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"Shadow People" is an unflinching work of journalism based on its author spending 16 months embedded with rural county law enforcement

The book and its mission

Shadow People: How Meth-driven Crime is Eating at the Heart of Rural America is a work of journalism that exposes the ways methamphetamine is threatening our nation’s wide-open spaces, fueling crimes against citizens, breaking families apart, devastating innocent children and tearing away at the psyche of each community through which it spreads.

The term “Shadow People” refers to hallucinogenic figures glimpsed by methamphetamine addicts after days without sleep. But, in reality, it’s the addicts themselves who are living in a shadow, growing in numbers, becoming an alarming subculture on the periphery of rural America, engaging in crimes that are having devastating impacts on places where traditional life is valued most. This is the news story I've been writing in a book that runs about 48,000 words.

How the book came about

Shadow People is meant to be an unflinching work of journalism. The process of writing this book began in April of 2010, when I was awarded major grant funding to study the relationship between crime and methamphetamine in rural parts of the United States. In the years leading up to that, my work as a crime reporter in California gave me a front-row seat to the havoc and heartache that meth spawns in the open countryside. The grant allowed for a probe of rural America’s meth problem on a level that would have been otherwise out of reach: It has enabled me to spend 18 months— between May of 2010 and October of 2011 —embedded part-time with rural county law enforcement agencies in northern California. My work includes partnering with officers on night patrols, accompanying detectives on warrant searches and probation sweeps, observing SWAT operations and spending hundreds of hours with attorneys and victims’ advocates in small-town courtrooms.

Field research is scheduled to end October of 2011.

The initial grant also allowed me to travel to different rural communities across the United States to study how methamphetamine is harming the ways of life that define these essential pieces of America.

The need for this book and why it’s different from other reports

This book is the result of more than 800 hours of documented embedded time with law enforcement. Focusing on the meth epidemic through that lens has caused it to be very different from current media reports. Other books and documentaries have focused almost entirely on how meth addiction tears down individual users, wreaking destruction on their lives and creating human and material eyesores in their communities. The damage done to rural areas is viewed foremost through those at the center of the gripping addiction. What is largely missing from these investigations is the price the rest of a community pays for the direct and definable link between meth addiction and financial crimes, property crimes, domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse and homicides. Shadow People is the first book to probe methamphetamine’s stranglehold on rural parts of the U.S., by focusing on crime as a catalyst for a disturbing societal loss, putting human faces on the victims of this cultural cancer, as well as highlighting the toll on family members of addicts — brothers, sisters and grandparents who often take responsibility for children removed from the dangerous squalor of ‘meth houses’ and clandestine laboratories.

Why a commercial book publisher will not work for “Shadow People”

Initially, a commercial book-publishing house was slated to have Shadow People on the shelves of bookstores by February of 2011. However, that contract was voided after the publisher began asking for changes to content that would have undermined my standards for factual reporting, as well as my journalistic ethics: the book’s credibility and intent would have been greatly compromised. To negotiate a new contract with a different commercial publishing house will delay the book’s release by up to two full years. The public needs this book a lot sooner than that.

What we need from you

A small group of journalists are working with me to pool resources together to publish Shadow People on its original timeline. It will be sold primarily through Amazon.com. We have extensive media contacts throughout the United States, so publicity won’t be a challenge. What we need is about $2,800 more than what we currently have for printing and design expenses in order to keep the price of the book below $10. Americans who live in poor, rural areas are an important audience for this book. If it cost more than $10, it simply won’t be affordable for many of those who want, and need, to read it. Donations beyond the $2,800 target would greatly assist us in getting free copies of Shadow People to non-profit organizations and victims’ advocacy groups.  

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