All authors love praise, and I am certainly no exception. We are also a sensitive bunch, and I recall every negative review as if it were a puncture wound to my heart with a serated steak knife.
Here is an excerpt from a positive review by Carl Brookings of my book HEADLOCK in which Carl lavishes praise on your favorite author, Burl Barer:
"There are truly only a few writers working today who can sustain such a consistent level of fine writing, complexities of plot, great imagination, and humor."
Wow! That is the kind of review authors love. In our inmost heart of hearts, we don't believe we're that good, but in order to do the next book we have to convince ourselves that Carl Brookings (or whoever lavished the praise) wasn't completely mistaken.
Anyone who knows how I work, knows I practice the immersion method. I'll dive in and thrash about, dog paddling around in circles, bumping into one or two fine phrases before gasping for inspiration and crying for help. Then, once I remind myself that I am Burl Barer, that I have done it before and I can do it again, I start with those few phrases, and convinced that I can master any format, any concept, any structure, I live and breath the book until the final period of the final sentence in the final rewrite
Working on Fatal Beauty, my most recent true crime book for Pinnacle True Crime, I made the tragic error of paying attention to a few negative reviews of my previous true crime books. Some readers faulted me for framing my true crime books in the contexts of history, sociology, psychology and relevant law. You know, going beyond the blood to get to the guts of what the hell was going on with the perpetrators, the victims, the culture in which they lived, the complexities of the investigations and the peculiarities of the legal system under which justice was served. Why I let those reviews effect my work is something for psychologists to discuss. The bottom line, however, is that I didn't write the first draft the way I wanted it, but the way I imagined the people who didn't like my books would want it. My editor sent back the ms of Fatal Beauty with supportive, encouraging guidance that said, in effect, "We want a Burl Barer true crime book, and that means give it all the ingrediants people who buy your books appreciate and expect. "
You don't write for people who don't like your books. You write for those who like your books, buy your books, and want more of your books.
Informed of the obvious, I wrote the book the way I wanted to write it, in a style sort of like a TV documentary with color commentary from diverse participants in the story. The editor was happy, my fans were pleased, and those who didn't like my other books didn't like this one either. As a fellow author said recently, "the only review that really matters is the one from your publisher when they ask you for more books."
It's true. Not everyone who types is a writer, and not every writer who fancies a career behind a keyboard is offered a multi-book contract with a major publishing house such as Kensington Publishing Group where I'm blessed with expert editors and consistent professional guidance unavailable to those who are so vain that they think that their first draft is perfect, and worry that someone will steal their brilliant ideas.
All authors are eventually asked, "Of all the books you've written, which one is your favorite?" Predictably, they respond with an evasive bit of business comparing books to children, and you never love one more than another. Yeah, I used to say that. Not today.
Today I checked the mail box. Awaiting me was a copy of my book HEADLOCK.
Slight digression: I don't have copies of my own books, strange as that may sound. I give away my promo copies, and even buy some on occassion and give those away as well. Reading my own books is something I avoid. Occassionally I will flip through one, read a page or two, and either wonder how it ever got published, or marvel that I wrote somehing impressive and firmly believe that I will never be that good again.
That may be the case with HEADLOCK. I read it tonight as if it were a book. In case you don't understand, writers process their writing (when reading it) through the left hemisphere of the brain. Readers process it through the right hemisphere. Same with songs. Listenors who are not musicians experience THE SONG — one entity. Musicians experience it as an interplay of elements much as if it were an audio mathematical equation. So, for an author to read his or her book as if it were A BOOK instead of their own equation of elements takes some distancing.
I started writing HEADLOCK in 1999 while living in Walla Walla, Washington, and finished it in early 2000 when I was living in Mukilteo. That gives a decade of distance between the man who wrote it and the man reading it.
Detatched, I read it. I loved it. I even cried at the end, but I cry in color cartoons and newsreels. Right now, this is my favorite book by Burl Barer.
As I have the rights back to this book, I will soon make it available again as an ebook and in paperback. You can wait for that (and I'll make money), or you can buy a collectors item copy. I saw one on line for $2,000. Okay, that was the most expensive one.
HEADLOCK was intended as the first entry into a series about a true crime author/private eye in Walla Walla, Washington. He was essentially me, except younger, stronger, better looking, but not a bit smarter. I could have made him smarter, but he was already handsome, charming and damaged, so why burden him with too many smarts? My wonderful publisher, Deadly Alibi Press, folded up shop, so I didn't rush to finish the sequel. I have had interest from other publishers in the next installment, but I always seem to have something more urgent to accomplish. Right now it's a new SAINT novel, The Return of the Saint, and my entry in the highly popular new supernatural action series, The Dead Man. My contribution is DEAD & SOBER. Oh, and I'm contributing to the forthcoming true crime anthology edited by R. Barri Flowers. And then there is the non-fiction book I'm ghostwriting for one of America's leading medical specialists, the weekly True Crime Uncensored radio show, and my long standing obligation of watching as many movies as humanly possible. Not an easy task, but someone has to fill up DVD-RWs with DIVX copies of Bowery Boy movies, Bob Hope comedies, horror movies, and the complete works of Richard Tyson. I mention Richard because we got together Saturday for the first time in too long. Hell of an actor, hell of a good guy, and a semi-regular on Matt Alan's Outlaw Radio.