DA Kentner writes the column THE READERS' WRITERS for the (Freeport) Journal-Standard and GateHouse News Service. My alter ego KevaD lives under a stairway of dreams where he writes stories and grumbles about everything. Click the pic to visit KevaD's blog.
Drop me a line at dakentner@yahoo.com

I invite you to read my award-winning short story posted on Calliope Magazine's web site.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Remarkable David Patten


Before “Rainman,” before TV networks enlightened us with riveting tales of human strength and courage, before autism became a household word finally stripped of our tendency to fear the unknown, autistic children didn’t have a medical or physical condition (autism was a diagnosis in the 50’s but one reason David’s mother did not have him diagnosed is because he would have been institutionalized) They were dysfunctional, or lazy, or stupid, or worse yet – troublemakers requiring a heavy hand to keep them in line, maybe even insane, but they weren’t autistic. And they certainly weren’t geniuses trying to process a world bent on shoving them in to institutions where they couldn’t disrupt our flower garden viewpoint of how life should be. 

David Patten survived our failure to understand. Though we locked him away in an experimental facility (they treated him as if he had schizophrenia), he survived. And though dyslexia had joined with his autism to render him functionally illiterate, David found a way to communicate so the world could understand he had something to say. 

“Dummy: A Memoir” is a frank and honest look inside the mind of a man who refused to accept the predetermined role society had allocated for him. It is also a mirror of the external struggles we created for him. Teamed with developmental editor Doug Childers, the duo used technology to transfer David’s words to paper for editing, and then from paper back to sound so David could give final approval of each and every fragment of the book. The result is a stirring tale of a human spirit who transformed disability into skills and ultimately found freedom. 

Now a husband and father, David resides in Hawaii with his wife. I want to thank Megan McFeely for bringing David’s story to my attention, and for her assistance with this interview.

Q) Why was telling your story so important to you? 

A) I started writing about my life only for myself.  I needed to externalize my experience, put it on paper, so that I could inspect it in great detail. There was a deep disturbance inside and my life was not working well. So I decided to search for the core of that angst though writing hoping I could somehow free myself. I felt a compulsion to write this…it was a very important step in my life. 

Q) From concept to conclusion, writing your book took seven years. Did you ever consider giving up? 

A) My mind was constantly chattering. All these thoughts would run around in my head about who I was, what I had done or not done or how well I had done it. There was constant evaluation and it felt like the only way to stop my mind was with logic. I wrote it all down and followed the internal arguments and criticisms to their ultimate conclusion. With each scenario or experience of my life I would ask it were true? Or if it just was an idea that my mind had? And through this process I found a way to free myself from ideas that I had about who I was or should be. 

Writing this book was my life’s focus for a while. It was the only thing that made sense to me.

So even though there were times I wanted to give up. I could not. 

Q) Your genius in abstract conceptual mathematics led you to become a successful and sought after technician who debugged computers for corporations and the military. To reach that success there had to be a starting point. How did you convince the doubters of your capabilities? 

A) Well I knew I had to get a piece of paper that would be respected by the culture. I got an AA degree because Department of Rehabilitation had a program that enabled me to get my books read and tape-recorded. I was then hired through a verbal interview process and then it was just a matter of job performance. One thing I learned in college that served me well for years, is the logic of trouble-shooting.  I had an innate understanding of how things worked and when I had to “do” or fix something, I excelled. 

Q) As an autism-spectrum child now an adult, you have witnessed firsthand the change in society’s viewpoint of autism. Obviously, we have a long way to go. I’m curious as to how you view TV shows like “Touch” and movies that sensationalize autism. Are they beneficial to understanding, or a hindrance? 

A) I am not all that familiar with the TV shows, but I imagine they both mislead and clarify. Certainly they make the condition of Autism Spectrum less freighting or foreign to others, which probably leads to acceptance and less isolation for those who are diagnosed. But it is the viewpoints of many so-called experts that I feel are misleading. In my experience they treat autism like it is a disease, but it is not. I believe that most of what we think of autism is a system overwhelm that is caused by reaction to a whole host of biological issues. The triggers, circumstances and symptoms in each person are unique. 

