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by Selena Robins

I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Speart to discuss her real-life thriller, WINGED OBSESSION, as she shares her personal experience—going under cover—to successfully tackle the intrigue, mystique and seedy world of illegal butterfly trading.

While working undercover to research WINGED OBSESSION, Jessica Speart befriended a smuggler—a manipulation that plagued her with guilt. What she didn’t know was that this cagey smuggler was planning to turn the tables and use her as a patsy for continuing his illegal butterfly trade.

“Meet the Hannibal Lecter of the conservation world. This expose reads like a thriller and proves once again that truth is stranger than fiction.” ~ Lee Child.

WINGED OBSESSION is a fascinating read, especially knowing that you went undercover for the research.  Are there any experiences you could share with us that didn’t make it into the book?

There is an interesting tidbit I didn’t write about.  I maintained contact with Yoshi Kojima, the butterfly smuggler, after I returned home.  Many U.S. dealers no longer sold butterflies to him and Kojima asked for my help.  He wanted one butterfly in particular that is considered to be vulnerable and a species of concern in the States.  His plan was that I contact the dealer and pretend to buy it for myself.  Then I could send it on to him.  Apparently, Kojima thought I’d make the perfect “front man. ”He approached me about this during one of our Skype conversations.  I stalled for as long as possible but finally ended our communication.

I imagine your acting background and training came in handy while going undercover.  Did this also help you with writing the book?  If so, how?

There are a number of authors with show business/theatre backgrounds.  The move from acting to writing seems come naturally.  In my case, I believe an acting background helped provide me with a good ear for dialogue and a way to immerse myself in a character.

Which character was the hardest to write and why?

Ed Newcomer was the most difficult character to write.  Aren’t the good guys always the hardest?  I spent time with him and did my best to pick every part of his brain.  I think I drove him a little crazy.  He finally asked, “What else do you possibly want?”  My answer?  “Whatever you haven’t yet given me.”

Which character was the most fun to write about and why?

I had the most fun writing about Yoshi Kojima.  What’s not to love?  Lee Child kindly described him as the Hannibal Lecter of conservation.  That says it all.  Kojima is almost larger than life and it doesn’t get better than that.

Would you consider going undercover again for another project?

I would go undercover again in a heartbeat.  Taking on a role satisfies my acting bug while I get to do something that I truly believe in.  Oh yeah – and I’m an adrenaline junkie.

Any advice for an aspiring writer who may want to go undercover for researching their project?

The best advice I can give is to learn everything possible about your subject before the first meeting.  I listened to dozens of hours of undercover tapes and interviewed anyone who knew Kojima.vI like to think of it as a chess game.  You always want to be at least two steps a head and not make any mistakes.

What do you hope readers come away with after reading WINGED OBSESSION?

I want people to realize the illegal wildlife trade is a booming business that’s not going away.  Many of the folks involved in drug dealing and gun running also traffic in wildlife.  I also hope I’ve provided a window into the mind of the obsessive collector.  Unlike the Rolling Stone song You Can’t Always Get What You Want, collectors are determined to do just that.


Jessica Speart is an investigative journalist whose focus is on wildlife law enforcement and endangered species. Speart created her mystery series –-featuring U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agent Rachel Porter– after years of investigating wildlife and drug-trafficking crimes for publications such as The New York Times Magazine and National Wildlife.

Jessica recently wrote her first narrative nonfiction book about the world’s most notorious butterfly smuggler. WINGED OBSESSION will be published by Wm Morrow in April 2011.

Selena Robins
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