THIS WEEK I am very pleased to interview my good friend and former Inspection Service Security Specialist Jerry Hooten. Jerry has worked as a weapons and law-enforcement consultant with a number of big (and by that I mean really BIG) name mystery authors. I first met Jerry several years ago when he gave me some invaluable advice on my first book, Murder Most Holy. Jerry operates two websites, one is a mystery writer’s resource, and the other is devoted to security and investigative matters. Both have great links and should be bookmarked by any crime or mystery writer. In addition to his consulting work, he has authored several books on his own and moderates a writers group at a local bookstore here in Des Moines.
Mike: Jerry, nice to have you with us today. I think I first like to know how you got started doing research for writers?
Jerry: I’d been a mystery fan all my life. I was working for the Postal Inspection Service when I read Mike Connelly’s book, The Poet. We were the lead agency for child pornography at the time and Mike’s book struck a chord with me. I found his email address and we started exchanging information via email. We arranged to meet at the “Once upon a Crime” bookstore in Minneapolis. At that meeting, I started doing research for Michael for a lot of his books. I started attending conferences, and was introduced to other writers by Michael, which led to doing research for several other authors of mysteries.
M: I’ve noticed that once in a while he drops your name in one of his books a character. Offhand, how many times has he done that, and typically, what does the Jerry Hooten character do?
J: He’s done that several times. Sometimes he uses my name, and other times, he has had me as a character in his book, but told me that I was who he had in mind when he created the character. It’s always a big boost to my ego when he does that. Michael and another L.A. Times reporter, Josh Meyer, did a TV series for Paramount called Level 9. In that series, I was a character in the series, Jerry Hooten, Postal Inspector from Chicago, played by Romany Malco. Romany Malco is a star of TV in Weeds, played in several movies, The Love Guru, Baby Mama, 40 Year Old Virgin and others. I exchanged emails with Romany several times. We were supposed to meet on the set, but things didn’t work out. I still think of that series every time I see him on TV, or in a movie. I’d still like to meet up with him sometime.
M: Who are some of the big names you’ve worked with?
J: Michael Connelly was the first. I’ve also done some research for James Swain, the author of the series about casino cheats. I assisted him with Mr. Lucky. I had several opportunities to work with the late Barbara Seranella. Barb wrote a series about a character named “Munch Mancini”. ABC Television was having talks about making a series based on her books when she passed away. Great lady, I miss her. I’ve done a few things for Julie Smith, and lately I’ve been working with M.J. Rose, the author of the reincarnationist series. The TV show, Past Life is based on M.J.’s books.
M: Wow! Any other famous authors you’ve met?
J: I’ve been attending the Bouchercon Conferences. Those are the mystery writers conferences where the Anthony Awards are presented. I attended conferences in Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, Las Vegas, Madison, Wisconsin, and last year at Indianapolis, Indiana. I’ve met Lee Childs, Sue Grafton, Jonathon King, Dennis LeHane, J.A. Konrath and of course, Mike Manno.
M: Of course, Mike Manno, but I digress. Let’s go back to the postal service. What were your duties with the Postal Inspectors, and what is your background in law-enforcement?
J: I was working at the post office and a part-time reserve police officer in Ft. Madison, Iowa when I was approached by a postal inspector and asked to take the examination for the postal police. I passed the exam and attended the academy in Bethesda, Maryland and became a postal police officer. Primary duties of a postal police officer are to provide security and other protective services. My duties as a postal police officer included facility security at the Bulk Mail Plant in Des Moines and we also were responsible for security at the Federal Court House in Sioux City, Iowa. Later, I was promoted to the position of Security Specialist for the Postal Inspectors. I was responsible for the physical security of post offices in a multi-state area and doing criminal investigations for the postal inspectors and other law-enforcement agencies involving electronic surveillance. This involved covert video installations, installing pen registers, (recorders to obtain probable cause for wire taps), computer forensics, and recording and participating in the execution of search warrants. At the time, I belonged to the National Association of Technical Investigators and we exchanged information on surveillance equipment and covert procedures.
M: What type of crime do postal inspectors deal with?
J: The Postal Inspection Service is usually misunderstood by the public. They are called the “Silent Service” as they don’t get the headlines the F.B.I. and other agencies do. They get involved in more types of crime as the statutes dealing with mail crime are more severe than a lot of other crimes, and a good many types of crime involve mail fraud in some form or another. There are more than 200 federal statutes that involve the mail. It is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the country, founded by Benjamin Franklin. Through their functions, the postal inspectors are empowered by Congress to carry firearms, make arrests and serve federal search warrants and subpoenas. They have a forensic crime laboratory that is staffed with forensic scientists and technical specialists. The inspectors also provide assistance to other agencies, federal, state and local, with investigations and operations.