Q) Though we’re learning, society in general is unaware autism covers a wide range of levels, not just the extremes. And, while we tend to focus on the child, the stress and difficulties imposed on parents is often overlooked and/or understated. What advice can you offer parents? 

A) I think acceptance of the situation is a really important first step. It is not easy, but the more you fight the situation (why me?) the more stress it causes all parties.  I also think that if parents focus their attention on discovering and minimizing what is most overwhelming/stressful in the environment, a more serene setting can be created so that both the parents and child can have some relief.
 
Q) Any parting comments for potential readers? 

A) Do the best you can do…no more, no less and accept your circumstances…

Let your humanity be your guide.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net

 

 

Friday, March 22, 2013

Romance Author and NASCAR Commentator S.D. Grady


Romance with an erotic edge and NASCAR. How’s that for diverse interests? Still, that’s Massachusetts’s S.D. Grady. 

On the one hand, S.D. writes the “Sitting In The Stands: A Fan’s View” column for Frontstretch.com, an e-zine dedicated to NASCAR fans. Her other persona pens some very interesting romance e-books, not the least of which is her latest release “The Heart of the Dragon.” One minute S.D. is debating the upcoming racing season, discussing the potential of debut drivers, and the next she’s engrossed in spinning a tale replete with castles, paranormal characters, imaginative plots, and a love conquers all theme. I also happen to know she’s hard at work on a young adult novel of ghosts and first love. 

S.D. made her debut with “The Shape of a Woman,” a contemporary foray into a woman’s life on the brink of failure, and the man who just might bring a little magic back into the bedroom. Other stories and books followed, including the award-winning “The Forgotten Princess” which set the medieval tone laced with love and danger for future works. Hang on! S.D. also enjoys a little cowboy flavor. Last year’s release, “A Widow’s Justice,” is the story of a widow sworn to rebuild her life and reap revenge on the men who killed her husband. 

“The Heart of the Dragon” sports cover art reminiscent of Harlequin. However, the story is anything but traditional or expected. The heroine is given by her father to a blood thirsty knight in order to save the family lands. Why the strong warrior fights only at night becomes but one of the mysteries and dangers the heroine encounters. This isn’t a story for diehard historical fiction fans bent on one hundred percent accuracy as S.D.’s prose does at times allow a little peppering of contemporary conversation onto the page. There is also some violence consistent with the period and the paranormal atmosphere. That said, romance fans can be rest assured of a happy ending, though the winding path is rife with danger and hot nights behind the castle walls. 

While S.D. may write about gowned damsels and stalwart knights, or a deadly bandit allying with a western widow, the best place to find the author is in an RV in the middle of a racetrack.

Q) What took you from contemporary to focusing on stories more historical in nature? 

A) The historical bent is actually a return to my roots.  I had never realized just how many of my favorite tales featured kings and queens--real or not--until I listed my "keepers" on Goodreads.  I ended up visiting the contemporary world as an author when I pushed my boundaries and entered into the world of erotica.  Somehow hot and sweaty nights under the covers never appear in my imagination replete with corsets and hoops.  The extra fabric just gets in the way.  But when I want to explore a tale that grows beyond ordinary life, all the extra trappings, pomp and formality of the historical genre pipe up and demand their place in my settings. 

Q) You wrote “Dinner and a Movie,” which is hardcore erotica. Your other works tend to reveal a writer who prefers to let her imagination take control and create vivid worlds beyond the ordinary. How would you describe your writing? 

A) Passionate.  All of it. Every tale and even racing commentary touches on the things in life we are passionate about.  "Dinner and a Movie" touched on the primal instincts we all own and let it loose. In "A Widow's Justice," Abigail knows one thing--her life in toil keeping her husband's ranch was far more liberating than the life she left behind, and she'll do anything to keep it. For NASCAR, there is nothing quite as compelling as acknowledging the visceral reaction one has to the thunder of fast machines.  And for "The Heart of the Dragon," Lady Yelena must protect her family, even if she can't understand how her husband is doing that. 

