Today we're pleased to feature our KBoards interview with Pete Barber, author of the newly-released novel Love Poison.

This book is a page-turner -- a romantic suspense with an action-driven plot and compelling characters in Amber and Mark. Here's the blurb:

Love is a dangerous drug.

Lab assistant and avid climber Amber Wilson is no stranger to risk. But she feels invisible around her handsome boss, Mark, until she accidentally doses him with an irresistible aphrodisiac that leaves him with a suicidal hangover. Abruptly fired, Amber and Mark partner up to research the source of the drug-a rare New Zealand mushroom-in hopes of refining it for safe use.

On their way to New Zealand to collect fungi samples, Amber is blindsided by a deep and intense romantic connection with Mark. Their new business plan is endangered by ruthless Maori mobsters who control a mushroom scheme they're killing to protect. As the body count rises, Amber struggles to salvage her and Mark's dreams, but when she risks her heart and acts alone, both of them could end up paying the ultimate price.

Now, on to our conversation with Pete!

Welcome, Pete, and congratulations on the release of your latest novel! Please tell our readers, in a sentence or two, what "Love Poison" is about.

Thank you for inviting me. Love Poison follows a lab technician, Amber, after she stumbles across a mushroom that makes men fall in love. The discovery causes her problems on multiple levels: personally, because of the way it affects her boss, Mark; morally, because the mushrooms could be used for date rape; and physically, because the mushrooms bring her in contact with some very dangerous gangsters.

The novel is a suspenseful romance, that takes its two lead characters on a far-flung venture (New York to New Zealand) to learn more about that fascinating mushroom-based drug. Tell us a bit about what inspired you to write the story.

Sorry to say I have no great inspiration to reveal. A couple years ago, I wrote a two thousand word scene which started with Amber stuck in a women's bathroom struggling to manage an anxiety attack she'd succumbed to at the office Christmas party. I had to get her out of the bathroom. She sneaked out through the lab to avoid the partygoers. On the way, she knocked over a box of fungi, and the story just "mushroomed" from there. :)

Ah, yes, we can see how it did! One thing we particularly enjoy about this novel is the mission that Amber and Mark are engaged in. This adds a level of intrigue and motivation to the story that we don't often see in romantic suspense. What were your strategies as an author in planning out the book's plot elements?

It seemed logical that Amber and Mark would try to acquire more mushrooms. That started me wondering what the mushrooms might be used for, which resulted in Paradise Island and the morally dubious goings on there. I had a lot of fun with that--creating a vacation spot where older women could pay to be courted by GQ models who had fallen head-over-heel in love with them. If the island resort existed, I suspect it would be quite popular. :) I also think the owners would be very protective of their operation, which is where the intrigue comes in. The plot wasn't pre-planned; it just followed the natural course of events given the nature and objectives of each character.

Your novels carry a sense of technological and scientific curiosity in them -- and I'm thinking in particular here about your techno-thriller "Nanostrike." Some of that technical realism comes through in "Love Poison" as well. We appreciate those layers of thought and wonder within your stories. Two questions: Do you have a technological background? And how as an author do you see science as a useful story element?

I don't have a technical background, but I have always been fascinated by science. When a scientific advancement makes its way into the world at large, to me it always begs the question: what if? For example, today's smart phones enhance human knowledge exponentially. Wearable devices seem to be the next generation. How far will this go? The trans humanism movement believes we're already creating a new human--a different species--enhanced through digital implants, nanotechnology, and genetic modification, and far superior to naturally evolved humans.

Reading about new technologies in journals or on the web can be a slog. But when I put the ideas into a story and challenge my characters to react and manage the consequences, for me, they come to life and I can explore the benefits and pitfalls.

The romantic arc of the story is very believable, and meshes well with the advancement of the plot. Were there are any challenges for you as an author in achieving that blend?

Thank you for finding that aspect believable. It was by far the most challenging aspect of the novel for me. In the end what helped most was developing a strong back story for the two main characters. I'm an impatient reader, and my early drafts reflect that-I like a story to move along at a good clip. Even though a lot of the main character's back story remains in my head and not on the page, it does slow down the action. But without it, Mark and Amber wouldn't have reason to act as they did.

Readers and book reviewers describe "Love Poison" as heart-stopping, action-packed, and expertly-plotted. Have any reviews surprised you or had particular meaning for you?

All I ever want as a fiction writer is for my work to be read and appreciated by strangers. If the reader is motivated to write a review, I'm over the moon. I read every review and learn what works and what doesn't for the reader. In my mind, there's no way to weigh the value of one opinion over another.

We're curious about what books are in your current reading pile. Do you tend to read action thrillers, mysteries, sci-fi, romance? Your stories reflect a deftness in several genres, so we're guessing you have diverse reading interests!

Because I review for Books & Pals ( I survive on an almost exclusive diet of indie novels. I just finished a brilliant piece of women's fiction-Early Daze by Jennifer Gilby Roberts-which explores the effect of a premature birth on a family. Currently I'm enjoying Stolen Innocence by Joe Parr, a suspenseful murder mystery focused on human trafficking. The B&P TBR list constantly hovers around fifteen hundred titles. I like to read across genres.

For those aspiring authors in our audience, tell us a bit about how you approached the writing of this book. Was it plotted out? Did you write it more or less sequentially? And were there moments where the story took an unexpected direction for you?

Like fifty percent of writers, I don't plot. Although I've never considered it until this interview, I do seem to have an MO in that I have some technological MacGuffin at the center of my stories. In the case of Love Poison, the characters have to obtain the mushrooms and then work out how to use them. In NanoStrike, nanotechnology was used for good and for evil and in the end the characters struggled to control it. My two WIPs deal with virtual reality and human gene modification respectively. Yup, I don't plot, but apparently I do have a system.

Unexpected directions--in Love Poison, Paradise Island resort came as quite a surprise to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed building the Island's world. Much of that work lies on the cutting room floor because I wanted the novel to stay PG, but it was still essential because it gave me such a solid handle on the gangsters and their motivation to keep the mushroom to themselves.

This novel is a bit of a rarity in that we would recommend it for readers of mystery, thriller, or romance. There are elements that lovers of each of those genres will appreciate and enjoy. As you approached the publishing stage, was it difficult to categorize this book into a particular genre?

Yes. I sent the draft to a trusted beta reader and asked him what it was. He told me romantic suspense, and the rest is history.

Your female lead, Amber, is fascinating -- brainy, athletic, determined. Will we be seeing more of her and Mark in future novels?

I'm glad you liked Amber. I did too, but I think poor Amber and Mark have suffered through quite enough near death experiences. They deserve to enjoy their happy-ever-after in peace.

Pete, thanks so much for this fascinating book, and for talking with KBoards today!

Thank you, Harvey for such interesting questions-you made me work, and I enjoyed it. :)

Love Poison is available now to download to your Kindle!