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Archive for October 9th, 2019

 

New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother has written or co-authored 13 books, ranging from narrative nonfiction to memoir and crime fiction. Her latest titles are the true-life thriller Hunting Charles Manson and her memoir short, Secrets, Lies, and Shoelaces. A former investigative reporter at daily newspapers for 19 years, Rother has been published in Cosmopolitan, the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Boston Globe and Daily Beast. She has appeared more than 200 times on TV, radio and podcasts internationally, including Australian Broadcast Corp’s “World News,” “Crime Watch Daily,” “People Magazine Investigates,” “Nancy Grace,” “Snapped,” and dozens of shows on Netflix, Investigation Discovery, Oxygen, A&E, Reelz, C-SPAN and various PBS affiliates. Rother also works as a writing-research coach and consultant, leads writing workshops, and plays keyboards and sings in an acoustic group called breakingthecode. She is working on two new books, one titled “Justice for Rebecca,” about the Rebecca Zahau death case, and one about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo. Please visit her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter or visit her website at https://www.caitlinrother.com.

★ WEBSITE & SOCIAL LINKS: ★

Website → https://www.caitlinrother.com

Blog → https://www.caitlinrother.com/blog

Twitter → https://twitter.com/CaitlinRother

Facebook → https://www.facebook.com/caitlinrother

Goodreads → https://tinyurl.com/y3oy4cwp

Interview:

Would you call yourself a born writer?

I have been writing stories ever since I was a little girl. I also used to speak them in different voices, talking to each other, to keep myself amused when I was growing up as an only child. I read a ton of books, too, which is crucial to learn how to be a good writer. That said, even after 13 published books, I’m still learning and growing as a writer. And because all but one of those books are narrative non-fiction, I don’t create, exaggerate or embellish any details. With the exception of one mystery novel, NAKED ADDICTION, all my books are deeply researched true accounts. Because, as they say, truth is often stranger than fiction.

What was your inspiration for DEAD RECKONING?

This true crime story tells the story of the murders of Tom and Jackie Hawks by transgender killer Skylar Deleon and a crew of twisted misfits. Skylar, who was still presenting as a man at the time of the murders in 2004, was married to a woman named Jennifer. They had a 10-month-old daughter, and Jennifer was pregnant with their second child. They used their daughter and their pregnancy to gain the Hawkses’ trust, posing as a family that wanted to buy the Hawkses’ boat and run a charter business on it. When Skylar came back with two other men for a sea trial, they forced the Hawkses to sign power-of-attorney documents, tied them to the anchor of their yacht and threw it overboard, drowning them alive. Skylar’s primary motive was to get money to pay for gender confirmation surgery, which she is still trying to get on death row at San Quentin, a men’s prison, where she has transitioned to a woman, using hormones. She just legally changed her name and gender to female, and wants to be transferred to a women’s prison. You can’t make this stuff up.

What themes do you like to explore in your writing?

My true crime books explore murders involving addiction, mental health issues, psychological manipulation for financial and emotional gain, predators and sexual deviancy, and sociopathy. I try to educate people with this information to help protect them and to place a spotlight on flaws in our systems that allow these tragedies to occur, so we can learn from them. My hope is that we can prevent such tragedies from happening again, or at least catch the bad guys (and women). In addition to writing memoirs both for myself and with my co-authors, I always enjoy finding non-fiction topics that will have a positive influence or inspiration on readers, such as my current project about the San Diego Zoo’s Frozen Zoo.

How long did it take you to complete the novel?

This is not a novel, it’s a true crime book, and I’ve been covering this case for longer than any other one in my entire career as a professional investigative journalist and author. The first edition, which came out in 2011, involved going to three trials over several years and then a couple more to research and write. I’ve continued to gather fresh material for this latest updated editions, which brings me to 15 years total.

Are you disciplined? Describe a typical writing day.

Yes, very much so. It’s imperative. But being a professional full-time author of non-fiction is far more involved than just writing. Each book has a series of phases, and with non-fiction, I can go for months just doing research and interviews, while I plan the narrative structure and story arc of the book. Only then do I start writing, because otherwise, I will just have to rewrite entire sections. I first do research to put a book proposal together, which may entail going to an entire trial for months at a time. Then my agent has to sell the proposal to a publisher. After that, I do more research and interviews before I even start writing the book, which usually takes about nine months. But books don’t sell themselves. Once I get going on the next book, I still have to promote the one that just came out. So depending on where I am in the process, I do different tasks all day long, dedicating a certain number of hours to writing or editing, some hours to continued research and follow up calls and emails, until I finally finish the manuscript. Toward the end, I will spend entire days writing and/or editing.

