I’m a wife, step-mother and practicing employment attorney in the Los Angeles area. When I finished law school many years ago, I developed a passion for reading legal thrillers. But I never saw women or people of color depicted as attorneys in any of the books I read. I would close the novels feeling satisfied with the story, but disappointed about the lack of diversity of the characters. One day, I decided that I would write the kind of characters that I wanted to see. In the process, I discovered my passion.
At the time, I was an associate at a large corporate law firm in downtown Los Angeles. Despite the demands of my law practice, I somehow managed to get up at four in the morning to squeeze in a couple of hours of writing before work. I wrote all weekend, in hotels, in airports, whenever and wherever I could find the time. I never really had a true passion in my life until I discovered mystery writing. I’m currently practicing law as an in-house employment attorney for a major corporation, yet I’ve still managed to publish a book a year for the last four years. Nothing short of passion made that possible.
2. Why BUYING TIME? Why this book? What prompted you to write it and what do you hope your readers will get out of it?
The viatical industry is something most people know very little about and it’s rife with opportunities for fraud and abuse. When I began scouring the internet for more information, I learned that both investors and terminally ill patients are frequent targets of viatical scams. In a matter of days, I had developed the central plot for BUYING TIME.
In addition to introducing readers to the viatical industry, BUYING TIME deals with the issue of domestic violence. I think there’s a perception that professional women are immune to it. That’s simply not the case.
3. Please share with our readers a little about the plot, the characters, the setting, of your novel.
In BUYING TIME, Waverly Sloan is a down-on-his-luck lawyer who lends a helping hand to terminally ill patients by helping them sell their insurance policies. Waverly gets a commission on every sale and the money is pouring in. But when Waverly’s clients start dying sooner than they should, he is unwittingly drawn into a murder scheme with ties to Washington.
Angela Evans is an assistant U.S. Attorney who is hoping to nail Waverly for defrauding the terminally ill. She’s unable to completely focus on the case, however, because of the drama in her own personal life. She’s weeks away from marrying a prominent judge, but soon finds herself the victim of domestic violence. She turns to her friend Dre, unaware of his dangerous sideline.
As Angela’s life continues to unravel, so does Waverly’s, and the two lawyers are soon on the run with Dre calling the shots.
4. Tell us a bit about how your protagonist, Waverly Sloan, came about.
The Waverly character came to me one day while I was driving home, which is how most of my characters originate. I swear there’s something magical about L.A. traffic, at least for me. Waverly is an average lawyer who means well, but somehow seems to repeatedly end up in trouble. I wanted the reader to root for him despite all his missteps. So I had to make sure he was a sympathetic character. His biggest problem is his desire to please his money-grubbing wife. Being married to such a diva is just one reason to feel sorry for him.
5. Please describe the greatest challenge you faced in writing BUYING TIME, why it was difficult, and how you resolved it.
The only real difficulty I faced in writing BUYING TIME was finding the time to write. I resolved the problem by using what little time I had efficiently. If I had thirty minutes while waiting in the doctor’s office, I used it. Instead of socializing on Friday and Saturday nights, I wrote. I even dictated a few chapters during my evening compute using a voice recognition software. I didn’t make excuses about not having sufficient time to write. If I had a free hour, I used it.
6. How much and/or what kind of research went into writing this book?
I read loads of books and articles on the viatical industry and also studied legal cases dealing with viatical fraud. I was completely fascinated with this industry, which is really premised upon profiting from death. I discovered many, many lawsuits involving both terminally ill people and investors who were defrauded.
The most interesting research involved my work in developing the character Dre, who is a successful drug dealer. I actually interviewed a drug dealer about his upbringing and the journey that led him into his profession. He had a really compelling personal story, which I adapted for Dre’s character. He openly shared what led him into the business, discussed the economics, the distribution channels, and even explained how crack cocaine is made.
7. What do you find the most difficult part of writing in general and what do you do to overcome it?
I love writing dialogue and it’s rather easy for me. Describing my characters, on the other hand, is almost like pulling teeth. I see them in my head, but I can’t always translate that for the reader. Personally, I prefer not to provide too many physical characteristics. I like the idea of readers using their own imagination as I do when I’m reading. But you have to work a balance. When I get stuck on what a character looks like, I will browse through magazines for interesting people or check people out in the grocery store.
