Wednesday, January 3, 2018

She Thinks She's Pretty Clever; a guest blog by Amy Impellizzeri

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: There are a lot of lawyers in crime fiction. Yes, they appear as the characters, but almost as frequently, they're the authors. There are lawyers who are known primarily for being members of the bar, like Scott Turow and John Grisham, Michael Connelly and Lisa Scottolini. Closer to home, we have Kate Flora and Brenda Buchanan, a frequent commenter here. There's yours truly, University of Maine School of Law '90. And our guest today, Amy Impellizzeri.

A lot of ink has been spilled over the question as to why so many attorneys become writers. I always figured it was because smart, wordy people who love reading and writing go to law school. (If we were good at math or science, we would have become engineers or doctors.) 

While thinking over what inspired her first thriller, THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA, Amy had an insight into what really drives  advocates to become authors - and she shares it with us today.


You think you’re pretty clever, don’t you, young lady? Well, we’ll see.

When I heard these words, I was a 28-year old ambitious corporate litigator who had just finished cross-examining the other side’s expert witness – Dr. L - during a trial that had been dragging on for nearly two weeks. The judge called for a short recess after my questioning, and while I stretched my legs in the aisle of the courtroom, Dr. L brushed up alongside me on the way out. He whispered in my ear - his hot breath and hissed words were definitely intended to intimidate me.

I simply smiled up at him in response. 

I had just helped Dr. L look incompetent, unqualified and money hungry with my questioning. He wasn’t too happy about the way his side of the story had been portrayed. I took that as a good sign. 

For thirteen-plus years, I told my clients’ stories. I took the jumbled messes they brought to me – usually in the form of rooms full of non-indexed documents and files, and I pieced them together to tell a story for a judge and jury. I always say that I loved being a lawyer. Until I didn’t. And then I got out. 

I left the law in 2009, and never really looked back. After spending so long telling only my clients’ stories, I remembered something again – I had a different story to tell.

When I found my voice again after leaving the law, my first novel centered around a woman at a crossroad in her life – a woman suddenly questioning everything she had thought she’d known about life and love. Not an entirely surprising theme given that I wrote the novel (Lemongrass Hope) during the first four years of my transition away from corporate law. 



My second novel was about loss and redemption. Reinvention and survival. Secrets of Worry Dolls unraveled the long-held secrets of a 9/11 widow and her estranged daughter following a tragedy in their New York City neighborhood. 

I had the good fortune to have book clubs and other readers discover my first two novels. And a common question emerged – 

Why don’t you write legal fiction? Why don’t you write stories inspired by your lawyer days?
 

I answered honestly. Mostly, I didn’t think my corporate law experience was all that … you know, sexy. It wasn’t the stuff of novels. In fact, for thirteen years, I had spent thousands of hours – tens of thousands of hours– searching through evidence and researching and writing briefs that made brilliant doorstops when they were finished and bound. Sure, I had told stories for a living, but they weren’t my stories. 


And then one day, I remembered Dr. L again. And other similar run-ins with various expert witnesses during my career. If I was a storyteller during my legal career, then those expert witnesses were certainly some colorful characters, and definitely provided more than a few twists and turns in the plots. Maybe there was something there – in all of those dances with expert witnesses throughout my legal career – that would provide meat for a story – for my story.

Thus, the idea for The Truth About Thea – my first legal thriller – was born. Because it felt like such a full circle novel for me following my transition from the law, I decided to open the novel with a trial set in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas - the site of my first jury trial 20 years ago. In The Truth About Thea, Thea Brown is on trial for a high profile crime involving her company, Alibis, which helps create false social media identities for clients with suspect pasts. An expert witness is located who testifies that Thea Brown is actually addicted to social media, and that because of her addiction, she should go to rehab, not jail. The expert witness, along with Thea Brown’s lawyer, sets the stage for a story with plenty of twists and turns. 

And to think, I owe it all to that dishonest, unqualified, money hungry expert witness who brushed up against me in that courtroom many years ago.

You think you’re pretty clever, don’t you, young lady? Well, we’ll see.

