Caitlin Rother, one of my all-time favorite authors, returns to Colloquium today with updates about her latest projects . . . and glamorous life as an author.
Caitlin is a New York Times best-selling author of true crime novels, including Lost Girls, Poisoned Love, Dead Reckoning (an updated version of which was just released), and Then No One Can Have Her. Additionally, she penned A Complicated Woman, one of three entries in Greg Olson’s Notorious USA series.
The Glamorous Life of an Author — Juggling Cats is Next
Inviting me to again be her guest here at Colloquium, Janie suggested I spotlight some of the projects I’m working on, and also maybe offer something personal about my life. So I thought I’d do a little of both, because I’m often asked about my daily routine.
The answer is, I don’t have a routine. That’s nice in a way. I enjoy my freedom, and my life is anything but mundane. Every day is different, and I take them one at a time. I spend a lot of time planning, but then life happens, so I have learned to take a zen approach as much as possible, and just do what I can and try to pace myself. You can’t predict the market, especially when the publishing industry has been going through pretty significant changes for some years now. Sadly, true crime TV shows and podcasts have put a major dent in book sales for those of us who write in that genre.
I’ve been a professional journalist since I earned my master’s in journalism at Northwestern University in 1987, and a published author since 2005, when my first book, Poisoned Love, came out. Averaging about a book a year since, I recently finished updating and revising Dead Reckoning, which was only just released, and is the reason for this guest post. (More about that in a minute.)
Now back to work on my 14th and 15th books, I also just completed a proposal, at the request of a publisher, for a possible book #16. That said, any myth you’ve heard about authors getting wealthy off all the money we’re making is an urban legend. We do it because it’s all we know how to do, we like it, it’s addictive, and to be honest, it’s also because we are a little bit crazy. Because Amazon offers books at such discount prices these days, many of my colleagues have had to look for other work.
For me, I work with a limited number of clients as a writing-research coach, to help pay the bills. To stay relevant in a world full of talking heads and 24-7 information, I need to keep my name and my books out there, so I also do TV and radio interviews and podcasts whenever they come up, which is quite often and typically news-driven.
For some reason, they always seem to come up when I’m on vacation. Like the Skype interview I just did for the 50th anniversary of the Charles Manson murders for Australian Broadcasting Corp at 5:30 a.m., which occurred during an otherwise relaxing trip to Sonoma. (I was asked to go on “World News” to speak about Manson because I’m the co-author of Hunting Charles Manson.
Right after I got back from vacation, I was then asked to do a surprise radio interview on the Rebecca Zahau death case, which I’m writing a book about now, titled, Justice for Rebecca. Zahau was found hanging naked, with her ankles bound and hands tied behind her, with a gag in her mouth, from an exterior balcony at her wealthy boyfriend’s mansion in Coronado, California. The authorities ruled it a suicide, but a civil jury found her boyfriend’s brother, Adam Shacknai, liable for her death in 2011. Shacknai maintains he is innocent, but the Zahau family just announced it is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction for murder. I don’t have a firm pub date for this yet, but it will be released by Kensington/Citadel, most likely in early 2021. I’ll be appearing on a CNN/HLN documentary on the case sometime this month.
The other book I’m working on is a nice change from all this darkness. It’s about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo, which consists of a collection of tanks holding tiny vials of living cells and tissues from rare animals nearing extinction. It’s not only fascinating, but it represents my small effort to save the world from exterminating itself. This book is untitled at the moment, and I believe San Diego Zoo Global Press is aiming for a release sometime in 2021.
For fun, and for a nice creative distraction from the madness of being a full-time author, I also sing and play piano in an acoustic band called breakingthecode. But I have to be careful about scheduling rehearsals and gigs to ensure I have a voice for speaking engagements and TV/radio interviews, because I’m busier today than I’ve ever been since I quit the newspaper business in 2006.
As soon as I finish one project, another one moves up to take its place. To become a published author and also to remain published, you’ve got to keep developing new ones, and keep chipping away at them until they are ready for takeoff, like planes on a runway.
In the past, I’ve always worked on one book at a time, which necessarily means there is some overlap, but I’ve never worked on three books at one time before. With the way the publishing world is going, however, I couldn’t survive otherwise. Advances are getting smaller and it’s harder to get books published. So, when opportunity knocks, I’ve got to jump on it.
I actually have a couple of additional book projects in the works, but they are on the back burner (such as one on the McStay case, the murder of a family of four back in 2010 in Fallbrook, California). My brain can only hold so much information and there are only so many hours in a day. That said, I’ve still got to keep them in play, which means I followed the months-long McStay trial on livestream and Twitter, as I was writing a book and a book proposal, and trying to sell yet another proposal.
As luck would have it, amid all this extra workload, my house decided it wasn’t getting enough of my attention. My theme for the past few months echoes the chorus from the Bob Dylan song on our set list, “Everything Is Broken.” Suddenly, I had to deal with several emergency home remodeling projects.
Working at home and being my own boss is good and bad. Unlike when I worked for daily newspapers, I can schedule meetings with contractors any time of day without getting The Man’s permission to leave the office. But when I’m not working at Starbucks, my crowded dining room table is my desk, where I sit next to the taped-off door to my kitchen, surrounded by boxes of stuff from my half-demo’d kitchen (the rest will come out soon). My refrigerator is in a bedroom, along with plastic bags of kitchen stuff that I packed several months ago, before the termite fumigation. Almost every room in my house is in chaos, and my garage is stacked with all my appliances.
