Bookend: Prosecutor Turned Novelist Works To Keep Pages Turning (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Bookend: Prosecutor-Turned-Novelist Works to Keep Pages Turning

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We end today's show with "Bookend," our monthly conversation with D.C. writers. This time around Jonathan Wilson sat down with Allison Leotta, author of the legal mystery books "Law of Attraction" and "Discretion." Leotta is a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and she talked with Jonathan about making the switch from writing legal briefs to crafting racy page-turning thrillers.

MS. ALLISON LEOTTA

00:00:29
So with legal writing, especially as a prosecutor you have to stick very narrowly to the facts. And not just facts you know but facts you know you can prove in court beyond a reasonable doubt and under the rules of evidence. And in legal writing precedents are key, it only matters if someone else has said it before.

MS. ALLISON LEOTTA

00:00:45
But with creative writing, it's exactly the opposite. You don’t want to say anything that somebody else has said before because if you do, you’re not doing your job right. You want to say something that's never been said before and you just need to use a different part of your brain. So it was really this liberating experience for me as a prosecutor to go from one to the other.

MR. JONATHAN WILSON

00:01:03
So I know there are a lot of people across the country, across the world who have, you know, really boring jobs and they think, man I could just write a book. That'd be so great. But they never take the plunge because it's too risky or they just don't have the courage to kind of drop what they're doing and write a novel. Now, you had what sounds like a pretty exciting job and yet you decided, you know what, I want to do something different. What gives you the right to do that? Who do you think you are, Allison Leotta to quit such an exciting job to become a novelist?

LEOTTA

00:01:34
Well, I think it was actually because the job was so exciting, it's so interesting. And I, you know, I was a sex crimes prosecutor and everyone that I met wanted to hear about it, but in kind of a sideways way. Like, nobody wanted to say they wanted to hear about it.

LEOTTA

00:01:48
But there are really interesting stories and I found that I had so much great material to work with and it was this great way to kind of process it in the morning. And so that's what I started doing and it wasn't courageous, the thing it took was discipline. It was a matter of just every morning you must get up at 5:00, write for two hours and then go.

WILSON

00:02:11
So the character, you have the same main character in your first two books. She is a prosecutor, assistant U.S. Attorney, just like you were. How autobiographical is Anna Curtis?

LEOTTA

00:02:22
Well, she has the same job that I held and she has a lot of the same reactions I had to seeing some of the cases and the victims, the tragedies but she's different. She's more, she's way more interesting than I am, right. She's younger, you know, she has this really interesting love life, this complicated love life. I’m a mom, I've got toys all over the place, I’ve got Cheerios under my table. And an exciting night for me usually involves picking up Matchbox cars. So it's kind of fun to live vicariously through Anna, who has this more interesting life than I do.

WILSON

00:02:53
So there's a lot of D.C. in your books. You talk about Washington Post reporters, you talk about, you know, actual places obviously in D.C. How important is that to you to kind of be able to write, you know, this creation in my mind, but also use places that you know? And how realistic is what Anna does every day and the crimes that she comes across?

LEOTTA

00:03:20
Well, I tried to keep the crimes realistic. There is so much stuff to work with that I could use some of the real things and I tried to just take the real details of what I saw in court and incorporate them into one linear story that would be really interesting and take all of those details together. In terms of D.C., I think it's just a fascinating city to live in with, it's a city of contrasts, a city of people from all over and people who've lived here their whole lives, all kind of living together. And the thing that's interesting about the U.S. Attorney's office is D.C. is it’s where it all intersects, where it all comes together.

WILSON

00:03:54
You write, you know, what most people would call thrillers or legal thrillers. I've heard, read some reviews that, you know, will say this is, you know, fast-paced, it's a beach read. Do you embrace that or do you kind of say, hey I spent some time on these characters. It's not just a beach read. I don't know.

LEOTTA

00:04:10
No, I think it is a beach read. I think it's a -- and the thing that I find interesting is I used to think that a book that was very easy to read would be easy to write. So you read, like, a John Grisham novel and the pages fly by and you think that must be super easy, it's reading candy. But now that I'm doing it myself, I see how much time it takes, how much polishing and condensing and getting down to that core idea that it takes to make each page fly by like that. So when people say that it flew by or is a great beach read, it was so fun and easy to read, I like that. It means I’m doing my job right, it means, you know, I'm hitting my stride in the genre.

SHEIR

00:04:45
That was Allison Leotta talking with Jonathan Wilson for this month's "Bookend." You can hear Allison Leotta reading from her latest book, "Discretion" and talking about some of her favorite reads on our website, that's metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:06
And that's "Metro Connection" for this week. We heard from WAMU's Kavitha Cardoza, Jonathan Wilson, Sabri Ben-Achour, Bryan Russo, Emily Friedman along with producer, Jessika Officer. Our acting news director is Meymo Lyons. Our managing producer is Tara Boyle. Lauren Landau is our editorial assistant. Our intern is Raphaella Bennin. Jonna McKone, Lauren Landau and Raphaella Bennin produce "Door to Door." Thanks, as always, to the WAMU engineering and digital media teams for their help with production and the "Metro Connection" website.

SHEIR

00:05:34
Our theme song, ''Every Little Bit Hurts" and our "Door to Door" theme "No, Girl," are from the album "Title Tracks" by John Davis and used with permission of the Ernest Jennings Record Company. You can see all the music we use on our website, metroconnection.org. Just click on a story and you'll find information about its accompanying song.

SHEIR

00:05:50
Also on metroconnection.org, you can find our Twitter and facebook links, you can read free transcripts of stories and if you missed part of today's show you can hear the whole thing by clicking the "this week on "Metro Connection"" link. To hear our most recent episodes click the podcast link or find us on iTunes. We hope you can join us next week when we'll celebrate the start of fall with a show all about falling.

SHEIR

00:06:14
We'll find out why D.C. house sales have been on the decline and consider the fall of a court program for people with drug offenses. Plus, stories of falling in love.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE 1

00:06:24
Should I have put sincerely, you know, or love, you know? And it was like the biggest dilemma and it doesn't seem like a really big deal right now but it was such a huge deal.

SHEIR

00:06:32
I'm Rebecca Sheir and thanks for listening to "Metro Connection," a production of WAMU 88.5 news.
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