AUTHOR INTERVIEW: C.J. Barry/Samantha Graves

Science fiction is currently a tough market, so it makes the niche that C.J. Barry has carved for herself that much more astonishing.  Author of five award-winning science fiction romances, she’s been able to write what she loves and generate a loyal following.  Her bestselling UNForgettable series is peppered with lightning-fast repartee and goofy yet lovable characters, all ripping forward at a blistering pace.  When we heard that C.J. was making a foray into the romantic suspense market under the name of Samantha Graves, we were curious–how was she going to balance writing in two genres?  And, oh yeah, she still works at her day job and is refreshingly real.  Energetic doesn’t begin to describe this lady.

We are pleased to be able to bring you the first of our two-part interview with C.J.  Enjoy!

Q:  Tell us about your journey to publication.

CJ:  I decided to write a romance novel on June 8, 1998.  I even wrote on the calendar–“I want to be a writer.”  I gave myself three years to get published, which looking back, is really not a lot of time in this business. 

I wrote UNCHAINED.  Then I joined RWA and my local chapter, Central New York Romance Writers, and discovered that I had no idea what I was doing.  Then I revised UNCHAINED and sent it out.  After a few rejections, it sold to New Concepts Publishing–just under my three year limit.  Then I wrote and sold UNEARTHED to Dorchester, following by UNRAVELED, UNLEASHED & UNMASKED in a three-book contract.  Last year, I sold my first contemporary suspenses–SIGHT UNSEEN and OUT OF TIME–to Warner Books.  So hey, I guess I’m a writer!

Q:  Your award-winning scifi romances, the Unforgettable series, are well-known to romance readers and have garnered you a cult following.  Why did you decide to branch out into the romantic suspense market?   

CJ:  I have a cult following?  Cool!  I have to say that SFR readers are awesome.  And thank you, I’m very fond of my SFR’s and the awards they’ve won.  After writing five SFR’s, I was ready to try something new.  All of my books are suspense, so that was an easy transition, and the contemporary world was a tempting challenge.  I had just finished my last contract, and I felt it was a good time to stretch as a writer.  I also decided to write the contemporaries as Samantha Graves since the two genres are so radically different.   

Q:  Will you return to science fiction?   

CJ:  I’d like to.  If not science fiction, then maybe near-future or contemporary with strong paranormal elements and more extensive world-building.  Right now, I work part-time and write part-time so my time is limited, and I have to choose my projects carefully.  But who knows what will happen tomorrow?    

Q:  How do you juggle a day job with the demands of writing?  Do you have any tips you could offer on how writers can squeeze more writing time out of their busy lives?   

CJ:  I’m very organized which helps, but it’s still a challenge.  I find writing at night impossible after working all day as a technical writer.  So I write on my lunch hour when I can.  I keep a tape recorder in the car for my morning and evening commutes.  I drag my Alphasmart all over just in case I get some free time between driving my kids around.  Mostly, I write on my days off although I have been known to burn a few vacation days when necessary.  

Q:  Is it difficult writing in two different genres?  What sorts of things to you need to be mindful of? 

CJ:  It’s definitely a different mindset, the world-building in particular.  With the SFR’s, when I need something like a place or vehicle or weapon, I create it using the Laws of the Universe.  With the contempories, when I need those things, I have to go find them.  I work hard to get the details right.  That’s not always possible, but I do my best. 

Q: Your romantic suspense debut as Samantha Graves, SIGHT UNSEEN, has a thread of the otherworldly to it.  Was it difficult to mesh paranormal elements with a gritty suspense tale?

CJ:  You can take the writer out of paranormal but you can’t take paranormal out of the writer.  LOL.  I think the psychic element was a natural carry-over.  I love paranormal; it fascinates me and I enjoy writing it.  I never really thought about how to mesh the paranormal into the suspense.  It just seemed to happen.  

Q:  The backdrop for SIGHT UNSEEN is the art world, and the protagonists travel to Miami and Cuba.  How much research did you do for this book, and where did you draw the line?  Was the research a challenge, considering your previous books have been in the science fiction genre, where the details can be malleable? 

CJ:  The research was unbelievable.  Hundreds of hours.  I read travel guides and travel blogs, watched travel videos and web cams, studied photos and pictures of various locations, and I have a file full of maps.  I think Cuba was the toughest to research, but the most rewarding.  Then there were the characters themselves, who each had quite unique occupations.  I needed to find experts and do the research to verify that my details were correct.  It was pretty daunting, but also extremely interesting. 

Q:  You’ve become known for a fast-paced story loaded with wisecracks.  Can you share some of your secrets to pacing?    

CJ:  My secret?  Well, I could tell you but then I’d have to–  Oh no, wait.  I can tell you.  LOL   

Honestly, I really don’t know.  I guess I get bored easily.  When I feel like the story is slowing down, then it’s time for someone to die or something bad to happen.  It’s really a gut feeling.  I like dialogue and action, both of which move the pace along.  I try to keep the descriptions to a minimum while still giving the reader the essence of the moment.  I also cram a lot of plot into every book which means I have to write fast.  

Follow the link for Part Two of our interview with C.J.


About Kathleen Bolton

Kathleen Bolton is co-founder of Writer Unboxed. She writes under a variety of pseudonyms, including Ani Bolton. She has written two novels as Cassidy Calloway: Confessions of a First Daughter, and Secrets of a First Daughter--both books in a YA series about the misadventures of the U.S. President's teen-aged daughter, published by HarperCollins, and Tamara Blake, for the novel Slumber.


  1. theamcginnis says

    great interview! cj reveals good insights into how she makes it all happen!

  2. says

    Thanks for the nice comments!

    Yes, my motto is “If things get boring, it’s time for someone to die.” I just have to be careful ‘where’ I say that. :D

    Killing off someone does a couple of things:
    1) It narrows down the villain to the remaining characters
    2) It forces your protagonist to change radically and quickly–which forces the pace of the book
    3) It adds pressure and intensity to the story, which also pushes the pace

    The key, of course, is starting out with enough characters!


  3. Carol says

    Hi C.J.

    I enjoyed your interview! I really like romantic suspense a lot. I’m going to pick up Site Unseen on my next book shopping trip! I can’t wait to read it!