Burl Barer is an Edgar Award winning author, and two time Anthony Award nominee, literary historian and radio host. He is best known for his writings about the character Simon Templar. His latest novel is A Taste For Murder. Burl met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about his new release, The Saint and his cultural significance.
Tell us your latest news.
The latest news from Burl Barer that a man of my age “should,” by societal norms, be fully retired. I have absolutely no intention of retiring any more than I intend to by shy and retiring. In fact, I am busier now than I have been since the 1980’s.
In the world of literature, I have new books completed and about to be released, and books almost completed and gearing up for release. I have a TV special March 12th on I.D. (C and I in other countries) A TASTE FOR MURDER, and a book by the same name coming out March 8th.
Frank Girardot Jr., my co-author on A TASTE FOR MURDER are collaborating on a new book about a multi million dollar scam attempted on the department of homeland security, plus an alleged software grab by that same department and the alleged railroading of 6 Denver software executives, five of whom, much to their misfortune, were born “Black” — and all six were affiliated with the same “Black Church” — a Christian subculture where certain ethical indiscretions are accounted as near-divine opportunities.
There is also a brand new full length Saint novel on the cusp of completion — THE SIGN OF THE SAINT — the second of three novels I’m committed to providing to the Estate of Leslie Charteris.
It has also been my honor to contribute commentary for an episode in the latest season of DEADLY SINS, hosted by my friend Darren Kavinoky.
As if that were not enough, I host the award-winning Internet radio program, TRUE CRIME UNCENSORED, heard every Saturday 2pm PT/5pm ET/10pm London time on outlawradiousa.com with show biz legend Howard Lapides, produced by Magic Matt Alan who hosts 70’s on 7 on Serius XM.
Wait…there’s more! Leonard Lee Buschel, the famed founder of the Reel Recovery Film Festivals and former drug smuggler, has his vastly amusing and occasionally shocking yet always inspirational autobiography in the works, “as told to Burl Barer.” I am also on the Advisory Board of “Writers in Treatment” with Robert Downey, Sr.
I’m sure there is more, but as I am 68 years old, my memory is not what it used to be.
How does your fiction reinterpret The Saint and what do you see as his cultural significance?
The Saint’s cultural significance is not only cross-cultural but transcends socio-political considerations, and he is the only “action hero” whose appeal is evenly divided between men and women. There are core elements to the character that keep him from being archaic, and as the old saying goes, “You can’t have archaic and need it, too” — a remark originally made by columnist Harb Caine in reference to cable cars.
The appeal of the Saint is fairly simple: he is an outlaw — he does whatever he damn well pleases, yet he is altruistic, hence he has sympathetic identification. He is not subject to laws (except gravity of course). His motives, however, are moral and for the benefit of the person who has no recourse – he is the champion of those who have no champion…he believes in justice above the law, and if Richard Godwin has been taken advantage of by someone unscrupulous, you can count on the Saint to outwit and out-con the bad guy on your behalf. In fact, there is one Saint story entitled “The Uncritical Publisher” in which the Saint goes after a “vanity” self-publishing house.
My first Saint novel as the continuator of Charteris’ original series is entitled Capture the Saint because when Audrey Charteris read the manuscript she said ‘You have captured the Saint perfectly. Leslie would be thrilled.” Not everyone was as enthusiastic, or course. Even longtime fans of the Saint may forget that Charteris’ Saint stories were great fun because they were, in good measure, satire — satire of the genre in general, and self-satire in the specific. The Saint breaks the fourth wall, references the fact that there are Saint books, and in The Saint Vs Scotland Yard, he objects to the bad guy’s plan to kill him by pointing out that this is only the first story in the book, and you can’t bump off the hero when there are three more stories to go!
Saint stories overturn the genre’s conventions, upend expectations, and often mock the standard fare of adventure fiction. The surprise reveal in SAINT’S GETAWAY is blatantly far-fetched, and so absurd that were it in any book other than a Saint book, readers would bounce the book off the nearest wall — but it IS a Saint book. The absurdity is part of its undeniable charm.
In the story “The Sporting Chance,” the damsel in distress is not merely in danger of “a fate worse than death” — non-consensual sex with the villain — but is destined to service the entire crew of a submarine!
