Linda Atkins: Taking Legal Experience Into The World of Fiction

As a prominent Louisville attorney, Linda Atkins has many experiences to draw upon. After working on a particularly intriguing case during the 1990s in eastern Kentucky, she was inspired to take those experiences and apply them to writing fiction. Her mystery series, featuring criminal defense attorney, Hilary Adams, takes readers on a roller coaster ride of suspense and mayhem as they follow Adams and a cast of colorful characters inside and outside of a fictional Louisville courtroom. Her fourth book in the series, “Deadline for Murder,” was released this week. I had a chance to talk to Atkins about her interest in writing, her love of Kentucky and her greatest challenges as an author.

Lori Kommor: When did you first discover an interest in writing mystery novels?
Linda Atkins: I’ve always loved mysteries, beginning with the Nancy Drew novels which, as a young girl, I time and again borrowed from by neighborhood library, and I begged for my own copies as Christmas and birthday presents. Combining that first love of the mystery genre with my background as a former prosecutor and then as a criminal defense attorney, it wasn’t a stretch to try my hand at writing a series in which the main character is a lawyer who solves mysteries. But, with one very big difference: the four novels in the Hilary Adams mystery series are very grown-up versions of what the Nancy Drew mysteries were all about.

Kommor: Why did you choose Kentucky as the setting for your books?
Atkins: Although I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, I’ve lived in Louisville for almost 38 years. I now think of it as my home. In 1982, I graduated from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law and since then have practiced law exclusively in the Kentucky court system. Because I want my novels to resonate with authenticity, I write legal thrillers that involve places and events that I’m familiar with here in Louisville and in the Kentucky court system. As a fledging writer, the novel, “In the Garden of Good and Evil,” greatly influenced me; so much so that when I thought about the setting for my own novels – without a question – there was only one place I wanted to write about: my adopted hometown of Louisville. I hope that I’ve managed, in some small measure, to capture our city’s unique southern charm and hospitality, much as John Berendt did so successfully for the city of Savannah.

Kommor: What was your inspiration for the characters?
Atkins: On a whim, one day, while waiting outside a courtroom for a hearing to begin, I began writing down some thoughts on a legal pad, and the main character criminal defense attorney, Hilary Adams, was created. It was as simple and as uncomplicated as that. Hilary is purely fictional, she was not fashioned after anyone whom I have ever met or been inspired by. For me, part of the attraction in writing fiction is developing characters who are sometimes funny, sometimes outrageous, sometimes thought-provoking, but hopefully, always just plain fun getting to know. As a writer, you have a great sense of control over your characters, bending and molding them to the demands dictated by plot and pacing, and making them, though fictional, real and easy for any reader to relate to.

Kommor: What has been your greatest challenge as an author?
Atkins: Writing a series with the main character and two other collateral characters being reprised in each book was my biggest challenge. I was always concerned, as were my editors, that each of the books in the Hilary Adams series had to stand independent of each other, so that the reader could read them out of sequence without confusion. That was a tall order because I had to keep Hilary fresh and interesting, so that with each sequel my readers couldn’t wait to join her in her next adventure. And the same time, I had to provide enough historical background to preserve the continuity of events and to explain the development of characters who had successive roles in the series.

Kommor: How do you begin writing a novel?
Atkins: I always analogize the process of writing a novel to putting together a jigsaw puzzle – first the four corners are snapped into place to frame a background-which serves as your setting, then the rest of the pieces are added such as plot-line, characters, dialogue and narrative.
Surprisingly, I always begin with a title, and then I sketch out, in my mind, a very Spartan concept for a plot. I’ve always been extremely fortunate to be able to just write anytime I can get 30 uninterrupted minutes in front of a computer, and let my imagination take over. Once the basics of the storyline are in place, then I go back and painstakingly revise, and revise, and revise some more. Sometimes in writing a 400 page mystery suspense novel, where the plot is intricate with lots of twists and turns, it’s hard to remember what a character did, or said, or know what happened in chapter five and keep that consistent with the character’s behavior and motivations 55 chapters later. So, revising and finding those inconsistencies is critical to the process before the manuscript is ready to be sent to an agent or a publisher.

Linda will be signing her book at the Kentucky Book Fair on Saturday, November 15 in Frankfort at the Frankfort Convention Center.

  • Dee

    Have read all four books. Absolutely loved them! Fun reads you can’t stop reading trying to figure out the next twist. Highly recommend!