Killer Nashville is pleased to present an interview with author Baron R. Birtcher, whose novel Rain Dogs was acquired by The Permanent Press after being named a Killer Nashville Claymore Award finalist.
KN: Baron, welcome, and thank you for joining us today. Let’s start with the basics, okay? When did you know you wanted to be a novelist?
BB: I read my first Hardy Boys mystery when I was nine. I think I was completely hooked by the time I finished the book. I read voraciously from that time on – mostly mysteries and procedurals – and I knew I wanted to try my hand at writing when the first opportunity presented itself. That finally happened when I moved to Hawaii in 1996. My first hardboiled mystery, Roadhouse Blues, was published in 2000. One of the greatest thrills of my life. I’ve been writing ever since.
KN: How did you go about pursuing that goal?
BB: I had a story in my head that wouldn’t go away. It had been rattling around in there for several years. I finally wrote an outline for it and launched in to writing it once I knew I had a block of uninterrupted time available to give it a shot. It took me about six months to finish the first draft. Ignorance was bliss, I must admit, though. I had not read any “How to Write a Novel” or “How to Get Published” books beforehand, and simply sat myself down and wrote my story.
I was unbelievably fortunate to garner an agent after having sent out about 30 or 40 queries (and receiving the obligatory 29 – 39 rejections). My agent got me signed to a two book deal with a small press and off I went. In heaven, right? It was only after finishing my second manuscript, Ruby Tuesday, that I read any of those “How To” books. Man, am I glad I didn’t read them before I started my first book! They scared the hell out of me, and probably would have put a bunch of negative information into my head the whole time I was writing…But that’s probably just me.
KN: Your newest book is called Rain Dogs. Can you tell us a little bit about it? What inspired it?
BB: Rain Dogs began as a character study. I like to write vignettes for the significant characters in my books in order to understand who they are, how they speak, and what goes on inside their heads.
I don’t do them like a biography, but rather, like a short story that reveals who they are. In the case of Rain Dogs, I had a character that first appeared in my third novel, Angels Fall. He was a relatively minor character, but he really fascinated me. So I began writing a story about him. As it happened, it turned into a short story which I (for reasons unknown) put up on my website. Within a couple of days, I had received an amazing amount of feedback about the story and the character. People wanted to know what happened next. Just for fun, I wrote another, and finally a third installment of the story that featured a character known only as “Snyder.” Again, a bunch of positive feedback. But by that time, I was completely enamored with the guy, so I wrote an entire book about him. It’s a “prequel” of sorts that is Snyder’s origin story. The book I’m just finishing now will have Snyder in it, as well.
KN: With several books under your belt now, you must have a pretty good idea of what works for you. What’s your writing process?
BB: Once I settle in on a story, I like to treat it like a full-time job. In that sense, I allocate anywhere from 5 – 7 hours a day to write, five or six days per week until it’s finished. I never begin the writing process unless I know I can get to the finish line without any major time interruptions. For me, that really botches up the narrative flow, and makes it twice as hard as it should be. That’s probably just a personal quirk. I’ve tried doing full outlines, and I’ve tried it doing almost zero outline. Both processes work, but it turns out that the way that works best for me is to know the beginning and the end. If I start that way, I can allow the middle part of the story to tell itself and develop organically. It allows the characters a little freedom to run amok.
KN: How would you say your background in the music industry influences or informs your books (or does it)?
BB: I spent a number of years as a professional guitarist/singer/songwriter before realizing that I was probably better off in the “business” end of music. I am now a partner in a firm that manages performers, which is an absolute blast. It keeps me active in the studio, as well as on the road, and keeps my ears tuned to new artists. The similarities (or at least, the useful tools) between writing and music are numerous in my opinion. For instance, a good album (I’m dating myself here with that word) and a good book share similar qualities: The rhythm, melody, and lyrics must act together to create a workable whole. You can have a wonderful melody with clunky lyrics and the song is spoiled. The reverse is also true. And the largest component is that elusive “tone” element, that the body of a book’s narrative must use language (vocabulary) that is suitable and consistent with the story and setting. Words matter. They always have. It’s what I love about the truly great writers – of both music and books.
KN: What do you hope readers will gain from reading your books?
BB: An entertaining time spent with characters that you genuinely care about. And with any luck, a book that reads like a favorite album: where the words, music and instrumentation all pull together to create that whole that is better than the sum of its parts.
KN: What’s next?
BB: The next book is the fourth installment of the hardboiled Mike Travis series (set in Hawaii, as usual). As I mentioned before, this one will feature Snyder rather prominently, as well. The one after that will be another stand-alone.
KN: How has Killer Nashville helped you? (You knew that one was coming!)
BB: Participating in Killer Nashville, and – more specifically – having the honor of being a Killer Nashville Claymore Award finalist led me to my current publisher, Permanent Press. Without KN and without the Claymore Award, I sincerely don’t know if that would have happened. In my opinion, Killer Nashville is one of the best – if not The Best – Writers’ Conference in the country for aspiring writers. Readers, too, obviously. Great programs, terrific people, and a wonderful city!
KN: Any advice for aspiring authors?
BB: A couple of things:
- Finish the thing. Sit your a** down and write it. No excuses. Start it, then finish it.
- Write like there’s nobody looking. Write the way that comes from your heart. Write the way you sing when you’re in the shower; or the way that you dance when you’re all by yourself.
- Don’t worry about “genre” or “the reader” or “marketability.” That stuff will sort itself out if the writing is sincere and the story is solid.
- Oh, yeah, one more thing: Read your dialogue out loud. What looks good on the page sometimes sounds pretty lame when it’s spoken aloud.
KN: Is there anything you’d like to discuss that I haven’t covered? If so, now’s your chance!
BB: I can be reached at www.BaronRBirtcher.com. Can’t think of anything else. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of rambling on…
Baron R. Birtcher’s first two hardboiled mystery novels, Roadhouse Blues and Ruby Tuesday were Los Angeles Times and IMBA Best-Sellers. His third, Angels Fall, was nominated for the 2009 Left Coast Crime award (the “Lefty”) for Best Law Enforcement/ Police Procedural novel of the year. His latest, and first stand-alone, Rain Dogs, has received a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly, and was a finalist for the Killer Nashville Claymore Award. Baron has had the privilege of serving as a judge for the Edgar Awards, as well as the Shamus and Claymore Awards (though not in the same year in which he competed). He currently resides in Kona, Hawaii and Portland, Oregon with his wife, Christina. He can be reached on the web at www.BaronRBirtcher.com.