Barbara Winkes talks about Lisbeth Salander, Arya Stark, writing advice, and her book, Secrets

Fun Fact: Due to an innocent tweet, someone on a message board once thought I was friends with Angie Harmon. Sadly, I have to admit that is not true—who wouldn’t want to be friends with Lindsay Boxer/Jane Rizzoli? They figured it out soon enough. I am a fan, though,  since the Women’s Murder Club TV show. I first met my wife online, in the fandom.


SR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

SecretsBW: Marsha is an ex-cop turned PI who wants nothing but a few days of peaceful vacation. Against better judgment, she picks up a hitchhiker, and if that isn’t danger enough, there’s a serial killer lurking along the way…

SR: Where did your idea for this book come from?

BW: I saw a scene in a movie where a hitchhiker got killed in an accident. In my story, the hitchhiker is alive—and well, for the most part…

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

BW: Arya would be her choice. She would definitely choose a woman.

SR: Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

BW: No, not in this case. It’s rather easy for me to come up with worse case scenarios. I start with the characters and one scene, and the genre ends up being thriller/suspense most of the time. Even when I write romance or urban fantasy, there’s always a crime/suspense element.

SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

BW: A later coming out – though Marsha’s was still a bit later than my own.

SR: If you were the right gender could you have a romantic relationship with your protagonist? Why or why not? Would it be a good relationship?

SecretsPromopic3BW: I am happily married, so I wouldn’t be interested—and Marsha has a love interest. There’s a romantic element in all of my books, so I don’t think of my characters that way. I want them to overcome challenges, and be with someone who makes them happy. Usually, I create that person as well.
SR: Carpool karaoke. What would be your protagonist’s song? Yours?

BW: There’s a scene in the book where Jessie, the hitchhiker, looks at the CDs in Marsha’s glove compartment. She finds Melissa Etheridge and the Backstreet Boys, so I imagine the choice would be between those.

SR:  Cage match between you and your protagonist. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why?

BW: Marsha has to face a serial killer. I write about women like her who face serial killers. I’m afraid the answer is pretty clear…

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

SecretsPromopic2BW: As a teenager, I loved Rebecca. A strong female protagonist, suspense and a romantic element—I was always drawn to that. Later, I enjoyed thriller/suspense series like Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles (the parts that were written from the villain’s POV still haunt me).

Finding lesbian mysteries was extremely important to me as well, to realize I could have all my favorite elements, but with lesbian leads. Even better, I could do the same as a published author.

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

BW: To me, humor. As a reader, I’m a tough customer, but I appreciate some surprise comic relief. It’s something I hope comes across in my books as well.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

BW: When I wrote Secrets, I had already signed a contract for my first book, Autumn Leaves, a lesbian romance/drama, to be released in November 2012. I was still somewhat in shock…and writing another book was a welcome distraction. I turned hybrid in 2014, and fully indie-published in 2016. I think the obstacles were the same every writer faces—to figure out which is the right path, and if/when it’s the right moment to change direction.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

BW: Holmes. I hope I’d be one of the good guys.
SR: You have to flee the country. Where are you headed to and why that location?

BW: Priorities would be:

        1. My marriage is recognized.
        2. It’s warm (that is negotiable, though, since we do just fine here in Canada. We just wish the winters weren’t so long).

But since I just became a citizen last year, I’d hope there would be other options!

SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

BW: The lamp next to my desk will have to do…we’ll see how that goes.

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

BW: Not that long—I haven’t seen enough TV shows in the genre to know how to deal with zombies…Marsha would likely make it a little longer. She could run faster, too.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

BW: For the writing part – develop a routine that works for you, a way to insert writing into your daily life.

For the marketing part – know who your audience is, and be specific.

In general, make a plan, and evaluate what you’re doing on a regular basis. Read contracts carefully. Tell your story, because no one else could tell it the same way—and have fun!

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

BW: No offense to Marsha, but I’d go with Jordan Carpenter from the Carpenter/Harding series. I’m not sure she would be happy, being summoned out of her life where she will get married in the upcoming book…but she has overcome a lot, too, and would be a resourceful companion. Besides, her story is still ongoing, so I could take notes for the next few books.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander. You know, I’m not sure I could survive on a deserted island, but I sure read and write about women who could!

SR: Where can people catch up with you?

BW: The easiest way to contact me is on Facebook or Twitter, or via my website.


Barbara Winkes writes suspense and romance with lesbian characters at the center. She has always loved stories in which women persevere and lift each other up. Expect high drama and happy endings. Discover a variety of genres, serial and standalone. Women loving women always take the lead.

Check out Barbara’s casting call for Secrets here or return to the Issue Menu.