As a criminal defense attorney (by day) my clients often complain they are “doing time for the crime” (as if that’s unfortunate). After writing five true crime books that primarily focus on the one percent of crimes (motorcycle gangs, mafia and deep cover investigations) no sane author should explore, I too have done “time for the crime” and have learned a few things: First, everyone has a story, not everyone has a voice; second, it’s the storyteller’s job to investigate Truth (the whole truth, nothing but the truth, so help me!!) But what is the Truth, and whose Truth is it? How the author derives at that Truth steeped in a world of sociopaths, violent subcultures, unpredictable sources, hidden identities, deep cover investigations and subjects whose norm it is to distrust everyone including the storyteller, involves tenacity and guts. The author is cast in a dual role, as both journalist and novelist.
And unlike typical true crime books (like my own, A Socialite Scorned: The Murder of a Tucson High Roller) that center around a brutal murder, the pathology of the killer(s) and the subsequent investigation, most of mine have involved first-hand accounts with limited (if any) court records or other documentation and corroborating sources who, for safety reasons, cannot ever be divulged.
In my latest book, The Last Chicago Boss, the story is written from the perspective of Peter James, the “Boss” of the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club, one of the most violent biker gangs in the world and a chief rival of the Hells Angels. His was an extraordinary rise to power and, like every book I’d written before, his presented unique challenges. For starters, we lived on opposite coasts. I had never been to Chicago. He was dying (which meant I had to build rapport quickly and obtain all the information I needed in less than six months) and disliked the idea of being recorded (his survival in the club, after all, as a “Boss” relied on his ability to avoid government surveillance).
So I improvised and implemented the following: Rule #1: make the subject comfortable. Rule #2: Let the subject guide the disclosures. Rule #3: Listen. Listen. Listen. Rule #4: Interview often (the Boss and I spoke every Sunday for three hours for over six months). Rule #5: Keep everything (you never know what will make it into the final manuscript or what might fill in the gaps). Rule #6: Respect the Subject’s boundaries, if he tells you it’s “off the record” keep it “off the record.” Rule #7: Don’t worry about organization when information gathering, that will come later.
After six months of interviews and hundreds of pages of notes I had a compilation of fascinating, funny and at times terrifying tales; I needed a Hook and a way to organize the material into a compelling narrative. I looked for repetition, themes and significant secondary characters. The Boss loved board games: Risk, Go, Chess. He manipulated the Chicago Outlaws and 38 additional clubs like game pieces; he occupied territories and “captured” enemies. The idea of “games” and “players” provided the structure for the Story. And since The Boss was “larger than life” the narrative had to be written in first person. All I needed now was “The Hook” (or what I like to call, the “Why”).
In The Last Chicago Boss, the real Sons of Anarchy were actually “gangster conformists”, with more rules than a corporate entity. They weren’t rebels. They weren’t even free. And, maybe after all, their “terrifying public persona” was really just part of a more private game. That’s the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…. according to The Boss (as told to me, the story teller).
Droban is an award-winning author of five best-selling true crime books, one of which (Vagos, Mongols and Outlaws) was made into a miniseries called “Gangland Undercover” initially produced by the History Channel. Her true crime books, Running with the Devil: The True Story of the ATF’s Infiltration of the Hells Angels, won the USA News National Book Award for best True Crime in 2008 and Prodigal Father, Pagan Son: My Life Born Into Madness, is a two-time winner of the USA News National Book Award for Best True Crime and Best Memoir. Her book, A Socialite Scorned: The Murder of Gary Triano, was featured on American Greed, Dateline and in “Murders and Mansions” produced by La Brea Entertainment. Her most recent book is The Last Chicago Boss: The True Story of Big Pete and the Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club. Kerrie has written articles for TIME and has appeared on national television on CNN, CNBC’s American Greed, “A Widow’s Web.” “A & E’s “Gangland” “Behind Enemy Lines”, the American Hero’s Channel, “Codes and Conspiracies,” Investigation ID and the Discovery Channel’s “Deadly Devotion,” and in a series entitled, “Deep Undercover.” Her website is www.kerriedroban.com
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