This past Saturday I drove to Oakmont, Pennsylvania - yes that would make twice in two weeks, but those folks at Mystery Lovers know how to book great authors. This time I was going to see Alafair Burke. Alafair is actually the reason I discovered Mystery Lovers in the first place. I researched the store when she was there for her Angel's Tip tour.
But, back to 212 because that is why Alafair was in Oakmont this time. And as I mentioned on Facebook, any day I have the chance to hang out with Alafair is a great day. This event was no exception.
Oakmont was actually the first stop outside of her hometown, New York, that she was making on her tour. In New York she didn't have to explain the title, but she informed the Pennsylvania audience that 212 is the original area code for Manhatten. And it's almost become a status symbol as new area codes have been added, like "old money." Titles have always been a struggle for Alafair; she finally opted for 212 because she felt this book was "the most New York-ish" of all her books to date.
I've yet to attend an event or listen to Alafair speak in any setting and not learn some new tidbit about her or her writing. One of the interesting factoids I picked up on Saturday was that the name Ellie Hatcher actually came from Alafair's mother-in-law. She started out with it as a place holder but the more she wrote, the more she started thinking of her character as Ellie Hatcher. And before she knew it her husband was having to call his mother to give her a heads up on the publication of DEAD CONNECTION.
212, like all of Alafair's books before it, originated from actual events. Sometimes those events were cases she actually worked as a deputy district attorney or from headline stories that really stuck with her. In this case, 212 was inspired by a couple different events, the first being the Neil Goldschmidt case out of Oregon, the former mayor who had a sexual relationship with a fourteen-year-old. The news stories focused mostly on Goldschmidt but Alafair's interest focused on the young girl and what happened to her as she grew up with affects of this "affair."
The other inspiration for 212 was the website Juicy Campus, which is now defunct. It was a gossip website allowing open postings on a message board. The site was divided by college campus and people could post completely anonymously. It even provided directions for people to use IP blockers to protect their identities. The site led to harassment, people having their reputations sullied, people losing jobs.
After explaining that these two stories provided the foundation for her plot, Alafair read an excerpt from 212 that introduces Megan, a character who gets caught in the intersection of these two plot influences. Here is a video of Alafair's reading:
Alafair also spoke about a personal incident that influenced 212 and that is her "stalker story." I'm going to let Alafair tell you this story in her own words, but Michael Connelly and Robert Crais fans will definitely want to pay attention to this short clip:
As Alafair was talking about all of the scary things that can and do happen on the Internet, we were also reminded that good things happen as well. Alafair met her husband on Match.com and of course part of that experience was the basis for DEAD CONNECTION. Luckily her husband wasn't a serial killer like in the book, though! Alafair's husband does work for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, so don't be surprised if down the road there's an Alafair Burke novel with elements of the museum woven in.
Alafair bases her plots on actual events, but she does not research those events. Instead, once she decides that something is a possibility for a future plot, she stops reading anything about that event. She only wants that event to plant the idea; her own imagination is what nurtures and grows the idea into the full plot line.
I learned about the writer Alafair Burke when I started reading her books. I fell in love with her style and characters and quite frankly, everything about her books. Through book events and interviews I was fortunate enough to meet the person, Alafair Burke, who I admire tremendously and absolutely adore. These days it is a true honor to say, "this is the writer Alafair Burke; she's also my friend." Thank you for letting me share her with you today.
Alafair feels that she has more liberty as a writer because she doesn't write full time. Whereas a full-time writer is dependent on his/her book selling so that the rent can be paid, so that he/she can eat, Alafair doesn't have those concerns. She has a regular income with her teaching job and so the rent is paid, the groceries are in the cupboard. But if she had the stresses of worrying about selling the next book, snagging the next contract, then she'd be far more likely to be stifled as a writer; she wouldn't be able to focus on what will make the best book but rather what does the reader want? what can marketing sell? And Alafair also points out that she enjoys her job as a law professor. She isn't trying to write her way out of that job like some others may be doing.
The inevitable question about whether Alafair's father influenced her choice to write came up. It always makes me chuckle when people say "is it in the genes?" I wonder if they really believe that or just say it for something to say. I mean, my father was a millwright by trade when I was born and if I say I got the hammer out everyone runs in fear. I've heard Alafair respond to this question many times now, and for those who have not Alafair actually pursued a career direction that took her away from fictional writing. But growing up with two parents who valued reading, valued books and were talented story tellers, Alafair learned a work ethic that was conducive to writing, and when there was a story she was ready to tell, she had the skills she needed to become a writer. Something she said this evening that I didn't recall ever hearing her say before was that her father taught her that "you don't need to be published to be a writer, you need to be writing to be a writer."