C A I T L I N R O T H E R
Growing up as an only child I kept myself company by reading stacks of books and using my mind as a stage where characters talked to each other. As I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, I was the puppet master as these characters interacted and engaged in various conflicts. At the time, this was a form of entertainment. It wouldn't become apparent until years later that telling stories was my destiny.
My burgeoning writing career began with a school project at age 6 when I put together my first book – about a family of mice. I illustrated it with colored pencils, then sandwiched it between pieces of cardboard covered with an orange paisley swatch of fabric my mother had given me.
As I dabbled in journalism in high school and college, I found that it opened up a part of my brain in an entirely different and exciting way. I loved tracking down stories from points A to B to C to D. It was like solving a puzzle, just as a detective would solve a case. But it was more than that. I also enjoyed the opportunity to share my revelations and discoveries with others in story form.
Unwilling to live in the boondocks, I refused to go to a small town to work at a small paper. Instead, I chose to use my writing skills at a job in public relations at a cruise line in San Francisco, pushing aside my earlier interest in abnormal psychology and the quirkier, more creative aspects of life.
When I realized the corporate world was not for me, I began to seek a higher truth -- not just any facts, but important relevant facts, the ones that would make a contribution to my community and foster societal change. I ended up choosing the balance and objectivity of newspapers over the positive spin world of PR, marketing and advertising, even though it meant I had to live and work in the middle of nowhere for a while.
This was all well and good until I wanted to go even deeper, which in journalism, generally means longer. In the ever-changing world of newspapers, one thing has seemed to remain constant: Editors always think shorter is better. Thus, my conundrum. Luckily, by this point, I’d found another outlet -- fiction.
I had continued to make up funny little stories here and there, but hadn’t taken the practice very seriously until the late 1980s, when I picked up creative writing again more as a hobby, really, hoping that someday it might turn into something more. I joined a writing workshop in Northampton, Mass., and quickly found a much-needed escape from the sweatshop mentality of speed-writing as many as four stories a day for the Springfield Union-News. I wrote a series of short stories in that workshop, one of which eventually evolved into my first novel, Naked Addiction.
As an investigative journalist, I kept an eye out for the more complex and dramatic stories – the most bizarre or tragic deaths and the public figures whose questionable actions evoked my investigative curiosity. I wrote about such things as Michael Jackson’s original molestation charges and addiction to painkillers, the lifestyle of the Heaven’s Gate cult and strippers’ laundered political contributions to San Diego City Council members. Over time, a symbiotic relationship formed between my fiction and non-fiction writing skills and the topics fed into each other.
Along the way, I also became somewhat of an expert in addiction through professional and family experience – alcohol and methamphetamine in particular, suicide, mental illness and the family dynamics and pharmacology involved. These would become themes in my books.
Because newspaper jobs and deadlines can be so demanding, I had only weekends to spend writing and rewriting that novel. I had committed myself to learn about the publishing world, and so I did that, taking hope from the encouraging developments that occurred in between the rejections.
My writing worlds finally converged when I was able to take a series of news stories that I had written about the Kristin Rossum murder case and expanded them into what would become my first book, POISONED LOVE. (I must point out that I have always maintained a clear separation between fact and fantasy.)
In August 2006, I signed a contract for my second non-fiction book, and, when the editors at The San Diego Union-Tribune said they couldn’t give me a second leave, I quit my secure, full-time, 401K-contributing job and took the leap, a big risk some of my colleagues said they wouldn’t take.
But it all turned out just fine.
While I was writing that next book, TWISTED TRIANGLE: A FAMOUS CRIME WRITER, A LESBIAN LOVE AFFAIR AND THE FBI HUSBAND'S VIOLENT REVENGE, my agent called out of the blue, and during a pleasant conversation about nothing in particular, I asked if he had good news for me. He said we’d gotten an offer on my novel. It had been so long since we’d originally sent out the manuscript that I’d let go of my dream, for the moment anyway, so I almost thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. It only took 17 years.
Thankfully, I’d already written a solid draft of the sequel.
While I was working on TWISTED, I signed a contract for my next non-fiction book, BODY PARTS, about serial killer Wayne Adam Ford (which was just re-issued in October 2013). I turned in the manuscript only days before the release of TWISTED, a crazy but entirely factual account of a kidnapping, an attempted murder and a love triangle between two married FBI agents, Gene and Margo Bennett, and novelist Patricia Cornwell.
Since then, I've been continuing to juggle several book projects at a time, while also leading narrative non-fiction and creative writing workshops at UCSD Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink, where I share my knowledge and experience with adult professionals. I also work as a book doctor/editorial and research consultant/coach, give inspirational and educational speeches, and do TV and radio appearances as a crime expert and consulting producer.
In 2008 I got hooked up with TV reporter Alysia Sofios, with whom I co-authored WHERE HOPE BEGINS/DEADLY DEVOTION, a book that mixes inspiration, hope and true crime.
I spent five years researching and writing DEAD RECKONING, the story behind the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks by Skylar Deleon and his wife Jennifer, the Bonnie and Clyde of the OC.
In 2010 I co-authored MY LIFE, DELETED, a fascinating memoir about Scott Bolzan, which combines a medical mystery with a love story and a tale of resillience and determination.
