I’ve been a criminal defense attorney in Colorado for thirty-five years. During that time, I represented thousands of people accused of murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, robbery, theft, et cetera. The last client I worked for was facing the death penalty. I loved it all: the drama, the adrenaline rush, the chance to save people from going to prison and sometimes to change the course of their lives. Looking back on those thirty-five years, I feel honored and privileged to have been able to do what I did. And, as my heroine says in the prologue to THE FURTHEST CITY LIGHT, je ne regrette rien.
But, as you might imagine, this kind of work takes its toll. A criminal defense attorney routinely sees her clients at the lowest points in their lives, when they are heart-broken, angry, bewildered, humiliated, and frightened. How do you care but not too much?
That’s what my novel is about: how does someone in a profession like mine, someone who truly cares and would save the world if she could, deal with the inevitable cynicism or despair that is always nipping at her heels? How does she learn what my heroine’s partner terms “the crucial art of balance?”
THE FURTHEST CITY LIGHT takes place in 1986, starting in Boulder, Colorado and ending in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. The heroine is a veteran public defender who represents an intelligent dignified woman who stabbed her husband to death with a pair of scissors. It’s the kind of case every public defender was born for. The heroine is determined to prove that her client was a battered woman who killed in self-defense. The case could change the course of law, but it changes the course of the heroine’s life instead. Halfway through the novel, she heads for Nicaragua—there’s a civil war going on there—and is ultimately transformed by the experience.
I have first-hand experience of Nicaragua in the eighties. I visited twice—in 1985 and again in 1987—in support of the Sandinista revolution. The trips radically altered my life: the way I saw the world, my health, and my commitment to human rights.
Like my heroine, I’m a rock climber, a hiker, and a skier. I’m also a third-degree black belt in karate.
As far as previous writing experience, I’ve had numerous short stories published in literary journals such as The Evergreen Chronicles, The Crescent Review, and Hawaii Pacific Review. My short story, The Trip We Took Last February, appeared in Close Calls, edited by Susan Fox Rogers. My poetry has been published in magazines and newspapers, including the Colorado Lawyer. The following is one of the poems they published; like my novel, it describes how it feels to be a criminal defense attorney.
DEDICATED TO ALL OF THE PUBLIC DEFENDERS IN THE GOLDEN OFFICE 1981-1986
You were my first major loss.
Back then, I still thought Justice
never peeked from beneath
her cool black blindfold.
I was young, fierce, passionate,
a brand new Mustang convertible
just off the lot
before its first collision.
At your trial, I wasn’t skilled enough
to convince the judge
your internal circuitry had melted;
he assumed you were dissembling
but there was no method, just madness.
Hours after the verdict,
I was still bent over sobbing
in the third floor bathroom stall.
I stood beside you at your sentencing:
bewildered boy with wet black hair
wearing a shiny iridescent suit.
In 1964 I slow danced with boys
that looked like you,
pressed myself against their bodies
and sang in a haze of hormones,
Angel baby, my angel baby
oohoo I love you, oohoo I do…
Sometimes I wake up sweating,
and I think of you
climbing through my window
with a silver knife.
I hope you can pay attention
because it’s me,
not just another random throat
or some innocent colt
whose spirit you need to break.
I was your first public defender.
Oh baby, I gave you everything I had.
Published in the Colorado Lawyer, February 2006