Boeing Frontiers
August 2003
Volume 02, Issue 04
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools

Mystery's his game

Best-selling author also a Boeing Shared Services writer


Gregg OlsenBy day, Gregg Olsen is a hardworking writer for Shared Services Writing & Editing Resources. In his off hours, Olsen is a New York Times best-selling author of true-crime books.

Last month, St. Martin's Press reprinted Olsen's first paperback, Abandoned Prayers, and it appeared seventh on the best-sellers list.

With this second printing, there are about a half-million copies of Abandoned Prayers in print. The 400-page book was originally published in 1990 and sold extremely well at that time, Olsen said. Renewed interest brought about the second printing this year—and a surprise national bestseller.

The book details the 1985 death of 9-year-old Danny Stutzman and the arrest and conviction of his Amish father, Eli Stutzman.

The boy's body was found outside a small Nebraska town on Christmas Eve, 1985. No one knew how he got there, and the town's residents called him "Little Boy Blue" because he was found wearing blue pajamas.

"In some ways it was an inspirational story," Olsen said. "The townspeople grieved for this unknown child that came to them on Christmas. They didn't know his name, but he became their son. What stunned everyone was that his father turned out to be Amish. That just didn't compute."

Since Abandoned Prayers, Olsen has written five additional true-crime books. His seventh book, detailing the 1972 Kellogg, Idaho, mining disaster, will be published next year.

Olsen credits timing and luck in getting published initially.

Publishers rejected Olsen's first book proposal—on a Pacific Northwest killer—although it caught the eye of a Warner Books editor. At a later lunch with the editor, Olsen's literary agent mentioned that Olsen was working on a new project that would become Abandoned Prayers. A book deal was immediately signed.

The following year and a half, Olsen made several trips across the United States researching and interviewing people about Eli and Danny Stutzman. Then the actual writing began.

"The research is the most important part," Olsen said. "I want to discover things that no one else has found to give people a reason to read the book."

The Amish, a conservative Christian sect known for horse-drawn buggies and striking quilts, was generally wary at first of Olsen's intentions, but eventually welcomed him into their community, he said.

"They wanted answers as much as I did," Olsen said.

Olsen has sold film rights to all of his books, but none has made it to the screen. Talk Show host Sally Jessy Raphael optioned the book after its first release and gave the author his first dose of Hollywood thinking.

"Sally and her people wanted to change the lead character—a small-town sheriff—into a woman so it could be used as a vehicle for Susan Lucci or someone. I'm glad the project died," he said.

Olsen's advice to would-be authors—"Don't wait until you retire to write a book. The time to write is when you are young and energetic," he said. "If you're working full-time, you'll need to give up your weekends and most evenings."

Olsen, a college journalism graduate, has written for numerous publications during his career, but the "true-crime" genre popularized by writers Anne Rule and the late Jack Olsen (no relation) intrigued him.

"As I read their books, I realized that I could probably do what they do," Olsen said.

As he became a published author, Rule and Olsen endorsed his books.

Olsen has worked at Boeing first as a contractor and now as a full-time employee for Writing & Editing Resources, a part of SSG Business Solutions Services.

"Surprisingly there's a lot of skill crossover between my books and my Boeing work," Olsen said. "Supporting my customers relies on listening and weeding out the unnecessary from the essential. No matter what we do, we're still telling a story."

Bob Jouret, SSG vice president of Business Solutions, said he enjoys working with Olsen, who supports Jouret in employee communications projects.

"I knew he was a serious writer and hearing that he made the best-seller's list is really noteworthy," Jouret said. "It's something that is significant for anyone, and I am really thrilled for him."


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