Author and singer/songwriter David First goes to sleep at night dreaming of his next great song or book chapter. Writing as David Yasmer, he published The Secret Psychic Files: The Men Who Caught Ted Bundy (2017) after waiting decades to verify the real story surrounding the capture of one of the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history. To learn more about David, follow him on Facebook and visit his author page on SouthWest Writers.
What is your elevator pitch for The Secret Psychic Files?
Days after serial killer Ted Bundy was executed, George C. Brand Jr. (head of the Chi Omega murder task force and lead detective who caught Bundy) gave one exclusive taped interview—it was for this book. If the information he revealed had gotten out before the execution, Bundy most likely would have had grounds for an appeal, and he may even have been acquitted. In 2014, after 25 years of requests for the files Brand spoke about in the interview, the Leon County Sheriff’s Department finally released the psychic files. More than 3,600 pages confirming Brand’s bizarre, nightmarish story.
What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
The greatest challenge was confirming the story. Just getting the sheriff’s department to release the psychic files took 25 years. Most of the law enforcement people involved did not want to revisit the investigation. No one wanted to confirm the psychic’s role until I revealed I had Brand on tape talking about him. Once they knew I had interviewed Brand, everyone told me the same thing: It’s all true. The second biggest challenge was writing it as factual as possible based on the files, sometimes even damaging people. For example, one of the victims supported her lavish lifestyle by being an elite prostitute to Tallahassee’s executives and powerful state politicians.
What was the most rewarding aspect of writing it?
Telling the story and getting feedback that people are truly enjoying it. Those who experience psychic episodes often say to me, “I’m glad you wrote this, because it lets people know it does happen for real.”
How did the book come together?
I wrote this book because of a promise I made to George Brand in 1980. He liked a few of my country songs and one night asked me what I wanted to do after college. I said, “Write books.” He told me to find him after Bundy’s execution because he had an exclusive story about the investigation if I promised to write and publish the book. In 1989, after Bundy’s execution, I found Brand working for Florida State University concessions. We sat in his Doak Campbell Stadium office where he made sure the tape recorder was working and fulfilled his promise.
At first I wrote the book based only on Brand’s interview. Publishers weren’t interested in the actual investigation, they only wanted first-hand dirt on Bundy. I set the book aside but kept requesting the files hoping one day to confirm the story, maybe write something publishers would be interested in. In 2014, I made one last request for the files. This time I got them. Wow, did that change everything. It took me another three years to rewrite it, go through several editors and edits, and finally have a great book based on the actual case files and Brand’s interview, as well as interviews with other people involved in the story.
The costs for the different types of professional edits was worth it. I have learned it will never be finished in my mind. When professional editors break out the ruler and begin smacking the hell out of your typing fingers, you get the feeling it’s time, it’s finished, and ready to release to the most important people of all, the readers.
Tell us about your main characters.
George Brand Jr. was a deeply religious, spiritual Southern Baptist. Brilliant and a true out-of-the-box thinker. A problem solver who never lost sight of his investigations. Sheriff Ken Katsaris was a man of science who wasn’t very spiritual and was obsessed with re-election. He was a great college professor before being elected sheriff in 1976 but a terrible, egotistical sheriff who drove everyone nuts. Richard (the secret “Hippie Psychic”) was Jewish, smoked pot, and believed his dreams would solve the case. The sheriff believed Richard was involved in the Chi Omega murders and would kill again. The hippie’s notes and visions were too exact with details only the killer could possibly know.
Was there anything surprising you discovered while doing research for The Secret Psychic Files?
Everything in the files were surprising! From the written ultra-homophobic comments to the level of sexual abuse and rape women often endured in 1978. Also, the stupidity of reporters obsessed with printing information that not only helped the killer but put witnesses’ lives in danger. The list goes on, but I’d say read the book and find out.
Why did you decide to use a pen name?
I chose my pen name to honor my family’s real name. My father was adopted by German Jews. My real grandfather’s family was Turkish. The name Yasmer means “a singer (of stories).”
How has the creativity and discipline you employ as a musician influenced your writing?
Great songs have interesting beginnings, usually a story to tell in lyrics, an enjoyable hook and a good ending that makes you want to sing along or just listen to the music over and over. Great books are the same way. The rest of the discipline is either practice, practice, and practice again, or write, write, and rewrite again.
What is the hardest thing about writing?
The marketing after being published. It’s a full-time job, and it takes you away from creating new stories and, in my case, music. My advice is to take a break, take a breath, and take the time to love what you’re doing, then go back to getting booked for radio, newspapers, TV shows, and book signings like the other 100,000 people who publish a book each year.
What are some of your favorite books?
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.
Why do you think people enjoy reading true crime stories?
I like what Alfred Hitchcock once said—murders sell tickets. The rest is how you tell the story.
What is the best advice you’ve received on your writing journey?
My mother gave me this great advice when I was 17 and starting to write stories and music: “Never stop, never quit, and never give up. There are two ways to live life: wish I had, glad I did. Which one will you say you lived when you want to teach your grandchildren something?”
What projects are you working on now?
A musical (Deadly Hearts, Deadlier Diamonds) and an erotic novel of healing and discovery (Mystical Silver Waters).
KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. She has a new speculative fiction blog at klwagoner.com and writes about memoir at ThisNewMountain.com.