R. Scott Decker, Ph.D. – FBI Supervisory Agent – Author
Scott Decker’s first book is a true crime memoir,
Recounting the Anthrax Attacks—Terror, the Amerithrax Task Force, and the Evolution of Forensics in the FBI (Rowman & Littlefield, 2018). I attempted to write it as creative non-fiction (see, creativenonfiction.org).
“The book is fascinating and absolutely authentic—a behind-the-scenes account, never before told in such detail, of the FBI’s forensic detective work into the chilling anthrax bioterror attacks after 9/11. Decker, who ran the “dark biology” part of the FBI’s investigation, recounts how agents and scientists used cutting-edge tools of biology to narrow down the search for the perpetrator and finally focus on one suspect. I don’t think the world realizes just what the FBI accomplished or how they did it, or the pitfalls and difficulties of the investigation, but Decker tells us the story from the inside.” —Richard Preston, NY Times Bestselling Author, The Hot Zone and The Demon in the Freezer.
Do you write in more than one genre? No, just one genre, memoir, as narrative non-fiction. I am a stickler for historical and technical accuracy.
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I converted the spare bedroom at the end of our house to an office. I have a 27″ iMac that allows me to have two or three documents or Internet sites on the screen at once. I have a printer hard-wired to the Mac and a hardline phone next to it on an antique desk with an antique NYC Public Library table forming an “L” shape.
Distractions are numerous. Probably my two rescues, a beagle mix and a miniature pinscher, are the biggest. They really are high maintenance. They keep me company, sleeping on a day bed next to my desk, but if I ignore the pinscher when I am lost in the writing, he pees in my office. Then I have to stop typing and clean it up.
What are you currently working on? These days I free-lance for Security Management magazine and Knife Magazine. I am also researching for a second memoir. The working title is Papermaker—A Memoir of the Ups and Downs in an American Industry. Papermaker will discuss the dangers of working in a paper mill, one that an entire community depends on for their livelihood—the maimings and fatalities notwithstanding.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? I have to give a shout-out to the Public Safety Writers Association. I joined when my book was in the very early stages. Over a couple of years, my writing improved with the help I found attending their annual conference. They also held a writing workshop the day before the conference, and it included the opportunity to submit writing samples for critique. I submitted my first book, two chapters, which had undergone numerous revisions. The instructor had only one minor suggestion for my dialog. I entered my unpublished manuscript in their annual writing competition. It won first place in the non-fiction book category. At that point, I felt I was ready to query publishers in earnest.
Who’s currently your favorite author? I’ll list two. The first is Linda Greenlaw; she has authored three or four memoirs about fishing the Atlantic. Linda is portrayed in the Warner Bros movie, The Perfect Storm as the woman swordfish captain opposite George Clooney’s character. The second is Colson Whitehead. He has authored both fiction and non-fiction books and is an excellent writer.
How long did it take you to write your first book? I began in 2012, and Recounting was published in March 2018. During that time, I got married, my wife and I moved three times, took two family estates through probate, and put the family farm in preservation. I stayed busy.
Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I am an outliner. I begin with a timeline of events. I then go down the timeline and make chapter breaks at places I think will lend themselves to a cliffhanger. Following that, I write one-half to two-thirds of a page summarizing each chapter. The chapter outlines will comprise a large part of my non-fiction book proposal. A book proposal is mandatory for publishing non-fiction—all publishers require it.
A proposal is a fair amount of work in itself, but I find it makes writing the book easier. I take each chapter outline and fill in between the sentences to build a chapter.
What kind of research do you do? These days most is over the Internet. Sites like fold3.com and the National Archives (archives.gov) contain loads of information. Even the FBI has a ton of case histories available on their site, vault.fbi.gov. I read books on the same subject I want to write about; these books become part of my book proposal’s “Comparable Books” section. I request books through the Inter-Library Loan process at my local public library or buy them outright.
What is the best book you ever read? I’ll list two again, first is John Conroy’s Belfast Diary—War as a Way of Life (Beacon Press, 1989). The second is Craig K. Collins’ Thunder in the Mountains: A Portrait of American Gun Culture (Lyons Press, 2014). Both are narrative non-fiction memoirs.
The second, Thunder in the Mountains, had a great effect on my writing and encouraged me to embrace writing about myself in the first-person—memoir. Collins’ book showed me how to speak to my audience in a personal way, which I think appeals to most readers.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you? I’ll continue to free-lance for Security Management magazine and Knife Magazine and research for a second memoir. I have partnered with an established producer who optioned my book. We are pitching networks on both a documentary series and a scripted narrative series.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Don’t give up on publishers versus self-publishing. Going with an established publisher, even a small house, has advantages. The first version of my book, or rather my non-fiction proposal, was rejected over and over by small presses. I finally sat down and rewrote it using much more first person and ending each chapter with a cliffhanger. I submitted the revised proposal to a dozen small presses and received three contract offers. I went with Rowman on the advice of a fellow author. Working with both my editor and production manager at Rowman was great.
How do our readers contact you? Your website, blog links, any links you want to be posted? Readers can contact me through my Internet site: www.rscottdecker.com. The site’s “Contact” page is forwarded to my email address, which I check several times a day. The site is low cost, and I edit it myself. The Authors Guild (authorsguild.org) hosts it.
Scott Decker with Robert Mueller
Great interview, Scott. I enjoyed your book and plan on reading John Conroy’s also. Good luck with the second memoir. Proud to call you a colleague from Public Safety Writers Assn.!
Thanks very Thonie, I appreciate your kind comments, best, Scott
Good interview, Scott. I really enjoyed Recounting the Anthrax Attacks. I look forward to your next book!
Good interview, Scott. I really enjoyed your Recounting the Anthrax Attacks. I’ll be first in line when the next book comes out!
Fascinating interview, George. Well done! Very nice to learn about you, SSA Decker. Forgive me if I have your title wrong. I am off to buy this book. Years ago, when an anthrax terrorist attack occurred on the East Coast, I was fortunate to belong to a writing organization that toured the Washington D.C. Postal Service and meet with the law enforcement arm that investigated that attack. I believe they tracked the anthrax back to the lab where it was housed. Interested in how the FBI and the USPS work together.
Your rescues sound adorable. Glad they keep you company. Perhaps a timer to remind you to let the out 🙂
Hope you enjoy Recounting. Thank you for your comments. Yes, I need a min-pin pee timer
I’ve known Scott for years through the PSWA and strongly recommend his book. Although its nonfiction, it reads like a thriller novel. Scott exemplifies the very best of our American culture having been a dedicated FBI agent and a patriot as well.
Thanks for the kind words, Mike –Scott