Are You Sleeping by Kathleen Barber

Kathleen Barber’s thriller Are You Sleeping? (Gallery Books 2017; $26) tells the story of  Josie Buhrman who thought she had put the trauma of her early life behind her, when a hit investigative podcast about her father’s murder brings the past back, compelling her return to the small Illinois town of Elm Park where she grew up.

“The main storyline of Are You Sleeping was inspired by true crime podcasts like ‘Serial,’ says Barber, a graduate from the University of Illinois and Northwestern University School of Law who previously practiced bankruptcy law at large firms in Chicago and New York

.  “I was utterly captivated with the first season of ‘Serial’ when I listened to it in the fall of 2014– so much so that I spent a lot of time reading about the podcast online and visiting forums where the underlying case was discussed. At one point, I caught myself doing an online image search for some of the people involved in the case, and I realized that I had perhaps crossed a line from interested to inappropriately obsessed. It was then that I started thinking about how the popularity of the podcast must feel to the people on the other side of the case–the people who I was image-searching for, the people who were interviewed for the podcast, and, most of all, the family of the victim. That was what I was thinking about when I started writing Are You Sleeping–what it’s like to be on the other side of a case that’s moved into the realm of pop culture.”

Barber, who was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois, says that she wants to tell stories about women from the Midwest and used her hometown as the setting for her book.

“When I was writing Are You Sleeping, I could envision the characters walking down certain real-life streets in Galesburg and drinking in existing bars,” says Barber. “Since so much of the rest of the book is created from whole cloth, setting the book in a familiar location really helped me ground the story in reality.”

If you go:

What: Talk and book signing

When: Thursday, August 10 at 6:30 p.m.

Where: City Lit Books, 2523 N. Kedzie Blvd., Chicago, IL

Cost: Free

FYI: (773) 235-2523; citylitbooks.com

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Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest

Before the Civil War, a network of secret routes and safe houses crisscrossed the Midwest to help African Americans travel north to escape slavery. Although many slaves were able to escape to the safety of Canada, others met untimely deaths on the treacherous journey—and some of these unfortunates still linger, unable to rest in peace.

The author in front of an Underground Railroad stop said to be haunted.

In Hauntings of the Underground Railroad: Ghosts of the Midwest, Jane Simon Ammeson investigates unforgettable and chilling tales of these restless ghosts that still walk the night. This unique collection includes true and gruesome stories, like the story of a lost toddler who wanders the woods near the Story Inn, eternally searching for the mother torn from him by slave hunters, or the tale of the Hannah House, where an overturned oil lamp sparked a fire that trapped slaves hiding in the basement and burned them alive. Brave visitors who visit the house, which is now a bed and breakfast, claim they can still hear voices moaning and crying from the basement.

Ammeson also includes incredible true stories of daring escapes and close calls on the Underground Railroad. A fascinating and spine-tingling glimpse into our past, Hauntings of the Underground Railroad will keep you up all night.

Journalist Fiona Barton keeps suspense going with ‘The Child’

As a journalist, Fiona Barton investigated crimes, attended trials and then wrote and filed her stories. But as the author of the just-released “The Child” and her best-selling novel, “The Widow,” both psychological thrillers, Barton had to switch gears.

“It sounds ridiculous, but I had to stop being a reporter in order to write a novel,” Barton says. “I knew how to write — I’d been doing it for a living for more than 30 years, but what I was writing came from other people. Journalism is listening, probing, testing other people’s words and telling a story concisely and often under 500 words,” she says.

“Writing ‘The Widow’ meant unlearning a lot of things. It was incredibly hard at first and I got to 10,000 words and thought I had nothing left to say, but there was a moment where I gave myself permission to fully invent. It was a real crunching of gears but wonderfully liberating to be free to create my own world in both books.”

Barton’s done it again with “The Child,” which brings back Kate Waters, the newspaper journalist who first appeared in “The Widow.” Wanting to impress her boss, Kate follows up on the discovery of a small skeleton in a recently demolished building. Barton says that the inspiration for the story came from exactly the same place that Kate finds it in the book.“As a journalist, I’m always looking for stories,” she says. “I tore interesting items out of newspapers and magazines — my hairdresser hated me — and shoved them in my handbag for later. They were often just a few lines in a story but it was the unanswered questions that drew me in. One of the scraps of paper lurking in the bottom of my bag many years ago was about the discovery of a baby’s remains. Like Kate, I wanted to know who the infant was? Who had secretly buried it? And who else knew?”