Author Interview: John E. O' Rourke
After reading his incredible book Mystery, Millions, & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon’s Sidney Reso, I had to learn more from author John E. O’Rourke. Thankfully, he was kind enough to answer my questions and share his stories and process. During this incredible interview, you’ll learn why he chose this particular case and how long it took him to do all the research and write the book. However, you’ll also learn about Mr. O’Rourke’s writing process and why he became a state trooper.
Let's Learn More About Mystery, Millions, and Murder in North Jersey
Why This Case?
Lisa Hodorovych: For Mystery, Millions, and Murder in North Jersey, why did you decide to cover the Sidney Reso kidnapping case?
John E. O’Rourke: When I left the state police, I was hired to provide situational awareness training to affluent people. Part of the curriculum I developed included case studies of actual events where wealthy people were targeted and kidnapped. The Sidney Reso case was one of those case studies. As time went on and I began looking at what I wanted to write next, I decided to work on Reso’s kidnapping.
Part of my prerequisite was that the case had to be notable and it was. The Reso case has been covered by major TV programs such as 20/20 and American Justice, just to name two. The case had not been written about in a book. I don’t know why but no one had ever taken the time to write about this case. About a year or two after I started this project, I got a call from one of the FBI agents who said someone had reached out to them about writing a book on the case. Fortunately for me, I had a jump start on this author.
Time to Write It
Lisa: How long did it take you to write this book, including all of the research you did?
John: It took about two years to write the book. During this time, I interviewed the FBI agents and local police officers who worked the case. I visited numerous times the site locations and Sidney Reso’s house.
Lisa: Speaking of, where did you begin when it comes to the research you did for Mystery, Millions, and Murder? And what type of research did you do? Meaning did you mainly look up newspaper articles, did you do interviews, did you watch videos, etc.
John: I was lucky and was handed three (3) FBI media books that had every newspaper article written on the case.
I forgot to mention that part of my selection process on what I am going to write is how accessible are the investigators who worked the case and what reports and documents they can share. This helps cut down the field research a bit. The first person I reached out to was Ed Petersen who was the lead investigator on the case. He provided me with the names and phone numbers of all the agents and investigators who worked the case.
Lisa: I first met you and was introduced to your books in March of 2019 when you did a book signing and presentation of Mystery, Millions, and Murder at Short Stories in Madison (which unfortunately closed its doors in February of 2020). From there, I followed you on Instagram and realized you were doing a book signing tour at a plethora of different locations, many of them being libraries. How did you go about setting up that tour? How did you choose where you went, whether it was a bookstore or a library?
John: Good question and thank you for coming to my book launch and following me. My publisher assigns me a publicist who schedules a lot of my signings. However, I learned by reading an interview with true crime writer M. William Phelps who said, “You as the author have to do most of the work yourself. Publishers only spend so much time on a book and move on, unless you are a big-name author.”
With my publisher, I found that if a book is doing well, they move on to another book which might not be doing as well. My first book sold out in a month and a half and I noticed that my publicist - who used to get back to me immediately - would return my call a few days later. So it is important for authors to do most of the outreach themselves.
I wish I would have read that Phelps interview sooner because on my first book I was under the impression that the publisher should do the work, so I did little. “Jersey Troopers: Sacrifice at the Altar of Public Service” was placed by bookstores at the front table due to its popularity. I had no idea that most books at the table were paid for by publishers, so not building on that momentum was a life lesson. Now, most of the radio or TV interviews I have gotten have been because of my outreach to them.
After Coronavirus Tour?
Lisa: Once things calm down after this pandemic, will you be doing another tour?
John: Another tour, most likely not until my next book comes out. And I’m looking for an agent to represent me, so that might be a year or two. However, I will probably do a presentation here and there.
Involvement in Case?
Lisa: As you read the book, you realize this case was massive. Everyone from local to state police and even the FBI were involved in finding Mr. Reso. As a former state police trooper yourself, were you involved in the case at all?
