has written three legal crime novels featuring dyslexic criminal
trial attorney Jackie Flowers – 'Blind
Indifference' and her newest release, 'Seeds
of Doubt'. In each
of her novels, Kane mixes solid courtroom drama with complex plotting
and well-realized Colorado settings, and anchors them all with
the engaging, and ever evolving, character of Jackie Flowers.
Stephanie's bio (from her website)
offers insight into her "checkered" past. Born in Brooklyn,
educated in Manhattan, she traveled west to college, graduating
University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Italian. Not
one to follow the conventional path, she ran a karate studio, then
graduated from law school and joined a top-rate Denver law firm
specializing in banking law. A mountain climbing expedition to
the 17,000 foot heights of Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey led to
an epiphany and a return to college to prepare for medical school.
Fortunately (for us) medical school wasn't in the cards and Stephanie
instead returned to the legal world, this time as a criminal defense
TD: Can you tell
us about your self-described "epiphany" during
your mountain climbing trip to Turkey? What did you experience
and how did it change you?
Ararat is now closed to climbers except for a single
day each year.
SK: The epiphany began before I went to Turkey. While I was climbing
my law firm’s corporate ladder, I’d met several men
who had AIDS. Through them I realized I’d been hiding out
in banking law; although they were dying, they were more alive
than I was. The physical act of climbing Ararat enabled me to face
my life-long fear of failure. On my return, I left my firm and
went back to college to take the physics and chemistry I’d
always been afraid to flunk.
TD: What motivated you to add "author" to your already
extensive list of accomplishments? And why did you elect to write
in the mystery fiction genre?
SK: After I resigned from my firm and didn’t get into medical
school, I returned to law humiliated and flat broke. Luckily, a
criminal defense lawyer was the only one who would hire me. He
flung me headfirst into court, and to my surprise I loved it. When
you humiliate yourself so spectacularly, you have nothing left
to lose! But criminal law is no way to make money. I bought my
first computer in 1995 to cut costs, and wrote my first manuscript
to learn how to use the computer and because I had a story I wanted
I write crime
stories because they are the best forum to explore ideas I care about:
in QUIET TIME, the effect of a murder on a
family when the killer is known but can’t be brought to justice;
in EXTREME INDIFFERENCE, the far-reaching effects that one individual’s
indifference to another can have; in SEEDS OF DOUBT, whether society
is capable of recognizing that people who have committed terrible
crimes can be redeemed.
first novel, a psychological thriller.
TD: What inspired you to create a series character with dyslexia?
SK: I have a young relative who is learning disabled.
In designing Jackie Flowers, I was also trying to break out of
trap by giving my heroine a challenge and an advantage I as a lawyer
never had. Law is strongly rooted in the written word, but the
very best trial lawyers use no notes; taking notes places them
a beat behind the action, where they can’t afford to be.
Maybe Jackie could be a better lawyer if she wasn’t tied
to a legal pad.
TD: You, yourself, don't have a learning disability,
yet you manage to describe Jackie's dyslexia with authenticity
and insight. How
do you so effectively "put yourself in those shoes"?
Did you do extensive research into learning disabilities prior
to writing the novels?
back, I’m astounded at how little I knew about
learning disabilities when I wrote BLIND SPOT. I started with book
research and conducting some interviews. After BLIND SPOT was published,
I turned to Tom Viall, Executive Director of the International
Dyslexia Association and one of Jackie’s earliest supporters.
Tom helped me design a questionnaire directed to people with learning
disabilities and their families and friends, and I posted it on
www.writerkane.com. I’ve received hundreds of responses and
posted many of them on my website. Those people inspired me to
volunteer as a tutor last year for Open Book, a program in Denver
for at-risk learning disabled adults.
first Jackie Flowers novel.
TD: In your novels, Jackie's disability is hinted
at and its manifestations are described, but it is never directly
labeled as "dyslexia".
