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SunLit Interviews

“What will drive someone to murder?” The bottom-line question that powers Barbara Nickless narratives

The author imagines several possibilities for the villain, but always tries to "play fair" with the reader

An English degree and a sense of adventure led Barbara Nickless to work as a technical writer, raptor rehabilitator, astronomy instructor, sword fighter, piano teacher, and journalist. Now an award-winning author, she spends her free time snowshoeing, caving and hiking the Colorado Rockies.

“Dead Stop” author Barbara Nickless. (Handout)

What inspired you to write this book?

I always start with a crime. And since my character is a railway cop, my plots are usually linked to trains. When I learned how dangerous some railroad crossings are, I wanted to highlight this danger to my readers. Of course, railroad crossings are just one piece of the story. I was also intrigued by the history of our railroads—the (mostly) men who designed and built and fought over America’s rails. And always the question: what will drive someone to murder?   

Who are your favorite authors and/or characters?

Such a tough question! My mother was an English teacher, and I cut my teeth on the classics. Focusing on my own genre of mystery, I’ll choose Dennis Lehane. His characters are gritty and raw and real, and his prose is astonishing. IMHO, everyone should read “Mystic River.”

“Dead Stop” by Barbara Nickless. (Handout)

Why did you choose this excerpt to feature in SunLit?

People are curious about how K9s work, and this scene provides a glimpse into that world. And I love showing the special bond between my detective and her dog.

What was the most fun or rewarding part of working on this book?

While I didn’t anticipate it, the best part of this writing gig is the people I meet. Wonderful, amazing folks from all walks of life. Train engineers, homicide detectives, the homeless. As part of the research for “Dead Stop,” I attended the FBI Citizens’ Academy, where I learned in great detail what the FBI does to protect our citizens. These people are dedicated, determined and smart.

What was the most difficult section to write in this book? Why?

Writing crime fiction means walking a tricky line between hiding the killer and playing fair with the reader. When I start a book, I always know who my killer is. And so far, I haven’t deviated from my plan.  But when I’m writing, I often change my mind and write through multiple possibilities before returning to my original villain. I figure if I can see plenty of “killer candidates”, so can the reader. But I play fair—the clues are all there on the page.

What was one interesting fact you learned while researching this book?

Just one? I learned so much writing this book! Did you know that the fastest high-speed train in the world (Japan’s L0 Series) has clocked speeds of 375 mph? And yet these bullet trains are one of the safest ways to travel. Plans are underway for bullet trains in the U.S., but we have a long way to go to catch up with Europe and Asia.

What project are you working on next?

The third book in the series, Ambush, comes out March 19, 2019. That book sends my detective and her K9 partner after a killer who is murdering people in order to cover the crimes of his past. Currently, I’m hard at work on the fourth book in the series.


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Buy: “Dead Stop” at BookBar.
Excerpt: “Dead Stop” by Barbara Nickless.

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