Interview with Linda Fairstein
Do you have to be careful about what you write about? For example, I know
you can't write about cases that you're working on.
There are three things
that I stay away from. First I don't write about anything I'm working on
and none of the high-profile cases. As you know, I draw from real examples
and use the kind of procedural details that police and prosecutors do in
investigating the cases, but without linking them to the individuals who
have actually been victims and offenders in real cases that I've worked.
Perhaps I'll do that some day. I am haunted by a few cases that I would
like to write about in factual detail.
I also do not like to
do kids in jeopardy for works of fiction. I want the reactions and the
thought processes and the emotions of adults that I'm working with. I
don't like to read stories about children in jeopardy and children used as
A lot of the violence
in my fiction takes place off the page and I just deal with the aftermath
of it, how the police handle it, and then how the courtroom system tries
to find its way to do justice.
your professional life overlaps into the subject matter of your books. Is
it true that your personal life also spills over into your novels to some
extent? I've heard that you've eaten at some of the same restaurants that
Alex Cooper eats at.
Yes. This is the
lighter part of it obviously and sometimes it's the part that most
confuses people, even my close friends. I usually say that professionally,
Alex Cooper mirrors my experience and my views but personally she is very
different -- younger, thinner and blonder. But the fun with the personal
part is when close friends will come up to me and question me about Alex's
romantic or social situation. People who know me really well, come and say
"I didn't know you were engaged to that doctor when -- when we were
in law school." And that's fiction. So the great fun for me is being
able to take what I hope is a very authentic, professional side and mix in
some of the liberties that I've taken with Alex's personal life.
I know you are interested in victim's rights. Do you find it hard to
remain passionate instead of cynical sometimes? Do you try to stay emotionally
I think first I just have to say that one of the things that Ann Rule's
books have done -- and obviously not written for that reason but the way
she sort of talked about domestic violence, so many people across this
country think that that is a problem of the underclass and unemployed and
it doesn't happen in middle class and upper middle class society.
What books are you reading right now?
I'm currently reading Ann's new one about Sheila Bellush and it's just
such a frightening and compelling story and sort of the ordinariness of
the way in which the relationship begins, you bring someone home like this
to mother and she'd say you know it's the perfect guy from the outside.
And Never Let Her Go
is a book that every reader should have in paperback now. These are
stories that people need to read to understand how pervasive this conduct
is. And to take away the mask that shields so many men who exhibit this
kind of violent personal life.
The bad guy is the
expectation. It's terribly depraved conduct sometimes but it's so richly
rewarding to work with the victims, the survivors and their families and
see those who can triumph over the evil and bad things that have happened.
Those who have lost the
loved one often find a way to give meaning to that person's life by
becoming involved in legislative reform. The whole victim's rights
movement that started in this country around the 1980s was a grassroots
effort by families of victims who had not been met well by the existing
system. There are so many uplifting pieces and parts of doing this work
that I try to show through Alex Cooper talking about it and explaining to
her friends because I am questioned so often about what it is that keeps
me in it when it seems to many outsiders to be more depressing than
did you start writing in the first person?
I made that choice when
I started to write it because it was very much a decision to tell the
story from Alex Cooper's point of view. I want the readers to know this
work, and all the pieces. I wanted them to see victimization and then
hopefully the result in the courtroom from Alex's perspective.
are some of the authors that you read for pleasure?
I could stay with crime
all the time. In terms of true crime, I like Ann Rule's books and Dominick
Dunne. I love so many of the crime novelists today. I just go back and
back to Robert Craig's and I love Lisa Scottoline who writes legal
thrillers. I'm just very happy to be writing in the genre where there are
so many other wonderful writers.
you think it's true that truth is stranger than fiction?
Yes. Sometimes my
colleagues from the DA's office and the police department and I sit in my
office and talk about a situation and someone will ultimately tell me that
I should use that in one of my books. And the truth is that if I wrote
that story, no one would believe that it happened. We see and hear things
every day that just don't seem plausible because they are so strange. And
of course I do try and incorporate some of them. But probably people who
aren't very bright commit 90% of the crimes in this country and those
stories wouldn't make terrifically interesting reads. But most of my plots
-- though I may invent the murder -- the motive comes from the motive in a
was based on an actual stalker I prosecuted who has a diagnosed mental
condition that I had never encountered before or had seen in the
literature. In Likely To Die I changed the setting but it was based
on an attempted murder that happened in a hospital at Vanderbilt
University. In that case, I was so fascinated that the killer wanted to
kill someone for the reason he did.
do you think the Internet has helped you reach the fans?
I have a website
that's actually being revamped for the new publication. I love the mail
from readers and even though it takes me a while to respond, I love to
answer my fans. I'm very grateful to them for their feedback and support
I'm not looking for
fans to give me the plots but things come out of having a conversation
with the fans. For instance, when Cold Hit came out some people
said, you clearly like your detective character Mike Capman a lot, and
Alex likes him a lot. Why don't we know more about his personal life? And
I was so selfishly writing Alex's perspective all the time and my eyes had
just been closed to opening up more of Mike's personal life. So for The
Dead House, I go more into Mike's personal life.
do you feel about your books being made into successful miniseries?
I chose not
to do the screenplay myself because I had no experience doing it and
because I couldn't take a 425 page book and cut it to 80 pages and cut out
so many of the scenes that I liked.
I think that the
strangest part of taking a book to a movie is that these characters exist
in my mind's eye and so the readers also have their own ideas about Alex
Cooper and Mike Chapman. Then you have a producer or director who have
their own ideas about the physical manifestation of these characters. So,
I did it with a great deal of hesitation because I know for fans of the
series, that it won't please everybody. Overall I was quite satisfied
because I thought it was done pretty well.
What's the best thing about your life as a writer and can you sum that up?
From my earliest
childhood memories, I just loved books and reading. I love the idea that I
too can make a living by telling stories, and then it keeps me in the
world where other people love books and the written word.
I think the greatest
pleasure for me is that moment of holding the new book, the new baby that
I think we're both anticipating right now. It's great and extraordinary
I think for me the next
best moment is seeing someone else who is not related to me and hasn't
gotten the copy from me but has actually gone into a store and come out
with one of our books and is sitting in an airport or a doctor's office
reading it. That's still quite a thrill. It's rewarding even though I
can't claim to save lives in Ann's way. But I do get letters from people
who have talked now about trusting the system and understanding what's
become possible in law enforcement -- because of so many of the things
that have happened in my field literally in the last three decades.
I think so much more is
possible in terms of what we are able to give women who have been victims
of violence and how they can triumph in a courtroom. So to take this --
the professional life and I've had over the last 30 years and to mix it
with the great pleasure of writing -- is something I never dreamed I'd
actually be able to accomplish. And so it's given me such extraordinary
Interview reproduced by permission of the publisher, Scribner.