Writing Assistance? Even the FBI Will Help!

by Dax MacGregor
Being a newbie author, I needed all types of special assistance. To my surprise, I found nearly everyone I asked willing to help, even the FBI.

When I started writing my novel, being a newbie, I needed all types of special assistance. At first, I suffered  in silence, not wanting to look dumb, and privately searched for answers. Later, in desperation, I started asking for help. To my surprise, I found nearly everyone I asked willing to assist me. Even the FBI.

The writing community has been wonderfully supportive. When I asked questions via comments on blogs, tweets or Facebook status messages, I got quick, helpful replies.

I launched this blog as a response. I felt an obligation to give back in return.

I’m a stickler for accuracy. In my novel, The Thread, FBI investigations play a critical role. So after I’d written about half the story, I started getting nervous. My source for FBI process and techniques were books and movies. But they often portrayed things differently. Which were right?

I searched online for more reliable sources. I found ex-FBI agents who wrote or commented about their activities. That helped a lot. I considered writing to some of them to get my questions answered.

Then I tripped across a page on the fbi.gov website titled Working with the FBI: A Guide for Writers, Authors, and Producers. It started:

We can help: if you are a writer, author, or producer who wants to feature the FBI, we may be able to work with you to create an accurate portrayal of the Bureau.

We’ve been doing it since the 1930s. Most recently, we have assisted the motion pictures “The Kingdom,” “Shooter,” and “Breach”; television programs like “Without A Trace,” “CSI,” “Numb3rs,” “Criminal Minds,” and “The Closer”; and books like Big City, Bad Blood; Lone Wolf-Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw; and Lightning Out of Lebanon: Hezbollah Terrorists on American Soil.

I wrote to them immediately and asked for help. It took a couple of days before I got a pleasant reply from a person in the FBI Public Affairs Office. She asked what I needed to know. I sent this huge list of questions:

  • Do agents typically work alone, in pairs, or in larger teams.
  • Are all FBI special agents equal, or are some more special than others? Are the agents in charge of large investigations at some higher level. If so, is there a name for them?
  • Who oversees agents? Who assigns investigations? Who decides when to assign more resources to a case? What if help is needed in some other part of the country?
  • A lot of times, local law enforcement agencies are involved. What are the rules of engagement? In what scenarios does the FBI request local help? How does this get communicated to the local agency?
  • Do agents ever provide updates to higher-ups on progress? I assume there are written reports; but what about in-person updates? If so, who and how extensive? One-on-one with a boss? Or, on large, complicated cases, are there conference room presentations? If so, who attends?

In the opening scenes of my novel, a small, propeller commuter plane is hijacked. The hijackers simulate a crash (in the mountainous Northwest part of the USA). When wreckage cannot be located, the FBI is called in to investigate. My question on this involves inter-departmental issues. Obviously, the FAA and the Homeland Security would be involved. Questions:

  • Would the FBI lead this investigation?
  • Doesn’t Homeland Security have their own investigating group? If so, who leads, who follows, etc.
  • I’m concerned about the transition from Search and Rescue to FBI investigation. At first, everyone thinks the plane crashed. Then there are suspicions that the plane might not have crashed. Finally, Search and Rescue gives up and concludes no crash. At what point should the FBI be notified?

In my story, two of the FBI special agents had an intimate relationship in the past. Each is leading a different investigation. The evidence trail brings them together. Sparks fly. Questions:

  • What are the rules relating to dating and intimate relationships between agents? Permitted? Disclosure required? Not assigned to same case? Etc…
  • In the above scenario, how would these rules be applied?

My story includes a leak. It becomes obvious that the bad guys have access to FBI investigation details.

  • Who would investigate?
  • I assume these investigations are not public. If so, what are the rules for “non-public” investigations? (Who has access to the details on these cases?)

A couple of days later, I got an email from a Special Agent with this message:

Is there a good time to call you today regarding your questions?

We arranged a time and the agent spent about 45 minutes answering all these questions and more. When we finished, I asked if I could send manuscript pages for review. The agent welcomed me to send these in when they were ready.

I took pages of notes from our conversation. I had to re-craft some of what I had written. In other areas, I just needed to tweak.

A few minutes ago, I sent off a half-dozen chapters for review. I didn’t send everything, only scenes containing FBI activity.

When I mentioned to other writers that I had a FBI Special Agent assigned to assist me with my manuscript, to ensure I portray the FBI sections accurately, most were surprised. (Some wondered whether having a FBI agent assigned to look over your shoulder was a good idea…)

As I indicated in my opening, I’m in awe of the support available simply by asking.  What unexpected support have you received?

Comments

10 Comments

  1. Andrew Mocete

    How cool is that? Fortunately for me, my WIP doesn’t require such specific research, but it’s great to know how accessible the information is should you need it.

    Reply
    • Dax MacGregor

      Andrew, I’m still amazed that a neophyte like me could get this type of quality attention.

      By the way, I quickly jumped over to your site and wandered around. Very nice. I’ll have to “Come Out and Play” some more later.

      Reply
  2. Name Lorrie

    Your message.. Wow! Fascinating! I enjoy your blog. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  3. Mary Jo Gibson

    What a wonderful experience! Most ‘agencies’ and such have an office for just this type of thing. The pr department of any institution can direct you for information, you just have to view your writing as free publicity for them. Your writing has value no matter how new you are, and accuracy is what counts. Keep up the great work!

    Reply
    • Dax MacGregor

      Mary Jo,

      You are absolutely right. Sometimes, in the Internet age, we think everything we need is online — and a lot is. We tend to forget about the more traditional ways of obtaining information.

      I just never imagined that the FBI would be willing to help little ol’ me.

      Reply
  4. Deborah

    While looking for information about FBI procedures I stumbled onto your blog. I had just been the the website for the FBI pr office and thought ‘no way would they be interested in answering questions about their procedures for an unpublished author’. Then I found you blog. Good to know that I was wrong. Now I have to go write up a list of questions for them. *cracking knuckles*

    Reply
    • Dax MacGregor

      Go girl!

      (Although girls who crack their knuckles always worried me…)

      Reply
  5. Elizabeth Anne Mitchell

    Fascinating; I’ve found amazing help from all sports of people, but never dreamed it could be found on the dot gov pages. I will stop assuming that I couldn’t possibly find help in unlikely places.

    Reply
  6. Moe (Noobie Writer)

    I am curious if this is only for published authors. The details that the FBI requests include what company we’re with and publishing company. If I am writing a manuscript I plan to publish but have no publisher yet, would I get the same help, or is this just for proven-published writers?

    There are books available online as some reference-information for writers about Police work and Forensics, but I couldn’t find anything about the FBI.

    I have a story, but it’s still an infant-story, not quite ready to publish. I’m wondering if there are any resources I could use before I bug an actual agent for a story that might not pan out.

    Great article by the way, and thanks for the tips!

    Reply
  7. Julie L Brown

    Thank you very much for this blog. I came across it as I, too, was searching for information on the FBI for my first novel. I am in the process of crafting my letter to the FBI.

    By the way, I just put your book “The Trust” on my wish list.

    Thanks again.

    Reply

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