It was old homecoming week when Alafair Burke visited us recently.
Alafair went to Reed College in Portland and worked as an assistant district attorney for Multnomah County (Portland's county) before moving to New York. We feel a special kinship to her because she lived right next door to Murder by the Book for a while.
During her tenure at Multnomah County, she began her first book, Judgment Calls, set in Portland and featuring an assistant D.A. as her main character. Hmmm. Sound familiar? Alafair joked that she was just one of many lawyers who think they've got a book in them. The difference is that she is one of the few who has made it to the publishing stage.
Now she is a law professor at Hofstra in New York, so she has a series set in Manhattan with a police detective as the star. And it is this second series (and an opportunity to see old friends) that brought her to Portland. Her latest in the Elllie Hatcher series is 212, the area code for New York City and the name of a fictional Trump-like building she has created in Manhattan.
Real life cases inspire her and out of them come the what-if scenarios of her books. In the case of 212, anonymous internet gossip and how it related to the death of an NYU student provided the stimulus. One of the "experts" who gave her insight into the difficulties of controlling information on the internet was Jane Davis, Michael Connelly's sister who runs his website.
Balancing her writing and everything else in her life takes a lot of work. And for a perfectionist (as Alafair might be), it leads to some busy times. Although she has been a committed and responsible professor at Hofstra for a few years, it wasn't until this year that she was voted teacher of the year – ironically, in a year in which she felt she was distracted because of her new book.
It amazes Alafair when people think they can write but have read very little. Don't write if you don't read, she cautions. Alafair thinks she writes good dialogue, and she attributes this ability to listening well and reading a lot. Her background in law helps certainly, but if an author doesn't have the talent, it won't get her far, we say, and Alafair has the talent. (Her parents have proof of her nascent talent in the school papers they collected.) In the end, she doesn't just teach her students at Hofstra; through her books she instructs us all about the intricacies of justice and the law.
212, by Alafair Burke, $24.99 (shipping by media mail & handling is an additional $3.50)
-- Barbara 4/5/10