Baron R. Birtcher spent a number of years as a professional musician, and founded an independent record label and artist management company. Critics have hailed Baron’s writing as “The real deal” (Publisher’s Weekly) and his plots as “Taut, gritty, and powerfully controlled” (Kirkus Reviews).
His critically-acclaimed Mike Travis series (Roadhouse Blues, Ruby Tuesday, and Angels Fall) have been LA Times and IMBA Bestsellers. Angels Fall was nominated for the “Lefty” Award by Left Coast Crime, and his stand-alone, Rain Dogs, was a finalist for both the Claymore and Silver Falchion Awards.
Hard Latitudes, the newest Mike Travis thriller, is being released in June 2015.
The fourth installment in Baron R. Birtcher’s bestselling Mike Travis series begins when a botched blackmail scheme draws Mike, an ex-homicide cop, back from Hawaii to Los Angeles to the aid of his estranged brother, a man of privilege with the soul of a predator.
A seemingly arbitrary act of violence in Macau has initiated a chain of events that ripples across the Pacific, developing into a thunderstorm of murder, extortion, and betrayal half a world away. Together with Travis’ friend, Snyder – a man with a checkered past of his own – Travis uncovers vile truths involving sexual slavery and insatiable personal greed that have already cut a path of vicious cruelty from the shipyards of Hong Kong to the shores of the Hawaiian islands.
As Travis unravels the disparate thread of duplicity and moral compromise, it threatens to devastate the lives of one powerful family, while Travis himself becomes a suspect in a murder that threatens to destroy his life as well.
This stylish thriller, epic in scope and atmosphere, driven by compelling characters, will rise to a climactic confrontation on the shores of a place that some call paradise.
WHAT MAKES ME KEEP READING? by Baron R. Birtcher
I began my creative life as a professional musician. I played guitar, sang, wrote songs, played live dates, even opened for some major acts along the way.
These days—when I’m not writing hardboiled thrillers—I operate on the business side of the music industry, as a record producer and artist manager. The fact is, I love the creative process. I love interacting with creative people. They think differently, and in many cases view the world slightly differently.
The truly great musicians express that world view in a unique and fascinating way, whether it be through the playing of their instrument in an unusual/boundary-pushing sort of way (think Carlos Santana, Eddie Van Halen or Miles Davis); or through lyrics that touch or provoke us (think Dylan, Bono or Jim Morrison). Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to encounter an artist who possesses both skills (think Joni Mitchell or David Crosby).
There is something there that reaches out to us as an audience, engages us and captures our attention and imagination; something that demands another listen.
For me, the reading process is very much the same. There are some authors who simply captivate me with their enviable use of language. Others weave plots that are so compelling that you practically rip the pages from their binding from turning them so quickly.
So, I asked myself: What keeps me reading? What makes a great book great?
There are likely as many answers to that question as there are readers. Still, I suspect that there are some common threads that most avid readers would agree upon. I have no intention of speaking for that vast Venn Diagram bubble that encompasses “the world of people who read,” but I will speak for myself.
I don’t know whether it is simply a function of my professional background, or whether there is a more Universal truth contained here, but for me, a truly great book shares much of the same artistic architecture of a great album. (Yes, I realize that I am dating myself here merely by using the word ‘album,’ but I do so unapologetically). I grew up in a time when radio listeners of my generation found themselves moving away from Top-40 AM, singles-oriented music, to the more exploratory, long-form territory of FM. Suddenly, songs began to stretch from the virtually mandatory 2 minutes 30 seconds to—in some cases, entire sides of an LP. Groups like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Emerson Lake & Palmer entered the consciousness of popular culture, together with jazz artists like Coltrane, Davis and Jarrett. The lines that separated genres blurred, and it was a good thing. The long-form album became the medium of preference for any self-respecting artist, because it gave them a larger platform, a larger canvas on which to paint, and the ability to explore melodic themes and lyrical content that inevitably grew into Rock Opera.
My point is not that all of it was great. Some of it was crap. Some was genius. Regardless, the best of it got the listener engaged.
So what is our objective when we write our stories? For me, I aim to immerse my reader in an environment woven from whole cloth; to create characters who live their lives, think, feel, act and speak with their own unique voices. I want to create a fully-rendered world into which a reader can enter, get caught up in the struggle and fight the good fight together with the protagonist, emerging at the end feeling as though they had been somewhere, and done something.
When I set out to write a novel, I almost always have a musical theme running through my head, literally. I will think of the songs that feel the way I want my words to feel when they are read. I have a narrative structure in mind that will (hopefully) ebb and flow, build and recede, then finally explode, only to bring the reader safely home. I try to think in terms of preludes, interludes, fugue, crescendo, and finally, postlude.
But there’s more.
Words matter. Word choice matters. Just as with a great album, the lyrics and the melodies have to share a common destination. Otherwise, it’s just a collection of noises. Great writing has a rhythm. Some are staccato (Hemingway), others are more elegiac (James Lee Burke), still others push genre boundaries so far that we don’t know what to call them (Hunter S. Thompson). And there are myriad examples of every combination in between. Great writing transcends story-telling and becomes a tone poem.
I recognize that this process, indeed this whole outlook of mine, may very well be unique (or outright odd) to what works for me—what motivates me. However, what I am driving at here is that we, as writers, have this magnificent blank canvas upon which to paint, and it is our privilege to choose to be explorers. I genuinely love this thing we do.
So, what’s the short answer to the question I posed at the outset of this missive?
The answer, for me, is this: Ideally, when I read, I want it to be a visceral experience.
Much like great music.