Absolutes. There's no yes or no, there only 'is.' That's where we find our passion. 

Q) “Blue Smoke and Burnt Rubber” combined your passions of romance and racing. Will we see more of this type of tale from you, and why have you limited yourself to just the one story so far? 

A) "Blue Smoke and Burnt Rubber" is actually a racing mystery I wrote as a serial for The Frontstretch. I was admonished, "No kissing or guns on pit road."  And so I wrote it.  We didn't pursue further serials at the racing site, but that doesn't mean my to-be-written pile is devoid of further racing stories.  I think writing the weekly commentary keeps my racing muse happy enough that the fantasy/historical one wins out when it's time to pen another fictional tale. 

But one day "Driver XX" will find the light of day.  However, by the time I get there the story of women in racing will have far surpassed the original plot line. 

Q) You married your college sweetheart. Here’s a chicken vs the egg question: Which came first, NASCAR, or the man? 

NASCAR, but only by about a year.  I caught the racing bug while searching for something to watch on TV while I crocheted.  Within that first year, I met my future husband.  And guess what?  He knew who Petty and Earnhardt were. The rest, as they say, is history. 

Q) So, who are your top new NASCAR drivers to keep an eye on? 

A) Jeff Gordon was my first, and I'm still loyal.  I'm coming to terms with Earnhardt Jr. being on the same team, and I know the feeling is mutual.  Our current champion, Brad Keselowski is a huge favorite.  He's going to bring back some of the grittiness the sport has lost without the obnoxious bent that a pair of brothers have introduced.  And finally, the Nationwide Series has an amazing rookie this year by the name of Kyle Larson.  That young man just might change our sport, a bit like what Gordon accomplished in the early 90's.  Okay...I'm sure all the romance readers needed to know that :P 

Q) Any parting comments for fans or those yet to read your stories? 

A) I always love to hear from my readers.  It might even beat out a race....  Either way, you can find me on the worldwide web at http://sdgrady.info
Follow me on Twitter: @laregna
Like me on Facebook: Author.SDGrady
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net

Friday, March 15, 2013

Young Adult Author Marcus MacGregor


Marcus MacGregor is a former middle grade and high school English teacher with experience in film, screenwriting, theater, and music. Melding all of his interests with a sincere concern for the direction modern science might be taking us Marcus has released the first offering in a four-part series of young adult (YA) novels surrounding the exploits of fictional Hollywood stuntman and animal trainer Wade Boss. 

“Wade Boss Hybrid Hunter” presents hours of entertainment to both young and old readers, though the story and lighthearted writing style is designed for YA fans. Marcus capably intertwined the traditional spaghetti western with contemporary settings and topics, injected the author’s own brand of sometimes not so subtle humor (in a good way), to create a not so common hero. Wade Boss is a bit of a throwback. A cowboy at heart more at home on horseback than four wheels, Boss is called upon to defend the nation against hybrid monsters, the first of which, a mutant pairing of tiger and lizard, is introduced in the prologue. And this is where we need to step aside from the story for a moment. 

Transgenic experimentation/science is a reality. As laymen, we tend to think of hybrids in terms of food production. Hybrid seeds are produced from naturally out-breeding crops, from which inbred lines are produced by repeated self-pollination, the end result being those tasty fruits and vegetables we all enjoy. But science now has the ability to transplant genetic material from one species into an egg or embryo of another species. Think in terms of sheep injected with a bacteria that kills blowflies, thus producing lambs immune to that particular insect. Or, the concept of pig embryos injected with a human gene to produce hearts that can be transplanted into people without fear of rejection. These possibilities aren’t from my imagination. They’re very real. I even found one discussion about the possibility of creating a human brain inside chimpanzees to produce human mentality with superior strength and agility. I don’t think there’s much to fear there though. Give them their own Internet social network and text phones, and we’d only see them at suppertime. 

