Friday, July 06, 2012

Guest Blog: Allison Leotta

Today I'm hosting a really exciting special guest. I met Allison Leotta at a booksigning at Turn the Page bookstore, where we both signed alongside such big names as Nora Roberts, Robyn Carr, and Elizabeth Boyle. (I think Allison and I were the only ones with only one book out. LOL)

She is a former federal sex crimes prosecutor who is now a legal thriller author. She also runs the Prime Time Crime Review, which the American Bar Association calls one of their favorite legal blogs. Her debut novel, Law of Attraction, was absolutely incredible, and I'm looking forward to digging into the follow-up, Discretion, this weekend.

But don't take my word for it. David Baldacci calls it "a first-rate thriller" and Lisa Scottoline says it's "fast, fresh, and addictive." The Providence Journal calls her "a female John Grisham."

Not only can she craft some killer fiction, but she's smart and gorgeous. If she wasn't so darn nice, I'd probably hate her! LOL (Sorry, Allison...it's the truth. J)

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Thanks for having me here on Killer Fiction!  Can I get a nickname for the day?  Maybe Allison “Legal Tender” Leotta? 
I’m excited that my second novel, DISCRETION, came out on Tuesday!  Like my first, LAW OF ATTRACTION, this book is based on my former job. For twelve years, I prosecuted sex crimes and domestic violence as a federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C.   DISCRETION focuses on the sex trade and centers on the mystery of an escort’s death in a congressman’s office .  In writing the story, my challenge wasn’t finding real-life material, but deciding how to explain details that might be shocking for readers to hear.
             As a prosecutor, I saw the cases the press would glamorize – high-end escort services like the “D.C. Madam” and New York’s “Millionaire Madam.”  But I also saw that both high-priced call girls and low-rent streetwalkers were among the most vulnerable of women to being raped, assaulted, and murdered.  I wanted to understand the lives of these madams and their employees: why so many college girls choose such a high-risk route, the secret lives they have to juggle, the dangers they face every time they meet a client.
            The case of the D.C. Madam particularly interested me.  She operated a high-end escort service catering to politicians, diplomats, and wealthy businessmen in the nation’s capital.  My office prosecuted and convicted her, but before she was sentenced, she committed suicide.  There were plenty of people – wealthy, powerful men – with an incentive to shut her up.  My sensible prosecutor side dismissed such speculation, but the crime novelist in me wondered if someone might have killed the madam, and how it might have been done.
            About the same time, I visited the U.S. Capitol and walked through the Rotunda, where famous oil paintings of America’s birth cover the walls.  In the paintings, hundreds of men are portrayed – but I saw only four women.  Of the four, two are naked and on their knees.  I started thinking about the sexual power dynamics that have surrounded our country from its founding, and which still surround us today.  I started formulating the ideas that became DISCRETION.  Those paintings in the Rotunda became part of my first chapter.
            In researching DISCRETION, I drew on my experiences working with sex workers within the criminal justice system, and former sex workers who now serve as victims’ advocates, helping others leave the business.  I also spoke with additional law enforcement officials and social workers to view different angles of the sex trade.  I was gratified by the candor with which people talked to me about the facts, the fantasies, and the fetishes that are serviced, and the methods that are employed in this often cut-throat business. 
            There were definitely chapters I didn’t let my dad read!  But in order to portray the sex trade as it really is, I felt that I had to deliver some of the authentic real-life details. 

Thanks, Allison! 
What do you think?  When researching a book, are there details you find too shocking too write about?  Are there times a writer should gloss things over a bit to protect their readers’ sensibilities?  Or should you just edit out the chapters you let your parents read?  J For the non-writer, purely readers out there...do you want to read the unvarnished reality, or would you rather authors gloss over some of the details?

5 comments:

Jana DeLeon said...

What a fascinating take on things, Allison! And your hard core experience definitely has me going to pick up your books!

I have a lot of respect and thanks for people doing the hard work you've done. Thanks for taking time out to talk to us at KF!

Nancy Naigle said...

Great article! Can't wait to read every book you write for us going forward!!

Allison Leotta said...

Thanks a lot, Jana and Nancy! I hope you like the books. Prosecuting sex crimes was in incredible job, both extremely tough and extremely rewarding. Which, in some ways, is like being a writer.

TerriOsburn said...

This book sounds amazing. And I haven't read a straight RS in a long time. I'm going to be looking for this one!

I write small town contemporary so don't run into anything too shocking in my stories. But I say if the story calls for the hard-core stuff, then it needs to be in there.

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