I won that trial after cross-examining Dr. L, by the way. I didn’t let him intimidate me and I thought about him often as I built my legal career, and now as I build my career as novelist. And sometimes I wonder if Dr. L still remembers me. I wonder if he’ll pick up a copy of The Truth About Thea one day. I have to admit, I’m tempted to look him up and tell him that yes, I do actually think I’m pretty clever sometimes. And I really don’t care at all if he agrees.

So tell me, Red Readers. Is there someone from your past who is influencing you and motivating you in ways they probably don’t even realize? For good or for bad? Share with me! (By the way, I’ll be selecting two random commenters to win signed copies of The Truth About Thea).

You can find out more on Amy Impellizzeri, her novels and her acclaimed non-fiction at her website. You can chat with her on Twitter as @AmyImpellizzeri, talk books with her on Goodreads, and participate in her online writers community, Tall Poppy Writers.

72 comments:

  1. It’s fascinating to see how the interactions between people can influence choices and decisions without those people knowing that they’ve done so; alas, I’ve no intriguing tale of the same to share.
    I’m always amazed by the excess of paperwork that seems to accompany any legal case . . . doorstops? Really? I’m intrigued and looking forward to reading “The Truth About Thea” . . . .

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    1. And sometimes that shared connection comes simply through words on the page between strangers! And yes, those legal briefs were just so.many.words. Thanks for reading. I hope you love The Truth About Thea!

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  2. Oh, this was interesting! I've always thought that being a lawyer would be fascinating - though I might like the research better than the people interaction. Which is probably why working in a library and finding answers or great books for patrons was so satisfying. I started out as an accountant though (my father's idea) and it was fine enough (I was an auditor - sort of like a treasure hunt to find errors), but books and learning interesting things has my heart. I look forward to sampling your books, Amy! And I'd love to be the librarian who 'helped' that witness find just the perfect book to read - THE TRUTH ABOUT THEA. LOL

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    1. That was my favorite part, Kay. I loved law school and researching. Actually working with clients? Not so much.

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    2. Hi Kay! You are a winner! Email me with your mailing address: amy(at)Amy Impellizzeri(dot)com :)

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    3. Just sent it to you! Thanks so very much!!

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  3. Oh that’s so funny! I will cross my fingers he walks into your library! Glad to hear you followed your heart to a wonderful place. I’ve always thought of librarians as the best kind of matchmakers :)

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  4. Oh, Amy, this sounds so great! I am a huge fan of legal thrillers, and cannot wait to read this. As for using people in my book? Yes, indeedy.
    People always say that the people you are using or being inspired:-) by never understand it’s them.
    One can only hope.

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    1. Conversely - I find that more than a few THINK you’re writing about them when in fact you are not! ;)

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    2. I have a friend who's a Thomas Wolfe expert. He says that after Wolfe published Look Homeward, Angel, he had to leave Asheville for a while because so many people were upset about making appearances in his book. When he published his next novel, people were upset that they weren't included.

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    3. Welcome, Amy, and congrats on the book! I've had the same experience where some readers assume they were the model for the most admirable characters in the book, not realizing that they influenced the worst characters!

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    4. A few ex-boyfriends think they inspired the rekindled love interest in my debut. #false ;)

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    5. Exactly! People are hilarious. In the book I'm attempting to write now, I keep having to say to Jonathan--one of the main characters is a lawyer, but he's not you. He's NOT, okay? He truly isn't.
      And Amy, that's too funny. Not, however, surprising. xxx

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    6. Ok, ok - but if Jonathan has an unhealthy relationship with thin mint Girl Scout cookies and caffeine and needs his roots done ... I’ll stop believing you .... ;)

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  5. WHen I was in high school, I thought I'd be a lawyer. I wanted to argue in front on the Supreme Court. Then I'd return to my high school reunion, successful and triumphant, and throw it in the face of all those who mocked me.

    That didn't happen.

    I had a teacher in junior high who said that I was so stupid at math, I'd never be successful at anything.

