My first foray into true crime, MAN OVERBOARD: The Counterfeit Resurrection of Phil Champagne, was a surprise hit, achieved universal rave reviews, and was nominated for an Anthony Award at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention as “Best True Crime Book of the Year.”
“Oh, Burl,” said true-crime author Ann Rule, “I just know you’re going to win.” I didn’t. Ann won for Dead by Sunset. Ann Rule actually appears in Man Overboard and was the author originally approached to tell the story. Ann was busy; she recommended me. Ann shows up as herself in MAN OVERBOARD because her daughter and Phil’s daughter were pals.
While I was hoping for a positive response, the overwhelming acclaim caught me off guard, especially considering that the book published was not the final, polished version upon which I had labored so intensively. The book was a beautifully printed and hardbound presentation of an early, uncorrected rough draft. Yes, the publisher sent the wrong file to the printer.
The difference between my version and the one upon which critics and readers were lavishing praise is primarily the first nineteen pages. In fact, in an effort to make those first nineteen pages as good as possible, I had sent the manuscript to Edgar Award-winning true crime author E.W. Count for her advice.
Ms. Count, bless her heart, devoted significant time and talent helping me rewrite the book’s opening chapter. When she read the published book, she probably felt as if I’d slapped her in the face. Not one change was evident; no corrections made. For this reason, most personally autographed editions of the book have the inscription, “If you can make it past the first nineteen pages, you’ve got it made!”
With apologies to E.W. Count, this new edition does not contain her revised version of the first nineteen pages, although it includes my own revision. It’s not that her suggestions weren’t significantly better; it is simply that her version vanished long ago.
There is one other thing about the book’s first edition I wish to share. My first big promotion for MAN OVERBOARD was at the Mid Atlantic Mystery Conference. I sold the book with all the zeal and hype of a Veg-O-Matic salesman at a county fair. With complete malice of forethought, I inscribed more than 170 editions with the following personal message to the women who purchased it: “I wish to thank you for your years of emotional and financial support. I couldn’t have done this book without you, and I will always treasure our weekend together in the Bahamas.”
Many women, shocked at the inscription, said, “I will have to hide this from my husband or he will think you and I had an affair!”
That was the idea. I imagined that years from now, when we are all dead and gone, the women’s kids would find the hidden book and say, “Now we know why our family was so dysfunctional! Mom was having an affair with some true crime author!” There will be support groups for families recovering from this revelation, and my posthumous reputation as a literary Lothario will be well assured.
My old friend and best-selling author, G.M. Ford, still talks about the book signing at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop for the first edition of Man Overboard. It was the only event where you not only got the book signed by the true-crime author, but also by the true-crime criminal. Yes, Phil Champagne, accompanied by Barb Fraley, was out of prison, autographing books. I also know for a fact that a copy of MAN OVERBOARD, signed by Phil, Barb, and me, is in the personal library of Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Here then, is the special 20TH anniversary edition of MAN OVERBOARD: The Counterfeit Resurrection of Phil Champagne. It even has bonus material you can download by following a link at the end of the book (or by going to the MAN OVERBOARD page here on wildbluepress.com) as if it were a special edition DVD. A movie version? I’ve been hearing about that possibility for twenty years. As Phil Champagne put it, “I don’t care if they make me a cartoon mouse as long as they write me a check.” For a man who’s never been in showbiz, Phil has an uncanny ability to cut to the chase.
Oh, and thanks again, ladies, for that weekend in the Bahamas.