John: No, I was not. In fact, I knew little about the case until I left the state police. The more I learned about this case, the more enthralled I became. And with each document, article or interview, the case continued to captivate my attention and excited me on writing the manuscript.
Let's Learn More About John E. O'Rourke
Why The Transition?
Lisa: You went from being a trooper to being a writer. May I ask why?
John: I never planned to be a writer. I first set out to pay tribute to Jersey Troopers who died in the line of duty. However, after doing the research and writing, I began to enjoy the process. The popularity of my first two books helped. I have to say, however, that I enjoy the book writing process. From the research to find out what I’m going to write about to the field research that will help me develop the table of content, which ultimately will lead to my narrative.
State Trooper = Dream Career
Lisa: What made you want to be a trooper?
John: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be a cop. I used to watch the TV show Adam-12 and imagined one day I’d be doing just that. Then my next store neighbor, who was like a big brother to me growing up, wanted to be a trooper. He exposed me to the New Jersey State Police. It was through my neighbor that I became friends with a kid whose stepfather was a state trooper.
One day, while my family and I were having dinner, a car crashed on our property. My friend’s stepfather (the trooper) was visiting my neighbor at the time and heard the crash. He went over to help, as the car was overturned, and the four occupants were on drugs and became violent after he identified himself. A fist fight ensued with four guys against the trooper. The trooper won the fight. This incident solidified my wanting to be a trooper.
Ever since that moment, I dedicated my life to “one day becoming a trooper” by staying in shape, taking martial arts training, and living a healthy lifestyle. Well, I enjoy my sweets, but always stayed away from drugs and alcohol and exercised regularly. Didn’t really begin having an occasional drink until I was married and almost 30.
Author = Alternative Career
Lisa: When did you first realize your love for writing and that you maybe want to pursue it as a career?
John: After my second book came out. I enjoyed the process and wanted to write another book, but the next book I wanted to write was on a historical figure. One day, while having lunch with a friend and mentor of mine - who is in the publishing field - I approached the subject of my next book. To my surprise, he said I should not do that and stick with true crime. When I asked why, he explained that it was hard to get a manuscript and that I had achieved that objective. He then said, I had two books in the true-crime genre and needed to continue in this genre to build upon the reader base I established with the first two books.
I fully understood what he was saying, and he was right. Then he told me that I needed to leverage my 26-year career to build upon the stories I will be writing. He pointed out that many successful “True Crime Authors” have little experience in law enforcement, never mind 26-years as a Jersey Trooper. This also was true. He’s a wise man, and I would have been foolish not to listen to him.
After our conversation, I began looking into what I was going to write about next. It took me over a year to identify Richard Biegenwald, a serial killer who operated in the Asbury Park, NJ area, as the subject of my next book. That book - “The Jersey Shore Thrill Killer” - came out in 2014.
Lisa: Who inspired you when it comes to writing? Who inspired you when it comes to life?
John: Wow, you are asking great questions! The writer that most inspired me was David McCullough. I love his descriptive narration. His expressive writing style creates a mental picture of the person, place, and time. While reading his books you feel like you are there. The person comes alive as do the people and places in his narrative.
It is this writing prose that I try to put into my own narration. My books are based on true crime incidents, many of which had taken place years ago. I’m writing history as well. I’d like to call it true crime history. I describe myself as a “True Crime Historian”. I like that definition.
Lisa: What is your writing process? Do you do an outline? Do you write everything out first before typing it up or do you go straight for your laptop?
John: Well, like I said, I first identify a subject I want to write about and make sure the topic hasn’t been written about in the past. Then my preliminary research on the subject is to get a general overview of what I will be writing about. Once this is done, I develop a Table of Contents (TOC). Once I have my TOC, I can begin my deep research which includes going out to the locations that I will be writing about. Somewhere along the research trail, I begin putting a rough narrative together. As I dive deeper into my research, the TOC will get amended to reflect the direction I want to take the narrative.
Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing
Lisa: In this world of traditional publishing vs. self-publishing, there are a lot of people who are on the fence, unsure of which way to go. What advice would you give them?
