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Jessica Speart: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Jessica Speart has written widely on a range of wildlife protection issues. She is the author of Winged Obsession, a fascinating look inside the sordid world of butterfly smuggling, published this month by W.W. Norton.

You're also the author of ten mysteries starring Fish & Wildlife Service special agent Rachel Porter, and several articles on wildlife protection issues. What got you interested in writing about this field?

I've always been interested in wildlife but it was a trip to Africa that brought specific conservation issues into focus for me. I returned home knowing that I wanted to somehow help wildlife. I'd previously been an actress so this was a big change for me.

Have you decided to focus on writing non-fiction at this point, or do you plan more mysteries in the future?

I loved writing the Rachel Porter mystery series. I got to live vicariously through Rachel while researching and writing about what's important to me. I had to discover another way to do that when the series ended. I found it through writing narrative nonfiction. It brings together all the elements I enjoy. I'm still able to work with fascinating characters and create a powerful narrative to drive the story. I would certainly enjoy writing mysteries again. However, I've also learned that truth really is stranger than fiction.

How did you learn about the Kojima case, and when did you realize you wanted to write a book about it?

A Fish and Wildlife Service agent told me about the case after Kojima had been caught and sentenced. The subject immediately captured my interest. One of Rachel Porter's adventures had involved an endangered California butterfly, and I already knew how quirky the world of butterfly collecting could be. The more I learned about the case, the more I realized a magazine article would never do it justice. The story had to be a book.

The research process for "Winged Obsession" must have been a lengthy one. How long did it take? And was there a particular aspect of research that you really liked or disliked?

I had 15 months to write the book. That might sound like a decent amount of time, but it felt as though I was running a marathon. I could easily have used another three months. As for likes and dislikes, I'm a research junkie. I have to force myself to stop doing research and start writing. I loved the entire research aspect of Winged Obsession.

Do you still keep tabs on Kojima? What's the latest, is he still active in the smuggling trade? Does he know about the book?

I stayed in touch with Kojima for a few months after returning home from Japan. We maintained contact via Skype. That came to a screeching halt when he pressed me to buy some North American butterflies that he wanted. A U.S. dealer had refused to sell them to him. Kojima figured that I could be his "front" man.

I don't know if Kojima is still smuggling. However, many convicted smugglers go back to their old ways. What I do know is that he's still selling butterflies. As to whether Kojima knows about the book, my guess is that he's probably gotten wind of it by now.

For those who've read Winged Obsession? and want more, either about butterfly smuggling or on related topics, what books would you suggest they start with?

I don't know of other books about butterfly smuggling. However, I enjoyed Four Wings and a Prayer by Sue Halpern, and Mariposa Road by Robert Pyle.

What's on your bookshelves, and what are you reading now?

My bookshelves are groaning under the weight of all the books I want to read. At the moment, I'm reading Under The Banner Of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. Next in line are The Tiger by John Vaillant, and Worth Dying For by Lee Child.

Can you tell us a little bit about your next project?

It's still in the planning stage. What I can reveal is that it's another fascinating nonfiction story involving both people and wildlife.

—interview by Jeremy Dibbell

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About author interviews

Each month we feature a few exclusive interviews with authors in our "State of the Thing" newsletter. Know an author who might want to be interviewed? Find out more.

 

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