Thursday, 10 May 2018

Meeting “The Baron”

Back as a teenager in England in the 1970s, I enjoyed watching Steve Forrest playing the John Creasey character THE BARON in the ITC TV series [broadcast in the US by the ABC Network].

The show starred American actor, Steve Forrest, as John Mannering, an antiques dealer and sometime undercover agent working in an informal capacity for the head of the fictional British Diplomatic Intelligence, Templeton-Green (Colin Gordon). He is assisted by Cordelia Winfield (Sue Lloyd) and David Marlowe (Paul Ferris).

In Creasey's original novels Mannering was British and, after the few first entries, married. For the TV show, The Baron was transformed into a bachelor and by casting a Texan in the role, the producers decided that 'The Baron' would be nicknamed after the cattle ranch once run by his grandfather that was described as being "200,000 acres and 300 miles from Dallas" Read More HERE

And that brings me back to a writer that has excited me, with his highly literate and thought-provoking crime novel “Fistful of Rain”, which for me is as enigmatic and interesting as John Creasey’s The Baron. I am talking about the musician and writer Baron R Birtcher.

I first met up with The Baron, back in 2013 at Bouchercon Albany, NY State. I was moderating a Private Eye Panel discussion about tales involving private detectives, and specifically about Robert and Joan Parker.

Joining me on the panel were writers Baron BirtcherJack BludisBrendan DuBoisCharles Salzberg, and John Shepphird--to help keep the discussion lively and informative. My appreciation extended as well to author Reed Farrel Coleman, who had met Parker and discussed that encounter with me before the session began. He also talked to me about his essay in the 2012 anthology In Pursuit of Spenser: Mystery Writers on Robert B. Parker and the Creation of an American Hero (Smart Pop), edited by Otto Penzler--a book that would be of interest to any Spenser fan. Read More HERE

Anyway, after the panel I was intrigued by Baron Birtcher, his writing, and his music which are interrelated, as his novel titles indicate. So it was time to drink with The Baron, who too enjoyed the odd glass of ice cold Gin and Tonic. After chatting with friends I made a note to check out The Baron’s crime fiction, but as ever my planned intentions got interrupted with my massive reading obligations, and I never made it to exploring his fiction as I had other books I had committed to read for The CWA.

Then last month as I investigated new publications (as like many seasoned literary commentators / book reviewers) I was on the lookout for something new, something fresh. My attention was halted by an interesting review in Publisher’s Weekly, for a Crime Novel entitled “Fistful of Rain”. What made me pause initially was the title as it is an allusion to Warren Zevon, a favourite song of mine from “Life I’ll Kill Ya” – though it was the opening paragraph from PW that intrigued me.

Rancher Tyler Dawson, sums up the previous year, 1974, in the brief, cogent prologue of Birtcher’s elegantly written, bleak sequel to 2017’s South California Purples, as “one of the most demoralizing that I could remember.” He goes on to comment on such downbeat topics as the Watergate scandal and the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. This sets the tone for what follows READ MORE HERE from PW

I noticed the author’s name – it was The Baron, the enigmatic writer from the PI Panel from Bouchercon 2013 Albany, and who I drank with late into the night. It was during that evening, author and friend Roger Ellory got excited meeting a fellow professional musician, turned crime writer. As I listened to these two chat about writing and gigging, little would I realize that many year’s later Roger and his colleagues would form a Rock Band THE WHISKEY POETS and tour, with their music infused with his lyrics, torn from his best-selling novels – CLICK HERE for more info

So I grabbed a copy of ‘Fistful of Rain’ which is a crime novel with a difference for it is a deeply thought-provoking Neo-Western set in 1970s America (coincidentally set at the same time I used to enjoy watching Steve Forrest as The Baron on British TV). It also opens with a favourite line of mine from the German writer / philosopher, Freddy Nietzsche, and throughout this taut crime novel is much insight that provoked deep thought – highly literary but with a lower case “l” and a literary novel with a plot, one involved in the darker side of Human Nature.

I reviewed it at Shots noting at the time –

Birtcher’s narrative is peppered with a diverse array of characters who circle the tale with rich dialogue and insight. The novel is a pleasure, as the author holds the reader in a firm clasp, reminiscent of the late great Elmore Leonard, with terse descriptions jimmied with conversations and talk that make one ponder about life, until the dénouement arrives and changes things, as the threads are tightened into a Cattleman’s lasso, making the reader take stock.

Read More HERE

Both Mike Stotter and I are big readers of Westerns, from our youth – so after putting The Baron’s ‘Fistful of Rain’ down, I emailed The Baron and asked for some insight into his work as in my opinion, he is sadly not as well-known as he deserves.

