Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Federally Protected Facts

Welcome to our Tuesday "Case Files from our Detectives." This month our theme is HARD FACTS. Mystery writing resources we turn to, from books to websites to people. Or how we wrestle with the practical matters of plotting and planning our mysteries. Whether you're a mystery writer yourself, a teacher planning a unit on mystery, or a reader who wants to know more about this genre, you'll find some great references and tips listed each Tuesday in July.

For my debut novel, WHISPERTOWN, I wrote about a topic that's super easy to research. WITSEC, also known as the Federal Witness Protection Program. And by 'easy' I mean 'incredibly freaking difficult'. Think about it (something I didn't do before I jumped in head first...), how much timely, credible information is available on the program that keeps people alive by being secretive? Though the program is run by the U.S. Marshals, there's no FAQ on their website (there is a handy fact sheet), and no Writer Liaison willing to answer questions about their clandestine tactics (I'm sure the witnesses are happy about that). Problematic, to say the least...

What did I do? I tapped a source that was as good, if not better, than a Marshal assigned to a protection detail, or a witness currently in the program. I'm speaking of a man named Gerald Shur. The Founder of the Witness Protection Program.

Okay, I didn't talk to him directly, but I discovered a neat little book he co-wrote with Pete Earley called WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program. In it, Shur explains how the program came to be, and tells amazing stories (some pretty hilarious) about the witnesses he helped protect over the years. Certainly, the information is old and censored, so not to pose a threat to anyone currently under Federal Protection, but there's still authenticity there. A little goes a long way. Shur's accounts inspired me in monumental ways, gave me my 'in'.

Combining true WITSEC history with the creative license all writers use, I was able to slip some facts into my fiction undetected, kind of like how the program hides witnesses. Hopefully, like the program, you won't be able to tell the difference.


Lamar "L. R." Giles writes for adults and teens. Penning everything from epic fantasy to noir thrillers, he's never met a genre he didn't like. His debut YA mystery WHISPERTOWN is about a teen in witness protection who investigates his best friend's murder and stumbles on a dark conspiracy that leads back to his own father. It will be published in Summer, 2013 by HarperCollins. He resides in Virginia with his wife and is represented by Jamie Weiss Chilton of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. Find out more on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.


  1. This is fascinating, Lamar! I doubt we'll know the difference:-)

    1. Thanks, Kristen. I take it you're at SCBWI right about now...I really wish I could've made it this year. :( Have fun! Eat tasty food and drink frosty drinks for me (oh, and be productive...that too).


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