Allison Leotta spent more than 10 years prosecuting sex crimes inside D.C. Superior Court. Listening to victims, interviewing witnesses and writing affidavits.
But in the back of her mind, Leotta had another calling. Could she take what she had learned in court and turn it into fiction?
"I think that writing helped me process a lot of what I was seeing," said Leotta. "As a sex crimes prosecutor [working on] domestic violence, crimes against children [cases], it's some of the worst things that people can do to each other and I think there was a sense in the novels that I had at least a little bit of control over what was happening and could process it in this fictional way. Whereas in court, you can try to bring justice afterwards, but you can never repair what's happened to the person."
It took awhile. Leotta got up before dawn and typed away on her laptop before she felt she had the prose someone would want to read.
So how did Leotta perfect that?
"I think it helps that I was a lawyer and all of the grand jury transcripts that you see, where you see the dialogue after you've said it, I think that helps a lot because you're focused on exactly how people talk, the cadences and the rhythms," Leotta said.
After finishing her first manuscript and hiring an agent, the sex crimes prosecutor had the terrifying task of getting permission from the Department of Justice to sell it.
"At that point, I said, ‘Hmm, I wonder if I need to tell anybody in this office that I want to sell this book,"' said Leotta. "So I just shot an email to my ethics advisor saying, ‘You don't need to do anything about this, right?' And he said, ‘Yes, actually we do. We need a lot of people to read it.' And that's when half of my bosses had to read it and it became quite public."
"Law of Attraction" sold so well last year, Simon and Schuster decided to issue a paperback. One critic from The Providence Journal even called her the "female John Grisham."
It was a level of success that forced Leotta to choose between prosecuting cases and writing thrillers set in the District.
"I was hoping to do it all and then Simon and Schuster asked me to write a few more books, and it became clear that between mommying and prosecuting and writing, I was going to have to let one of them go," she said. "It was actually [hard choice]. I loved that job, I loved being an [Assistant U.S. Attorney]. I was an [Assistant U.S. Attorney] for eight years. I was at main justice for three years before. I think if you woke me up in my sleep and asked me, ‘Who are you?' I would say, ‘I'm a prosecutor."'
In her new book "Discretion," an escort is killed at the U.S. Capitol after being pushed from an upper-level balcony. It's a "who done it" that takes readers on an investigation through the halls of Congress, U.S. District Court, a madam's mansion in Georgetown and the mean streets of the city. It follows a sex crimes prosecutor named Anna Curtis.
"I was inspired by the D.C. Madam case which took place here in D.C. a couple of years ago, and I was fascinated by some of the witnesses who were coming into court," said Leotta.
Readers of "Discretion" will be treated to an inside look at prosecutions, from the grand jury to the Constitution's speech and debate clause.
So is Anna Curtis going to go on for a few more books?
"She is. I'm finishing my third book with Anna," Leotta said. "I'm pretty far along. It's due at the end of August. It is going to be a busy summer."
Who knows what is in store for book No. 3, but Leotta has a lot of stories to tell.
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