Thursday, September 13, 2012

author interview: allison leotta

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Allison Leotta, the author of two excellent books about Assistant US Attorney Anna Curtis, stopped by to answer some questions about her writing!

You spent 12 years as a federal prosecutor.  How did your experiences shape your two novels, Law of Attraction and Discretion?

I specialized in prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence. Every day was fascinating. I was immersed in the extremes of human behavior: incredible evil and heartbreaking tragedies, but also great courage, love and heroism, and moments of pure absurdity. My colleagues and I would often say, “Someone needs to put this in a book.”

When I got pregnant, a weird sort of biological clock went off. I realized that if I was ever going to write that novel, I had to do it now. So I started writing every morning for a couple of hours before work. I wove those fascinating real-life details into the plot of my first book, “Law of Attraction.”

My latest book, “Discretion,” is about a sex scandal and murder investigation following the death of a high-priced escort in a congressman’s Capitol hideaway.  I was fascinated by several real-life escort cases, including the “DC Madam” and New York’s “Millionaire Madam.”  I tried to include the most interesting details from those cases in “Discretion.”

Because of your job, the Department of Justice had to review your first book for security breaches.  What was that experience like?

DOJ ethics attorneys did have to vet “Law of Attraction” to make sure I wasn’t divulging state secrets or violating rules of professional responsibility. I was worried about the process. What if they wouldn’t let me publish it? But the reviewers were very nice. Their main concern was to make sure that nothing in the book violated DOJ ethics rules or compromised national security. Thankfully, sex crimes and domestic violence generally don’t affect national security.  The clearance process took about four months.

The worst part was knowing my bosses had read my sex scenes.  It made for some awkward elevator rides at the U.S. Attorney’s Office!

You have a blog called The Prime-Time Crime Review where you point out the things TV shows get right and wrong about crime.  What’s the most common mistake that drives you crazy?

I’ve been delighted by the response to my blog. Folks love hearing what’s real and what’s not – it’s been far more rewarding for me than throwing slippers at the TV!

A few of my pet peeves: Rapists rarely lurk in bushes. You’re far more likely to be killed or raped by someone you know than by a stranger. Cops hardly ever get usable fingerprints from guns. Human DNA does not coat the earth’s surface. And most crime victims are not beautiful young heiresses who secretly work as strippers.

What book (your own or someone else’s) has had the most impact on your life?

I’ve always been a voracious reader, but writing my own book has definitely had the most impact on my life.  I have a completely different life now – the life of a novelist.  I now sit at my kitchen table all day making up imaginary bad guys instead of going into an office and putting the real ones in jail.

Writing novels has also made me a better reader.  I have a new appreciation for the skill it takes for an author to create her world, now that I’ve grappled with the same challenges myself.

Some of my favorite recent reads include: “Defending Jacob,” by William Landay; “The Post-Birthday World,” by Lionel Shriver; and “The Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell.

What’s up next for you?  Will there be another Anna Curtis book?

Funny you should ask, I just turned in the manuscript for my next book last Friday!  It’s another Anna Curtis book, and this time she’s dealing with a brutal gang called MS-13 and the mystery surrounding a colleague’s death.  I’m really excited about the story.

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