Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hi, I’m Caitlin Rother, a New York Times bestselling author or co-author of 13 books, including my latest release, DEAD RECKONING. Most of my books are narrative nonfiction about true crime and murder cases, but I also have written memoirs and one mystery novel. I live in an 83-year-old house that I’m remodeling, because everything seems to be breaking at the same time, while I’m writing two books under contract for the first time, AND promoting the one that just came out. On top of that, I also sing and play keyboards in an acoustic band called breakingthecode. So, I’m a little busy these days.
What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
DEAD RECKONING is the story behind the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks, who were tied to the anchor of their yacht and thrown overboard—alive—off the coast of Newport Beach by transgender killer Skylar Deleon and a crew of misfits, including Skylar’s then-wife Jennifer. Skylar’s motive was to pay off the couple’s $100,000 in debts, but also to pay for gender reassignment surgery for which she’d already put down a deposit. So much has happened since the book originally came out in 2011, that I have now re-released it with a new cover and 30 pages of fresh material. For one, Skylar has transitioned, via hormones, to a woman while living on death row (and the psych ward) at San Quentin, a men’s prison. She has also recently legally changed her name and gender to female through the courts. This is all timely and newsworthy because California, due to several federal court decisions, is the first in the nation to establish an application process for transgender inmates to apply for taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery. That means Skylar, to the victims’ families’ outrage, now has an avenue to pursue getting the operation. The question is should she and will she be granted the surgery when it was her motive for murder?
What inspires/inspired your creativity?
Flaws in the human condition, in all of their twisted forms, make up the content of my books. But I also have had to be very creative and enterprising to survive in this crazy world of book publishing, which is constantly evolving and in which there is a ridiculous amount of competition by self-published writers and other authors who seem to have endless energy to promote themselves in new ways. After working as an investigative newspaper reporter for 19 years, I quit the news biz in 2006 to write books, i.e. long-form narrative journalism, full-time. Although I thought that would eventually be enough to pay my bills, I have had to develop other income streams. So, I also work as a writing-research coach to help aspiring writers achieve their dreams of getting published, which is a good way to keep my skills honed as well. In addition, I do crime commentary and work as a consulting producer for TV documentaries and news shows. I also do radio and podcast interviews, engage with my readers on social media, and write the occasional blog post too. So, I’m constantly repackaging the information I present in my books to disseminate to readers, viewers and listeners. In other words, if you want to make a living at this, necessity and financial pressures force you to be creative.
How do you deal with creative block?
As I explained in the previous question, being a professional, full-time author involves many other tasks that might not be obvious to readers, many of which have nothing to do with writing. In addition to all the promotional activities, I also spend a lot of time on writing book proposals, thinking of new book ideas, trying to figure out how to recover from Facebook’s latest algorithm change, and doing speaking engagements. So, it’s great when I get the time to actually write, and if I happen to run into a wall, I simply switch to one of my many other tasks, until I’m ready to get back to whatever project felt blocked. Often it’s a domino problem, that I can’t do X until I do Y, and then Z happens, so I can’t get back to X until I start the alphabet over and do A, B, and C. Needless to say, I run into a lot of walls when I’m doing research, but I just try a different approach until I break through that wall, or find a way around it. Persistence, determination, a whole lot of patience, and an equal amount of crazy (kidding, kind of) are how I get published and stay published.
What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
Ramming your head into the same wall over and over again. Like I said above, often times you need to walk away, try again, or find a different route around an obstacle that comes up, either creative or people-related. Sometimes, these roadblocks magically fall away given time and patience. When I was writing my first book, a mystery titled, NAKED ADDICTION, I rewrote the first 100 pages over and over, without moving forward, which was a huge mistake. In the end, I added 10 new pages to the opening of that novel, so all that time was wasted. Today, I try to keep going on a first draft before I go back and do major rewrites. I have found that I can’t afford to get stuck if a source doesn’t want to talk to me. I’ve learned to just work around them, and that way I often find better sources who produce new information the original source didn’t even have. So, my advice is to be enterprising, try to detach from getting too emotionally invested in a certain idea or approach, and look for creative solutions around whatever roadblocks might come up.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
Authors generally don’t get to choose their cover designs unless they are self-published, but I am grateful that with this new release of DEAD RECKONING, I was able to work with the designer at WildBlue Press, an indie publisher, to come up with a cover image based on my idea of the before- and after-transition photos of Skylar. I love the way it turned out, because it really goes to the heart of the motive in a way that the previous covers did not. You want to grab the reader with the design, and the title should also resonate with people. The only cover I designed myself was my mini-memoir, which I published through Amazon, titled, SECRETS, LIES, AND SHOELACES. It tells the story behind my roller-coaster marriage to an alcoholic with borderline personality disorder, neither which I knew before I married him, because both conditions involve lying. The primary image on the cover is my wedding photo, and I used a background that looked like crumpled red paper, with an attractive but simple font. I posted possible titles on Facebook and did a poll with my friends and followers, which they all seemed to enjoy, and it also helped create a buzz for the book. I hope you’ll check it out!
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I had a experience like this with the release of my book LOST GIRLS, when a group of people organized an entire online campaign to write one-star reader reviews on Amazon, launching personal and professional attacks on me and my book, without ever having read it. So, I posted about this unfair campaign on social media. Within moments, readers and fellow journalists and authors came to my defense, in the name of the First Amendment and to support me and my efforts to write a truthful, accurate account of the rape and murder of two local teenagers. Some of these supporters even wrote five-star reviews—also without reading the book—just to draw attention to the folly and harm of posting this political type of review. Amazon reader reviews are not the proper forum for political, personal attacks. They are aimed at helping people determine whether a book is a good read. But these people were attacking the idea of the book. I did not ask my supporters to post reviews without reading the book, I’m simply showing that sharing such personal attacks on social media, or even in the comment section of news stories about a firestorm of negative publicity, can actually help build up support for you and combat unfair tactics like this. I was the top story on every local news channel the night of my book signing, when protesters stormed into the middle of the event, trying to disrupt it. But I didn’t allow them to do that, and I didn’t let them detract from my message, which was that I was writing about these true accounts to help mothers and daughters protect themselves from sexual predators, and try to educate people to try to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. In the end, all of the protesters’ adversarial and confrontational tactics only brought more attention and media coverage to me and my book, which I’m guessing they did not anticipate.
What role do emotions play in creativity?
My best advice on this: don’t let fear run your life or scare you out of trying new things. Challenge yourself. Let yourself try something new and fail if necessary. It’s the only way to grow. You can’t win if you don’t play.
What are your plans for future books?
I’m currently working on two books under contract at the same time. I have staggered the deadlines, but this is still a first for me. One is the story of the mysterious death of Rebecca Zahau, who was allegedly found hanging by a red water ski rope from an exterior balcony of the historic Spreckels Mansion in Coronado, California, which was owned by her multimillionaire boyfriend. But this was no ordinary hanging: Zahau was naked, with her hands bound behind her back, her ankles tied, and a T-shirt gag stuffed into her mouth. The authorities ruled it a suicide, but a civil jury, many outside experts and people in the community believe it was a murder. My second book project is about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo, which contains thousands of frozen vials of living animal cells and tissue, as a biodiversity archive. Both should be out in 2021.
My other titles
Please go to my website, https://www.caitlinrother.com, for information, photo galleries, and info to buy signed copies of any of these or my other titles, which include:
HUNTING CHARLES MANSON
THEN NO ONE CAN HAVE HER
I’LL TAKE CARE OF YOU
MY LIFE, DELETED
WHERE HOPE BEGINS/DEADLY DEVOTION
LOVE GONE WRONG