    That didn't happen, either. =)

    I'd like to think the "adult" me has let go of that past, but I admit: There's still a little piece of me saying, "Hah! I showed them."

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Oh, Mary, that must have been a very unhappy teacher, I mean we're ALL so full of self doubts as adolescents and there she (she?) goes pouring fuel on that fire.

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    2. Mary, I agree with Hailie!
      I always tell my kids: the best revenge is doing well. :) also a close second: drawing funny mustaches on photos of your enemies ;)

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    3. Hallie and Amy: Thanks. Yes, it was a "she" - a very old, and bitter she. I firmly believed I couldn't do math until I was in AP Chemistry my junior year and my wonderful (male) teacher looked at me funny when I claimed I shouldn't be in the class since I had not completed the math requirements and said, "Whatever makes you say that? You're one of my best students!"

      And I'm all about funny mustaches. =)

      Mary/Liz

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    4. Funny how people come into our lives for so many different reasons! Even AP Chem professors! :)

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    5. Ps - for the record - I agree with Hallie - not Hailie ... darn autocorrect thinks I’m talking about my neighbor. ;)

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    6. Hi Mary, you are a winner! Email me with you mailing address: amy(at)amyimpellizzeri(dot)com! :)

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  6. The Truth About Thea sounds so intriguing that I just bought the Kindle version! I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks, Amy. :)

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    1. Oh! Happy author dance. Thanks, Cathy. I hope you love it.

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  7. Welcome, Amy! Back when I was a technical writer I had one manager who was not at all interested in helping her people grow, or in anything but checking off boxes to say that piles of work were done (and presenting impressive PowerPoint slides to her superiors). When I made my own brief foray into the Dark Side (management), I remembered all the negative behaviors and did the opposite as much as I could. I decided before too long that I was happier back in the trenches, but in multiple senior and team-leader roles I always remembered that manager's shortcomings and sought to provide the sorts of help that she hadn't. Now I'm envisioning a mystery set in a large technical company and I have a hunch she'll make an appearance. I'll be keeping an eye out for Thea!

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    1. Good for you! I will say that even though The Truth About Thea is my first legal fiction, disgruntled lawyers (and horrible bosses) made cameo appearances in my earlier novels. ;)

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    2. What's that saying, Jim? If you can't be a good example, you'll just have to be a horrible warning?

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  8. Oh my yes, how often have any of us been "Little Lady'ed" ... the ultimate put down. The book sounds great. I'm a huge fan of legal mysteries. And I think law is about persuasion... which is what fiction is, really, the art of it.

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    1. I totally agree. Once, at a book reading, an audience member asked me if I’m a lawyer who writes books or an author who used to practice law. The truth is I’m a writer AND a lawyer and both influence how I attack a story :)

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  9. If you can find that "charming" witness, send him a signed copy of the book with an inscription along the lines of, "Yes, I can be pretty clever. Read this and you'll see."
    No, I guess that isn't good enough.
    Maybe just a signed copy as a nudge?
    libby Dodd

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    1. Charming, indeed! ;) I like the way you think ...

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  10. Congratulations on your captivating novels. The Truth About Thea sounds enthralling and unique. I enjoyed your great post.

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  11. That sleazy expert witness will never understand that the little lady got where she is today by being smart and working hard. Congratulations on all your successes, Amy!

    I once went toe-to-toe in the field with an Egyptian man who was also a wealthy Texas oilman. He'd brought a phalanx of big guys in cowboy hats with him. And there I stood by myself, a young woman whose parents had left the hills of Eastern Kentucky for the auto plants of northern Ohio. I put myself through a no-name school (not Harvard, not Stanford), etc. And my expert opinion stood between the oilman and what he wanted. When the phalanx stepped back, I dug in my heels. He went back to Texas without getting what he wanted. I went home with the biggest headache I'd ever had. :-)

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    1. Ah! The expert witness who turned everything upside down! Kudos!! Ps - I have a feeling you’d enjoy The Truth About Thea :)

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  12. When people, especially men, pull that "Little Lady" thing, they do it because they realize it's their only chance at restoring the imbalance of power they prefer--with them perceived as being in the upper position. Once you let them know that you know they aren't, you play the same game. It's better for them to have that exquisitely wonderful dawning awareness that they never had it in the first place.