8. How do you balance your time to make time for writing?
With the demands of practicing law, writing my next book and promoting my current ones, my life is extremely hectic. While it can be overwhelming at times, I love every single minute of it. I typically schedule my writing time whenever I can squeeze it in. If you look at my date book right now, you will see “writing time” written into my schedule along with my work appointments and book signing events. I have a three-day writing trip coming up that I’m really psyched about. I’m going to Palm Springs for three days of all-day writing. I write from an outline, so I know exactly where my story is going. I can probably complete 50 “first-draft” pages during a weekend trip. I write my first draft from beginning to end without doing any real editing. Once I have a solid first draft, I spend as much time as necessary revising the draft until I’m happy with the final product. That typically takes about six months.
9. What impact would you say completing BUYING TIME has had on you personally and on your writing?
Writing BUYING TIME was really a confidence builder for me. It’s my fourth legal thriller, but my first stand-alone book. My first three books, EVERY REASONABLE DOUBT (2006), IN FIRM PURSUIT (2007)and MURDER ON THE DOWN LOW (2008) are part of my Vernetta Henderson mystery series. So when I started writing BUYING TIME, I really missed the characters from my first three novels. I knew them extremely well and they were very easy to write. Fortunately, I soon forgot about them as the BUYING TIME story line progressed. I also wrote Buying Time under very challenging circumstances. I had expected to be practicing law on a part-time basis, but that arrangement fell through. As my deadline approached for finishing the book, I really had to hunker down and get it done. I managed to do so and I’m really proud of the final product.
10. Who has been the greatest influence on you with respect to encouraging you to write and become a published author?
My husband has been extremely encouraging. He understands that writing is my passion. On the days when I’m physically exhausted, he’s the one who encourages me to just stick with it.
11. With respect to your writing, please give us some insight into your writing process. In other words, did you outline the chapters? Did you think about the plot for a while before writing it? What steps did you take before you wrote the first sentence?
I will spend anywhere from a few weeks to as long as three months outlining a book before I sit down to write. I also mull over my story quite a bit. I'm thinking about it in the shower, while I'm standing in line at the grocery store, and during my 45-minute commute to work. Even during the outlining stage, I can almost see each chapter as if it were a scene in a movie. Only after I have a completed outline do I start writing. And when I write, I go from page one to the last page without doing much editing along the way. For me, it's psychologically motivating to complete that first draft, even if it's so bad I'd never dare show it to anyone. Once I have a first draft, then the real writing starts. I revise, and revise and revise some more. That process generally takes about six months.
12. What are you working on now? What's next?
The legal thriller I’m currently working on is another Vernetta Henderson mystery and will be the fourth book in the series. It’s called ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE. Vernetta squares off against an unscrupulous female attorney in an explosive gender discrimination case that could bring down a corporation. Just when you think Vernetta is about to prevail, her opponent Riko Yamada pulls a fast one. Vernetta is now out for blood, but before she can strike back, Riko becomes a prime suspect for murder. Assuming I can continue to keep all my balls in the air, ATTORNEY-CLIENT PRIVILEGE will be released in November 2010.
13. Any words of wisdom and advice to aspiring writers?
First and foremost, Master your craft. Take the time to study writing the same way you would study any other profession. Also, read like a writer. When you read a book you enjoy, study the author’s writing style and the book’s story structure. Ask yourself why the book was a great read. One of the most helpful things I did as a new writer was outline John Grisham’s The Firm and examine the story structure. It helped me tremendously in learning how to build suspense.
Second, don’t let anyone deter you from pursuing your dream. Rejection is simply part of the publishing business. Most successful authors experienced years of rejection. So if you think you have a marketable book, don’t give up on your dream. My goal is to become a New York Times bestselling author and to eventually write full time. I recognize that few authors ever achieve that level of success. That fact doesn’t stop me from dreaming big. I feel very strongly that there’s a significant market for my legal thrillers and I’m confident that I’ll eventually break out of the pack. Until that happens, I plan to continue publishing a book a year and watching my fan base grow. My best quality is my ability to get back up after a fall. The publishing industry may knock me down, but I’ll continue to get back up again and again and again.