“Wade Boss Hybrid Hunter” takes transgenics to the ultimate level of crossbreeding animals to produce new species, which, for the author’s purpose of telling a great story, then run amuck. ‘Wade Boss’ is fun. The story is crisp, the dialogue and plot well-constructed. For those seeking a blend of science and westerns in today’s world, you should give this book a try.

Q) What got you interested in transgenics? 

A) Well, I’m always curious about emerging technologies, whatever they be. But my specific interest in hybrid animals is mostly driven by my desire to write stories with monsters in them. I’ve been crazy about monsters since I was a kid. They’re unbelievably cool, and in terms of storytelling they can be powerful metaphors for things that need to be fought and overcome. 

I also like my science fiction to revolve around science that’s on the verge of becoming non-fiction. When you know that a certain technology is imminent, I think the potential dangers hit closer to home, making the story that much more engaging. And for better or worse, that’s where we’re at when it comes to transgenics: the technology is science-fiction only in the sense that it’s in its infancy. In fact hybrid animals do exist – maybe not as exotic as the ones in my book, at least not that we know of. But this is a technology that is being aggressively advanced – and not just somewhere out there in the world, but right here in United States. 

Q) The sub topic of transgenics could have easily been transformed to an adult series of stories preaching the dangers. Instead, you chose to make it a secondary issue in order to manufacture the evil doers for a YA series. Why? 

A) On many levels I’m concerned about the potential abuses of genetic power, but with Wade Boss: Hybrid Hunter, my primary interest was to tell a whopping-good yarn. I wanted to offer young adults a rousing, optimistic adventure – the kind I thrilled to as a young man, but which is seldom written anymore. As the series progresses, the ethical questions related to genetic engineering are explored to a degree, but never in such a way that the narrative becomes oppressive. 

The thing that makes rogue genetic science so perfect for Wade Boss is that you don’t need lots of huge expensive equipment – like a nuclear reactor, or a large Hadron collider – to conduct it. That aspect of the science allowed me to concoct bad guys who could plausibly operate in the shadows, always staying one step ahead of Wade and his fellow hybrid hunters. So my concerns about transgenics are very real, but as far as Wade Boss is concerned, those dangers primarily exist to take readers on an adventure. 

Q) You were an English teacher passionate about C.S. Lewis, who besides being a novelist was a theologian and Christian apologist; yet, you chose to write Wade Boss’s stories. How did that decision come about? 

A) Yes, I love Lewis! As a teacher, I especially enjoyed introducing my students to his space trilogy. But whereas Lewis’s fiction leans heavily towards allegory, Wade Boss is more of a “what you see is what you get” kind of tale. That’s not to say that it’s shallow. It’s just that the metaphors are not intended to stand for anything specific. I hope that the story teaches something about truth and ultimate meaning. 

Q) “Wade Boss Hybrid Hunter” is devoid of the macabre and darkness found in a lot of YA work these days. You could have easily gone that route to take advantage of the trend, but didn’t. Why not?

A) Well, first off I want to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with a story just because it’s dark. But with regards to contemporary YA literature, there does seem to be an over-emphasis on darker story lines, to the exclusion of others. 

In Wade Boss, the stakes are plenty serious – life and death, in fact. But the tone of the story never becomes pessimistic or cynical. The tag-line on the back cover of the book is: “Dangerous new world. Old-fashioned hero.” And I’ve worked very hard to write the kind of hopeful story that used to be more prevalent, but is often scoffed at these days. 

There’s a lot of depth as the saga unfolds, but always a lot of subtle humor too, which will appeal to older teens and even adults. There’s really something in it for just about everybody. There are strong male and female characters. It’s an action-adventure first, but there’s also some romance in there as well – nothing inappropriate, either, which hopefully a lot of people will find refreshing as well. 

Q) Any parting thoughts for readers about to be introduced to your work? 