John: That is a tough question. I recently self-published a few short stories. I did this to continue growing my reader base in between books. Self-publishing is easier in some regards and harder in others. For instance, you can put a narrative together and pretty much self-publish the next day. Traditional publishing houses may never look at your narrative, so self-publishing is a good option there. The process for each has both benefits and difficulties. With self-publishing you must edit the book yourself. With traditional publishing you have a copyeditor. With self-publishing you can publish anything and there is no vetting process, but traditional publishers want to make sure that what you’re writing about (Non-fiction) actually did occur and what you are ascertain is either your option or actual fact.
I have to say, I personally do not find self-publishing rewarding. I believe self-publishing has tainted publishing waters a bit. When you tell someone now you have a published book, they assume it is self-published. That irks me a bit, since it is so hard to get a manuscript published traditionally and the assumption now is you are self-published. That being said, there are many self-published authors out there who are better writers than me.
My advice would be to try to get your book traditionally published and don’t give up. Use self-publishing as a back-up plan. However, I have to say there are a lot of people making a lot of money off of self-publishing.
Lisa: What advice would you give to someone, whether it’s writing related or not?
John: I would go into my trooper mode and say stay away from drugs and be mindful of who you associate with. For writers, my advice would be tenacity is what makes the difference. I know there are a lot of people out there who write better than me who haven’t been published. My advice to them is to keep submitting your manuscript to publishers and don’t give up. Do your research and make sure you are submitting your work to a publisher who publishes in that specific genre. Lastly, (back to the trooper mode) do not ever compromise your integrity.
Lisa: As I mentioned in my review of Mystery, Millions, and Murder, your writing is so beautiful yet so powerful. There were times I was disgusted, realizing this is something that really happened; however, there were times that I got so lost in the story, I forgot I was reading a true story. I know you’ve written other true crime memoirs in the past, but is there a fiction story in your future?
John: Yes, there is. I have been working on a detective fiction book in the vain of Robert B. Parker. The protagonist in the story is a retired trooper who is working as a private detective in the city of Hoboken. He is thrust into a government corruption case that has a few twists and turns along the way. The manuscript is complete, I’m just looking to acquire an agent before pushing it to a publisher.
Lisa: By the way, what is next for John E. O’Rourke?
John: The next “True Crime” book is likely to be about the killing spree known as “The Walk of Death”. On September 6, 1949, Howard Unruh shot and killed 13 people in the city of Camden, NJ. What I am now looking for on this topic is the following: Is there ample research material that covers the event? Is there documentation from witnesses or survivors with personal accounts or memorializing the events or their thoughts as it was occurring? Are there any police reports, photographs that are available? Are there any books written about this case? If so, how long ago?
Once I get this information, I will make my determination on whether or not it is a good book project for me to enter into. As you know, researching and writing a book is a long endeavor.
Lisa: May I have at least one interesting fact about you that no one knows? (For example: You’re a comic book enthusiast, you have a plethora of tattoos you’re hiding…something that would make people say, “What?!” Haha!)
John: I’m kind of a boring guy. Hmm, let’s see. No tattoos. I don’t like comic books, never have. I got it! I have been playing guitar for over 30 years, but sound like I’ve been playing for about 2 years.
Thank you again, Mr. O'Rourke for taking the time to talk with me and answer my questions! It was an absolute honor and it is truly appreciated!
If you would like to learn more about John E. O'Rourke, his books, and where you can purchase them, please check out his website, http://www.johneorourke.com/.
Remember, I did not get paid to write the review on Mystery, Millions, & Murder in North Jersey: The Tragic Kidnapping of Exxon's Sidney Reso nor am I getting paid to interview Mr. O'Rourke. I'm just a fellow writer and fan showcasing the work of a great author. If you have any questions or would like to be featured on my blog, please don't hesitate to contact me.
The photos featured in this post were given to me by John E. O'Rourke for that very purpose.
**This post was originally published on October 9, 2020**