for Crime Spree Magazine
by James O. Born
The past twelve months have been good ones for me. The crowning event was a contract with a New York publishing house. That’s what makes the development of a negative emotional reaction to another Florida based author so sad. This is not the deep-seated hatred I feel for, say, Osama Bin Laden or Steve Spurrier, but a feeling I believe is based entirely on experience and rational deliberation. At least as rationally as any superficial emotion based on limited exposure and exploited for no apparent reason.
Like any aspiring writer, I’ve read a lot over the past fifteen years as I attempted to have something published. My reading experience was deep as well as broad. From W.E.B. Griffin’s heart-stopping stories of the U.S. Marines in World War Two to the details of horse racing in books by Dick Francis, I devoured everything. As a cop, my idol was Joseph Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles police officer who wrote compelling non-fiction like Fire Lover as well as entertaining fiction such as the Golden Orange. As a Floridian, who wanted to be a writer, I found a model in a Florida International University professor named James W. Hall. He captured the essence of the Florida Keys through a character that seemed human and interesting. From early books like, Under Cover of Daylight to his fourteenth book, coming out in January, Forrest of the Night, Hall has maintained a level of excellence difficult to match. Here is a writer to emulate, these are books to appreciate. Then what could have gone so terribly wrong? What could turn a Floridian such as myself against one of Florida’s literary treasures? It’s a long and circuitous path to the darker emotions, but I believe I can document my journey without resorting to cheap theatrics or name-calling.
It actually started in January 2004 when I met Mr. Hall in person for the first time. We were both at Coral Gables’ famed independent bookstore, Books and Books. We were there to see our mutual friend and Godfather of modern crime fiction, Elmore Leonard, deliver one of his famous readings in which one must marvel at the dignified form of a seventy-eight year-old man using the F word in such an eloquent manner. I was introduced to Mr. Hall and promptly determined him to be, in fact, a very nice guy. He was friendly and, after finding out about the impending release of my first book, encouraging. He never talked down to me and by any standard was exactly what I had heard from others: A really good guy. It made the transition to hating him that much more surprising.
Over the next few months I continued to write and worry over the release of my book. I would read a review of any book and try to relate it to mine. Had I been too verbose? Was my theme too erudite? Although I was uncertain of the exact meaning of erudite, I felt comfortable I had managed to avoid the obvious pitfall of being too much of it. At least in my first book. One way I believe I avoided it was by not really thinking about theme at all. During this time I also joined the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. After the first meeting I was certain that being exposed to local writers such as Barbara Parker, Elaine Viets and Jonothan King would serve to help me cope with the coming changes of becoming a published author. This, in addition to my meeting of James Hall, would all result in a smashing debut. At least that was the hope.
Then came my first real interview. It was early April as I recall. I was into my usual routine of running early in the morning, going to my regular police job during the day and writing at night. It was daunting and tiring but fulfilling in a way I had never known. Everything was going well at work and at home, an accomplishment not normally achieved by humans in this day and age. I got a call from the local PBS radio station asking if I would be interested in appearing live, on-air, during a pledge drive and offer an advanced reader’s copy of my book, Walking Money. I agree immediately, all the while trying to sound uninterested and detached as any cool writer might sound. Several days later I arrived at the station freshly bathed and wearing my best Dockers. The interview started off with a bang as my head swelled to the repeated compliments of my book. In my mind I saw my name climbing the New York Times best seller list as all the smart, I-don’t-have-time-for-TV people, listened to public radio and counted down the days until they could purchase their own copy of Walking Money.
Then it happened. Without warning or reason. The interviewer, an intelligent, well-read woman, after calling me by name for the first eight-minute section of the interview, started referring to me as Jim Hall instead of Jim Born. Can you believe it? I wait my whole adult life for someone to ask me about a book I had written and they call be by the wrong name. And it continued. On live radio. She would repeat, “I have Jim Hall in the studio,” or, “Mystery writer Jim Hall is with us.” I was panic-stricken. What should I do on a live broadcast? Correct her? Just stare at her? Then she holds up a copy of my book. Now I breathe a sigh of relief. My name is on it in bold letters, James O. Born. She had caught herself. Instead she says, on the air, to her book-reading audience, “I’m here with James W. Hall, Florida author.” This was a real Hall fan. Everything went black. I thought I had suffered a stroke. Then the blood started to flow back into my brain and I realized I had, unfortunately, survived the humiliating incident. At the break I pointed out that while my name was, indeed, “Jim”, my family name was “Born” not “Hall”. The interviewer corrected her mistake after the break and apologized appropriately. My psyche had been taught a cosmic lesson. I was nobody.
To make matters worse, I e-mailed Mr. Hall with this tale and he found it amusing. Funny. He even went on to be supportive and, dare I say it, nice. I recovered. At least temporarily.
My book launched in late June and I was off on my tour. It was proving to be all I had ever hoped. That is until I visited a lovely bookstore in Sarasota, Florida named Circle Books. Located across the John Ringling causeway, Circle Books is known as a store that is very supportive of Florida writers. This became apparent when I arrived on a sunny Saturday afternoon and found a pretty good crowd for a first-time author. I spoke to the assembled patrons for a few minutes about the hardships of publishing and the dangers of police work (for the record I have suffered neither) and then sat down to sign their books. The second person in line, a pleasant looking woman about sixty with a warm smile and typical, reader-like intelligence, placed a copy of Walking Money on the table before me. I looked up and she gave a slight giggle. I had to inquire, what was so funny? She said, “I misread the newsletter and thought James Hall was signing today. My mistake. I’ll buy your book anyway.” I managed to get through the encounter and sign the book. Although I must confess I almost signed it James W. Hall. Once again my nemesis had struck through one of his surrogates. That’s right, I‘m no idiot, I saw the movie Signs and I now know there are no such thing as coincidences. That means Mr. Hall, evil genius that he is, had engineered these incidents to destroy my sense of worth and prove he is the master.
I learned the lesson but have not forgotten the feelings. That is why I hate James W. Hall.