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Local view: Seeking response from renowned prosecutor yields cherished result

I read with interest the News Tribune’s three-part series this month profiling former Hibbing tennis star, California prosecutor and renowned author Vincent Bugliosi. My first reaction was, “Wow, journalism once again is alive and well in Northeastern Minnesota.” My second was, “Maybe I can add a little something to the story.”

Understand: I am not a personal friend of Mr. Bugliosi’s. I have only met the man once, back in the mid-1990s, when he appeared as a guest speaker at a lawyers’ gathering I was attending. Before giving his speech, he’d taken up the gauntlet to litigate the case against Lee Harvey Oswald (as the alleged lone gunman who assassinated President John F. Kennedy). In a mock trial tried before an actual jury, Vincent functioned as the prosecutor; noted criminal defense attorney Gerry Spence defended Oswald. Mr. Bugliosi related during his talk that, in addition to participating in the trial (which ended in a conviction of Oswald and resulted in a British television documentary), he was heavily involved in combing the Warren Report and other historical evidence with an eye toward writing the definitive book decrying the conspiracy theories behind the president’s murder. I was enthralled by his dedication to task and research. As a fiction writer, I wanted to meet him.

At the time, Vincent was hawking his latest book, “And the Sea Will Tell,” a true crime story that chronicled his defense of an alleged accomplice to the brutal murder of a wealthy couple by an envious drifter on the remote Pacific island of Palmyra. (The guy wanted a new yacht and saw homicide as the best means to acquire it.) After Mr. Bugliosi concluded his remarks, I walked up, bought a signed copy of his book and chatted, ever-so-briefly, with the author about my writing aspirations. The man couldn’t have been more gracious, more encouraging or more kind.

Having become a published author (albeit in the minor leagues) since that encounter, I’ve had many folks approach me to talk about writing and publishing. I’ve learned it’s not an easy task to ground would-be authors in reality while at the same time encouraging their aspirations. Vincent accomplished this dual task during our brief interaction: He emboldened me to keep fingers to keyboard. And so I did.

When my first novel, “The Legacy,” was ready to be published by Savage Press, Publisher Mike Savage asked if there were any folks of note who might review my book and supply complimentary cover blurbs. I thought of Sen. Paul Wellstone, former Vice President Walter Mondale, Boston author Barry Reed (who wrote the great legal novel, “The Verdict,” and who I’d also met at a lawyers’ function), Minnesota Public Radio commentator Mary Van Evera and Vincent Bugliosi. I sent review copies of the novel to all five, requesting they read the book and supply blurbs if they thought the effort worthy. I received prompt, favorable responses from the first four individuals, but I didn’t hear back from Mr. Bugliosi.

I assumed he hated the book. That’s the way authors, even established authors, think. There’s always a seed of doubt lingering behind a writer’s effort. I was convinced that despite recounting our brief connection at his speech in my cover letter, Vincent was either too busy to read “The Legacy” or, like so many literary agents, read the first paragraph and tossed the book in the slush pile for recycling.

But then, just before the book was to be printed, a delicately scripted envelope from California found its way into my rural mailbox: “As a native of northern Minnesota, I was intrigued by Judge Munger’s captivating depiction of the links between the present and the past. Part historical novel, part contemporary thriller, ‘The Legacy’ is a very impressive first novel, which readers of this genre will enjoy immensely. Vincent Bugliosi.”

Unlike the other folks I’d contacted, and who’d sent blurbs typewritten and vetted by personal assistants, Vincent’s response was written in ink and elegant cursive: the sort of reply you’d expect to receive from a luminary of a long-past era. The man who successfully prosecuted Charles Manson, one of the most famous attorneys of 20th-century America, hadn’t written me off: He was just being deliberate and thoughtful before responding to my brazen request.

I’ll cherish that handwritten letter and accolade from Vincent Bugliosi no matter the course my fiction writing takes.

Mark Munger is a State District Court judge in Duluth, the author of nine books and the owner of Cloquet River Press. His latest historical novel, “Sukulaiset: The Kindred,” is scheduled for launch on Oct. 9.