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April 1, 2013

Rangeley Wallace: Life Experiences Influence My Writing

Today I will talk a little bit about myself and the ways my life has impacted my writing. Both published books and the book I am now finishing derive primarily from my life experiences augmented by extensive research. First and foremost, I write from a woman’s perspective, as a daughter, sister, wife and mother (of four), and as a woman who has worked both in and outside the home. Second, I’ve been a lawyer for decades and I often include legal problems in my writing – there are so many fascinating cases out there. Finally, all three books take place primarily in Alabama, where I grew up.

In my first book, No Defense, the protagonist, LuAnn, a married mother of three, finally realizes her dad isn’t the perfect, heroic man she always thought he was. My own father was handsome, smart, charming and powerful and impacted my life in both good and not-so-good ways. Newell, the flawed father in No Defense, shared a few characteristics with my dad. My epiphany wasn’t as clear-cut as LuAnn’s (as only fictional epiphanies can be!) but was more of a life-long learning process. LuAnn also had difficulties with her husband, Eddie. I try to keep my own marriage off limits in my writing, but other of my past relationships informed LuAnn’s problems with Eddie.

No Defense also grapples with a uniquely Southern problem: unsolved Civil Rights murders. Growing up during the civil rights era, I was confronted daily with injustice, from separate (and unequal) schools to segregated water fountains and restaurants. I remember vividly the hatefulness that was spewed by adults and other kids (though my family participated in the March on Selma and provided a place to sleep for civil rights workers in our home). As much as we all wish to put that era behind us, there are still numerous unsolved cases in the South and I deal with a fictional case in the novel.

In my recently published book, Things Are Going to Slide, the difficulties of balancing work and home life are a huge concern for my protagonist, Marilee, a single mom of a four year old, who is pregnant with her second child and needs to finish a project faster than humanly possible before she goes on maternity leave. She barely has time for everything on her plate when she learns her four year old needs to be tested for developmental delays. I too was a full time lawyer with two children when the preschool informed me that my first child was late in his ability to hop on one foot. In addition to the mental anguish that accompanies learning something may be wrong with your child, a round of testing and twice weekly occupational therapy finally led me to move to part-time work. There are only so many hours in the day!

The relationship between Marilee and her sister Dede in Things Are Going to Slide bears a striking resemblance to my relationship with my sister Holly, who died two years ago. We shared a room until I went to college and she was my best friend. I particularly enjoyed writing about a free spirit, like Holly, who lived life to the fullest and who always was there to support me in times of trouble.

A number of legal issues arise in Things Are Going to Slide because Marilee works in a legal aid clinic in a law school. The most significant case in that book involves Shaken Baby Syndrome. I had read about the increasing questions concerning the lack of scientific validity to the Syndrome and after reviewing a number of legal and medical studies wanted to write about a case where the prosecutor tried to rely on the theory to convict an innocent mother.

In the book I’m currently revising, Stubborn Love, Alexandra leaves behind her hometown, fictional Carsonville, Alabama, her siblings and parents, and the life she’d always planned, to escape a painful event, an accident in which her best friend was seriously injured and then sued Alexa. I left home after high school and never lived in Alabama again and in Stubborn Love I wanted to explore some of the feelings involved when someone returns home after moving away (something I never did).

In that same book, Alexa’s best friend Cat, who had been an All-American diver, is thrown by a horse owned by Alexa’s family and becomes a paraplegic. My sister was disabled, I have worked as a disability rights lawyer, and I have thought a lot about the impact of disability on a person’s life. Still, I needed to research what happens following an accident like Cat’s and how someone lives day to day with that kind of injury to write Cat’s story.

I’m not sure where my writing will take me next. A number of readers have asked for a sequel to Things Are going to Slide. I am thinking about that, perhaps with a protagonist who is a little older than Marilee. Let me know what you all think I should do! Thanks.

About the Author:
Rangeley Wallace’s first novel No Defense, was a Wyatt Book for St. Martin’s in hardcover and paperback. She was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama and is a graduate of Emory University, Washington College of Law, American University and Georgetown Law (LLM). She has practiced public interest and corporate law, has prosecuted anti-trust and criminal cases and has defended white-collar criminal defendants in federal court. When she is not writing fiction, the mother of four practices and teaches law in Washington D.C. Things are Going to Slide (Sept. 2012; ISBN 9780991679; e-book $4.95; Bev Editions) is Rangeley Wallace’s second novel.
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