We recently sat down for a conversation with an author who is one of the quickest men with a quip that I know. I asked, he answered--mostly. Yes of course! We are actually a thousand miles apart. Never mind, here's what he had to say.
When someone asks you what kind of book do you write? What’s your answer?
(The famous elevator speech)
True crime, mysteries, thrillers -- pop culture -- movie tie-ins, the stuff you see on your supermarket shelves.
Have I ever read anything you've written?
Yes, and you loved it.
When did you know you were going to be a mystery writer?
When I was in Junior High School, now termed Middle School, I wrote my first mystery. By the time I was 16, I “knew” that someday I would write about Maverick and The Saint. I was right.
Tell us a little bit about your family background.
I was born and raised in Walla Walla, the youngest of three kids. My sister, Jan Curran, is an author and retired journalist; all four of her kids are authors (Lee & Tod Goldberg; Linda Woods & Karen Dinino). My brother Stan is a retired attorney and Regent at the University of Washington. His daughter has a PR firm, and his son, a relentless entrepreneur, just invested his efforts in a forthcoming child with his lovely wife.
My mom was a former newspaper woman, and my father ran a scrap metal business. Both parents are gone now.
What is your educational background?
I graduated from Walla Walla High School, then attended the University of Washington.
Talk a bit about your present family situation.
Presently I am single, have two adult offspring―a daughter, Anea, who is a data rock star in Austin for AMD, and a son, Jordan, who works for Fred Meyer. Happily, my previous spouse, Britt Barer, and I get along fine.
What did you read as a child?
As a child? Dick, Jane, Spot...then Hardy Boys, followed by The Saint books by Leslie Charteris, and one of the great all time social satire books, Harry Vernon at Prep by Franc D. Smith. Naturally I read all the hot parts of whatever naughty books were in circulation at the time.
What surprised you most about the writing community once you became a part of it?
What pleasantly surprised me the most was the incredible kindness and generosity of other authors. I recall when my first book came out -- the one for which I received the Edgar -- I was seated at Left Coast Crime next to Larry Block. Well, he had a line of fans from here to Modesto; I sat there playing with my pen. Heck, even if they wanted my book, it was bargain priced at about $55.00. Not exactly a price point inducement for purchase. He was kind and supportive of my situation. I had fun with Larry in a literary way by inventing books by him that don't actually exist. These books are featured in my fiction book, HEADLOCK. For example, he is credited with having the first mass market paperback to extra money via title product placement: “The Burglar who had Butterfingers.”
A few years later we were featured together on the Smart Ass Authors panel at B-Con, and that was great fun. There are so many wonderful writers who have been good to me—from GM Ford and Tony Fennelly to Meg Chittenden and Sparkle Hayter and so many more!
What’s the hardest thing about being an author?
Let’s talk about promotion and marketing.
Sure, let's talk about that! I have been called the King of BSP -- Blatant Self Promotion, often to the aggravation of other, more shy authors. When at conventions, I hawk my books with all the subtlety of a Vegematic salesman at the State Fair. I make Mr. Sham-Wow seem taciturn.
Do you blog? How frequently? Is your blog a group or single effort?
Yes, I have more blogs and sites than I keep track of. Primarily I use http://burlbarer.net and http://outlawcrime.net These automatically hype the new posts on Facebook.
How frequently do you organize or participate in book tours?
I have never organized a book tour. I can't even organize my desk. I will gladly tour. I'm easy. I'll go around the world on my first date. I have not done an extensive tour since 2000. I have been bouncing back and forth between Los Angeles, Seattle, and Austin, Texas...but I don't know if that would qualify as touring.
What’s your daily routine when you aren’t touring?
I am on tour 24/7―I tour from here to the 7/11 and back. Then I tour on the bus to see friends. On Saturdays I take my tour to Outlawradio.tv to do TRUE CRIMES with co-host Don Woldman.
Basically, I sit in front of the computer and avoid writing. I send email, surf the net..and when all else fails, I write. Oh, I do take breaks to watch movies.
What kind of events or signings do you do?
I'll do any event, and I'll sign anything. Sometimes I sign Sidney Sheldon's books. Sid is too busy to do them all himself. I have done some signings with my nephews, Lee and Tod Goldberg, but it has been a while.
In a typical year, how many times did you appear for your book?
Well, if you count Metro Transit, several times a week. actually, I appear every week on the TRUE CRIMES radio show, and on Matt Alan's Outlaw Radio. I will also be on SNAPPED on the Oxygen Network in October for the Season Finale discussing my book, MOM SAID KILL. I will also be on Investigation Discovery's DEADLY WOMEN in December discussing the strange case of Rhonda Glover and Jimmy Joste, the subjects of my forthcoming book.
How many fan conferences such as Bouchercon will you typically attend in a year?
I used to attend Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime every year, as I had a new book to promote every year. There was a gap between BROKEN DOLL and MOM SAID KILL, and a financial gap as well, so I have not attended recently. I loved particpating in the Palm Springs event a year or so ago. I was scheduled for two panels in Las Vegas. The second day, the taxi driver got lost. I had him stop at a pay phone so I could call and get him directions, and he drove off and left me standing in a service station parking lot! I'm sure that cost me several reputation points. I reported him to the taxi company, and I think his career suffered more than mine.