Only through the course of events in each novel does the reader
slowly come to understand what's going on and the degree to which
this secret disability shapes and defines Jackie's character. Was
this deliberate, and, if so, why?
SK: It was deliberate. I didn’t want Jackie to be a “poster
child”; rather, I wanted her to be a fully functioning professional
who just happens to have a disability – albeit one that affects
every aspect of her personal and professional lives. Jackie doesn’t
think of herself as “dyslexic” – she dislikes
labels in any form. It would have been out of character to describe
her by using that term.
TD: All the Jackie Flowers novels are set in Denver and the surrounding
areas. While much of the action takes place inside the courtroom,
the geographic locale plays a significant role in both the plot
development and the atmosphere. 'Extreme Indifference' focuses
on the ultra-liberal college town of Boulder, while 'Seeds of Doubt'
is rooted in the rural Colorado farmland. How important is this
element of setting to your vision of each novel?
the Jackie Flowers novels are set in Denver."
SK: Setting is important for several reasons.
First, good fiction is anchored in reality. I always visit the
places I write about.
In addition to taking notes, I carry plastic baggies for sand,
earth and plant material to help me bring the setting alive when
I’m back at my computer. Second, every element in a thriller
must serve character or plot. Setting serves and inspires both.
Visiting places to ensure accuracy in even the smallest detail
inspires great action scenes; what characters do is a product of
who they are, where they grew up and where they live. Finally,
Colorado is terrifically diverse; the mountains are quite different
from the Eastern Plains, not just geographically but culturally.
Boulder has been described as “20 square miles surrounded
by reality”. From the perspective of courtroom scenes, this
diversity offers a feast: how you pitch a case to a jury can differ
widely depending on which part of the state the jurors are from.
TD: In each of the three Flowers novels, Jackie confronts some
aspect of her disability, some fear or constraint that narrative
circumstances force her to work through. Was this a part of your
initial vision of Jackie as a series character?
is about the effects of unbridled power."
SK: I wanted to create a heroine with lots of
room to grow. Characters (especially in a series) need an arc:
not just a trajectory for
change in each book, but throughout the life of the series. Jackie’s
arc is coming to terms with growing up dyslexic in a society where
she was judged by how well she fit into an educational norm, and
all the external and internal conflicts being an outsider poses.
Each book brings her one step closer to self-acceptance.
TD: You have included in your Flowers' novels the recurring character
of Lily, Jackie's pre-teen/teenage neighbor. It's unusual in typical
courtroom crime fiction to feature a child, other than as a victim,
of course. Why did you elect to do this?
SK: Lily brings out Jackie’s nurturing qualities; she’s
the daughter Jackie never had. As a child – and a fairly
uncompromising one – Lily can also voice certain emotional
truths without being censored. Many readers assume the writer’s
alter ego is the protagonist, but Lily is the character with whom
I identify most.
have another interesting recurring character in the Flowers' novels,
that of Pilar, Jackie's investigator. She's
a great support
for Jackie, a "sidekick" in the best sense of the word.
You also reveal new and interesting information about Pilar's background
in 'Seeds of Doubt', the latest book. Can you tell us how Pilar
came to be?
SK: Every hero needs a sidekick. Pilar is not
just a confidante; she enables Jackie to function in a profession
rooted in the written
word, with her secret intact. In assembling a cast of characters,
I shoot for the dinner party from hell. Pilar’s earthy humor
and robust sexuality (not to mention her own criminal past) challenge
Jackie’s assumptions and bring out new facets of Jackie’s
TD: Do you view your novels primarily as "crime" novels, "psychological
suspense" novels or as "courtroom" novels? Or do
those sub-genre classifications even matter in your view of your
SK: All three, though I never think about that
when I’m writing.
The heart of my legal stories is the attorney-client relationship;
the courtroom is where expectation and reality inevitably collide.
