An Interview with True Crime Author John Glatt

Posted by: cmcmonagle, July 28, 2014 2:51 pm
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John Glatt

English-born author John Glatt has more than 30 years of experience as an investigative journalist and has written 19 true crime books and 4 biographies. His first book Rage & Roll: Bill Graham and the Selling of Rock, was published in 1993. In 1998 he wrote his first true crime book, For I Have Sinned: True Stories of Clergy Who Kill. Since then he has written a true crime book every year for St. Martin’s Press True Crime Library. Over the years, Glatt has appeared on scores of television and radio programs all over the world, including Dateline NBC, Discovery ID, Fox News, BBC World, and A&E Biography. On August 4, John Glatt will be giving an author talk at Central Library to discuss his latest work, The Prince of Paradise: The True Story of a Hotel Heir, His Seductive Wife, and a Ruthless Murder. We caught up with John the other day and asked him a few questions about his work...

You began your career as an investigative journalist.  What inspired you to write your first book?
I fell into public relations for a time and really missed writing and investigating stories so I was looking for a way out. I was actually working on a mouth wash called Plax and I was taking a Long Island dentist around on a media tour as he had written a book called Smile. I thought, "this is what I should be doing", so I quit my job and started writing.

You write about both true crime and rock & roll legends. Do you prefer one over the other? How does your approach change for each or is it a similar process?
I love writing about both true crime and rock 'n' roll and they are very different. After writing a dozen or more true crime books, my last book Live at the Fillmore East and West was a return to rock ‘n’ roll. It was nice to do something a little more uplifting. I think I use the exact same approach for writing both genres - thorough investigation and a marshaling of the facts into a highly readable narrative.

What draws you to a certain subject? That is, what are the essential things that you look for in determining what will make a good/valid true crime story or book?
Obviously in the current economic climate you have to write books that turn a profit for your publisher or you won’t do many. I’m really on the lookout for a good story that will hold readers attention throughout. For instance my last book The Prince of Paradise had all the ingredients of a classic true crime book. There was the colorful  history of the Fontainebleau Hotel on Miami Beach, which Ben Novack Jr.’s father built from the ground up. Ben grew up with a who’s who of  50s and 60s entertainers, like Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and many others who he knew first hand. Then, of course, he married an Ecuadorian stripper named Narcy, who orchestrated both his and his mother’s murder… it really had everything.

What were the challenges (research, literary, psychological, and logistical) in bringing  The Prince of Paradise to life? 
I visited Miami twice for interviews and research and talked to many of Ben Novack Jr.’s friends and people who knew him growing up at the Fontainebleau. I also covered the two-and-a-half-month trial in White Plains, New York, which was perhaps my biggest challenge. 

As a true crime author you deal with a lot of disturbing subject matter. Has this impacted your own life in any way? If so, how do you distance yourself from the more negative aspects of life as a true crime author?
I think you have to remain objective when you write true crime books and keep a professional distance. Of course, at times, I have gotten personally involved with relatives of both murderers and victims and it can get complicated.

Where do you write? Do you have a favorite place?
I write above a Chinese bridal shop in the Garment District, which I find ideal for the subject matter.

Are there any particular authors or books that influenced you, either growing up or as an adult?
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I read it shortly after it first came out and was riveted. Capote's style was amazing and he really became part of the story ... very Gonzo then. I also liked Norman Mailer's The Executioner's Song, which I found to be very moving.

What are you working on now? What is your next project?
I am writing a book on Ariel Castro and the Cleveland abductions of Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus.

Do you have any advice to give to aspiring writers?
Never give up.

Come to Central Library on August 4th and meet John Glatt in-person! He will be giving a talk and signing copies of his books. Find more info here.