    Sometimes they never get to that point. With you. But since that's their usual M.O., eventually their match will be met, somewhere, sometime. It's probably already happened with Dr. L, since he was clearly incompetent, and so insecure about it that he had to make that smarmy little power play with you, Amy, right out in the open.

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    1. You’re so right. I was naive at the start of my career - particularly with respect to power struggles of these types - my naïveté was a liability AND an asset in many ways. It was so brazen of him, wasn’t it?

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    2. Do any of us ever expect something like that? It took me years to realize how this dynamic worked.

      And yes, an asset, because you weren't fully aware of how much of a power play he was trying to make, so it didn't affect you the way he expected it to.

      Really looking forward to diving into your books, Amy. Nice to "meet" you!

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  13. I used to catch that "Little Lady" crap a lot. Why do sales people and bankers think women's brains can't comprehend facts and figures? It was rampant in the 70s. My husband would inform them I had a degree in accounting, and later, that I was a CPA and that usually knocked them off their perch.
    As for people influencing you, my father-in-law took a job in a mining camp in Mexico back in the sixties. He was a petroleum engineer. My husband absolutely worshipped him and thought this move had been a well-planned out step in his career. Turns out Pic took the job solely because some big mouth at work told him he'd never be able to do it. Helped his career a lot too!

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    1. Love that story and love that your husband stuck up for you too!

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  14. You were strong and brave. Staying a lawyer for years takes fortitude and strength since there is a hostile environment to deal with as well as nastiness from the lawyers and the criminals. My d-in-l deals with this daily and wants out. Your talent is wonderful and The Truth About Thea would be greatly enjoyed and appreciated.

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    1. Confession: It aggravates me how little has changed for women in the legal field. Even today. I wrote a book for the ABA called Lawyer Interrupted - about the versatility of the law degree - and the many ways it can be used OUTSIDE of the heartless world of biglaw. Tell your DIL to keep the faith!

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  15. Man, I hate jerks like the smarmy Dr. L. But kudos to you for plucking some inspiration out of that slime. All three of your books sound intriguing. I'm not sure I've ever carried someone I despised around in my head long enough to let them influence me that much, but I've had several delightful positive role models over the years--brave, intelligent women who weren't afraid to step out of their comfort zones for the chance to try something new. Maybe I need to go back and look at them again, to see if there are additional lessons I should learn!

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    1. Oh! This makes me so happy! Good for you for embracing the strong positive influencers and discarding the rest! No easy feat ...

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  16. Sounds like a few very interesting books are on my horizon! Glad to meet you!

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    1. Back at you! Thanks for reading. Glad to connect!

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  18. Congratulations, Amy! This novel sounds very timely and engrossing - I can’t wait to read it.

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    1. Thanks so much! I had lots of fun writing it. What do you think? Is social media addiction a “real” addiction? I enjoyed exploring that idea in this novel ...

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    2. Yes. Yes it is. Certainly, its chemical. I feel a physical loss if I can't find my phone. A pal of mine describes it perfectly: she calls it iPanic.
      And of course, FOMO.

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    3. iPanic! I’m stealing that ... don’t tell your friend ;)

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  19. Oh my goodness--this sounds fabulous! I love legal thrillers and can't wait to read The Truth About Thea. Hmm...interesting question about folks from the past influencing us. Probably they do, in ways I don't even realize. I don't intentionally write about real people. In fact, if I ever think someone might THINK I'm writing about them, I try to change things around. Perhaps I'm a bit paranoid... :) Congratulations, Amy!

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    1. I’m paranoid too. Especially when I’m writing mothers or mothersinlaw. I’m VERY careful then ;)

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  20. Congratulations, Amy, on The Truth About Thea. (Love the name, Thea, by the way.) And what a knock out cover! You've got a fascinating premise--can't wait to read it. And I hope the "expert witness" gets his just desserts.