A) I guess I’d say that for anyone looking for an adventure that is more light-hearted than the majority of YA books out there, Wade Boss: Hybrid Hunter may be what you’ve been waiting for! It’s extremely fast-paced, but the characters are very emotionally “real.” It’s a story with a lot of compassion – in fact, Wade’s compassion is what determines almost every major decision he makes. 

Wade isn’t a perfect hero – he makes mistakes and occasionally loses his temper. But he has a very soft heart, and when he does mess up, he’s always genuinely sorry and tries to make things right. Unlike so many anti-heroes who have to be dragged kicking and screaming to be anything other than selfish, Wade truly wants to be a good man. For me, that’s the single most compelling thing about the story, and I think a lot of young adults out there are hungering for that kind of role model.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author. www.kevad.net
 

 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Bestselling Authors John Douglas and Mark Olshaker


John Douglas is best known to the general public for his groundbreaking work in criminal profiling. While an FBI agent he served as a SWAT Team sniper and later as a hostage negotiator. In 1977 he transferred to the Behavioral Sciences Unit where taught hostage negotiation and criminal psychology at the FBI academy. He is also credited with creating the FBI’s Criminal Profiling Program. Though now a widely embraced law enforcement tool, criminal profiling in its infancy was not warmly welcomed in the too often tradition-minded ranks of law enforcement (as a retired police chief, I know how accurate that statement is). Douglas had a hill to climb to convince police that profiling worked. His unbending dedication ultimately opened doors. The accuracy and success of profiling cemented the techniques as a standard. 

Douglas carried his work of profiling killers, describing their habits and anticipating their movements to outlining strategies for the questioning and prosecution of suspects his efforts helped capture. He aided in identifying and apprehending the Green River Killer and consulted on the JonBenet Ramsey murder. To garner insight to the minds of serial killers, he has interviewed Gacy, Bundy, Manson, Speck, and far too many more to list. 

He has written text books on profiling as well as co-authored several non-fiction books, including "Crime Classification Manual: A Standard System for Investigating and Classifying Violent Crimes." He teamed with Mark Olshaker on a number of non-fiction books such as the international bestselling “Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit." 

Mark Olshaker is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, bestselling non-fiction author and critically acclaimed novelist whose research and experience have led to expertise in key issues of public policy, crisis management, and media and public relations. Early in his career he worked for the St. Louis Dispatch and wrote for the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and numerous other recognized publications. He is an advocate for victim’s rights, and his work with the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease led him to co-author “Unnatural Causes” and “Virus Hunter.” 

Though this duo penned a few crime fiction novels (“Broken Wings”), this pair of devoted men have once again united to produce the non-fiction “LAW & DISORDER: The Legendary FBI Profiler’s Relentless Pursuit of Justice,” scheduled to be released March 2013. “Law & Disorder” is an intriguing venture in to the cases that haunt law enforcement and public alike: those cases where justice was denied because of bias, bungling, media, or other influences. Included are Douglas’s own reflections of painful lessons learned and how it feels to take a stand against the tide when you realize the wrong person has been convicted. 

“Law & Disorder” is one of those books we need to read, and then read again.

Q) Thank you both for agreeing to answer a few questions. There was a moment where each of you knew your collaboration was feasible. What did you see in the other that made you want to work with him? 

MARK) We often joke that John is a detective pretending to be a writer and I am a writer pretending to be a detective, and so we each respect what the other brings to the mix. Actually, when we became aware of each other was when I approached the FBI on behalf of “Nova,” the PBS science series, to cooperate with us in showing the real story behind such archetypal novels and films as The Silence of the Lambs. During the course of production on what became the Emmy-nominated program Mind of a Serial Killer, which I wrote and co-produced, John and I got to know each other well. Then, when he was preparing to retire from the Bureau, he asked me if I’d like to work with him on a book about his career. I said I would, the result was the best-selling MINDHUNTER: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit, and we haven’t stopped since. We turn out to be a good team. We respect each other’s talents and we genuinely like each other. LAW & DISORDER is our eighth book together.  

