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Jeter digs deep to tell the stunning story of WorldCom

Lynne W. Jeter has written the first in-depth look at what went right and what went wrong at Clinton-based WorldCom.

Copies of “Disconnected: Deceit and Betrayal at WorldCom” hit bookstore shelves in late February, and Jeter has been busy answering questions from a curious media, as well as interested readers.

The rise and fall of WorldCom is a story of stunning success and colossal failure. Once one of the leading telecommunications companies of the vaunted New Economy, the company is now mired in bankruptcy and a symbol of corporate chicanery.

A native of Mississippi, Jeter grew up in Seminary, a rural town about 25 miles north of Hattiesburg. She is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi, and attended graduate school at Belhaven College. She has been writing — for money — since 1988. In 1997, she became a contributing writer for the Mississippi Business Journal.

Last week, Jeter discussed the “Disconnected” project with us.

Mississippi Business Journal: Tell us how you came to write this book for John Wiley & Sons, one of the more prestigious business book publishing houses?

Lynne W. Jeter: When John Sidgmore disclosed the $3.8-billion accounting fraud last June, I knew someone would write a book about it. I didn’t think it would be me. Then friends and sources I work with on a daily basis suggested I do it, and I thought, why not give it a try? Martin Hegwood introduced me to his agent, Jimmy Vines. Two weeks later, I had a book deal.

MBJ: How long has it taken from inception to publication?

LWJ: The entire process was incredibly fast. The publisher deadlined the manuscript for Nov. 7. Rewrites were done in December. Pages were proofed in January. and Feb. 21 was the ship date.

MBJ: What’s the initial press run?

LWJ: About 20,000. Business books in general have not done very well in the last two years. My agent and editor said an initial print run of 20,000 was very good for a book of this nature. Hopefully, there will be many more.

MBJ: How involved are you with the promotion of the book? What kind of book tour/signing schedule are you on?

LWJ: I’m not that involved with the promotion of the book. Wiley publicists, event planners and the marketing department are handling that, and plans change daily.

My inaugural booksigning is Lemuria on March 8, which I think should be the first stop for all Mississippi writers.

MBJ: What kind of reaction have you had from the media and readers, especially those connected with WorldCom?

LWJ: Everyone is very curious about WorldCom’s history. And it is a fascinating story. A few WorldCom employees would rather not see a book written at all, but by far, the majority of people associated with WorldCom that I’ve spoken with have been supportive and were anxious to relate their experiences. As LDDS co-founder Danny Dunnaway once said, “You couldn’t write this script and have somebody believe you.”

MBJ: Are Mississippians still sensitive about what happened at WorldCom?

LWJ: Reactions run the gamut. Many people were — and still are — extremely loyal to Bernie Ebbers, even after his resignation, the accounting fraud disclosure, and WorldCom’s bankruptcy. Others had the opposite reaction. Some are extremely bitter.

Not surprisingly, not one person defended Scott Sullivan. Not one person blamed John Sidgmore. Everybody talked about what a great guy David Myers is. When I talked to people about influences surrounding the turn of the tide for the company, I heard the word “Yankee” a lot.

MBJ: How do you think WorldCom insiders will react to this book?

LWJ: I think they will be amused, but they may not let on. They can’t afford to.

MBJ: Describe the writing process for you. What’s a typical day of writing like?

LWJ: Wake up. Write. Sleep. Repeat.

MBJ: What’s the best part about writing a book like “Disconnected?”

LWJ: Having the time to research one story. Journalists rarely have that luxury.

MBJ: What’s next for you? What other writing projects are you interested in pursuing?

LWJ: I’ll keep riding this rollercoaster and see what happens next.

Contact MBJ editor Jim Laird at jlaird@msbusiness.com.

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