Hello, all! Can you believe it is almost Christmas? This year I have something extra special for you all: I was able to get an advance copy of Rosemarie Aquilina’s new book Triple Cross Killer, and interview her about her writing. My review of Triple Cross Killer will be posted on Christmas Day, so check back then!
Rosemarie Aquilina is the mother of five children. Elected as a 30th Circuit Court Judge serving in the General Trial Division, after having served as a 55th District Court Judge in Mason, Michigan, she takes pride in public serve.
In 1986, Judge Aquilina became the first female JAG Officer in the history of the Michigan Army National Guard, she retired in 2006 with twenty years Honorable Service. She is an adjunct law professor at both Western Michigan University—Thomas M. Cooley Law School and Michigan State University College of Law and has earned teaching awards at both institutions. Judge Aquilina is the former owner of Aquilina Law Firm, PLC, and former host of a syndicated radio talk show called Ask the Family Lawyer.
You seem to have a busy schedule with your family and your career as a judge. When do you find time to write?
I do have a very busy life and demanding career. I rarely have time to take vacations so I have learned to build in time for myself and for my writing. Writing is my way of relieving stress and taking a daily vacation. I began writing during my lunch hours at work which led to writing in the evening and early morning hours when I had characters who needed my attention. On weekends, I write with my first cup of coffee when the house is quiet and any other quiet time I can steal. I write everyday—for me it creates endorphins, like athletes talk about when they regularly exercise. Besides spending time with my family, writing fiction is the best part of my day. This creative outlet helps me concentrate on serious matters.
Has writing always been a part of your life in some fashion, or have you recently started writing?
Since the time I could speak, I recall wanting to be a writer and telling tales to anyone who would listen. Because we were a family with limited financial means, there was a shortage of toys and books. The few books I had I read so many times I could recite them—and I don’t usually memorize anything easily. My brother Joe, eleven months younger, begged me from the time we were toddlers, to read to him. I pretended to read the back of cereal boxes, newspapers, the church bulletin, and virtually anything with writing. Left to my creative devices, I invented stories, added onto characters plights I had read about, and invented new chapters and backstories. I entertained my brother for hours as I made up stories. I treasured his attention, laughter and the sheer glee on his face at my stories. I vividly recall his inquisitive entertained boyish face. I still hear our laughter and feel the sheer thrill of the emerging story—one I hadn’t planned but one that simply emerged and developed as I told it. This developed the “panster-writer” in me. I don’t plan. I listen to my characters. And, I type forward.
Absolutely the first thing that drew me to Triple Cross Killer was the idea of a murderer responding to children’s letters to Santa Claus. It is both chilling and compelling. Where did you get the idea?
Nick Archer is a figment of my imagination. However, the storyline was developed as a result of a question my son asked me: “Mom, what happens if Santa’s letters get into the wrong hands?” Immediately, I saw the story and two hours later, chapter one was in my computer. The evil in Nick and his controlling nature are a result of people I know and crimes I have had before me as a judge.
Interestingly, while I was editing the story, one of my law students (I teach at two law schools), who was doing an externship under my supervision read an early draft. About a year later, when he returned home to New York, he sent me a newspaper article about a postal worker who answered letters written to Santa as part of a postal program to make children happy. The New York Post office stopped that program because a “criminally-minded” postal worker used the letters to track children. My student was amazed that I had written a story about Santa letters and something similar had happened in real life! I was amazed my student recalled my story and was thoughtful enough to send it to me. This encouraged me to move forward with Triple Cross Killer.
In what ways has your experience in the courtroom helped the writing of Triple Cross Killer?
It has given me a guide to real police/detective work and testimony, testimony of all types of experts, to include but not limited to forensics, ballistics, fingerprint and DNA analysis, and polygraphs. Sometimes as I hear victim testimony or other witness testimony and see the evidence, I visualize my characters and plot connections become very clear.
Many mystery novels are written by authors who have very little experience in the courtroom. While I am sure that your experience helped you ground your action in reality, were there any times when you found the reality behind your experience to be a roadblock instead?