Q) Mr. Douglas: You really did hit some brick walls when trying to convince law enforcement criminal profiling was a viable tool. What do you believe was the turning point where the average police officer said, “Wow. This works.”? 

JOHN) As soon as the unit was up and running we started getting requests, at first mainly from police chiefs and others who had participated in the FBI’s 11-week National Academy program. But it was really the Atlanta Child Murders case of 1979 to 1982 that really put us on the map. When my colleague Roy Hazelwood and I went down there at the request of the Atlanta Police Department, we found a city under siege, with sixteen unsolved murders and no end in sight. All of the child victims were black and most were boys, and the prevailing thought was a Ku Klux Klan type hate group. 

Once we examined all of the evidence and visited all of the body dumpsites, what we had to say didn’t win us any popularity contests. First: This wasn’t the work of a Klan type hate group. There was nothing symbolic or ritualistic about any of the crimes; nothing public to create the kind of terror and intimidation that these groups strive for. I mean, Klansmen don’t wear white sheets to fade into the woodwork. Second: We were just about positive the UNSUB (unknown subject) was black. The dumpsites were predominantly in black areas of the city and as soon as Roy and I visited them and saw how obviously we stood out as two white guys, we realized a white individual, much less a white group, could not have prowled these neighborhoods without being noticed. And third: While we could connect a lot of these crimes together by behavior and physical evidence, we couldn’t correlate all of them. We concluded that the two girl victims were not killed by the UNSUB or even by the same offender. A number of the other cases were individual murders that were lumped in because of the timing. 

We were convinced we were dealing with a police buff or wannabe and profiled a young black man with a slick come-on who would easily be able to lure these poor and underprivileged children. He would be enticing them with money and or the promise of something to change their lives. We conducted a number of experiments to prove our theories, which are outlined in MINDHUNTER. We were also convinced the UNSUB was closely following the media reporting on the case and we were able to use that to our advantage. 

Through his behavior, we were finally able to predict where his next body dumpsite would be, which is how Wayne B. Williams was caught. Hair and fiber evidence linked him to several of the murders. Then, when he came to trial, I offered strategic advice to the prosecution team. The big hope was that the smooth, confident Williams would take the stand in his own defense, and when he did that, I advised the very talented and incisive assistant district attorney Jack Mallard how to “get to” him and reveal to the jury what this defendant was really like. It worked. Wayne Williams was convicted of two of the murders, and remains in prison to this day. 

After that case, the requests from all over the country multiplied, we were getting foreign requests from around the world as well, and they never stopped growing during the rest of the career with the FBI. 

MARK) John won’t say this about himself, but I will. He became a legendary figure in law enforcement circles to the point where some observers started asking him if was psychic. His response was always, “No, but I wish I was.” It was simply an illustration of Sherlock Holmes coming to life. It all seemed like magic until John would explain each analysis, and then it all made perfect sense – a combination of inductive reasoning, deductive reasoning and some inspiration and imagination based on both innate talent and hard-won experience. 

For example, around the same time John was working the Atlanta Child Murders, he was called into the case of the Trailside Killer in the San Francisco Bay area, centered on Mount Tamalpais State Park overlooking the Golden Gate. The murders of a number of attractive and successful young and middle-aged women whose bodies were found in densely wooded areas was terrorizing the region and making people afraid to go out hiking. After studying the case files and crime scenes, John gave the assembled task force his profile, involving age, background, intelligence level, etc. And then he added, “The killer will have a speech impediment.” Everyone sat in stunned disbelief until he explained his reasoning. And even after that, not everyone took him seriously. 

But when police followed a trail of evidence to David Carpenter, a fifty-year-old industrial arts teacher, he did indeed have a severe stutter. In fact, John’s profile was spot-on in every respect except for age. Interestingly, one victim who survived reported that during her brutal attack, Carpenter’s stutter temporarily disappeared. 

Q) Mr. Douglas: The horror of murder in all its aspects (the crime, victims, and perpetrators) has been a part of your life for so long, I have to ask how you step away from it to maintain your sanity and embrace life. 