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    1. Thank you! Funny thing is when I picked the name, I didn’t know anyone named Thea. I loved it because it was rooted in Greek mythology and Thea means truth. But now I constantly meet real life THEA’s :)

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  21. LOVE that you can buy books in one click. Clicked. xoxo

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  22. Thank you for sharing, that was fascinating. I am sure that many people throughout my life have influenced me w/o realizing it (in some cases, w/o my having realized it until long after-the-fact). I would love to enter for chance to win your book, because I certainly want to read it! Because both (a) of your blog about how it came to be, and (b) the whole social media prevalence theme is one that intrigues me to observe, and what a marvelous twist to look at it within a legal thriller! Sadly, though, I suffer from You-asked-me-too-fast Syndrome, and I can't think of a single example from my own past.

    At any rate, Brava, Amy! I look forward to reading your books (listening to them, if any are in audiobook form? also sadly: I often don't have time to read hardcopy books, get most of my reading in with audiobooks in the car and when Walking for exercise)!

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  23. You-asked-me-too-fast syndrome! Love it! There’s a character with that same syndrome just waiting to be written, I think. :)
    Thanks for asking about audiobooks ... my first novel, Lemongrass Hope, is indeed available on audiobook for your next long walk (or drive!) :)

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  24. Your book sounds awesome! I'll look for it.
    As for people infuencing me...I had one client several (okay, about twenty-five) years ago whose life was just an absolute train wreck. She was in the hospital more often than not, and hanging on by her fingernails most of the time. When she was ill, she could be pretty scary to people who weren't accustomed to her- but even then, she was the bravest, most amazing woman. She and I were the same age- within a few weeks- and she had been through so much in her life. I couldn't have done it- and some days, neither could she, but she got through with help, anyway. She's kind of an inspiration, really.

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    1. Beautiful story. Thank you for sharing ❤️

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  25. Great question! I lived for a year in Idaho, when I was in high school. I took my first chemistry class, and I didn't do well at it. In the middle of the first semester the teacher came to me and said, "I'll bet you are good at writing poetry and in English class. You should probably stick to that." He might as well have said, "You're probably going to stay home and raise kids, right? You seem like a nice girl, not very STEM-y. But this was the 1980's, and I was miserable in that class, and terrified that I was going to fail, and so I accepted his out, and withdrew from chemistry. A year later, back home in California, no longer homesick, not so miserable nor so insecure, I wondered whether he was just a lousy teacher. Years later, I'm angry at him. My mother was a nurse. I had no reason to be lousy at chemistry. He should have put in the effort to help me understand! He didn't ruin my life, but he certainly made me alert to those times when I hear condescension, when I see girls being routed away from opportunities, and I am alert to cultural stereotypes and don't reinforce them or tolerate them.

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    1. Good for you. And it’s never too late to return to chemistry, you know? ;)

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  27. Thank you all for reading and sharing your stories! Kay and Mary Sutton - you are the lucky winners selected by Random.org :) please email me with your mailing addresses: amy(at)Amy Impellizzeri(dot)com. Thank you! ❤️

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  28. Welcome to Jungle Reds. At the risk of sounding like a nosy parker, did you pay off your student loans and were you able to put aside some of your earnings into a savings account before leaving the law profession in 2009? Good for you not letting the baddie intimidate you!

    Your book sounds interesting and I am putting it on my TBR list!

    Happy New Year!
    Diana

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  29. Hope my question did not offend you.

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  30. Hi Diana, I was a corporate litigator for 13+ years. I’m not easily offended :)
    The short answer is yes. The longer answer is that since 2009, I have always had a part-time day job (consulting, writing coach, etc) alongside my writing career, as it is not nearly as lucrative as my prior gig, but certainly more fulfilling (for me personally). I wrote a nonfiction book called Lawywr Interrupted for the Bar in which I debunked the myth that you need to be independently wealthy or pay off all your student loans before leaving biglaw ... but advocating for a carefully planned exit strategy :)

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    1. Thank you for answering my questions.

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  31. This book sounds fascinating. Adding to my list immediately.

    Congratulations on all your books and successes!

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