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Interview: January 4, 2013

New York Times bestselling author Gregg Olsen has written eight nonfiction books, six novels, and has contributed a short story to a collection edited by Lee Child. In this interview, conducted by’s Joe Hartlaub, Olsen talks about his latest thriller, FEAR COLLECTOR, which tells the story of two women obsessed with notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, and the many projects with which he is currently involved. An element of FEAR COLLECTOR that was extremely interesting is one that is rarely discussed at any length. There is a segment of the female population that finds criminals to be desirable dating and mating material. One can find without too much difficulty websites that cater to this interest. Here, the romantic interest that one of the characters has for Ted Bundy affects events during and after his death. What do you think sparks such a romantic interest? Is it the idea of courting danger? Is it something beyond the attraction of people --- male and female --- toward the “bad” boy or girl? Or is it something else entirely? 

Gregg Olsen: I did research years ago about women in love with prisoners (some famous, others not so). While I didn’t write about the subject, I did come away with the conclusion that some --- not all --- of these women are attracted to a man they can’t really have. The relationship can be intense (love letters, long visits), and in some ways fantasies are fulfilled. I also found that some women feel they can be of help and support to someone who has been abandoned by everyone else. They can help him. Maybe even fix him. It is the rare case that a convicted killer and his pen pal lover can make a life together outside of the prison visiting room.

BRC: You included in FEAR COLLECTOR a novella entitled “The Bone Box,” featuring a forensic expert named Birdy Waterman. Do you prefer writing novels or shorter works such as “The Bone Box” or “The Crime of My Life” from the anthology KILLER YEAR? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing stories in each of those formats? 

GO: I enjoyed writing “The Bone Box” and “The Crime of My Life,” but my preference is for longer pieces. Once I get into a story, I want to take the reader through the investigative process or into the mind of the killer and sometimes that can require more words, more scenes.

BRC: On a related note, will we be seeing more of Birdy Waterman in the future? Do you have plans for a series? And given the nature of Birdy’s occupation, will we be seeing more of an emphasis upon the scientific aspect of criminal detection than we have seen in some of your past works? 

GO: I’m excited about the Birdy Waterman series. I’ve just started writing the first novel of three planned for Dr. Waterman. While her job as a forensic pathologist is important, the series is not “CSI.” It’s about a woman who fights for the truth --- and speaks for those who can no longer do so. Her job gives her skills and access to solve crimes, but it’s the character and her passion for forgotten victims that will drive the series.

BRC: While FEAR COLLECTOR is a work of fiction based upon real-world events, you have also written true crime books, the most recent being A TWISTED FAITH. Do you have any plans at the moment for another such work?

GO: I’ve just completed a book with co-author Rebecca Morris about the Susan Cox Powell case. Susan is the Utah mother who went missing a few years ago and whose husband Josh murdered their sons, Charlie and Braden, last year. Susan’s case is heartbreaking and very disturbing.

BRC: Did your research into Bundy’s crimes uncover any incidents or evidence that would inspire you to write a nonfiction book involving his life and actions? 

GO: No. I’m done with Bundy. And after being immersed in his biographies and other resources, I’m glad to be done with him.

BRC: It seems that serial killers are always among us to some degree or another. Are there any currently unsolved series of incidents of which you are aware that might be cause for concern? If so, could you tell us about them? 

GO: Different government and law enforcement statistics indicate that there are 20-80 serial killers at work at all times. Most remain undetected not because they are clever, but because their victims are often people at risk --- homeless, prostitutes, runaways, etc. What made Bundy such a demonic presence in the Northwest was that he went after the girls next door. Being cautious about your surroundings is the best advice I can offer. The likelihood of anyone being a victim of a serial killer is as remote as it has been in Bundy’s day.

BRC: How do you keep current as to new forensic and investigative tools that aid in the identification and capture of serial murderers, as well as the identification of their victims? 

GO: I do a lot of reading, just like anyone else. I’m a great admirer of cold case squads and the work they do to dig into the cases that have sat unsolved. Budget cutbacks have closed a number of such squads, including where I live in the Puget Sound area.

BRC: One of the themes that runs through FEAR COLLECTOR, particularly as it applies to Bundy, is whether it was nature or nurture (or the lack thereof) that created the mindset that drove the monster within. Which do you think had the greatest influence over him? Do you believe that some individuals are born evil and irremediable?

GO: Most of the killers I have written about had environmental factors in their early years that had a profound and tragic impact on their lives. I’ve seen the brain scans that indicate a propensity for violent behavior, and probably there is something to that. And yet, I want to believe more than anything that there is power in love and nurturing and that there was a different path for these killers --- but no one was there to show them the way.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when can we expect to see it?

GO: Besides the new true crime and the new Birdy Waterman, I have a new YA series coming out. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it?