Laura's been having some technical difficulties, as we say, so I'm posting her first message for her. Please welcome her to the Outfit.
When Libby Hellmann asked me to join The Outfit, she told me, “We generally blog about Chicago, crime, and writing.” I laughed. "Well," I said, “that pretty much sums up my life".
The same would not have been true ten years ago. Back then, I was a lawyer representing doctors who had been sued, and I spent my time taking depositions and figuring out how to perform things like carotid endarterectomies so I could later explain that to a jury.
What a difference a decade makes. I’m still an attorney, but now I’m a professor at Loyola University School of Law. (Actually, my title is Distinguished Scholar in Residence, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily). I teach Advance Litigation Writing and International Criminal Law, and I run the Life After Innocence Project. The project offers guidance to people who were wrongfully convicted and then exonerated (such as by DNA evidence) or those who were wrongfully prosecuted and received a “Not Guilty”. It’s interesting because if you are a convicted felon, someone who did the crime and then the time, and you got out, you would receive a parole officer. You would be entitled to health benefits and other services.
But if you didn’t actually do the offense they accused you of, and if later the truth comes to light and you’re released? You’re not entitled to any such guidance or services. What the state gives such a wrongfully convicted person upon release is a bus card and a sweat suit. Seriously. Now, we’re lucky to live in a state like Illinois which is one of 25 states that provides some compensation to the wrongfully convicted. However, that compensation is relatively minimal and often takes a year or two or more to reach the individual. So, at the Life After Innocence project, we try to help these gentlemen with whatever we can—big things like getting jobs and education, little (but important) things like learning how to email and text and use a cell phone. Think of how busy most of us feel today with text and Twitter and Facebook and email. Now imagine if you had just stepped into the world for the first time in a decade (or two) and you didn’t know what any of those things were—you didn’t know how to email your sister or text a friend or work a cell phone. These guys have a LOT of learning to do. We just try to help along the process. And meanwhile, our clients are the coolest people on the planet. Very, very inspirational guys. You can learn more about them and the project here: blogs.luc.edu/afterinnocence/.
The other job I have now is being a novelist. When I discuss the first four books I published, I usually call them ‘women's fiction’, but a lot of people called them ‘chick lit.’ I never cared very much what anyone called them. The ‘chick lit’ term certainly got me on a lot of front tables at Barnes & Noble. After those books, I wrote three mysteries - Look Closely, The Rome Affair and The Good Liar. Next up, I'm trying to combine both types of my writing plus add a dash of myself.
A friend of mine recently gave me a t-shirt that read, Careful, or you’ll end up in my novel. I thought the shirt was funny. I framed it and put it in my writing room. However, it wasn't really true of me. I’ve never been the type to share my private life in my public, novel-writing side. However, I’ve decided to span the gap.
This summer, it’s going to be a red hot one, because my publisher, MIRA, is releasing my Chicago mystery trilogy. The first---Red Hot Lies—comes out in a week. I'll be going on WGN Radio with Steve Cochran on the afternoon of May 28th, and my street team (so cool, I’ve always wanted a street team) will be handing out a hundred free, signed copies in front of the studio on Michigan Avenue.
And on June 3rd, there will be gathering to launch the book. My character's name is Izzy McNeil, and so of course the party will be at Lizzie McNeill’s (lizziemcneills.com). It's a great Chicago pub on the river, the kind of place, my character (and I) love to hang out. It starts at 6. The fantastic band Hello Dave will be playing at 7:30 or 8. Please come. Bring friends, bring enemies. And if you can't make the party, check back here because I’ll be blogging every two weeks with these authors who I am absolutely—absolutely—in awe of. Thanks guys for having me!