Celebrate the Craft! - From the blog of the The Big Thrill
Linda Fairstein is a prolific and bestselling author of legal thrillers starring Alexandra Cooper, a New York City sex crimes prosecutor. For more than a decade, readers have turned to her books for ripped-from-the-headline crimes, cutting-edge investigations, and vindication for victims. In her twelfth novel, Hell Gate, Alex Cooper finds her attention torn between investigating a shipwreck with contraband cargo - human cargo - and the political sex scandal of a promising New York congressman. The bridge between these cases leads our heroine down a darker and deadlier road than she ever imagined. Hell Gate is landing rave reviews, including this dandy from Kirkus: "Thrills, gossip, sex, history, self-righteous indignation and hints of parallels to the contemporary rich and famous, all whipped to a fine frenzy."
You write about a political sex scandal in Hell Gate. Were you inspired by any real life ones?
I like to think I've got a good imagination, but all of the political sex scandals I dreamed up were nothing compared to the real life antics that kept grabbing the headline space - in New York and all over the country. Just when I thought the last one couldn't be topped....along came the next guy. Yes, I was certainly inspired by some of the real-life sexcapades (including a certain governor who was my colleague in the Manhattan DA's Office), and it was kind of hilarious that I had to tone most things down a bit so they'd be more believable.
One of your trademarks is to incorporate New York landmarks and their history in your work. Tell us about Hell Gate and why you decided to make it the crime scene of your latest thriller.
With thirty years experience running Manhattan's Sex Crimes Unit, you're considered one smart author. In fact, Lee Child calls you "the queen of intelligent suspense." Any pressure to stay smart book after book?
As all of us who write know, there is enormous pressure to stay smart, whether you're writing a series or stand-alones. I think we've got terrifically smart fans, who expect solid, nuanced plotting and characters who evolve over time, based on the experiences they encounter. I back off it and relax a bit when I think about how 'smart' I had to stay as a prosecutor for thirty years, when peoples' lives really hung in the balance every day. So this is intelligent (which I love), but it's fiction, and that's a much more comfortable thought for me than dealing with justice every single day. (And how generous of Lee Child to say that, don't you think?)
In your novels, the crimes end up being solved. In real life, I'm sure there were cases you couldn't solve. Can you talk a little about how you balance those two outcomes - resolution being necessary in fiction but not always possible in real life?
One of the great pleasures for me in writing crime fiction is being able to control the outcome of the case - something that was rarely available to me in real life criminal justice! I'm one of the people who actually doesn't mind it when all the threads aren't tied together at the end of a story. As hard as I tried to do that in case after case, it didn't always happen. And sometimes the bad guys beat us. But most of my editors haven't seen it that way. It's great fun when Alex gets to stand up to a mean judge or get a perp who got away from me, and I love having that fictional power.
Neither Alex Cooper or her detective pal Mike Chapman are married. So why haven't they slept together? We know you can write sex scenes because you're always throwing Alex in the arms of other men.
This question really made me smile. I get more mail about Alex and Mike than about anything else in my books. As Alex has revealed to her closest friends, she's sort of tormented about what to do in her relationship with Mike. She loves him, he covers her back better than any guy she has ever known, and she is terrifically attracted to him. But she knows that the minute she gets into bed with him, the professional relationship changes forever. (Now really, readers, do you want that to happen?). So most of my devout followers suspend disbelief and understand that the sexual tension between Alex and Mike is a plot device that keeps the dialogue lively and the action moving. Where it will lead, I'm not quite sure. I'm often reminded of the TV show Moonlighting (Bruce Willis and Cybil Shepherd). It was a huge hit because of the sexual tension throughout several seasons, and the minute they climbed into bed together, over and out. So bear with me, please, and remember that Alex only ages about three months between capers, so it's not that much time that has evolved.
Can you tell us a little about your writing process?
You just can't imagine how much I love to write. For me, a really good day is when I can get up in the morning, have coffee with my husband, then hole up in my writing room - my bat cave - and just get into the words and the story and the rhythm. The first one hundred pages of a novel are like having root canal - sounding out a strong opening, laying in characters and clues, plotting a careful story that will make sense at the end. It's harder for me to isolate myself in the city, because of so many of the things I stay involved in (I'm still a lawyer and do lots of non-profit work for victims of violence). We spend four months on Martha's Vineyard, where I actually have the luxury of a separate cottage, and I leave 'home' to walk down the hill for a day's work. It's tranquil and magnificent and isolated, and I take lots of breaks to swim and clear my head. Best for me is the last quarter of the story, when I know exactly where I'm headed, and it's like skiing downhill to the finish line. My prosecutorial job was so collegial and reliant on partnerships with detectives and DA's (like Alex) that the isolation of writing was the hardest adjustment for me to make. But at the end of the writing day, there's a glass of Dewar's waiting for me in front of the fireplace.
Hell Gate is book twelve for you and your protagonist. JK Rowling knew how she was going to end Harry Potter. Charlaine Harris claims to know how she is going to end her Sookie tales. And Sue Grafton is shooting for the letter Z. Do you know how your series will end?
So far, no end in sight for Alex Cooper. Hey, I had her job for thirty years, so I expect she is in it for the long haul. I remember exactly where I was when my literary agent (and dear friend) Esther Newberg called to tell me there was a 'bidding war' for my first novel in the series - Final Jeopardy. Of the three houses, it was Scribner (Alex's first great home) which asked - "Does Linda think she can do two books?" My answer to Esther was without hesitation - "I know I can do ten." So here we are at number twelve, and I've got lots of stories to tell. I think that Hell Gate has 'thriller' pacing, and I'm so delighted to be part of this terrific community.
For more information about Linda Fairstein, check http://www.lindafairstein.com/
Contributing editor Julie Kramer's MISSING MARK, landed a rave review from People Magazine. "Smart dialogue and a fleet pace make this second outing in Kramer's fledgling series a crowd-pleaser." Her debut, STALKING SUSAN, was a nominee for the Mary Higgins Clark, Anthony, Barry, and Shamus awards. Her third, SILENCING SAM, is coming this summer.