A few years ago, Florida writer Robert Waters noticed a hole in the true crime genre -- a jagged-edged pre-emptive stab inflicted by political correctness. He underwent years of research and writing, and the result is a successful series of books about ordinary people who defended their lives and property with firearms.
Is this a political subject? I hope not. Politics be damned, for it can interfere with the telling of a good true crime story. For these stories are naturally exciting, imbued with every element of a good crime yarn with the added promise of a thoroughly satisfactory ending.
Waters' first book, titled The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves With a Firearm, was an immediate success, is going into reprinting, spawned two sequels, and generated a lot of buzz. Waters has more irons in the fire; he is collaborating on another true crime book about technological advances in criminal detection (focusing on the internet) and is also working with an agent on a book of infamous Florida murders.
Clews got a chance to chat up this author with a growing number of titles to his credit in our favorite genre. Here's the Q & A (with links added by me).
My first question is the most fundamental -- why true crime? (why do you read it, why do you write it?)
Because reading and writing about true events is more interesting than reading and writing about made-up situations. And, with the possible exception of war or disaster, crime is more dramatic than any other subject.
When your first book came out -- 1998's The Best Defense: True Stories of Intended Victims Who Defended Themselves With a Firearm from Cumberland House -- the book's theme really struck a chord. You got a huge amount of attention for the book. It was hailed as "what we the legitimate gun owners have needed. Some proof that packing heat is the best way to deter crime and to keep yourself and your loved ones alive." What made you decide to write this book? Were there others like it? And what was it like to bask in the success?
The national media seemed to me to present only one side of the gun issue. Since I own guns and 50-80 million other law-abiding Americans own guns, I figured there must be others like me who would like to read about people who used firearms to protect themselves and others. While researching the subject, I found thousands of such cases (mostly in local newspapers).
After gathering police reports, court documents, and interviewing many of the participants, I described a dozen cases. I decided to write the stories in a true crime fashion, to relate step-by-step what went on during the dramatic confrontations between innocent victims and their assailants. I tried to leave the politics out of it as much as possible. At the time, there were no other books like it.
Success is relative. This was my first book and it sold very well. It was optioned by a film producer (although the networks eventually decided that televising such cases would lead to "vigilantism" and refused to film the stories). I was recently informed by my publisher, Cumberland House, that they will be reprinting the book.
Your follow-up book, Guns Save Lives: True Stories of Americans Defending Their Lives With Firearms, told more stories in the theme. (And of course your third book with brother John was one I reviewed that told the biggest stories in the theme -- the ones where entire towns rose up to defend themselves.)
Guns Save Lives was originally entitled Shooting Back. To my disappointment, the publisher (not Cumberland House) changed the title to make it more in-your-face. Outgunned! True Stories of Citizens Who Stood Up to Outlaws--And Won, co-authored with my brother John, described more than a dozen stories from American history in which average citizens shot up robbers and murderers, in many cases ending the careers of some of the most well-known desperados in American history. My first three books make up a trilogy of little-reported cases of self-defense both historically and in our own times.
Do you care to share your favorite anecdote(s) from the making of any of your three books?
I sent the proposal of Outgunned! to several literary agents. One agent wrote back stating that it was a great proposal but since her political views and mine were at opposite poles, she could not represent me. Of course, that's her right but it does show that in some quarters there is prejudice against conservative-leaning authors.
What are you working on now?
I'm excited to be collaborating on a book with Todd Matthews, media director for The Doe Network. Todd used the Internet to solve the Tent Girl mystery, a murder case that had gone unsolved for thirty years. We have an outstanding agent, Janet Rosen of The Sheree Bykofsky Agency. In fact, Janet sold the book once. Then, before we could sign the contract, the publishing company was sold to a larger publisher and our book was placed on indefinite hold. My brother John and I are also co-authoring a book about strange Florida murders.
Do you remember the very first true crime book you ever read?
The first true crime book I ever read was In Cold Blood. I got chills reading it. Whatever his flaws, Capote's "faction" book set the stage for all other true crime writers. I've read lots of great true crime books, but it's still the greatest.
And who are your favorite authors today? Favorite titles?
The Onion Field by Joseph Wambaugh
The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh
Abandoned Prayers by Gregg Olsen
The Death of Innocents by Richard Firstman and Jamie Talan
The Night Stalker by Phillip Carlo
Careless Whispers by Carlton Stowers
Victim by Gary Kinder
Last Rampage by James W. Clark
Any book by Harold Schechter
# # #