Now, however, with BROKEN DOLL and MOM SAID KILL selling briskly, the radio show gaining popularity, my monthly presence on In Cold Blog, and another book coming out next year, I will be attending events again.
Any specific recommendations?
Courtesy is always in style.
Do you have a web site and/or other Internet places you routinely participate in, such as Good Books or Face Book or Twitter? List them.
and several other Ning social networks related to crime and crime blogging.
Do you like to travel?
I LOVE to travel!
What surprised you the most when you became a published author?
I was surprised that authors don't have groupies such as the ones who pursue rock stars and famous actors, or even disc jockeys. Never be an author to pick up chicks.
Do you think you’ll change direction or spread out a bit? Write a different kind of crime novel? If so, what kind.?
It has been my literary dream to do new things in different genres. I believe I accomplished that with THE SAINT: A Complete History, MAVERICK, MAN OVERBOARD, and HEADLOCK (crime fiction). The true crime books I do for Pinnacle are research intensive, follow a rigid template, and do not offer much opportunity for literary experimentation.
I hope to have some fun with new SAINT novels and short stories once there is a market for them. If the forthcoming SAINT TV show goes well, the market will be there. Also, I intend sequels to HEADLOCK, my Jeff Reynolds, PI mystery series.
Especially since 9/11, how do you respond to the accusation that you are trying to make money on a phenomenon in society we call murder? Or heinous crime?
I don't think 9/11 made much difference in the never ending accusation that true crime writers are bottom feeders. This is, of course, nonsense. True crime is a much maligned genre written by underpaid authors. Every true crime book is an emotionally and socially dangerous enterprise. The families of victims either love you or hate you, as do the families of the killers. I get hate mail from both, and sometimes the same person who sends me hate mail will, years later, send me a thank you letter and an apology.
I wrote a fiction story, GIVING SHELTER, written from the perspective of a psychopath. I am not a psychopath, honest. I am not a serial killer. But I have had people regard me as such because I write about serial killers. The map is not the territory. The actor is not the character. As an author, I want to create characters that resonate as real to the reader. Jack Olsen said I wrote so realistically that the characters leap off the page. That sounds rather scary, considering some of the characters' social habits.
If you could be anything else in the world, have any other career, what would it be?
When I was a youngster there were people on TV who, it seemed to me, were famous for being famous. That sounded fantastic to me. I would like to earn a living by being famous simply for being famous.
What career would you least like to do, if writing was to become impossible?
Work in a fabric store or a crafts store. For some reason, I almost panic in those places. I have sold fine jewelry, however, and enjoyed it tremendously.
Have you ever collaborated on a novel? Would you consider it?
Yes, I collaborated on a novel (unpublished) with someone who wasn't a writer. I would love to collaborate with someone who is a writer. I did contribute to one of Lee Goldberg's pulp fiction novels that he wrote under an assumed name. I helped him with one of the sex scenes. He was, at that time, not as experienced with that topic as he has since, no doubt, become. When his Nana complained that the book was nothing but sex and violence, Lee wisely shifted the blame to my brother and me. My brother deflected criticism by insisting that he only helped Lee with the legal/courtroom scenes. When Mom called me, she asked How could you pervert your little nephew that way?
I told her Mom, I only helped him write one sex scene, honest!
She replied, It was the one with the ice-cream wasn't it? She was right. It was.
Who are the authors who you feel have had the most influence on your writing career.
Leslie Charteris, Jack Olsen, and Franc Smth.
Tell us one or two authors or books you absolutely universally recommend.
Last Man Standing by Jack Olsen. (Incredible!)
Saint's Getaway by Leslie Charteris
anything by my family members and friends!
Who is your favorite mystery author?
Where do you want your career to go?
To the bank.
To what organizations related to your writing career do you belong?
Mystery Writers of America
Who is your publisher? What’s your current book?
Kensington Publishing's PINNACLE TRUE CRIME imprint.
Most recent book: MOM SAID KILL
I'm working now on another true crime book, but it doesn't have a title.
Are you agented?
I was. I am looking now for new representation to handle both literary and film/tv
If you could change one thing about the world what would that be?
Replace disunity with unity.
Do you have any pithy (or other) words of advice for aspiring authors?
Tell us about your next or upcoming book or other project.
I am currently working with Dr. Ata Egrari on a little book about life, science and the future entitled How Big is the Moon? (and other questions)
Recently finished working with Thomas Hodgins on The World According to Fraser, a memoir about how he responded when his best friend was suddenly afflicted with schizophrenia. It is, I must admit, a delightful book filled with humor, insight, and valuable information for anyone with a friend or family member afflicted with any form of mental illness.
I am also in the middle of a project of high international sensitivity. It is an historical document, of sorts, which I am not at liberty to discuss, but something about which I am very proud, and will be of significant value to future generations in understanding one of the most volatile social upheavals in modern history.
On a more commercial front, I am at the half-way mark of a new true crime book. I have also been asked to consult on the new SAINT TV project. My knowledge and understanding of the character, while not at the level of Templar's creator, is firmly established. Hence, my suggestions are every bit as influential in the development of this project as were his in the development of previous projects.
Private Eye Fred Wolfson and I have some projects in the works -- one in France, and one in USA -- but nothing is real until the check clears the bank.
New Saint novels, and new Jeff Reynolds mysteries are on the back burner until my current true crime book is completed in August.
Thanks, Burl, I hope to see you in line at the bank.