Flash Nonfiction
February 28, 2011 |  by Gadi Dechter

Cari Lynn, A&S ’97 (MA)

Cari Lynn, A&S '97 (MA) Photo: Iris Schneider

Cari Lynn, A&S '97 (MA) Photo: Iris Schneider

It took human trafficking watchdog Kathy Bolkovac eight years to transform her 2002 courtroom victory against a U.S. military contractor into a major motion picture starring Rachel Weisz and Vanessa Redgrave. It took Cari Lynn only six weeks to turn Bolkovac’s tale into a book.

The Whistleblower tells the story of a Nebraska cop, Bolkovac, who traveled to war-torn Bosnia to work as a peacekeeper only to discover that some of her colleagues were involved in the sex trade of young women. She complained, was fired, and then sued the firm, DynCorp International, for violating a U.K. whistle-blowing law. The book was released by Palgrave Macmillan in January; the film will follow this summer.

For Lynn—a Writing Seminars graduate who has penned books about an orphan-rescuing doctor, an animal massage therapist, and female commodities traders—the Bolkovac assignment was the latest in a line of deep dives into extraordinary human narratives that have kept her busy since graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 1997. “I’m drawn to stories about worlds I know nothing about,” Lynn says, speaking by phone from Los Angeles on the day the Hollywood trade papers announced that movie distributors around the world had bought rights to screen the film. “What’s thrilling to me is getting entrenched in a topic, in a world that you either hadn’t known existed or hadn’t paid much thought to, and then discovering this whole other realm.”

Whereas Lynn’s other books involved years or months of immersion in those different worlds, the 240-page Whistleblower came together fast—and over Skype. The screenplay had been circulating for several years when the film’s producers encouraged Bolkovac to write a book that would explore her story in greater detail. The producers put her in touch with Lynn, and the two began writing. When, shortly thereafter, the film began shooting in Romania, the book’s publishers, who wanted to coordinate the book release with the film, gave the pair six weeks to finish the project. “I just holed myself up and wrote until it felt like my fingers were going to fall off,” she says. “Then I would get up and do it again the next morning. It was really intense. I even finished with a couple of days to spare.”

Lynn’s primary source material was a journal Bolkovac wrote during her Bosnian ordeal. The challenge was extracting a human narrative out of a text that, Lynn says, “read like a police report.” She wrote the book in first person, so she had to embody Bolkovac’s no-nonsense cop personality. “I was always asking her how she felt about certain situations, and feelings weren’t necessarily an angle that seemed relevant to her,” Lynn says. “Likewise, when I would attempt to put in ‘cop-talk,’ like when Kathy is radioing a colleague, my dialogue would sound really corny to her. We had to find a happy medium between descriptive narrative and ‘just the facts.’”

These days, Lynn is focused on writing her own stories. When her 2004 undercover memoir, Leg the Spread: A Woman’s Adventures Inside the Trillion-Dollar Boys’ Club of Commodities Trading, was optioned by a major studio, Lynn began to explore screenwriting. That story, which describes Lynn’s immersion in the male-dominated trading pits of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, is still awaiting its Hollywood treatment. Meanwhile, the Windy City native is happily transplanted to the warmer climes of Los Angeles, developing television and film projects with her writing partner, Kellie Martin, the former ER and Life Goes On actress.

She’s now working on her next project, another memoir, the coming-of-age story of a celebrity makeup artist. “I’m looking forward to doing something lighter,” Lynn says. “My research will shift from poring over State Department reports to refreshing my memory of late-1970s pop culture.”