Yes. I sometimes write too much information and my editor will have to say to me: “People don’t want to know that.” Or, I get too technical and my editor will say to me: “Us lay people don’t understand that. Please explain…”
As a result, I write a first draft without looking back, and then I revise it at least two more times. Then, I send it to my editor and revise another couple of times. After about six good edits, my manuscript is usually ready to send to my Agent. And, yes, it still gets edited another three times with the editor assigned to me by my publisher. But, I love the process as it really helps me connect with my characters so they can properly connect with my readers.
Were there any particular parts of Triple Cross Killer that were particularly difficult or particularly easy for you to write?
As a Circuit Judge in the General Trial Division I have a felony docket and hear heinous crimes including murders with gruesome details. This allowed me to easily write about the murders and the forensic and evidentiary issues that followed.
The most difficult part of writing was interjecting timeline properly into the storyline. Once I had the story idea, my mind saw it unfold very clearly, but I had trouble with conveying a working timeline. I had to rework the timeline a few times, so what I saw was clear to the reader. Timelines for me, because of the way I write, as a “panster,” are a killer.
I loved the relationship between Jaq and Rita – the honesty between them really resonated with me as a reader. In what ways has friendship been a force in your own life?
I have very few real friends and those bonds I have are “forever-friendships” which I hold close and know I can count on. My forever-friends are often the sounding board to dilemmas I encounter, and, are the first—sometimes the only—ones to acknowledge good things that happen in my life. I appreciate these friends and consider them family. Rita and Jaq have that forever-friendship. I modelled their relationship after my own and truly enjoyed being part of their friendship as I wrote. I felt myself joining them as they participated in yoga, jogging, and, sharing of coffee and conflicts. And men.
I particularly liked the development of Nick as a character – the early scenes between Nick and Rita reminded me of power struggles I have had with men before. Have you experienced a similar attempt at steamrolling?
Yes. Nick is modelled in large part after a man I had a relationship with years ago. I was fortunate in that with my strong will, determination, and common sense I was able to leave that relationship with myself mentally and physically intact. I had a revelation at one point in our relationship that I had truly encountered the devil, and I successfully planned the demise of our relationship. But as a lawyer I had clients, and as a judge I have heard from many victims who weren’t as fortunate, sustaining mental and/or physical abuse, stalking behavior, unlawful imprisonment, torture, and sadly even loss of life.
Although this is fiction, I hope it is an important story as a reminder that an accomplished person can be an abuser or be abused. I hope this storyline also serves as a reminder that speaking out, being smart about your surroundings and/or suspicious behavior, is always appropriate. It also recognizes that we always need to speak out on behalf of children, but not take the law in our own hands.
All the scenes in the novel were grounded in a detailed setting. How do you create your settings – do you base them off of real locations, imagine them on your own, or are they constructed for the purpose of the scene?
I write about what I know. I grew up in my early childhood in Detroit where my grandparents lived after the emigrated from Malta. I also worked for almost a decade in Detroit after I graduated from law school. I have spent many years in Detroit, living, working, attending functions. I also have spent many weeks of my life in Sarasota, Siesta Key and the condominium Nick owns across from the public beach is modelled after our family condominium.
Therefore, as much as they are not exactly accurate, for purposes of creating the fiction story, they are real and accurate—if that makes sense. I know and love both Detroit and Sarasota. It was entertaining to me placing the story in two cities I enjoy and then marrying up the characters into one story. When I developed the scenes I visualized the places I know and the story wrote itself.
What has been the most rewarding part of novel writing for you?
The pleasure of watching the story emerge and fit together and readers enjoying and understanding the thrill of the story. There is nothing more rewarding than entertaining people with my work. My mother always asks me when I write: “What if no one reads it? What if your books never sell? Will you quit writing?” My answer over the years has never changed: “I write for the joy of it. If no one else reads what I write, if my books never sell, I’ve enjoyed the journey and that is enough.” But, I really enjoy sharing it with people.
I saw that this may be the first novel in a series. What hopes do you have for the novels to follow?
I am near completion with the next book in the series. Currently book two is named “Circumstantial Justice” and features the four detectives who have been joined together by the Governor of Michigan as the State Detective Special Forces Team. I envision the detectives solving cases that get them recognized on a national level causing them to be in demand by other states. In this way the series will continue to grow into an unlimited number of volumes, and readers and I will have an opportunity to watch the team solve multiple unique crimes, sometimes with returning characters, and always with a cast of new ones.