Wednesday, October 19, 2011

BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS, a legal resource for writers

Leslie Budewitz wears several hats in the world of fiction and nonfiction. She's published in short stories, the most recent the critically acclaimed FISH TALES: The Guppy Anthology, she's a practicing attorney for more than 25 years, and she is now the author of BOOKS, CROOKS, and COUNSELORS: How to Write Accurately about Criminal Law and Courtroom Procedure. And if she's not busy enough, today, she puts on her nonfiction hat to talk to us. Please welcome Leslie Budewitz to the Five Scribes.

D.B.: Leslie, welcome. First, I have to say I read your story in FISH TALES and I loved it. Well done. But today is about your nonfiction. You've been helping authors for years via your web page Now that you've written BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS, is your website still current or is it as active as it was previously?

L.A.B. Thanks for inviting me, Donnell. The website's been completely redesigned and includes an excerpt from the book, as well as other articles for writers. There's also a form to send me a question, and useful links to resources on writing and legal issues.

D.B.: I can only assume you go crazy when you see an author get the facts wrong regarding legal terms, proceedings and more, but I never want to assume incorrectly. Why did you write this book, and what do you hope authors get out of it?

L.A.B.: As a lawyer who writes fiction, I've been answering other writers' questions about using the law in their fiction for years. And I've been bothered by simple, avoidable mistakes about the law in novels and movies. Readers and viewers want to know that they are getting a realistic picture of the world portrayed on the page and screen, while also being entertained. I wrote this book to answer the most common questions and address recurrent problems, to help writers use the law accurately while telling a good story, and to give writers ideas on using legal issues to develop plots and subplots, backstory, character and setting.

D.B.: Published by Quill Driver Books, an imprint of Linden Publishing, how did publication come about? Did you approach them, or they you?

L.A.B: Quill Driver's been publishing books for writers for years. When I saw that they were publishing The Writer's Guide to Psychology by Carolyn Kaufman, I sent them the proposal and it quickly caught their interest.

D.B.: The book is broken down in a very simple format, which makes it easy to negotiate. You cover Judcial System Basics, Before the Trial, Evidence, Witnesses, Burden of Proof, Appeals, Penalty, Civil Matters, Some Terms of the Art, Wills, Probate, and Adoption, Legal Miscellany, Thinking Like a Lawyer, Thinking Like a Judge, Legal Ethics, Research and References, Book Links and more.

Leslie, this is a cornucopia of information, and it's all in one book. In addition to thorough information, it also appears to be made up of Q&As you've done over the years. Here's my question: Did you set this book up in this scope, or did your publisher/editor recommend it, because it's such a user-friendly format?

L.A.B: "User-friendly"--just what I'd hoped for! I'll admit, the Q&A format came from Dr. Doug Lyle, author of MURDER AND MAYHEM: A Doctor Answers Medical and Forensic Questions for Mystery Writers. Doug's been a tremendous help to the writing community. I'm delighted to say, he's very supportive of my work and this book. Q&A seems like a natural way to convey just what writers need to know, without bogging them down with too much information.

D.B.: In addition to your comprehensive research, Q&A, you also include interesting tidbits of history surrounding the topics you're addressing. I just loved reading these. What would you say is the biggest misconcption or mistake you see in books or television today that you wish you could hand the author BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS and say, please read this then fix that.

L.A.B.: The single biggest bother to me is failing to check terminology. Calling every prosecutor a DA because that's what they're called on Law and Order. Not knowing the names of the courts. Referring to guilt instead of liability in a civil case. Those may seem petty but they're so easy to check. Small mistakes break the fragile hold we have on our readers' attention. Other common mistakes: Assuming law enforcement officers need a warrant to make an arrest. Not knowing when a Miranda warning is required, and when it isn't. Allowing lawyers--or their clients--to argue with the judge.

D.B.: You have numerous cover blurbs from well-known authors who recommend this book. Have you worked with them before or did you give them an advanced reader copy and ask for their backing?

L.A.B.: The support from other writers has been wonderful. Such a gift. Some I knew through writers' groups or had met at conferences, and a few I simply approached and asked them to take a look.

D.B.: What would you say is the most typical question you get from writers? Then let's turn this. What is the most unusual question (s) you've received, and do you seek out the author's work to see how they incorporated your answers?

