My mother was a newspaper woman in Spokane, Washington before she got married and moved to Walla Walla, Washington. Her first day on the job, her editor said, "Write a strong lead." She had no idea what he meant. She didn't know the term. After she wrote the story, her editor said, "Great lead!" Then she knew.
In those days, the 1930's, women didn't have careers as they do now. I once asked her what she did with her old newspaper stories. "I burnt them," she said. She knew her career was over. Her brother, Sid Copeland was also a journalist who went on to write for TIME, LIFE and the Seattle Times before becoming a vice-president of Cole & Webber Public Relations. Mom was a housewife who raised three kids who write well, My brother Stan contributed to the Civil Rights legislation, and his interpretation of the frozen assets law made history and opened up trade with China. My sister, Jan, authored two books and was society editor and more for the Desert Sun in Palm Springs. The baby of the family, Burl, won the coveted Edgar Award and hit the New York Times Best Sellers list.
I would call my mom once or twice a week, and she would always ask, "Are you writing?" I wrote much of CAPTURE THE SAINT at her appartment. I would print out ten pages at a time, and she would proof them, offering me a treat for the next ten pages — popcorn or ice cream, for example. I love popcorn or ice cream as an inducement to write. It's amazing how many pages you can write when your mom is offering you treats.
Mom's been gone a few years now. My sister passed away not long ago. Those of us who remain, those of us who chose journalism, writing and/or public relations as our vocations are still writing. So, Mom, yes, I am writing. So are my sister's kids, Lee Goldberg, Tod Goldberg, Karen Dinino and Linda Woods. My daughter, Anea, can also write like a champ. She hasn't aimed for publishing yet, but I imagine sooner or later that will come to pass. My brother's daughter, Leigh Barer, has a PR Agency, and I'm waiting for Aaron Barer to get old enough to pen his memoirs — THAT will be one juicy bit of business!
Sometimes what I write is okay, sometimes off the mark, and occasionally on target. I wish I was more on target than off the mark, and once I was saved from dismal despair by my excellent editor, Michaela Hamilton, who reninstilled confidence by reminding me that I was "Burl Barer, Edgar Award winner and best selling author." I finished the book, it sold well, and garnered good reviews.
I recently botched up a constribution to THE DEAD MAN series by not following my instincts and going off the chart. Hey, it happens. But I'll return to that ballfield when I wrap up my latest SAINT novel, and hopefully hit a home run. Yes, true crime fans, my editor and I have our eyes on some cases of interest that may be right up my perverse alley, and there is a sweeping historical novel that exists in screenplay form that I wrote three years ago with my pal Wm. J. Macdonald.
I always felt sad that mom burned her newspaper stories. Perhaps all the books on her shelf from her kids and her kid's kids made her feel better. I know it meant something special to her, otherwise she wouldn't have always asked, "Are you writing?"