is at a new high. We still have a long way to go.
DB: Which character did you find you related to or sympathized with the most while writing Blood Sacrifice and why?
BH: It’s near impossible to pick one. But, put a gun to my head and the character I enjoyed creating most was Ali. She has so many layers to peel away which is what I love to do. Her personality is the polar opposite of Thea’s. She’s spontaneous, playful, an unrepentant flirt and pretty much lacks a filter. She says what’s on her mind. I was really intrigued as I created the healing power she possesses (emotional healing) and how this takes a toll on her as she absorbs the pain of the person she is curing. I could see why Thea would be attracted to her, as I wrote the book, and how she could become the love of Thea’s life.
DB: As the story unfolds and its final chapter draws near, it seems there is less and less time between chapters from the killer’s point of view and those of his hunting party. In the final chapters, the back and forth between POVs grows to such a frantic pace as to create a natural overall sense of panic. Were the final chapters written on a conscious level or did the effect come from somewhere more organic?
BH: It’s organic to how the novel unfolds. In early chapters there is a lot of character development. Both Thea and Ali are new characters and the reader needs to get to know them. Thomas Samuels, the antagonist also intrigued me and I spent a good deal of time peeling away his layers. This is a genuinely good man who faced tragedy when he was young. He finds happiness and then it’s snatched away from him. That was the last straw for him as he descends into madness. In those last chapters there is a frenetic race by Thea to save her lover. At the same time Ali is in mortal danger. The reader already knows the characters so those chapters are a race to the finish . . . more of a page-turner than the earlier chapters. So, yes, it was done on a conscious level.
DB: Not only do I feel this to be your most polished and mature novel to date – which is not to take anything away from your previous works by
any means – but your depiction of Thomas our serial killer gave what felt like an intimate examination of his inner workings that was downright unsettling. As much as any author hates being asked where he or she get their ideas from, what can you share in terms of what may have inspired such a monster to be born onto page?
BH: I love me my villains and spend a lot of time (from their POV) exploring them. Samuels may be my most personal villain because he’s a teacher and I was a teacher. So, I was in really familiar territory when discussing his teaching philosophy and experiences. I, of course, exaggerated. I wasn’t allowed the latitude he was accorded, though I did break rules myself and was called on the carpet by my principal numerous times. Thomas broke the rules to get his students to dig deep within themselves. While I broke the rules when I taught I was able to go to an extreme with Samuels I never entered. So, his being a teacher made it easier for me to identify with him. That’s why I think you get a more intimate picture of him than some of my other villains.
DB: In a recent e-mail, you threw me a teaser about the continuation of your Eyes series. Care to elaborate on what you’ve got cooking for us?
BH: Actually, the teaser had to do with a sequel to Blood Sacrifice. I’m not writing another series, but I’ve found that when I’ve finished writing one of my novels my characters don’t want to fade into the woodwork. And, in this novel there was just so much exploring of Thea and Ali I could do while giving the villain, Samuels, his just do. I had an idea of Ali seeing a killing in Rittenhouse Square Park as she was recovering from the climax of
Blood Sacrifice. She goes to emotionally heal the killer (thinking she was in torment after an “accidental” killing). She sees the same look in the teen’s eyes as she saw in Samuels. Even without proof she knows the killing was premeditated and the killer is a sociopath. That’s when Thea, the homicide detective, begins her journey to learn just who this girl is. The book takes flight from there and tackles the issue of human sex trafficking.
As for the Eyes series (which I’ve relabeled as
Shara Farris/Renee LeShay suspense novels), the new designation says it all. I thought the series was at an end as I had explored every layer of Shara. I don’t like a series where after a certain point there is no growth in the main character. In the most recent book in the series, Blind Rage, Renee (who doesn’t even appear in the first two
books) becomes the focal point of the narrative with Shara becoming a secondary character. Renee has a lot of layers to peel away and I do this in the 7th book in the series titled Born Again. I had also explored the “forest” that became a central party of the mythology as much as I desired, so I deal with the forest at the beginning of the novel and that’s the extent of the supernatural. While I don’t have an 8th book planned there is still a lot about Renee to explore so you never know when an idea may hit me and Renee drags me back to write another book in the series.
DB: Is there anything else you would like us to watch out for from you over the next little while?
BH: Well, I’ve sold a novella to Cemetery Dance
as part of their novella series. I have no idea when it will be released, but it deals, in part, with the aftermath of the 9/11 attack. I’ve never written a novel about 9/11 and an idea came to me that intrigued me. Families were obviously devastated by the loss of life as a result of the attack on the Twin Towers. As I often do I wrote about what happens when someone takes their grief to the extreme? One of my two main characters lost his wife in the attack, but he refuses to believe she was killed (her body was never found, just her cell phone). He goes on a search for his wife in a pretty horrific manner. I’d rather not give away anything more other than to say the book also explores the possibility of genetic evil.
DB: Thanks, as always for your time, Barry! It was a pleasure discussing BLOOD SACRIFICE with you.
BH: It’s been fun.