JOHN) It’s difficult, and you can’t always do it. I was in my thirties in December 1983 when I collapsed in a Seattle hotel room while working on the Green River Murders. I came down with severe viral encephalitis that basically shut my brain down. I was in a coma at Swedish Hospital for a week and not expected to live. They even picked out my burial spot in a Veterans Cemetery. I was handling so many cases at the same time, travelling so much, feeling this intense pressure from the Bureau and responsibility to all the victims and all the individuals who would become victims if we didn’t take some of these serial killers off the street, I had this premonition something was going to happen to me. In fact, just before I left on the Seattle trip, I took out additional life insurance. Altogether, I was out on disability five months. 

Even beyond situations like that, you realize from time to time how much you internalize what you do. I mean, you don’t come home to the dinner table and have your wife say, “How was your day?” because she knows you’d say something like, “I spent the morning studying crime scene photos from twelve prostitute killings in Rochester and I’m pretty sure the killer is coming back to masturbate over the bodies. I think that’s how we’re going to catch him.” 

Or another example, when our kids were young, I’d be with them in a park or someplace, and I’d suddenly think to myself, This looks just like the stream they pulled those children’s bodies out of down in North Carolina. 

So ultimately, I think, you just have to embrace life and realize there is more good than evil in the world. You have to maintain that perspective, you have to maintain a sense of humor, and you have to try to reassure the gift of every day. 

One thing that has been very meaningful for Mark and me is the relationships we’ve developed with a number of families of murder victims. The FBI doesn’t encourage getting emotionally involved with cases, but in my line of work, you’d have to be pretty insensitive not to. We’ve shared weddings and birthdays and other happy events as well as funerals and memorials. Some of these people have become like family to both of us and our wives. I think they appreciate our understanding that while their lives will never be the same after their horrible losses, that they will never stop grieving and there will never be “closure” – a word most victims hate, by the way – that they are more than just the tragedies that befall them.  

Q) Mr. Olshaker: You keep returning to crime, but your expertise also lies in health. What sparked your interest in virus and disease to become actively involved to a level of national recognition and respect? 

MARK) First of all, I come from a medical family. My late father was a pediatrician and then a psychiatrist who did a stint a St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital and taught part-time at the George Washington University Medical School for fifty years. Both of my brothers are doctors; one in emergency medicine and one in radiology. The radiologist’s wife is a gastroenterologist with a specialty in liver transplantation. So that all might have given me some background. But what I think made me so interested in the subject is that crime and disease have a lot in common. They are two great evils that plague the human race and both are wrapped in mystery. Shortly after the publication of MINDHUNTER, while John and I were getting ready to tackle JOURNEY INTO DARKNESS, I collaborated with Dr. C.J. Peters, a legendary epidemiologist with the Army and later Chief of Special Pathogens for CDC, on VIRUS HUNTER, chronicling his exploits against mysterious and deadly diseases around the world. And I realized that what C.J. and John do are not too dissimilar from each other. Not to overdramatize it, but they are both detectives engaged in single combat against death and injury and pain, or as the docs call it, morbidity and mortality. These men are both specialists – when you have a case that you haven’t seen the likes of before, that is baffling and potentially deadly, these are the guys you want to call in. 

I guess I love the mystery, I love the high drama,  I love the intensity, I love the heroism and I am awed and humbled by the stakes. In both criminal justice and public health, you see the human condition at its extremes; writ large, if you will. Of the three venues in which I have spent most of my career – documentary films, novels and nonfiction books – these are the two subjects I’ve covered in all three; not once but again and again. 

Q) Mr. Olshaker: Your film work has covered history, architecture, science, medicine and drama. On the outside, Mark Olshaker appears to be a complicated, resourceful, driven man. How do you hope your family views him? 

MARK) I suppose what I really hope is that they think of me as someone who is endlessly curious about just about everything. And I’ve been very fortunate in my career as a writer that I have been able to spend so much of my time “living other people’s lives” vicariously. I’m amazed and extremely grateful everyone time a fascinating man or woman lets me “tag along” on his or her career so I can get it right when I write about it. I am a huge fan of both theater and architecture, and have been privileged to be able to write about and produce films with some of the modern greats in each field. And as for history, I think that has to be the central discipline for any writer. 