Then came LOST GIRLS, a controversial book that delves into many new and exclusive areas of the high profile case of rape and murder of San Diego area teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner.
My latest release (January 2014) is I'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU, the story behind a fascinating cold case out of Newport Beach, Calif.: the love triangle murder of multimillionaire entrepreneur Bill McLaughlin by his femme fatale fiancee, Nanette Johnston Packard, and her NFL-linebacker lover, Eric Naposki.
I launched San Diego Writing Women, organized big authors' events and coordinated a blog, all which ran successfully for a few years until the group ran its course. Now I'm part of a new group, Authors and Readers RoundTable (ARRT). Check us out at arrtsd.blogspot.com.
My boss works me hard, but writing books can be addictive.
JUST THE FACTS:
Born: Caitlin Lisane Rother in Montreal, Canada.
Immigrated: to the Santa Barbara area of California as a toddler before packing up and moving to San Diego.
Education: Bachelor’s in psychology from the University of California, Berkeley; master’s from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
Resume: During my 19-year career as a daily newspaper reporter, I worked briefly at States News Service in Washington, DC, then at the Berkshire Eagle and the Springfield Union-News in Massachusetts, (where author Tom Wolfe also worked, but not at the same time). Returned to the West Coast to work as a full-time freelancer for the Los Angeles Times in Ventura County. Became a staff writer for the Daily News in Los Angeles before returning to San Diego to join the Union-Tribune staff. Still do the occasional freelance story. Have also been published in Cosmopolitan, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post.
Switched gears: Resigned from the Union-Tribune in September 2006 to write books full-time. Now working on my 10th, 11th and 12th book.
Newest book: I'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU (Kensington/Pinnacle, 2014), the authoritative story behind the love triangle murder of Newport Beach multimillionaire entrepreneur Bill McLaughlin by his femme fatale fiancee, Nanette Johnston Packard, and her NFL-linebacker lover, Eric Naposki.
Most controversial book: LOST GIRLS (Kensington/Pinnacle, July 2012), the revealing and behind-the-scenes story of the rape and murder of Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner.
First NYT bestseller:MY LIFE, DELETED (HarperCollins/HarperOne, Oct. 2011), a memoir of Scott Bolzan, co-authored with him and help from his wife Joan, the compelling story of this former NFL player-turned-aviation entrepreneur's recovery after falling down, hitting his head, and losing all 46 years of his long-term memory.
Updated edition with 20 new pages: POISONED LOVE, the authoritative account of the Kristin Rossum murder case, new version released in December 2011 by Kensington/Pinnacle. Now in its eighth printing.
Only took five years to write: DEAD RECKONING (Kensington/Pinnacle, Feb. 2011), the authoritative story behind the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks by a clan of outlaws led by Skylar Deleon, who tied the Hawkses to the anchor of their yacht and threw them overboard -- alive -- near Newport Beach, Calif. Skylar and his pregnant wife, Jennifer, schemed to steal the Hawkses' boat and pillage their bank accounts.
Current project: It's a secret, but it's not about murder, for a change of pace. Also working on a second novel, another true crime book, and a few surprises.
Just re-issued: BODY PARTS (Kensington/Pinnacle) came out March 2009. This is a psychological look at the life of long-haul trucker Wayne Adam Ford, who was convicted of murdering four women during rough sex, dismembering two of them, and then turning himself in so he wouldn't kill again. Still claiming the women’s deaths were accidental, he is on Death Row at San Quentin prison in California.
Get twisted: TWISTED TRIANGLE (Wiley & Sons/Jossey-Bass, April 2009) former FBI agent Margo Bennett’s exclusive story about the attempt on her life by her ex-husband, former FBI undercover agent Gene Bennett. The Bennett case received international publicity due to Patricia Cornwell's romantic involvement with Margo after the two met at the FBI Academy at Quantico. Rother is the first to tell Margo’s exclusive story.
Title change in paperback: WHERE HOPE BEGINS is now DEADLY DEVOTION (Simon & Schuster, July 2011, co-authored with Alysia Sofios), the inspiring true story of how Sofios, a TV reporter in Fresno, risked her career to help female survivors of the Marcus Wesson family recover from a cult-like life of abuse, incest, polygamy and the murder of their nine children.
First novel: NAKED ADDICTION, a thriller about sex, drugs and police detective Ken Goode’s investigation into the murder of young beauty school students near the beach in San Diego. (Dorchester, November 2007)
Media appearances: Featured on dozens of TV and radio shows as a crime expert, including Nancy Grace, "Women Who Kill" on E!, numerous shows on the Investigation Discovery channel, several episodes of the Oxygen network's "Snapped," the Jay Thomas Show, "On the Record" with Greta Van Susteren, the nationally syndicated “America at Night” radio program, and HRC on XM Radio.
Honors: Nominated in 1998 by the Union-Tribune for a Pulitzer Prize for a story about a depressed teenager who died after lighting himself on fire behind a WalMart. Won three awards in the annual Best of the West contest, which judges stories from major metropolitan newspapers in thirteen western states. Also won five awards for a narrative that tracked the progress of all five recipients from a 12-year-old organ donor, including a Best Feature award from the Associated Press News Executives Council and a Best News-Feature award from the Los Angeles Press Club. LOST GIRLS and POISONED LOVE were both San Diego Book Award finalists, in 2011 and 2012.