Ten years ago today, my first book was published: Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure (Linden/Quill Driver Books), winner of the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction. I actually first saw it in late September, at a display inches inside the book dealers’ room at Bouchercon, the international mystery convention, held that year in St. Louis. Screaming may have been involved.
The book had its origins in my dual life as lawyer and fiction writer. Other writers often asked me questions about the law: How can my character get a search warrant? Can this character inherit from that one? Who is Miranda and why are are we always warning her? So I created 160 Q&A covering 12 topics from Trial and Error to Research and References — and yes, the book proposal included the whole darn list, though they changed a bit as I wrote and under the probing of my editor, Kent Sorsky. (He’s responsible for me expanding a couple of questions about judges into a full-fledged section of the book.)
I was beyond thrilled when BCC, as I call it, won the Agatha Award the next year for Best Nonfiction, over books about Sherlock and Agatha and Sookie! The award meant I’d correctly identified a niche and filled it. Writers, like lawyers, live and die on our judgment, and that stamp of approval of mine kept me committed to writing my own mysteries, while continuing to help other writers get the facts about law straight in their stories.
And even though the book is ten years old now, it’s still pretty darn relevant, IMO!
For years now, I’ve been talking to writers’ groups about common mistakes writers make about the law. Here’s my list, as originally published in The Writer magazine in 2013, along with a few resources for getting it right. (Sisters in Crime members can watch my webinar in the online archives. And if you’d like me to speak to your writing group, drop me a line!)