The Baron is published by the Independent Publisher, Sag Harbor’s The Permanent Press - and in 2014, Chris Knopf joined this most interesting publisher.

 Who is The Baron?

I was born and raised on a small horse ranch along the coast southern California, where my family lived side-by-side with my grandparents and my uncle’s family. After earning a bachelors degree in finance from the University of Southern California (USC), I spent a number of years working as a musician, singer, and songwriter.  After stepping away from live performance, I founded an independent record label, and later, a company specializing in artist management, most particularly musicians.

I moved to Kona, Hawaii in 1996, where I grew Kona coffee, and began writing what was to become my first hardboiled thriller, Roadhouse Blues, which went on to become a Los Angeles Times and IMBA Best Seller. This was followed by the next three books in the Mike Travis series (Ruby Tuesday; Angels Fall; and Hard Latitudes), each of which is set in the Hawaiian Islands.
The Advent of Rain Dogs

I was intrigued by one of the supporting characters in the Mike Travis series, a bar owner with a shadowy past about which he spoke very little. With the next novel in the Travis series on my horizon, I sat down to write a short character sketch about this character with the intent to get to know him better so that he could play a larger role in Mike Travis’ world.

The long and the short of it is that the story simply would not let me go, and what was supposed to have been a couple of pages of back story turned into a complete novel, my first stand-alone, Rain Dogs.  Set amidst the nascent cocaine culture of the late-1970s, it was received very kindly by readers and critics, and earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly, who said “…many books call themselves ‘thrillers,’ but this one is the real deal.” 

Introducing the Ty Dawson Series

Having somewhat accidentally written about the Seventies in Rain Dogs, I found myself wanting to explore the era more completely. Having been a teenager during the early part of that decade, my recollections tended to center around the music and atmosphere of a lively, though unsettling, political and popular culture. Stated differently, though I can vividly recall how it “felt” to live in those times, I did not necessarily understand the realities of events that had shaped them. As a result, I attempted to place myself into my father’s boots and re-examine the times through the eyes of a man of his generation—a relatively young man in his early-forties, with a young family, and facing social and political upheaval never seen in quite this form before—especially given the unprecedented presence and influence of television, film, and popular music of the time.

From the perspective of an author of crime fiction, the backdrop of the 1970s also allowed me to deal with matters of crime and its detection without the assistance of modern devices such as cell phones, or the existence of DNA typing or the use of the Internet. Frankly, I found it liberating to allow my hero, Tyler Dawson, to use “old-fashioned” intuition, bare knuckles, shoe leather, and his own moral compass to deal with the challenges that faced him.  

My most recent novel, Fistful of Rain, is the second in the Ty Dawson series, following 2017’s South California Purples.

The Baron’s Music

I have spent most of my life around music, not only as a producer and manager, but above all, a fan. I believe this is a common thread among those of us who are avid readers—particularly among us readers (of a certain generation). Like so many of us, I was profoundly influenced by the music of the times, and look back in wonder at the breadth and depth of the variety of musical genres to which we were exposed. One could hear Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, and Joni Mitchell all in the space of a single hour listening to the radio.

I suppose that my takeaway from that experience is the importance of cohesion for an “album” to resonate to the core of the listener; the corollary being that—again, in my opinion—a book, or any narrative for that matter, is most successful when it becomes a full-immersion experience, like a concept LP. I believe it is critical for a book to have a “feel” that resonates and rolls through it from beginning to end.

In my attempt to accomplish that, I tend to choose my title first, then write to it. It is no accident that each of my books takes its title from a song (with the exception of Hard Latitudes, which was originally intended to be titled Run Like Hell). Before I begin writing, I will come up with a playlist that I feel is true to the feeling I want to maintain through the narrative arc, and I listen exclusively to that playlist for the duration, until the manuscript is complete. I have found that it helps to keep me “in my lane” and not drift too far afield where the soul and the feel of the book is concerned.

My books tend to contain a sort of nested-narrative format (I am fascinated by the butterfly effect) wherein there may be several different stories being told simultaneously, and coming together at the end. That format lends itself to an architecture that divides into different “sections,” each of which I name with the title of one of the key songs from my playlist. In that way, each book ends up with a soundtrack of sorts. In the case of Fistful of Rain, I’m sure that you noticed the Buffalo Springfield musical thread.

Words and Text © 2018 A Karim and © 2018 Baron Birtcher

Read More from International Thriller Writers ITW HERE and HERE

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