L.A.B: The variety of questions has been astonishing--showing how creative writers can be, and the many ways the law crops up in a story. Lots of questions about search warrants, sentencing, parole, and whether certain kinds of evidence could be used at trail. I've been surprised by how many questions involve inheritance and adoption. A few writers I've worked with individually have sent me their books, and it's fun to see what they'd done with the research I've provided.

D.B.: What I loved most about this book is that the questions are from authors and they are muse-activators in my opinion. From, can a child consent to a search to a witness has gone missing two days before the trial, you cover myriad scenarios that authors can benefit from. How much does this book cost, and where can writers get their hands on it?

L.A.B.: Thanks, Donnell! I do hope to spark writers to think about new ways to use the law in their stories and of course to get it right! BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS is available in trade paperback for $14.95; the ebook price varies depending on format. It's available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookstore. Links to retailers can be found on

D.B.: Who came up with the clever name BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS, and what's next for Leslie Budewitz? Will you do a volume 2 and continue to update, or are you moving onto something else?

L.A.B.: The name came from a collaboration of brilliant minds--none of them my own. As for Books & Crooks, Vol. 2, I'd love to write it--there will be plenty of material, as long as writers keep writing and the law keeps changing! And I'll continue to write regular columns for Sisters in Crime quarterly and First Draft, the newsletter of the SinC Guppies chapter, both archived on my website.

D.B.: This interview is a little different than our typical fictional interviews, but what advice would you give to aspiring authors? I'll ask you to put on two more hats--one, when writing fiction, what would you say to them? Two, when incorporating legal aspects into their works in progress?

L.A.B.: People sometimes ask why getting the facts right matters--we're writing fiction, after all! It matters because as writers, we build our fictional worlds one detail at a time. If we get one wrong, whether it's foundation or frosting, our readers' ability to live in that world for a few hours crumbles. But trying to get everything right, when you're not an expert in the field, can be paralyzing. Focus on the dog, not the fleas, at least in the first draft! Then, if you're still scratching your head over a legal issue, call a law professor or a legal prosecutor. Or reach for a copy of, well, I don't have to tell you what legal reference I'd recommend!

D.B.: I'd have to say, I'd recommend BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS as well.

L.A.B.: Donnell, thanks for letting me join you and your readers today. What a pleasure!

D.B.: The pleasure's all ours, Leslie. Last but not least. Anything else going on in your life?

L.A.B.: I've just accepted a 3-book offer from Berkley Prime Crime for a cozy mystery series, The Food Lovers' Village Mysteries, to debut in 2013. The series is set in Jewel Bay, Montana, a lakeside community on the road to Glacier Park that calls itself, "A Food Lover's Village." My agent is Paige Wheeler.

D.B.: Very cool. Congratulations.

Well, Five Scribes' readers, there you have it. Doesn't BOOKS, CROOKS and COUNSELORS sound like a book that belongs on your research shelf? Do you have any questions for Leslie about her nonfiction, or about writing in general? Questions or comments will enroll you for a chance to win FISHTAILS, a terrific anthology written by the Guppies, which is a subgroup of Sisters in Crime. We'll draw for a winner on Friday, October 21st. HAPPY WRITING!


Donnell said...

Darn, blogger hates me today. Leslie, thanks for being here. I have to reiterate how valuable I think this book is. We only get one change to impress our readers. This helps immensely.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Donnell, delighted to be here -- Blogger's crabbiness aside! And I'm happy to answer questions about the book or using law in your fiction, so fire away!

Leslie Budewitz said...

I goofed -- the name of Carolyn Kaufman's book is "The Writer's Guide to Psychology." Worht looking for!

jennymilch said...

So glad to see Leslie here! Her book is on my TBG (To Be Gotten list) and now the one from her publisher on psychology will be, too!

Dale Mayer said...

Hi Donnell and Leslie,

Sorry to be so late, deadlines and West Coast! I think this book sounds like something I need to have on my bookshelf. there are always so many questions rolling around in my head, it would be great to have 'go to place' to get answers.

I'm also a huge fan of psychology books. Then I love human behavior or rather the bad behavior that we continue to exhibit!

Great blog both of you!

Polly said...

Got your book, Leslie. It's a must-have for anyone writing crime fiction. Congrats on your three-book deal. The premise sounds like a winner.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Thanks, Jenny, Dale, & Polly -- and Donnell and the Scribes for hosting me!