I was in a really unusual position - very fortunate, and I am well aware of that. I started prosecuting in New York - the Manhattan District Attorney's Office - in 1972. I was in charge of that office's pioneering Sex Crimes Unit from 1976 (until I stepped away in 2002). In the late 1980's, because of all the creative techniques we had fashioned for investigating these crimes, a publisher approached me and asked me to write a non-fiction book about that work. I got the permission of the DA and the city's Ethics board (writing about real crimes, real people), and in 1993, SEXUAL VIOLENCE: Our War Against Rape was published. It was actually a NY Times "Notable book of the year".
I had always wanted to write crime fiction, so once the first book was published, I set out to create the first novel in my series: FINAL JEOPARDY. I had a track record of completing a book and having it well-reviewed and well-received, even though non-fiction and not in the genre. And probably just as helpful to me was the fact that the publishers knew that they could get media, since I still had the 'real job' that my protagonist (Alex Cooper) had. So I know the 'no rejection slip' path is an unusual one - not due to my skill, but to my professional situation - so just a lucky break.
--> Have you ever thrown away a book that you just couldn't make work?
Not yet! It is bound to happen. I have certainly discarded ideas that I just could not make hang together as I tried to plot, and I once had an editor reject a plan of mine, just as I started to write. But never a partial or completed manuscript.
--> Is it still exciting to publish a new book even after all this time?
Oh, yes! It is always an enormous thrill for me to launch a new novel. My prosecutorial job was extremely collegial (as I try to show through my characters - Alex Cooper, Mike Chapman, and Mercer Wallace), and the writing is quite solitary. So for me it's great fun when the boxes of new books are open, and I get to be in bookstores and libraries - day in and day out - and talk to people who love books as much as I do. Always a thrill.
--> Do you get ideas for new books all the time and you keep them written down, or does one come to mind when you need one?
I get ideas all the time (at least, I think I do)...and yes, I am a crazed note-taker and I clip endless stories from newspapers, which I keep in notebooks by categories. I'm always looking for ideas for themes for books and for plot devices, because they don't magically appear to me when I need them. Usually I'm a few books ahead in terms of thinking of what world I want to take my characters into. The immediate plotting and case background - what Coop is working on - is much more likely to slip in at the time I'm writing the story.
--> Do you have entire story arcs mapped out when you begin a trilogy or a series of related books? --> Do you know how a book/series is going to end when you begin it?
I work each book at a time. NIGHT WATCH is my 14th book in the series. I have no idea how the entire series will end (END? let's not think about that!).....As I get into each of the novels, as soon as I start the book, I figure out how it will end, for two reasons. First, the prosecutor in me wants to make sure that I can fashion a logical end to the story - and hopefully get Coop out alive. And secondly, readers of crime novels are quite appropriately demanding. They want clues along the way, and they want red herrings - and they want it all to hang together and make sense in the end. I'm the same way when I read other novelists, and hope to give those things to my readers.
--> Do you have to enter a different mind-set to write different stories for different names/characters?
I only write one series, and since I had the same job as the protagonist, I'm pretty comfortable thinking in her shoes. I'm pretty much in her head 24/7 - as I move around the world, I'm constantly thinking about what Coop and Chapman would do in every situation I encounter.
--> Is there any kind of book you would like to write but haven't?
Three kinds of books at least. I'd love to do a crime novel from the point of view of Mike Chapman, which I think would be great fun to write. I'd love to do a young adult series - sort of Alex Cooper as a teenager (think Nancy Drew with modern forensics). And I'd love to write another non-fiction book. The one that was published in '93 is really out-of-date at this point.
--> If you could change anything about your writing career, what would it be?
Perhaps that I had started earlier, and certainly that I could write faster and publish more frequently. But my life is pretty full - still doing law, which is a passion, when there are cases that interest me, and I think the quality of writing really suffers when writers put the work out too quickly.
--> What’s the most interesting question you’ve ever been asked about your writings, and what was your answer?
Very early on, a reader in a book store asked me if I was doing this series with a prosecutor-protagonist to be cathartic. Not that it's so deeply profound, but up to that point, I hadn't acknowledged that fact. The question prompted me to reflect a bit - and yes, it's certainly been cathartic to write about Coop and her pals.
--> If you could have written any single work – novel, screenplay, stage play, poem, history, biography – that you most admire and adore, what would it be?
ANNA KARENINA. That's the literature major in me. I love dense and dramatic and sagas, and I would have loved the elegance and eloquence and masterful storytelling in that book. Closer to this genre, I'd say it's DuMaurier's REBECCA that helped hook me on this genre, and I think it's such a skillfully told-tale...I'd like to have written both of those.
--> Anything you’ve always wanted to be asked about your writing but no one ever has?
I'm sure there are lots of things! I'm too superstitious to ask them of myself (in YOUR presence) - I'm afraid of how i might answer.