Stranger than Fiction: PW Talks with Landon J. Napoleon
We chatted with Napoleon about everything from his biography of Jason Schechterle to his decision to self-publish.On March 26, 2001, Phoenix police officer Jason Schechterle's police cruiser was hit by a taxi and inexplicably burst into flames, nearly killing him. The accident turned out to be part of a nationwide spate of similar auto explosions that led to a lawsuit against Ford Motor Company. In the self-published book Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story, Landon J. Napoleon's tells Schechterle's story. The author received a glowing review from PW, with our reviewer calling the book an "enthralling biography [that] injects the intimacy of fiction into a true story of human endurance." We chatted with Napoleon about everything from the Schechterle case to his decision to self-publish.
What prompted you to collaborate with Jason Schechterle on this project?
As a longtime Phoenix resident, I had watched, along with everyone else, in 2001 as Jason survived the horrible crash and then endured a long list of medical miracles and inspiring milestones. But I wouldn’t get the chance to finally meet him for more than a decade.
In 2004, I went to interview a prominent plaintiff’s attorney, Patrick McGroder, for a short magazine profile piece. It turned out that Pat was Jason’s attorney in his landmark case against Ford Motor Company, a legal showdown we detail in the book. Eventually Pat also became the inspiration for my legal novel The Rules of Action, which I did not realize was unofficially the prequel to Burning Shield: The Jason Schechterle Story.
In late 2012, Jason was looking for an author to write his biography. The attorney knew us both and set up the meeting. Within minutes of meeting Jason for the first time, I felt inspired and compelled to tell his story. The feeling was mutual, we hit it off, connected immediately, and 15 months later were holding finished copies of Burning Shield.
What was it like transitioning from writing crime/legal fiction to writing a work of nonfiction?I had been quietly honing my nonfiction craft by writing three different corporate history books for private clients. These were privately published and a fabulous apprenticeship in writing compelling nonfiction. This was a huge step forward in transitioning from fiction to nonfiction. One of the surprising things I’ve discovered about nonfiction writing is how imaginative and freeing it is because the primary elements of any good story -- characters, chronology, plot, and setting -- are already established. Without having to conjure or worry about those elements, nonfiction authors are free to use all creative energies toward telling the story in the best way possible.
Whose decision was it to self-publish the book and why? What were the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing?
Jason and I had long and detailed discussions about all the advantages and disadvantages of independent publishing versus traditional publishing. I’ve published both traditionally and independently and neither approach can check every box of what an author might want. My first traditional deal with a New York house (ZigZag, Henry Holt, 1999) put my novel on shelves at the front of national chains where a movie director discovered it and later the book for film (Franchise Pictures, 2002). For other fiction titles, I had very specific ideas on cover design and wanted complete creative control, so independent was the best route. For us, with this particular book, the decision came down to two primary factors: creative control and time to market. Going the independent route gave us both those things.