By Jerri Williams
Authors know well the question. Readers, as well as new and not-yet-published writers, ask it all the time. “Where to you get your story ideas?” For me, the answer is simple. Many of my premises and plot twists come directly from the true crime tales my guests share on my podcast, FBI Retired Case File Review.
Ironically, when I started the show seven years ago, I did so to introduce potential readers to my debut crime novel. However, because I consider myself not only be a storyteller, but a story collector too, the podcast soon became a resource for writers and readers seeking authenticity in crime fiction. What better way to accomplish this than by listening to retired FBI agents review their intriguing and high-profile FBI cases, as well as fascinating but not as well-known investigations?
I invite my former colleagues to share their stories on my podcast because stories serve several significant purposes. One–They memorialize the agents’ personal legacies. Two–They preserve institutional knowledge. Three–They contribute to the public’s positive perception of the Bureau. More than a quarter of my FBI guests are also authors and I promote their work in via my FBI Reading Resource, a colorful list of their FBI focused crime fiction, true crime, memoirs, and non-fiction books.
As the retired agents recount their investigations, they talk about devoting their lives to their work, while sadly at times also neglecting their marriages and mental health, and spending time away from their kids that they’ll never get back. Do I suggest my fellow authors listen to the episodes and package up those honest emotions and heartfelt confessions and put it in their stories? You bet I do!
The agents’ behind-the-scenes stories allow listeners to experience what it’s like to hunt down a spy during an espionage case or comb through a file cabinet of incriminating documents in a corruption investigation or sit on a wire or conduct a physical surveillance to gather evidence of drug trafficking or organized crime. It’s like being a fly on the wall. It’s like eavesdropping on the FBI.
Of course, my crime novels featuring female FBI agents investigating fraud and corruption are inspired by true crime FBI cases, too. I fill in the storylines with my imagined and crafted versions of the fascinating real-life characters and scenarios I heard on the over 280 episodes I’ve produced and hosted to date.
So, if you’re a reader who is thinking about writing your first crime novel or a veteran author who already has a stack of books with your name on the spine, maybe the next time someone asks, “Where do you get your story ideas?” you will reply, “From listening to the podcast, FBI Retired Case File Review.”
And if you’re listening when you think you should be writing, remember. . . you’re doing research!
Jerri Williams uses her prior professional experiences with scams and schemers to write crime fiction about greed and often jokes that she is reliving her glory days by producing and hosting FBI Retired Case File Review, a true crime podcast with more than 7 million downloads and over 270 episodes where she interviews retired FBI agents about their high-profile cases and careers.
You can listen to the FBI Retired Case File Review at jerriwilliams.com or on your favorite podcast app.
270 podcasts – wow! No wonder your novels are so terrific! While many authors say they get their inspiration from the news headlines, you observe that “being there is even better.” Thanks for being our guest blogger today – obviously, we’ll all have to start “tuning in” to your stories!!!
What a resource! So happy to learn about it. And your point about writing-while-not-writing is very well taken. That’s what I tell myself while eating cookies and binging Hulu. Seriously, though, excellent post!
I discovered your podcast about two years ago—it helped immeasurably when starting my new series, since one of my characters was an FBI agent and two recurring characters are agents too. Also whenever I’m working on something I’ll surf your episodes to find ones that deal with the specific situation. And I’m ALWAYS ready for a good fraud story. Those never cease to fascinate and enrage me.
What lives your guests have led. Gazillions of years ago, when my first husband had recently graduated from law school, we were at a party with a bunch of young FBI lawyers. All of them referred to their wives as “Alice.” All of them. Finally I asked one of them, how is it all of you married women named Alice? He laughed, and he said that wasn’t any of their names. But they were stay-at-home moms and all alike. How times have changed. Thank goodness!