Addressing your three highly complimentary adjectives: I guess I am driven and I hope I’m resourceful. But as to “complicated,” once you get to know me, I think I’m fairly simple and straightforward. 

Q) Lastly, do either of you have any parting comments for fans or those not familiar with your work? 

JOHN) In some ways, LAW & DISORDER is a departure for us. Our previous books, from MINDHUNTER through THE ANATOMY OF MOTIVE, all had as a general theme the idea of catching the bad guys and delivering justice to victims and their families. THE CASES THAT HAUNT US was kind of a transition, in that we were taking cold murder cases from Jack the Ripper to JonBenet Ramsey and trying, after you clear away all the myth and hype, to figure out what actually happened and didn’t happen. 

When I was in the Bureau and headed up the Investigative Support Group at Quantico, we were overwhelmed by case consultation requests and could only work for the police/prosecution side. Except for rare exceptions like David Vasquez in Virginia, we were not in the exoneration business. But when I retired and started getting consulting requests from both sides, I came to realize that profiling and the kind of behavior-based criminal investigative analysis we had developed was just as applicable in determining who had not committed a given crime as it was in determining who the actual perpetrator might have been. This caused me not only to agree to work for the defense in certain cases, but also to reflect on and re-evaluate a number of cases throughout my career. It’s difficult ever to admit you might have been wrong in a certain case, but if you have gained the insight and perspective to understand why you might have been wrong, that can be a very useful and enlightening experience. Why investigations and prosecutions go bad and what can be done differently is one of the main themes of LAW & DISORDER. It is really a cautionary tale of what happens when theory supersedes evidence and prejudice deposes rationalism. 

MARK) John is referring to a case early in his career, that of the so-called Chicago “Lipstick Killer” William Heirens, whom John interviewed in prison for his serial killer study. Revisiting that case made us both realize that an investigator can only be as good as the evidence and case materials he is presented with. And we’re not saying it’s easy. In the book we present two murder cases, neither of which John worked, in which the convicted defendant went to his execution proclaiming his innocence and declaring that the state was killing a man who had done nothing wrong. Later scientific evidence proved that one of them was, indeed, guilty. In the other case, all of the forensic scientific evidence and data pointed to his innocence. 

On the other hand, the book portrays two major cases John did work – the JonBenet Ramsey murder in Colorado, where he was instrumental in keeping two innocent parents from being charged, and the “West Memphis Three” in Arkansas, where he helped get three innocent men out of prison – one off death row. We also did a complete forensic analysis of the murder of Meredith Kercher in Perugia, Italy, for which her flat mate Amanda Knox and Amanda’s new boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, were charged, convicted and served harsh prison time. Like the Ramsey case, John was none too popular when he started stating publicly that Amanda and Raffaele were innocent and that their trial had been an egregious miscarriage of justice. And like all of the other cases in the book, these are fascinating, character-driven stories. But the tragedy in each one that compounds the tragedy and horror of the original murders, is that good, evidence-based investigation could have prevented all of those miscarriages justice. 

What we found in each case we examined – and believe me, each one of these is representative of so many others – what each case has in common is that the crime itself fit into a pre-existing attitude or belief system and that ends up directing both the investigation and the media coverage. This attitude or belief system might be held by the police, the prosecutors, the community, the media or practically anyone associated with the case. But if it is not combatted, if objectivity and rationality don’t intervene, the results can be disastrous and justice is buried along with the victims. 

JOHN) And so we end LAW & DISORDER with an enumeration of the factors that lead to bad verdicts and our prescription for how the criminal justice system should be improved to prevent or lessen the chances of this kind of thing happening in the future. We hope all of our readers – those who work in the system as well as members of the general public – will pay attention and join in the public debate.
DA Kentner is an award-winning author www.kevad.net