Saturday, October 31, 2009

Robert Fate: Making His Own Luck, Part 1

2007 photo of Robert (Fate) Bealmear, Pat Browning and Fern Bealmear at Full Circle Books, Oklahoma City.

By Pat Browning

Robert Fate published BABY SHARK when he was 70. Got more than 60 rejections before Capital Crime Press picked it up in 2006. Characters: unforgettable. Writing: superb. It knocked my socks off.

BABY SHARK was an Anthony Award finalist at Bouchercon 2007, and was optioned by the producer Brad Wyman in the spring of 2008 to become a motion picture. A screenplay adapted from the book is scheduled to be in production by mid-2010. So much for those 60+ rejections.

Here’s a copy of the review I posted to DorothyL:
BABY SHARK is set in 1952 and begins with a massacre in a Texas pool hall.

Teen-aged Kristen sees her father murdered. She herself is beaten, gang raped and left for dead. The only other survivor is the pool hall owner, Henry Chinn, whose son is among the victims.

When Kristen is well enough to leave the hospital, Henry takes her to his farm to recuperate, and to keep her safely out of sight if the killers go looking for witnesses.

Henry's a gem, generous, shrewd and practical. He gives her a pistol to put under her pillow with instructions: "Point, pull trigger." He also knows some interesting people. When Kristen decides to avenge her father's death Henry hires a PI and calls in two trained killers as her teachers.

There's Sarge, a construction foreman who had parachuted into France on D-Day. His job is to teach Kristen fight strategy and body movement and the use of concealed hand weapons. His advice: "Look vulnerable.Never let them see your confidence."

There's Albert, a part-Comanche Marine who lost a leg in Korea and came home with medals. He's fast with a pistol. He says: "Tell lies with your eyes, Little Sister. ... give them a smile when they don't expect it, anything so they don't watch your hands."

Finally Harlan, her father's pool-hustling buddy, arrives to turn Kristen into Baby Shark. He tells her: "Show nothing. A poker face is the best face in a pool hall."

How they plan for and carry out their revenge, aided by a handful of trusted associates, kept me turning the pages. It's a cracking good story about the dish best served cold, but it seems to me that there's a secondary theme as well.

Kristen realizes that she's being trained to "kill without conscience." It's a case of kill or be killed, or walk away and live with it, which she will not do.

Sarge says, "It's just a job, Little Miss, and whoever does the best job gets to go home. Going home. That's the incentive."

I closed the book wondering if Sarge and Albert represent those who are called to war and learn the art of killing without pity, or if they represent everyone, with survival instincts built in at the start of human history and always lying close to the surface.

Fate grew up in Oklahoma City. When he and his wife Fern came to OKC’s Full Circle Bookstore in 2007 to launch his second book, BABY SHARK’S BEAUMONT BLUES, he was greeted by a hometown crowd.

Since then he has written three more books in the series, with tentative plans for a sixth to be published in 2011. His stand-alone, KILL THE GIGOLO, a contemporary noir novel, will be published in 2010.

Fate just e-mailed a letter to his “Oklahoma buds” in response to questions about his series, how he got started, how he’s progressing, and the realities of publishing, awards and marketing.

Some of the revelations surprised me, honest comments, for example, that sometimes he sells only 5 or 6 books at a signing. In contrast, a best-selling author like Lee Child sells a book somewhere in the world every 6 minutes. There are 49 glowing reviews on Fate’s web site, but he is still working toward a backlist. With his permission, I am posting his letter tomorrow (Sunday) as Part 2.

In back and forth e-mails, Fate added this about Lee Child and marketing:

“I was at an event where he spoke to an audience of 200+ mystery readers. He asked them to be honest about how many had ever read one of his books and maybe two dozen hands went up. He said he wasn't surprised and that's when he mentioned how his books were selling around the world. He said the lesson to any writer of mystery was that the marketing never stops … If you want to disappear as an author, quit marketing, quit contacting people, be too busy to go out and meet bookstore owners or go to conventions, and you'll get your wish.”

Fate’s crime writing career is just the latest chapter in a colorful life. Here’s his bio from his web site:
I'm a Marine Corps veteran who lived in Paris, studied at the Sorbonne, and can mangle the French language with the best of them. In my murky past, I have worked as an oilfield rough neck on a Texaco rig in Northeastern Oklahoma and a TV cameraman in Oklahoma City.

I was a fashion model in New York City for a few years to earn a living while I co-authored a stage play with my buddy Don Chastain. We never sold it. I was a project manager and later a sales exec in Las Vegas after working as a chef in a Los Angeles restaurant, where Gourmet Magazine asked for my Gingerbread recipe -- actually, it was my grandmother's recipe.

Along the way, I owned a company that airbrushed flowers on silk for the garment industry, and then I wrote scripts for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. With the support and encouragement of Bruce Cook, a good friend, I produced an independent feature film. As a Hollywood special effects technician, I won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement.

I live in Los Angeles with my wife Fern, a yoga enthusiast and ceramic artist. Our fabulous daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. We have a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

The books in my crime series are: BABY SHARK; Baby Shark's BEAUMONT BLUES; Baby Shark's HIGH PLAINS REDEMPTION; and Baby Shark's JUGGLERS AT THE BORDER. Some think of my writing as hard-boiled. Personally, I believe I write cozies with a few brutal murders. It's all point of view, isn't it?

You can download a free copy of BABY SHARK’S BEAUMONT BLUES at Fate’s web site:

Tomorrow: Robert Fate: Making His Own Luck, Part 2.


Mark W. Danielson said...

I've met Robert several times and he's a gem. Always interesting to talk to and interesting in hearing what others have to say. Thanks for sharing, Pat.

Anonymous said...

He's one of the good guys in this business. Maybe it's a case of perspective. He had been there/done that long before he started writing mysteries. Maybe this is just a challenge that he loves.

Pat Browning