Truman Capote spent the majority of his career after In Cold Blood as a colorful personality famous for In Cold Blood. A frequent guest on The Tonight Show, he was asked his professional appraisal of best-selling author Harold Robbins. Squirming slightly in his seat, Capote replied, “He doesn’t write; he types.”
At one time or another, all writers wonder if they are merely typists. For me, all it took was reading the first page of Jack Olsen’s Salt of the Earth. At that moment, I wanted to toss my keyboard into Puget Sound and go back to playing rock' n' roll on the radio. I called Jack on the phone, and told him I was wise to his criminal plot: thin the ranks of fellow true crime authors by quality intimidation. He found that vastly amusing, as we both knew that he was, above all, a man of constant encouragement, and a cheerleader for the careers of others. Jack, of course, knew he was an excellent writer and investigative journalist. He’d been doing it for so long, and so well, that awards and fame were simple facts of his professional life.
As a true crime writer, Jack Olsen also knew the pain of disrespect, hate mail and out-of-hand condemnation. He received the rude comments about being a bottom feeder, exploiter of other’s pain, and all that crap. He also chafed at his brilliant book, Last Man Standing, being “buried” by his publisher.
“This is my last true crime book,” he told me when putting the finishing touches on his final published work. “I’m out. Take my advice, Burl, get out of true crime or you will end up like me.”
“I should be so lucky to end up like you, Jack,” I told him, but I knew what he meant. He wasn’t referring to the quality of his work, the awards on his wall, or the accolades of his peers.
Where is the true crime writer who doesn’t get hate mail? Where is the investigative journalist who isn’t told to look the other way and just shut up? And yes, there have been times when I’ve heard my life’s equivalent of “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”
I fell into true crime by virtue of a phone call from, of all people, a rock n roll icon from the great Pacific Northwest. He had one hell of a story. Ann Rule turned it down as her literary schedule was already packed, and offered up my name as an author who may be interested. That was more than a decade ago, and I’m still writing true crime, still getting hate mail, and still wondering if I’m a glorified typist.
Our pal Steven Long is also no stranger to hate mail for true crime writing, and I doubt any author on In Cold Blog can claim no one ever said a discouraging word. Do newspaper reporters get hate mail for covering a local murder. Yes, reporters get paid. Newspapers (hopefully) make a profit. Do television stations receive hate mail for covering homicides? However, if a newspaper reporter or other journalist takes the investigation beyond the space limitations of a newspaper, or time limitations of television, and writes a full-length book, they get accused of being evil incarnate.
Does this bother me? Obviously, or I wouldn’t write about it. One of my personal goals is EDI (Emotional Diplomatic Immunity). Here is my EDI Mantra: “I am unmoved by either praise or criticism, realizing that both play to my ego and self-pride. I will remain aloof, and concentrate on deep breathing and even deeper brooding in private where, in my mind’s eye, I see myself tossing my keyboard into Puget Sound.”