M: One of the things I’ve noticed about your writer’s resource sites is your emphasis on weaponry. Where did you get your knowledge of firearms?
J: My father taught me firearm safety and how to shoot various weapons starting at the age of 7. Later, when I was working with the reserve police, I was a firearms instructor and held firearms qualification tests for police officers. I practiced with all types of firearms and had my own collection which I practiced with and used for competition in combat and target shooting. I reloaded my own ammunition and did my own firearm modifications.
M: How did you get started writing your own books?
J: While working with Michael Connelly, I was fascinated with the writing process. He is a master! I had always enjoyed writing for my own enjoyment, and when I saw how “real” writers composed their works, I thought I’d like to try it too. I wrote my first book, Don’t Talk to Strangers in a week. I got the idea of an identity thief meeting up with another identity thief with both of them having the same agenda; stealing the other’s identity. I started the story while I was on the way to Oregon to stay with my granddaughters. I would get up early and write until the girls were awake, then continue writing late after they retired for the evening. The first draft was done that week.
M: Was that the finished product?
J: No, afraid not! I sent the first draft to Mike and he gave me some good advice on what to do to clean up the work. I tried to incorporate his suggestions, then went through a good number of re-writes and edits. The first attempt was published by Bob Modersohn, the ‘Books by Mode’ publisher. Bob also did the cover photo for me. After his publishing went by the wayside, I did another edit and re-write and published again with Lulu.com. That is the current work that is available on the market.
M: Was it Bob who suggested that you use your own photo as the cover for Don’t Talk to Strangers?
J: Yes. Bob is a very talented photographer. He has been nominated for several Pulitzer prizes. He gave me some great suggestions for the covers for two of my books, The Don’t Talk to Strangers cover and the cover for Dead End.
M: What have you done since?
J: I wrote a sequel, Dead End that started where Don’t Talk to Strangers left off: In a parking lot in Sturgis, South Dakota. Since then, I’ve written a couple of other works.
M: Have you published any others?
J: Yes, I took one of the books I wrote in the NaNoWriMo contest and published it through CreateSpace. It is titled Friends And Others.
M: First, could you expand on “NaNoWriMo”? What is that?
J: NaNoWriMo is an annual event where you challenge yourself to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It’s the National November Write Month. It’s a good way for writers to get in the habit of writing and trying to meet a deadline. I’ve completed two in the last three years. It’s tough! But a great experience.
M: Is Friends and Others a mystery?
J: Yes, in a fantasy sort of way. I got the idea from my Granddaughter. She had an imaginary friend she called “Tody”. I changed “Tody” to “Theo” and used my imagination to expand on a “What if?” idea. It was pretty easy to write, I just let my imagination take me from one step to another. Before I knew it, I had my 50,000 words.
M: What’s next?
J: NaNo is coming up again real soon. I’d like to write about some of the work I did while I was with the Postal Inpsectors. Like they say, “Write what you know.” I got involved with all sorts of law-enforcement agencies and all kinds of cases. I need to use those experiences to make a story. Some were amusing, some, downright frightening, and all were interesting, as were the people I worked with and some of those we arrested.
M: Do you have a website?
J: Actually, I have two. http://www.jerryhooten.com/ is the site for my “Mystery Writers Resource”. I have links there for other resources for mystery writers and I plug my books there also. The second site is, www.tech-conrite.com . That site is devoted to security and investigative information and links.
M: You also have an e-mail newsletter. Can you tell me a little about it? Does it cost anything? And who might it help?
J: My newsletter has been in limbo the past few months. I plan on getting back on track this fall, with maybe a summer issue as a catch-up issue. All you have to do is sign up for it. It’s geared for mystery writers, but there are suggestions and stories for writers of all genres. I also have a recipe of the month that I add as a Recipe to Die For. I have copies of the recipes in a book with the same title.
M: Where can we buy your books?
J: Locally, at Beaverdale Books, The Book Store, and also Barnes and Noble and Borders by order. Online they are available at http://www.amazon.com/, http://www.lulu.com/ and http://www.createspace.com/ . Digital editions are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords.com.
M: Tell me about your writers group?
J: Alice Meyer, the owner of Beaverdale Books, gives a group of us space to meet the first Tuesday of each month. Our meetings start at 7 p.m. and we cover topics such as marketing, distribution, publishers, agents, and of course, writing. I try to keep the group up to date on what’s happening in the writing world.
M: Jerry, I want to thank you for taking your time with us today. Folks, Jerry’s sit is full of interesting information and I know he would be willing to put you on his mailing list and answer any question or comment you might want to post.