Tuesday, November 2, 2010

VOTE! Then: Deadly and Dangeous Research!

Have you voted yet?

If not, go RIGHT NOW.

Then come back and read this TRUE CRIME TUESDAY amazing tale from Jessica Speart!

Research Can Be a Killer!
I’ve been known to do some crazy things while researching my Rachel Porter mysteries. I’ve climbed into cages with mountain lions, gotten lost on a logging road in the middle of a snowstorm, and broken into a warehouse run by the Chinese mob where shark fin was being illegally processed.

But my next book contract was for nonfiction.

I had a juicy topic – a Japanese butterfly smuggler who described himself as the “Indiana Jones” of insects.

HANK: Sorry to interrupt. But isn't that the best idea you've ever heard? Her book is Winged Obsession. Okay, back to Jess.

JESSICA: He’d broken the law for years and finally been caught in a three-year undercover sting that had all the twists and turns one could possibly imagine. The story was filled with greed, lust and obsession. The special agent on the case was willing to work with me and I’d been given full access to all the investigative files and undercover audio and Skype tapes. What more could a writer possibly want? That was easy.

So far, no one had managed to interview the smuggler, Yoshi Kojima. He’d adamantly refused to speak to anyone while serving a twenty-one month sentence in a California federal prison. Upon release, he’d been immediately deported to Japan and gone right back to his illegal trade.
I wanted to talk to the criminal, himself.

Kojima’s attorney, who had rudely declined to speak to me, planted the idea in my mind. “Maybe you should go talk to Mr. Kojima in Japan,” he’d sarcastically suggested before hanging up on me.

Good idea, I thought. The problem was I was heading to a country where I knew no one and don’t speak Japanese. That didn’t matter. My radar was set for Japan and there was no turning back. What I experienced was culture shock.

The first day I was afraid to venture more than a few blocks from my hotel. Hey, it had been a major problem finding it in the first place. A bus from the airport had dropped me off in the middle of Shinjuku. Try hauling a monster suitcase around in the rain while asking directions from strangers who have no idea what you’re talking about. I finally found my small hotel tucked away on a maze of side streets.

By day two, I was in full research mode. There were various rumors that Yoshi Kojima had resorted to a life of crime in order to support his sex fetishes. They ranged from a weakness for transvestites to an addiction to maid cafes where young girls, dressed as naughty maids, wait on customers hand and foot. I fully intended to check out both of these scenes.

Transvestites were easy enough to find. So were gay clubs with their different themes. There were mature bars, chubby chaser bars, muscle bars, young guy bars and bear bars for those who like their men hairy.

HANK: Oh. Interrupting again. Bear bars? Oh, well, no, just go on.

JESSICA: The only problem is that foreigners aren’t welcome – especially gaijin women. Maid cafes proved to be easier, though I became the main object of interest. None of the ‘maids’ could understand exactly what I was doing there.

I quickly learned there were few street signs, menus, or directions in English, and pantomiming will only get you so far. Fortunately, I’d been able to connect with a Japanese butterfly collector just before leaving the U.S. He graciously offered to introduce me to a dealer on the outskirts of Tokyo. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Butterfly dealers tend to be an elusive lot with their pricey treasure troves. Besides, his place would have been impossible to find on my own and, once again, the dealer spoke no English.

The dealer operated out of two large apartments lined floor to ceiling with a filing system of slim maroon boxes. Each was filled to the brim with butterflies gathered from around the world, many of them illegal. Twenty thousand additional bugs are added to his stash every month. All this comprises only a third of what he actually has in stock. The rest are kept under lock and key in a nearby warehouse. The dealer was more notorious than I’d realized, having previously been jailed in India for smuggling butterflies. He happily posed for my camera surrounded by his booty.

Neither of these men knew what I was really writing about, except that the subject was butterflies. I needed to keep my mission secret if I was ever to find Kojima. I could only hope that word of my arrival in Japan didn’t reach the smuggler before I did in the highly secretive world of butterfly dealers.

HANK: What did I tell you? Amazing. But Jessica--what happened then????

Have you ever done anything dangerous in the same of research? I learned how to do stunt driving--yup, I can do a bat-turn at eighty milesd an hour. But Ive never faced down an internaitnal criminal.

And hey: have you voted yet? Just say yes!


Jessica Speart is an investigative journalist whose focus is on wildlife law enforcement, endangered species issues, and the environment. Speart created her sleuth--U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Rachel Porter-- after years of investigating wildlife and drug-trafficking crimes for publications such as The New York Sunday Times Magazine, Omni, Travel & Leisure, Audubon, National Wildlife, Mother Jones, Wildlife Conservation, Earth Journal and Animals Magazine. When she began to find the characters she covered stranger than fiction, she turned her pen toward mysteries. There are ten novels in the Rachel Porter series.

Then a funny thing happened. Jessica recently wrote her first narrative nonfiction book upon discovering that the truth really is stranger than fiction. WINGED OBSESSION will be published by Wm Morrow in April 2011.

Prior to writing, Jessica worked as an actress in NYC, where she appeared off-Broadway, as well as in commercials and soap operas.


  1. Hi Jess, can't wait for this book!! you are so much braver than I will ever be--thanks for coming by to give us a taste of your story.

    Do you miss writing fiction?

  2. I have never EVER done anything that rivals what Jessica Speart gets up to - Jess, you're amazing! And you couldn't make up a scarier villain...sadly, you didn't have to.

  3. Yes, it's amazing..and Jess, I'd love to know what happened next!

    (Soory but my captcha word is the best yet: scroo.)

  4. Hi Roberta.

    Yes, I do miss writing fiction. But writing narrative nonfiction is darn pretty close. And I still get to live vicariously!

  5. Hey, Hallie. You're right. Lee Child just called him the Hannibal Lecter of conservation!

  6. Hank - What happened next is that I managed to 'accidentally' bump into my target, Yoshi Kojima.

  7. Hi Jess,
    Congrats on the new book!! What a fascinating story -- and fascinating research!!

    I hope to see you again soon, its been too long!!

  8. Jessica: you said "Lee Child just called him the Hannibal Lecter of conservation!"

    What's the rest of THAT story??

  9. Kojima is a one-man wrecking ball where endangered species are concerned. He's also a fascinating and intelligent, dark & twisted man.
    I couldn't have created a better character.

  10. Oh wow, Jessica, I want to read this book! Were you alone in Japan or did you take someone with you?

    I voted.

  11. I went alone to Japan. It was a leap of faith and pure determination on my part. I knew that I had to meet Kojima in order to finish the book to my satisfaction. I didn't even know if he would be in Japan when I arrived. That part of the story makes a great ending for the book!

  12. Jess, you are a true detective. I'm in awe of your moxie. Can't wait to read the book and find out how you "accidentally" bumped into the smuggler.

  13. WOW! That sounds so strange yet it's true. You hear about things like ivory poaching, killing gorilla mothers to get the babies etc but I've never heard of smuggling butterflies.

    I'm in awe with what you've done with this and past adventures. How do you do your research without wanting to hurt the person who is being callous to animals and the environment? I don't know if I could do what you've done without being arrested for assault. It would either totally tick me off or tear me apart emotionally.

  14. Hi Donna,

    The best thing one can do is to write about and reveal someone's illegal activities. Assaulting them would only last a moment - and probably get you in trouble. Hopefully, an expose will last a lot longer!