It all started with the termite inspection. The inspector not only found evidence of subterranean AND drywood termites, which required two separate rounds of treatment, she also found a patch of wet subfloor. That led to the insurance claim, learning that I had a broken drain and water damage in the walls of my kitchen and laundry room, and to having half of my kitchen gutted—so far.
In the meantime, my sewer line backed up, and a camera showed that it was broken too. So, it turns out, were the drains for my bathroom sink and bathtub. And when the gas company guy came to turn my pilot lights back on after the fumigation, he said I couldn’t use my wall heater anymore because it was burning yellow, not blue, which means it’s likely producing carbon monoxide. It was old and inefficient anyway, so I’m not going to replace it with a similar dust-blowing machine, I’m going to need to install an entirely new central heating system.
My car is also on its last legs, and keeps having trouble starting, no matter how many parts I replace. The day my sewer line backed up into my bathtub, I got stranded at Starbucks, so I had to get it towed to the mechanic’s.
I’ve been told I should write about this whole saga, which has also included a whole series of mishaps and more damage caused by contractors, resulting in sparks flying from electrical wires that were cut during the demo, smoking electrical outlets, and shoddy work done by the asbestos abatement company. Suffice it to say, I need to work even harder to pay for all these repairs, but it’s like juggling cats. (Did you know Charles Manson actually used to toss cats into the air to prove that they would stop fighting after a while, and not be scared?)
But back to the topic at hand, I’m doing this guest post today to invite you guys to read the newly revised and updated edition of my book, Dead Reckoning, which originally came out in 2011. I put out a new edition in 2016, but my publisher said we didn’t have space for all the new information I had collected at the time, so half of it ended up on the cutting room floor. While writing blog posts to promote the book, I realized that I have covered this case longer than any other story in my entire 32-year career as an investigative journalist and author.
I’m excited to say that the book’s new publisher, WildBlue Press, is allowing me to put it all that information back in — and I’ve also added a bunch much more, for a total of 30 new pages of fresh material since the first edition.
In addition, I pulled together a whole collection of color photos for a gallery page of nearly 50 shots on the publisher’s website (which you can view here). That page features photos from the first edition, which showed them only in black and white, as well as some recent additions.
We also worked together to do a new cover that illustrates the transgender killer Skylar Deleon’s motive for tying killing Tom and Jackie Hawks to the anchor of their yacht, Well Deserved, and throwing them overboard—alive. Skylar and her then-wife Jennifer wanted to pay off $100,000 in credit card and other debt, but what Skylar really wanted was money to pay for gender confirmation surgery. She’d already put down a $500 deposit, but had no way to pay off the balance of the $15,000 operation.
Even if you’ve already read the first edition, I think you’ll find it worthwhile to read the expanded, updated edition!
Caitlin Rother was an only child who entertained herself “by reading stacks upon stacks of books and using my mind as a stage where characters talked to each other.” She holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley and earned her master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. In high school and college, she explored journalism, but opted for a career in public relations with a San Francisco cruise line. Eventually, though, she was compelled to choose the “balance and objectivity of newspapers over the positive spin world of PR, marketing and advertising, . . . ”
It was not until the late 1980s that she joined a writing workshop in Northampton, Massachusetts, in her quest to write more in-depth, creative stories while toiling as a reporter with the Springfield Union-News. The series of short stories produced in that workshop eventually evolved into her first novel, Naked Addiction.
As an investigative journalist, Caitlin was drawn to “complex and dramatic stories – the most bizarre or tragic deaths and the public figures whose questionable actions evoked my investigative curiosity.” She wrote about Michael Jackson’s original molestation charges and addiction to painkillers, the lifestyle of the Heaven’s Gate cult and strippers’ laundered political contributions to San Diego City Council members, and developed expertise in addiction (alcohol and methamphetamine, suicide, mental illness and the family dynamics and pharmacology involved).
She expanded a series of news stories about the Kristin Rossum murder case into what would become her first book, Poisoned Love. In 2006, she contracted to draft her second non-fiction book and in a risky leap of faith, left the security of her position with The San Diego Union-Tribune behind.
In 1998, Caitlin was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize by the Union-Tribune. Her story about a depressed teenager who died after lighting himself on fire behind a WalMart won three awards in the annual Best of the West contest. Her journalistic honors also include a Best Feature award from the Associated Press News Executives Council and Best News-Feature award from the Los Angeles Press Club.
Caitlin is a sought-after speaker who also helps aspiring authors as a book doctor and writing/research/promotions coach and consultant. She teaches narrative non-fiction, digital journalism, and author branding/promotions at the University of California, San Diego Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink.
Her other books include Deadly Devotion/Where Hope Begins; My Life, Deleted; Body Parts; Twisted Triangle; and I’ll Take Care of You, the story behind the love triangle murder of Newport Beach multimillionaire inventor Bill McLaughlin by his fiancee, Nanette Packard, and her NFL-playing lover, Eric Naposki.