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Sunday April 11, 2010

Criminally good

Meet Laura Caldwell, practising lawyer and writer of red hot crime fiction.

DO you dream of becoming a published author? You could try doing what Laura Cald-well did, then, and ask a simple question: What if?

Caldwell had just finished her bar exam when she decided to go on a holiday before beginning her job at a Chicago legal firm. She had a nice time in Europe with a couple of girlfriends; they all came home safely and Caldwell began work. Then she asked herself: What if someone went on holiday and it changed her life?

That led to her debut novel, Burning the Map, a book that was selected as one of “The Best in 2002” by American bookstore chain, Barnes & Noble.

Laura Caldwell was at the KL International Book Fair to promote the Bahasa Melayu editions of her books. – Photo KarnaDya Solutions.

While Burning the Map is considered chick lit, Caldwell didn’t continue in that genre; it had taken her about nine years after writing that book to get it published, and while she was waiting, she had kept writing (and practising law). Her interest, perhaps influenced by her legal work, leaned towards crime and the next book she sold was a thriller – in fact, she sold seven titles in 2005 and now has a total of 10 books to her name, most of which have spent time on best-seller lists.

As someone who enjoys reading crime fiction, it was quite a thrill to learn that Caldwell would be visiting the Kuala Lumpur International Book Fair 2010. Caldwell’s work has been published in 13 languages in more than 20 countries, Malaysia included. Here, her books have been translated into Bahasa Melayu under a joint agreement between local company KarnaDya Solutions Sdn Bhd and Harlequin Enterprises, which explains Caldwell’s appearance at the book fair last month.

Sharing how she writes her best-selling works, Caldwell says that she still turns to that question for inspiration.

“Like for The Rome Affair, I was on a book tour in Italy with a girlfriend and some man sent us drinks and he was very cute. So my friend and I were just chatting, and she said what if something happened, like an affair, and no one knew but you!

“So it developed from there, and I thought, ‘What if a woman did something and her best friend knew and then blackmailed her?’.”

So, does that mean the books refer to her life or do the characters resemble her?

Caldwell says maybe her first book, Burning the Map, was the closest to her own reality, as it developed from that vacation, but, other than that, “I try to craft people out of nowhere”.

She does admit, though, that the protagonist in what is called the Red trilogy is quite close to her: “She’s red-haired, a Chicago lawyer ... she’s like an avatar of me!”

As an author, Caldwell is perhaps most well-known for the Izzy McNeil trilogy comprising Red Blooded Murder, Red Hot Lies, and Red, White & Dead. Fans, of course, have been hoping the trilogy will expand into a series – they’ll be happy to know that Caldwell will, indeed, continue the further adventures of Izzy.

It’s not surprising that Caldwell draws from her own life – it’s certainly interesting enough!

For instance, apart from being a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at her alma mater, the prestigious Loyola University Chicago Law School, Caldwell is also the director of the Life After Innocence Project in the United States.

This is an organisation formed in 2009 at Loyola that offers legal assistance to, among others, people who are exonerated after having been convicted of crimes they had not committed.

She is in the midst of the editing process of a non-fiction book coming out in September called Long Way Home, which is based on a criminal case she worked on in which a 19-year-old was jailed for six years without a trial.

What advice does she have for wannabe writers who might not lead as exciting a life as hers, I wonder?

She’s quick to reply that if you’re serious about becoming an author, you have to be able to take rejection and criticism well: “Ten years ago you put out your book, you hear reviews, and that’s it. Now with Amazon.com and (social networking website) Facebook, you can read reviews immediately and know what readers think of your work. So you have to kind of believe in yourself and yet not take yourself too seriously.”

Discipline helps, too, she says.

“I once heard Stephen King say you have to write every day but I disagree. He’s a brilliant writer and that works for him, but I’m a practising lawyer, I teach law, I don’t have time to write every day.

“But I think you need to come up with a goal. Each Sunday I would look at my week and I would see what I have on my schedule. I write maybe a page a week or two pages, and I was shocked at how much it added up. I think discipline is very, very hard, but it gets better with regular practise.”


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