Q: You have a lot in common with Emma Thornton, the protagonist of your series. How are you similar and how are you different?
CL: Emma and I do have a few things in common. We both decided to attend law school when we were in our thirties, even though we had two school-aged children, and we both clerked for a local attorney in town. At the time of my enrollment in law school, my daughter was six and my son was eleven. I couldn’t have left them behind with my parents while I completed law school, I would have missed them too much. Emma made the same decision. And both Emma and I rented an apartment in married students’ quarters, which was small, cramped, and next to the fraternity houses. Both Emma and I slept on a couch, and gave our kids separate rooms in the two-bedroom apartment. Neither one of us wanted our kids to suffer while we attended school, or worked a full-time job. And Emma and I have both taught at a law school, and directed a homeless law clinic.
But that’s where our similarity ends. Although Emma is a meticulous attorney, and an excellent strategist, she cannot resist opening doors where dangerous characters may lurk, or walking into homes unannounced, even after receiving ample warnings of danger. Emma jumps into peril, unrestrained by the conventions and rules of her profession.
Emma’s behavior occasionally comes to the edge of what’s acceptable professionally. I, on the other hand, seek safety, and prefer residing well within the rules of professional conduct. She seeks answers, sometimes at any cost. She always gets to the heart of the matter, but not without running into complications, and sometimes, sheer terror, along the way.
Q: In all three of your books, the suspects are teenagers. Is that intentional?
CL: I am attracted to cases and stories with vulnerable suspects, regardless of age. But juveniles are especially at risk. Under most state laws, young people are recognized as adults at age eighteen. But science suggests that most people aren’t fully matured until the age of twenty-five. People under the age of twenty-five often lack mature judgment. They make bad choices.
Also, juveniles are more susceptible to being bullied by older family members or friends into participating in crimes. Sometimes they’re set up by these same people to take the responsibility for a crime they didn’t commit, as Louis Bishop was in The Redemption. When a juvenile is charged with a more serious crime, including murder, society places the same criminal responsibility on teenagers as older, fully mature adults.
Until 2005, a juvenile as young as sixteen could receive the death penalty. Today, no one under the age of eighteen can be sentenced to death in the United States, but juveniles can still be tried as adults for more serious crimes.
The stories I tell are inspired from actual cases and events which have haunted me for years: a young deaf man whose handicap was misunderstood by his parents and his community; a sixteen-year-old boy who was set up by cousins to take the responsibility for a murder he did not commit; and an emotional young girl who ran away from home, only to join a suspicious cult.
Although the books I write end with hope and a comforting resolution, most true stories do not.
Q: Out From Silence is set in Georgia while The Redemption and Sanctuary are set in New Orleans. What role does setting play in your novels?
CL: The setting is a main character in all my novels, and sets the mood for the story, or a particular scene.
Out From Silence was set in the fictitious town of Jonesburg, Georgia. Jonesburg is a college town, and is as charming as a “Eudora Welty novel.” Daffodils cover its hills in the spring and its local watering holes are filled with benevolent drunks quoting lines from their latest poems or books. But the early fall heat in Jonesburg is oppressive, relentless, and bears down on its citizens. The sun is so bright it sears skin and burns eyes. Jonesburg is a beautiful but deadly southern town.
New Orleans is the setting for both The Redemption and Sanctuary, and is the perfect place for a murder mystery. Both stories are set in the 1990’s when, statistically, there was more than one murder a day in the city. Police corruption was at its highest during those years. New Orleans citizens couldn’t walk outside at night without the fear of being robbed, or killed, or both. But New Orleans is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, filled with Georgian, Queen Anne, and Victorian styled mansions lining St. Charles Avenue, the Garden District, and Bayou St. John. Flowers spill out from wrought iron fences and frame wrap-around porches. French Quarter townhouses trimmed with ornate wrought iron rails and dripping ferns soar over narrow cobblestone streets. It’s a city filled with visual treats, and sinister nights.
Q: Any advice for aspiring novelists?
CL: My writing journey started in 2005, but it took 14 years to get my first novel published. So, my advice to all aspiring novelists is to keep writing.
You should also attend writing conferences, network with writing groups, and do what you can to learn the craft. Once you learn the basics, you may discover you don’t always know how to write the next scene, or how to end a chapter. But again, just keep writing. I didn’t know who the murderer was in one of my books until I was half way done!
Also, I write murder mysteries, and murders are almost always triggered by passion, and cause devastating pain. It’s essential to show each characters’ vulnerability, and dignity. Respect for each of your characters is vital. Everyone has a story. Even the bad guy.
After you finish your first draft, re-write the book until you like the sound of it when it’s read out loud. I’ve learned that writing is really about re-writing. And then more re-writing.
Q: What are you working on now?
CL: I am working on The Legacy, a murder mystery/ legal thriller about Jeremy, a twenty-one-year- old man diagnosed with schizophrenia. He has been charged with the murder of his mother, who abandoned him nine years earlier.