By Jeremy Burns
A new year is upon us, and so too is a new literary talent in debut author Lynne Raimondo. Her thriller, DANTE’S WOOD, is set to launch later this month, and Lynne was gracious enough to give BIG THRILL readers a sneak preview into the mind of a rising star.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Staten Island, New York, attended college and law school at New York University, and had a twenty-five year career as a lawyer before retiring to write full-time. I live in Evanston, Illinois with my husband, another lawyer. We have three grown children and two truculent cats.
Tell us about your debut thriller, DANTE’S WOOD.
I can’t really come up with a better description than my publisher’s, so here it is:
A troubled psychiatrist turns investigator when his young patient confesses to murder.
Psychiatrist Mark Angelotti knows that genes don’t lie. Or do they?
Back at work after a devastating illness, Mark believes he has put his past behind him when he is asked to examine Charlie Dickerson, a mentally handicapped teenager whose wealthy mother insists he is a victim of sexual abuse. Mark diagnoses a different reason for Charlie’s ills, but his prescription turns deadly when a teacher is murdered and Charlie confesses to the police.
Volunteering to testify on Charlie’s behalf, Mark’s worst fears are realized when paternity tests show the victim was pregnant with Charlie’s child. Now it’s up to Mark to prove Charlie’s innocence in a case where nothing is as first meets the eye.
Not even genes — Mark’s or Charlie’s– can be trusted to shine a light on the truth.
Why did you decide to become a full-time writer?
I’m not sure I ever really “decided” — it was more like something I stumbled into. From the time I was a teenager, devouring everything from romantic suspense to hard-boiled detective stories, I always thought I had a novel in me, but it wasn’t until I was a middle-aged lawyer on sabbatical from my day job that I got serious about it. Once I discovered how much fun it was (and that I could work all day in my pajamas if I chose to) I found it nearly impossible to go back. Luckily, my husband has a job that pays the bills.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
DANTE’S WOOD is my second novel. The first is where it belongs: gathering cobwebs in my attic. I had the usual ups and downs getting DANTE’S WOOD into print. I had a polished draft of the novel ready in June 2008 — just before the financial crisis hit. It didn’t take long to figure out that as a new author I wasn’t going to sell anything in the middle of a recession. So I stopped querying for nearly a year, using the time to work on other projects and polish my manuscript. I started back up again in 2009. It took me another year to find my agent and another year after that to find a publisher. And yeah, you could paper my office with the rejections letters I received.
You enjoyed an extensive legal career prior to becoming a writer. How did that background affect your novel?
Like a lot of lawyers in big firms, I cut my teeth writing legal briefs. Some agents might disagree with me, but I think brief-writing is good training for becoming a novelist. Briefs are necessarily compact — in most courts they can’t exceed fifty pages — and they have to grab a judge’s attention from the very first paragraphs. Trials are similar. It’s often said that trials are about storytelling and whoever tells the best story wins. Beyond that, a lawyer has to become a student of human nature. Interviewing witnesses and preparing them to testify teaches you a lot about how people behave when they are withholding information or (ahem) lying. And seeing how often their stories diverge underscores just how difficult it is to know the truth — if we can ever really know it. The last was especially important to me in writing DANTE’S WOOD. Among other things, I wanted to show how easily facts can be misinterpreted to condemn an innocent man.
What was your inspiration for DANTE’S WOOD? How did the story’s premise develop through the early days of your writing process?
I actually started with my protagonist, psychiatrist Mark Angelotti, who was a lesser figure in my first novel. When it came time to write another, I thought Mark was too juicy a character to abandon, so I began thinking about ways I could make him the leading man. I knew I needed to involve him in a crime in a way that wasn’t forced or unbelievable, so I decided to make him an expert witness. I also wanted to put him in a dicey situation and keep on raising the stakes. Mark is a smart guy who hates being wrong. He’s also haunted by a past mistake that led to the death of a child. What was the worst thing I could do to him? Make him believe he’s made a further, terrible mistake. Even worse? A mistake that puts another young life in jeopardy. From there, the plot took off on its own, though I wasn’t a hundred percent sure who the murderer was going to be until I was a third of the way through the manuscript.
What are some of the ways you conducted research for the novel. Any interesting stories there?
