When he wanted to write a memoir, Dr. Bill Bass chose Jon Jefferson over a half-dozen others who'd approached him over the years, impressed with his 12 years of science writing in Oak Ridge and the rapport they'd established when Jefferson filmed a two-hour documentary about the Body Farm. The result was Death's Acre, published in 2004.
The next project was Jefferson's idea. He wanted to try a fictional treatment with a character similar to Bass in career at least, and set at the Body Farm.
"I thought it sounded like fun," says Jefferson, who had dozens of years as a technical/science writer and editor at Oak Ridge Laboratory behind him at that point, had produced numerous television shows for the likes of A&E and written many magazine articles, but never a published word of fiction. "Dr. Bass didn't think there was much future in it."
Even a famous forensic scientist can be wrong from time to time.
The fiction series, four in all now, has been printed in 14 languages and sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Jefferson travels with Bass to promote each book as it's published. "We don't ever ride around in limos, but some people do make a big fuss over us, wanting to have their pictures taken with us. They want to get their picture taken with Dr. Bass, actually, but I'm standing right next to him, so I get in a lot of photos."
Jefferson says that without rancor. "He's a legend," he says. "And he talks in a way I know he respects and is grateful to me. I'm not kidding, literally the first book or two, I would have people look at me when I moved to sign, like ‘Who are you and what are you doing with my book?'"
The series' main character, Dr. Bill Brockton, is about Jefferson's age. "He also has a lot of romantic misadventures, which is a reflection of me."
Like Bass, though, Brockton is a teetotaler. "Dr. Bass never had a drink in his life, and never gotten a speeding ticket in his life, either. Which is how you know he and I are two very different people, too."
Jefferson attended college at Birmingham Southern in Alabama. "When I announced after freshman year that I would switch my major from premed to English, my mother cried. ‘But how will you make a living?' she asked.
"I said, ‘Don't worry, I'm smart. I'll figure something out.'"