What did you find most challenging about writing this book?

There are a lot of moving parts to this story, many characters, and a large span of time to cover. I had way more story than I had space for, which meant I had to cut 35,000 words from the first draft. This time, because the book was long already, I had to go through it again to find ways to cut 4,000 more words to make room for the updated, fresh material. The trick is to make the story seamless, fast-paced and suspenseful, and still maintain accuracy. I also felt it was important to be sensitive to the victims’ families as well as to the LGBTQ community, which was a tough thing to balance.

What do you love most about being an author?

I enjoy the freedom of being able to choose the stories I want to write about vs. when I was a newspaper reporter and often got assigned stories I didn’t care about. I also enjoy the freedom and flexibility of working for myself. I’m busier than I’ve ever been, but I’m constantly stimulated by my varying tasks and by always learning new things.

Did you go with a traditional publisher, small press, or did you self publish? What was the process like and are you happy with your decision?

The original version of this book was with a traditional publisher. When it let the book go out of print, I got my rights back and did this re-release with WildBlue Press, which is an indie press. For the first time, I got to have input into the cover design, which was great fun, and I think the book and cover turned out very nicely. Statistics show that 70 percent of readers buy their books online vs. in bookstores these days, so this publisher is geared more toward those readers.

Where can we find you on the web?

My website and blog are at https://www.caitlinrother.com. This book is sold at wbp.bz/deadreackoning. The photo gallery, with tons of color pics of the key players, is at wbp.bz/deadreckoninggallery. You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Just type in my name.

Title: DEAD RECKONING
Author: Caitlin Rother
Publisher: WildBlue Press
Pages: 504
Genre: True Crime

BOOK BLURB:

Tom and Jackie Hawks loved their life in retirement, sailing on their yacht, the Well Deserved. But when the birth of a new grandson called them back to Arizona, they put the boat up for sale. Skylar Deleon and his pregnant wife Jennifer showed up as prospective buyers, with their baby in a stroller, and the Hawkses thought they had a deal. Soon after a sea trial and an alleged purchase, however, the older couple disappeared and the Deleons promptly tried to access the Hawkses’ bank accounts.

As police investigated the case, they not only found a third homicide victim with ties to Skylar, they also uncovered an unexpected and unusual motive: Skylar had wanted gender reassignment surgery for years. By killing the Hawkses with a motley crew of assailants and plundering the couple’s assets, the Deleons had planned to clear their $100,000 in debts and still have money for the surgery, which Skylar had already scheduled.

Now, in this up-to-the-minute updated edition, which includes extensive new material, New York Times bestselling author Caitlin Rother presents the latest breaking developments in the case. Skylar, who was ultimately sentenced to death row for the three murders, transitioned to a woman via hormones while living in the psych unit at San Quentin prison. Recently, she legally changed her name and gender to female, apparently a strategic step in her quest to obtain taxpayer-subsidized gender confirmation surgery and transfer to a women’s prison. Combined with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recent moratorium on executions, this only adds insult to injury for the victims’ families, who want Skylar to receive the ultimate punishment for her crimes.

“Rother gives readers compelling insight to an unthinkable American nightmare. A gripping read… frank and frightening… it sizzles.”

Aphrodite Jones, host of True Crime on Investigation Discovery and bestselling author

 

Amazon → https://tinyurl.com/y3jr7mk3

 WildBlue Press → https://tinyurl.com/yyj9xlvk

 

Book Excerpt:

PROLOGUE

Alonso Machain was unemployed, with bills to pay, so he took up his friend Skylar Deleon’s offer to help restore a family boat at the Cabrillo yard in Long Beach, California.

As they were sanding the Hatteras together, Skylar boasted about his plans for fixing up his new toy, which he’d gotten from his grandfather. Then Skylar offered his twenty-one-year-old buddy a much more lucrative job.

“How much are you talking about?” Alonso asked.

“A couple million dollars,” Skylar said.

“Wow. How do you make a couple million dollars without it being illegal?”

“Well,” Skylar said, “it’s not really illegal, unless you get caught.”

