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May 12, 2011 | 12:00 a.m. CST
At age 7, Barri L. Bumgarner told her teacher she wanted to be a writer. When at age 12 she read Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and fell in love with thrillers, nothing could shake her from writing about murder.
Bumgarner is the author of acclaimed books 8 Days, Slipping and Dregs. A bubbly, smiling woman, it wouldn’t seem that murder and crime are her writing forté. “Everybody who knows me says ‘You’re such a normal, chipper, happy-go-lucky person,’” she says. “So does my dark side come out when I write? I guess.”Related Articles
While balancing writing and finishing her dissertation for a Ph.D. in English education from MU, she researches the nitty-gritty of committing a murder. Murder is an art and needs to be portrayed correctly, she says.
Oftentimes, she’ll slip one of her local police officer friends an unfinished manuscript to tweak any inaccuracies.
The FBI flagged her twice for studying murder. While researching the science of nuclear meltdowns for 8 Days, in which she kills 98 percent of the world’s population in eight days, Homeland Security informed her that it had a thick file on her Internet searches. But, that’s what Googling “the best way to kill the most people in the shortest amount of time” will deliver.
She received a second call from the FBI in 2004 when researching chemical cocktails for Slipping, a thriller about a banker whose alter ego is a wanted serial killer. The feds required copies of the completed work to verify she wasn’t a security threat.
To get inside a killer’s head, she visits convicted murderers in high-security prisons. For an upcoming book, she interviewed former Columbia police officer Steven Rios 170 times. Bumgarner also interviewed a convicted murderer from her hometown, Lebanon. He admitted to killing his father for drug money. She probed his mind by asking him if he planned the murder ahead of time, whether he regretted it and what he was thinking at the moment he killed. For Bumgarner, it’s not difficult to get in the heads of killers. Her mind instantly goes to the sinister.
Bumgarner says Americans are drawn to violence, and she thinks the violence in popular TV shows, films and video games is cathartic. “There is something that draws me to writing about that kind of stuff,” she says. “I can’t explain it.”