Linda Fairstein Interviewed
Jon: Your first book came out in 1996 while you were still working for the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Was it hard to juggle both the full time work and writing?
Linda Fairstein: Yes, I was a full-time prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office when my first crime novel in the series – FINAL JEOPARDY – was published in 1996. Most writers, especially those starting out, have a ‘day job’, so that part was not unusual. The fact that I ran the country’s pioneering Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit made it especially challenging, I think. My position required 24/7 supervisory work and contact with the NYPD, and that job took precedence over the writing every time, because people’s lives and liberty hung in the balance. The juggling was tricky and hard to do, but I had wanted to write books for so long that I tried to settle into a rhythm that worked for me.
Jon: Why did you decide to leave the office in 2002?
Linda Fairstein: My decision to leave the DA’s Office in 2002 was a combination of a number of personal things, and then impacted profoundly by the events of September 11, 2001. I had been a prosecutor for thirty years when I made the decision to leave. I loved that job and miss it every day – I always will. I stay very connected to the people in that great office and to their work. My husband had retired and I very much wanted to spend more time with him, which was a big part of the decision. The Alexandra Cooper series was doing well, and the chance to devote myself to writing and to my husband seemed smart. Then 9/11 happened, just ten blocks from my office while I watched the second plane strike the Tower, and I was ready to put my personal life and marriage in first place.
Jon: What is your writing process like? Do you have a set schedule or is it more organic, writing when the ideas strike?
Linda Fairstein: I like to keep on a schedule when I’m writing, especially since I never had the luxury of letting ideas come to me organically when I had two jobs. I usually focus on an area of interest in the law, and an aspect of New York City history that engages me, and start plotting a book the moment I’ve turned in the one before. Once I start to write, I’m a morning writer. I try to isolate myself from family and friends, hunker down and get into my pages.
Jon: Would it be a safe bet that your time working as an attorney was also a ripe ground for ideas for the fiction?
Linda Fairstein: My work in the criminal law gave me an endless opportunity to prospect for material for the novels. I love the practice of law – still do cases from time to time – and had this unique field of specialty that has evolved enormously over the years. For example, I was prosecuting for more than a decade before DNA was introduced to the criminal justice system, and had an early opportunity to use it. So the legal career allowed me to introduce a lot of my own experience into the novels.
Jon: It seems more and more that in your books the city of New York is a character. Do you do a lot of research for the books?
Linda Fairstein: New York City is most definitely a character in my novels. I’ve established that, in a sense, as my own branding. I love crime novels in which I learn something while I’m reading – not just shoot-outs and car chases. So I do a tremendous amount of research which starts by reading about historical places that interest me, and if the interest holds, then I go on to visit the sites and weave them into my stories. The city never ceases to fascinate, and it’s the dark underbelly of so many of the famous places that is startling.
Jon: In TERMINAL CITY we got such a great look at Grand Central Terminal, did you get access to things the public might not normally see to help write it? I’ve seen some of it on TV but I know access is restricted.
Linda Fairstein: Yes, the access to Grand Central Terminal is greatly restricted. It was during World War II because it is such a major transportation hub – and troop movements all up and down the East Coast were controlled from the Terminal. And again of course, after 911, it is a likely target for terrorist because of its critical transportation role. I had private tours from the architects who did the spectacular restoration of the hundred year old building, and then GCT itself assigned someone to take me underground on the tracks and the old Roosevelt train platform. It’s one of the most fascinating structures in the country.
Jon: LETHAL LEGACY was a particular favorite of mine. I loved all the book lore and the NY Public Library being a part of the book. Was the Hunt family patterned on a real family?
Linda Fairstein: Thanks for saying that about LETHAL LEGACY. The NYPL is my favorite place in NYC – in part because of the rare book and map collections there, but also because of the architecture and the history. Again, the access I was afforded made all the difference. I think I could do an entire series of crime novels based in that Library. The Hunt family is entirely fictional – but not such a stretch from the stories of many of the founding donors of the library.
Jon: How do you pick locations for the books. I know that in DEVIL’S BRIDGE you take us to the water front and the George Washington Bridge.
Linda Fairstein: I’m constantly scouring city landmarks for settings for the novels. The way it usually happens is that I see a building or I read a story about a crime that happened in a particular location – like the 1980’s murder at the Metropolitan Opera – and it draws me to explore the site. I’ve spent a lot of time lately on the Hudson River, and the waterfront vistas are staggering….from the Statue of Liberty (which has such an interesting history) to the boat basin and on up to the park at the base of the George Washington Bridge. Once an interesting location works itself into my imagination, there is no getting it out of my mind or off my list of places to….well, commit a crime.
Jon: You still do consulting as a lawyer and have been an expert called on by many, do you have any free time? And what do you like to do with your free time?
Linda Fairstein: I do treasure my free time. Yes, writing novels was a lifelong dream, and practicing law – especially involving victims of violence – is a passion. So I still consult and take on occasional cases. My first husband, who is the person who most believed that I could write this series of books, died in 2011 – and we’d had a great marriage. Less than a year ago, I married again – my best friend since the first day of law school. We both love to travel and to read, to spend time with family and friends, and it’s all pretty special for me. The ink is barely dry on DEVIL’S BRIDGE, so I’ll be well into the next book by the time you read this. Thank you.