Crime fascinates me because we all have the capacity for it; in
some ways it represents our most human side. I aim for psychological
suspense because I’m most curious about what makes people
TD: 'Seeds of Doubt' is a departure from the previous novels in
that it features less courtroom action and quite a bit more psychological
drama. What was your impetus for this change?
new Jackie Flowers novel.
SK: There are just so many ways you can write about selecting a
jury. I needed a break and thought readers would appreciate one
too. And even the most active trial lawyers spend most of their
time outside of the courtroom.
TD: As a writer of crime fiction, you must of necessity grapple
with violence. In your novels, you don't shy away from graphic
descriptions of violent acts and their consequences. How do you
approach violence in your narratives?
SK: Violence makes the impact of crime real, but
interested in its origins and psychological fallout. Each bit of
violence must earn its way into my books by providing a springboard
for exploring what drives people to violence and the consequences.
Gratuitous violence doesn’t interest me at all.
TD: As the author of four novels now, can you describe how you
have matured as a writer?
SK: I hope I’ve matured in terms of both subject matter and
style. BLIND SPOT was a serial killer book. EXTREME INDIFFERENCE
is about the effects of unbridled power. SEEDS OF DOUBT is about
a “bad seed” who committed a crime when she was a child,
goes to prison for 30 years, and is charged with a similar crime
when she gets out. Jackie’s empathy for this woman as an
outcast makes her stakes in taking the case much more personal.
When I turned to fiction after practicing law for so many years,
my biggest hurdle was stylistic: re-learning to use the English
language. Lawyers are trained to focus on what’s “relevant”;
i.e., the narrowest facts and arguments geared to winning your
case. This tunnel vision is the antithesis of what good fiction
writers should cultivate. I’ve had to retrain both my eye
and my ear. With each book, I try to streamline my sentence structure
and use the simplest word that most clearly expresses my meaning.
you have particular authors who have provided inspiration for your
writing? Which authors do you consider your "favorites" in
your own reading?
to us all. Top, the first Nancy Drew novel circa 1930,
and bottom Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.
SK: I devoured Nancy Drew when I was a child,
and was addicted to the short stories in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
I’ve been inspired as much by those writers as by Patricia
Highsmith, Denise Mina and P.D. James.
TD: How do you go about constructing a new novel?
Do you outline it beforehand, or simply let it flow? Do you write
to a disciplined
schedule or take an "as inspired" approach?
SK: If I waited for inspiration, none of my books
would be on the shelves. The most important part of my process
is the work I do
before writing a single word. I spend a great deal of time trouble-shooting
a concept to make sure it has the depth to support a full-length
novel, then I design the story arc. Because scenes are the structural
and dramatic microcosm of the book, next comes a scene outline,
where I focus on goal (the emotional effect I want to create),
setting, visual images, role in spine, point of view, conflict,
subtext, turning point, etc. I outline not to create a script to
follow when writing the manuscript, but to force myself to slow
down and get as deep as possible into character and plot before
I start to write. Great concepts are squandered by rushing them
into print. Once the words hit the page, they don’t want
TD: For all the budding authors out there, can you describe the
experience of getting your first book published? Was it a hit on
the first try or do you have stacks of rejection letters (or is
it something in between)?
SK: BLIND SPOT, my first published book, was my
fourth completed manuscript. I’d been writing for five years
before it was published, including a year to find an agent and
a year for her
to place it.
TD: Any thoughts about being a female author writing a female protagonist?
Do you think most of your readers are women and, if so, do the
sensibilities of a female audience influence your narrative? Have
you been influenced by any particular women writers?
SK: I don’t think of myself as a female author, and I try
not to write to any specific audience. The hardest part is coming
up with new things for Jackie to wear! I’m glad I made her
attractive, though, because many male lawyers have told me they’d
like to share office space with her.
TD: What can we expect from you next? What are you working on now?
SK: More Jackie Flowers, until her arc is completed.
finished a sequel to SEEDS OF DOUBT and have started working on
the one to follow. After that, I don’t know. No series should
outlive its readership, and when Jackie stops growing it will be
time to write something else.