Do you mean, did I go out and shoot at things with a Glock or spend six months learning Tibetan in a remote Himalayan monastery? Unfortunately, no. Although I did do a ton of research, it was mostly in libraries and online. MINOR SPOILER ALERT: my protagonist, Mark, is legally blind. For various plot-related reasons, I wanted the cause of his blindness to be a genetic disorder, so I had to go out and find one that fit my parameters (sudden, incurable, possibly mistaken for something else) and then learn everything about it. Since I’m fully sighted, I also had to learn things like how he would become rehabilitated, travel, use a computer, etc. I read as many books by blind people as I could find, and spent hours and hours on the website of the National Federation of the Blind. One of the things I didn’t do was walk around my house blindfolded, which the NFB cautions against because it creates a false impression of blindness (and is dangerous). I did buy a white cane so I could experience what it felt like holding and listening to one, and taught myself rudimentary Braille One of the things I’m proudest of is the accuracy I think I’ve brought to Mark’s portrayal as a blind individual.
How much of yourself do you put in your characters? With which character in DANTE’S WOOD do you most identify?
I’m a pretty uninteresting person, so I try hard not to put myself in my characters. Writing in the first-person, it would almost be impossible for me not to identify in some way with Mark, though he’s far more intelligent, daring and witty than I am — not to mention a guy. I also identify strongly with Mark’s colleague, lawyer Hallie Sanchez, a woman and a minority trying to make it in a big, “white shoe” law firm.
Which character was the most fun for you to write? Why?
They were all fun, but if I have to pick one, I’d say it was Charlie, the developmentally disabled young man accused of his teacher’s murder. Charlie has the mental age of a six- to nine-year-old, so in writing him I had to call up memories of what my own children were like at that age. What mother doesn’t like that?
What is your favorite book by another author? Why?
This is a hard question, since I have so many favorites in so many different genres. If you’re asking which books I would want with me on the proverbial desert island, it would be Dickens’s BLEAK HOUSE, followed by Wilkie Collins’s THE MOONSTONE, and, of course, JANE EYRE, the first and possibly the greatest romantic suspense novel ever written. I can read these three over and over and never get tired of them. In the twentieth century, I’m a huge fan of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (who isn’t?) and on the other side of the pond, Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers (ditto). What I love about all of these works is that, in addition to a suspenseful plot, the characters are so unforgettable. I can read and like almost anything with complex, well-drawn characters.
What is your favorite travel destination? Why?
My cottage on Mount Desert Island, Maine, also home to Acadia National Park. I first went to MDI with my parents when I was nine years old, and haven’t been able to stay away since. On one of my favorite hiking trails there’s a monument that describes the island as a place “where God has given of his beauty with a lavish hand.” It’s true.
What do you find most rewarding about writing?
Entertaining (I hope) my readers. Reading has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. If I can give my readers a fraction of the pleasure other authors have given me I’ll feel that I’ve truly accomplished something.
What is one thing that would surprise your fans about you or your writing process?
I’m pretty slow. I won’t leave a page until I’m ninety-five percent satisfied with it, and even then, I’ll go back and revise it again. I’ve tried writing a quick first draft just to get something down, but it doesn’t work for me. I also do a lot of writing and revising in my head while I’m driving, making dinner, etc. This may be grounds for having me committed, but I don’t think there’s an hour in the day when I’m not thinking about my work in progress.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to other authors?
If you’re an aspiring author, don’t rush into self-publishing. Done right, self-publishing is nothing to sneer at. But unless you’re already a rock star with a gazillion Twitter followers, you owe it to yourself to hold out for a traditional publisher for as long as you can. Traditional publishing has many downsides, but the one thing it does do well is get books into the hands of readers. It’s very hard for new authors to duplicate that kind of exposure.
What can we expect next from you, and where can readers go to hear the latest news?
I’m currently in the middle of my second Mark Angelotti novel, with plans for several more in the series. Stay tuned by visiting my website at www.lynneraimondo.com!
Thanks to Lynne Raimondo for taking time out of her busy pre-publication schedule to give us this sneak preview of her upcoming book and of her writing world. Check out her website for more info on her book and her fascinating bio, and be sure to pick up your copy of DANTE’S WOOD from Seventh Street Books when it releases later this month.