As Skylar’s plan evolved in the coming days of October 2004, the promised payoff for Alonso soon increased to “several million” dollars to help Skylar “take care” of some people who had done something bad and pissed somebody off.

Skylar wasn’t usually paid for these gigs, he said, but he got to keep the assets of the “targets,” who were typically well-off. His first contract, for example, was a guy who’d been selling drugs in Huntington Beach schools and owed money to the wrong people.

Skylar said he’d split the proceeds of his next job with Alonso, but didn’t give him much time to mull it over.

“So, you want to do it or not?” Skylar asked a couple days later.

Alonso wasn’t really sure what to think. Skylar was always talking about how rich he and his family were, and Alonso believed him. Although he knew Skylar liked to tell stories, he never stopped to consider that the few times Skylar had thrown him a mere twenty dollars for the boat restoration work, they’d had to drive to an ATM to get it.

After Alonso decided to take the job, Skylar went into more detail about the plan, showing him photos of a yacht called the Well Deserved, whose wealthy owners had put it up for sale. Alonso’s role was to help Skylar get “in” with the owners, Tom and Jackie Hawks, then hold them down.

The fifty-five-foot trawler was moored in the upscale community of Newport Beach in Orange County, a sharp contrast to the sprawling mix of urban, industrial, and suburban areas of Long Beach, where Skylar lived with his wife, Jennifer, in neighboring Los Angeles County.

Unlike the spacious homes in Newport, decorated in the mute beiges and sandstone of the wealthy, home for Skylar and Jennifer was a cramped converted garage behind her parents’ duplex. Space was so tight the Deleons had to stack their belongings on the floor and hang their clothing from a pole lodged between two dressers next to the bed. It was a far cry from the opulent mansions featured on The Real Housewives of Orange County and The O.C.

Contrary to the story he’d told Alonso about the $3 million a month he’d earned working with Ditech Funding, Skylar had been fired from his job as appraiser’s assistant there and looked at his wealthier neighbors in “The O.C.” with envy. He coveted their waterfront homes, boats, and private planes that he couldn’t afford, and he lied to persuade folks that he could.

Although he wasn’t anywhere near as smart or capable as Bernie Madoff in building a complex financial scheme, Skylar’s scam was just as—if not more— deceitful. And when it came to lying and manipulating people, Skylar was pretty good at that, too.

The next time he and Alonso met, Skylar said he’d analyzed photos of the boat’s interior for radios and weapons, such as spearguns, and had determined the best way to overcome the couple. Using stun guns and handcuffs, Alonso would grab Jackie in the galley while Skylar took down Tom in the stateroom, where no one could hear him scream.

Skylar said he’d considered taking Tom scuba diving and finishing him off underwater, but he’d realized that would preclude the Hawkses from signing over the boat title and power-of-attorney documents he was going to draw up.

“What I’ll do is just take them out to sea and toss them overboard,” he said.

They purchased two stun guns together, then Skylar sent Alonso, a former jail guard he’d befriended while serving time for armed burglary a year earlier, to buy two pairs of handcuffs.

The next day, November 6, Skylar said it was time to do the deed. By now, Alonso felt it was too late to extricate himself from the situation. If twenty-five-year-old Skylar really was a hit man, what would prevent him from harming Alonso?

As they drove to the dock, Skylar stopped a couple blocks away to scope out who was aboard, then called Tom to pick them up in his dinghy. The Hawkses were expecting them.

On board, Tom proudly gave them a tour of his home, but Alonso could see from Skylar’s tone of voice and body language that he’d changed his mind. Skylar seemed far too relaxed to kill anyone as he chatted with Tom for forty-five minutes about possible modes of payment. Before they left, Skylar made sure that Tom and Jackie knew he was definitely interested in purchasing the vessel and would be back for a lesson on how to operate it.

Skylar told Alonso afterward that he’d changed his mind once he’d realized that Tom was too muscular for the two of them to overpower alone. They really needed a third man. Skylar also sensed some discomfort on the Hawkses’ part, so he called Jennifer on his cell phone as soon as they got back to the car.

“Hey, you need to come down, take a look at the boat, to make these people feel a little more at ease,” he told her.

After sending Alonso on his way, Skylar and his pregnant wife went back on board, pushing their ten-month-old daughter, Haylie, in a stroller, to do just that.

 

 

 

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