The Saint’s escape in one famed short story — hanging by his hands, his wrists bound with rope — is laughably impossible…but because it is a Saint story, that’s perfectly fine with us.
Charteris combined enough thrills, action, and derring-do with social and genre satire, plus a style intentionally over-written to the point where Charteris once remarked that his over-the-top style was what readers wanted from him — that they were paying for “fins on the Cadillac,” and were his prose stripped of all the chrome and fins, he would be left with his “skinny fundaments exposed.”
Simon and Schuster passed on publishing Capture the Saint because it was “too literary” and they believed that today’s readers were “not sufficiently sophisticated” to appreciate it. They did publish THE SAINT: A NOVEL, my adaptation of the screenplay of the motion picture starring Val Kilmer. For that novel, I answered in the affirmative when they asked me if i could “dumb in down.”
My long overdue second novel, THE SIGN OF THE SAINT, utilizes a style somewhere between the two previous. It also attempts (and we shall see how successful) of combining two different Saint “modes.”
(1) the style and structure of Saint novellas from the 1930’s, and (b) the big action climactic set pieces one finds in Saint full-length novels.
There is also a “kitchen sink” approach to Sign of the Saint — while the writing style is more lean than that of Capture the Saint, I have included in the story virtually every secondary character from the old stories…even putting Scotland Yard’s Inspector Teal together with New York’s John Henry Fernack. Does it work? Well, Saint fans will be the judge.
Tell us about your career in radio.
When I was a little boy, I used to walk around talking into a pencil, pretending it was a microphone. I also was fascinated with ventriloquism and had a dummy. I soon learned that radio was a more effective way of throwing my voice, and began my career in broadcasting at the age of fifteen in Walla Walla, Washington where I was paid $1.25 per hour — minimum wage. In truth, that was more money per hour than the current minimum wage in terms of buying power. By age 18 I was making $4.50 per hour on Soul Radio KYAC in Seattle…and then….
I was on the #1 rock radio station in Seattle by age 19, and became somewhat of a radio legend. Today, you’re doing great if you have a 4 share of the audience. I had a 19 share. I owned that town at night! I watered my legend at KJR, KOL AM-FM, KYYX and KZOK – all in Seattle, Washington. Together with a fellow broadcaster, I formed an advertising company specializing in entertainment advertising producing national campaigns for touring acts such as Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan, Moody Blues (they gave me a gold record for Knights in White Satin) and many others. I also created radio campaigns for such films as Harold and Maude, Mahler, and Orson Welles’ F FOR FAKE. Then, in the early 1980’s, I formed a cable advertising interconnect which I later sold. Having garnered success in radio and TV — both financially and professionally, I decided to replicate my success in print (books). My first book, THE SAINT: A Complete History won the Edgar Award. Winning the Edgar on my first book was rather like hitting the jackpot on your first pull at a slot machine. I was now addicted to writing books and have continued writing them despite not having hit that jackpot again.
Seven years ago, I was invited to do a radio show produced by Magic Matt Alan on OutlawRadioUSA.com. True Crime Uncensored, co-hosted by show biz legend Howard Lapides, airs every Saturday, 10pm London time, and has such erudite and exotic guests as Richard Godwin, Tony Thompson, Steve Miller, and other top authors, plus we have such guest co-hosts as famed actor/author/director Ian Ogilvy (Return of the Saint).
What else is on the cards for you this year?
What else is in the cards? Lord only knows! A movie version of MAN OVERBOARD: The Counterfeit Resurrection of Phil Champagne is (again) being seriously discussed…the director is Matt “Son of Cinema” Berkowitz who directed the brilliant WILD IN BLUE — a movie sure to win Richard Godwin’s heart.
I’m currently writing the treatment for Gregg Schoenfeld’s BABY WEREWOLF cartoon pilot, finishing up Sign of the Saint, and I must finish the sequel to HEADLOCK…..and Frank C. Girardot Jr and I have more true crime books on our agenda…and uh….maybe I’ll find some decent Molly for a change….(yeah, right).
I just want to have fun, and when I’m having fun writing it is similar to laughing — the most fun you can have other than sex and you don’t have to clean up afterwards.
Thank you Burl for an informative interview.