“According to our London publisher, the book came out, and then they found him. It’s pretty hysterical.”
Since it hit the headlines that gangland legend James "Whitey" Bulger was in shackles, hacks from all around the world have grilled our local media about Boston's grisliest modern villain. Their most reliable source has been Phyllis Karas, a Boston University College of Communication professor and co-author of three books on Bulger's trail of blood, including the nonfiction New York Times bestseller Brutal, which she co-authored with Winter Hill Gang enforcer-turned-informant Kevin Weeks. Her latest, Where's Whitey?, is another collaboration with Weeks; but rather than continue Weeks's memoirs, this time the unlikely pair spun a work of fiction — inspired by real details and events — about where Bulger and his Bonnie, Catherine Greig, might have vanished to over the past 16 years. We spoke with Karas about her remarkable timing and inevitable follow-up projects.
PLEASE EXPLAIN THE TORRENT OF MEDIA REQUESTS THAT FOLLOWED THE CAPTURE, WHICH HAPPENED TWO DAYS AFTER YOUR BOOK CAME OUT.
The phone rang at midnight. It was a Hollywood producer — [Quiz Show producer Julian Krainin] — who had done a documentary segment a while back on Kevin and me. I immediately dialed Kevin, and of course his phone was off for the night. Unlike him, though, my name is out there, so I got all the calls while Kevin got a wonderful night of sleep. Every half hour it was CBS, ABC, NPR, and everybody else. It still hasn't stopped — we ended up hiring a publicist.
HOW CLOSE HAVE YOU GOTTEN TO YOUR SUBJECTS? DOES KEVIN WEEKS COME OVER FOR THANKSGIVING DINNER?
Kevin has his own family with two sons and everything, so he doesn't need mine. But he is a friend. He's been over for dinner many times. He and my husband like to discuss baseball.
WHAT IS THE WRITING PROCESS LIKE? HOW DOES WEEKS PUT YOU IN HIS SHOES?
Conversations on speaker phone seem to work best for us — probably because he's comfortable in his house. Brutal was brutal. He was made to write the book by bankruptcy lawyers, so he was extremely reluctant — basically, I asked questions, and he answered them. With this one he wasn't worried about any of that, so everything just went much lighter and more smoothly. There was a lot of discussion — we would just talk and talk for hours.
IS WEEKS ALWAYS DIRECT WITH YOU? OR DO YOU SOMETIMES SUSPECT THAT HE'S REALLY TALKING ABOUT HIMSELF WHEN HE'S PURPORTEDLY TALKING ABOUT SOMEBODY ELSE?
I don't ask those questions. He just talks, and I write. I presume that a lot of this is from his own experience, but I don't really know all of those details.
HAVE YOU HEARD ANY CONSPIRACY THEORIES ABOUT YOUR INVOLVEMENT WITH WHITEY'S CAPTURE?
According to our London publisher, the book came out, and then they found him. It's pretty hysterical. Do I believe that the book had anything to do with his capture? Of course not. But we are changing the last line of the book. When they're driving off at the end, and she's not sure if they'll live or die — now it will have them going back to California.