|Since I mentioned the time Stephen Hunter helped me get a writing assignment in my review of his latest novel, THE THIRD BULLET, I thought I'd go ahead and tell the story here while it's still fresh in my mind.|
As I said before, Hunter's novel DIRTY WHITE BOYS, was a book that I absolutely could not put down. It's the story of three men (two hardened cons and one young, semi-innocent kid) who bust out of the Oklahoma State Pen and go on a murderous rampage. They are pursued by a larger than life Oklahoma State Trooper (think John Wayne in his prime or Clint Eastwood). There are gun battles and car chases aplenty. It's a terrific book and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
There is a lot of information in the book about the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation (that state's version of the Texas Department of Public Safety). It seemed to me while reading the book that Hunter had done a lot of research and perhaps might have interviewed some members of the OBI. At the time I read the book, I was freelancing for POLICE magazine, a trade journal for law enforcement officers. The magazine was published out of San Diego, California, but police officers across the country subscribed to the journal. I was always on the lookout for story ideas and I thought that maybe a piece on the OBI would be of interest to our readers.
I pitched my story idea to my editor (sorry Dennis, I can't recall your last name!) and he gave me the go ahead to do some digging around and see what I could find out. My first move was to contact Stephen Hunter himself. You need to understand that this was way back in the early 1990s and I did not have Internet access at the time. But I did know where he worked. At the time, Stephen Hunter was working as the film reviewer for The Baltimore Sun. I contacted the newspaper's office, asked to speak to Stephen Hunter, got his voice mail and left a message. I crossed my fingers and hoped he call back.
My phone rang a few days later. I picked it up, said hello and heard a voice say, "Frank, this is Stephen Hunter returning your call." That moment remains one of the highlights of my freelance writing career. But wait. It gets better.
After I gushed about how much I loved DIRTY WHITE BOYS, I asked him about the research that he had done on the OBI.
"You know, don't you," he said, "that my novel is loosely based on a true story?"
I had no idea that such was the case and I asked him to fill me in. He briefly told me about an incident that occurred a few years previously in which two vicious killers really did escape from the Oklahoma State Pen and go on a multi-state killing spree. They were chased by air and on the ground through a small town in Oklahoma by state troopers. The pair were finally cornered in a deadly shootout that left the killers dead along with several troopers. It was the bloodiest day in the history of the Oklahoma State Police. They lost more men in that one day than in any other day in the entire history of the agency.
Hunter gave me the names of some of his contacts at the OBI and wished me luck. I immediately contacted Dennis and told him what I had discovered. He thought the story sounded like a good one but we would have to tread carefully. He suggested that he submit a letter of introduction on my behalf to one of the chief officers at the Oklahoma State Police to introduce me, present my credentials, explain the story that I wished to write and to seek permission to conduct interviews with some of the surviving troopers from that bloody day.
The letter was sent and approval was granted. As soon as I was notified, I set up phone interviews and proceeded to talk to several troopers all of whom told me an incredible story of bravery and courage under fire.
I wrote the story and submitted it. Dennis accepted it and sent me a nice paycheck. When the story was published I made sure to forward a copy of the magazine to Stephen Hunter. In return, he was kind enough to send me a signed copy of his then latest novel, BLACK LIGHT.
And that's how reading DIRTY WHITE BOYS turned into a paid writing gig for me.