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A Great Summer Read: 'The Love Wars'

This debut novel from a lawyer turned novelist is perfect for the beach 

By Caroline Leavitt | July 16, 2013
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Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times best-selling author of Pictures of You and the recent Is This Tomorrow, a May Indie Next Pick and a San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick/Editors Choice. She reviews for People magazine, the Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle and teaches writing through Stanford and UCLA online and privately.

This interview originally appeared on CarolineLeavitteville.com
 
You’ll want to tuck L. Alison Heller’s The Love Wars into your beach bag along with your sunblock. Heller follows matrimonial lawyer Molly Grant, who spends her time juggling high-profile clients — until she meets the desperate former wife of one of the firm’s most important clients, a media icon who is determined to keep his ex from her kids. Can Molly bend the rules and keep her job? Or will the price for doing the right thing be way too high? This sparkling debut is as delicious as iced lemonade, with a refreshing twist.
 
Caroline Leavitt: What inspired this book? How do you know what you know about the subject and why were you compelled to write about it?
 
L. Alison Heller: Like Molly, the main character in The Love Wars, I switched to divorce law from a more commercial field because I was in search of a connection to actual human clients. When I explained this while interviewing at the firm where I eventually worked, one of the lawyers warned, “Be careful what you wish for!” 
 
It was a fair point. Divorce work certainly involves a human connection — at times to an overwhelming degree. It’s alternatively tragic, ridiculous, frightening and uplifting. My colleagues had a mantra: Someone oughta write a book. (We actually had a lot of slogans; another was You can’t make this stuff up, which I apparently took much less to heart than the “oughta write a book” one.) 
 
I’ve always loved to write and the idea of writing fiction set in the world of New York divorce law hit me and just stuck. After I’d stopped litigating long enough for my memories to jell a bit, I sat down to do it.
 
(MORE: On Rereading Favorite Books)  
 
What kind of writer are you? Do you outline or just "follow your pen"? 
 
I do both. I start with a very rough outline that I change along the way because a fair amount of my plotting happens as I draft. Basically, it’s a lot of fits and starts until I get to the part where I feel like I’m living and dreaming the story, at which point things flow more easily. Would that I had a magic pill to get me there! But alas, I must sweat and experience false starts and periodic freak-outs that there’s only 100 pages worth of story in the idea that seemed so terrific not too long before.
 
What surprised you most in writing this particular book? 
 
From a process standpoint, how much joy it gave me. Writing requires work, for sure — keeping your butt in a chair for hours, thinking to the point of brain-freeze, the fits and starts described above — but somehow it’s still refreshing. 
 
From an industry standpoint, everything was a surprise. I’m set in my ways as a lawyer and have my little systems down, but publishing was new to me: The editing process! The pitching and publicity! The waiting — oh, the waiting! I’m sure, however, I’ll be much savvier when my second novel comes out next June — because that’s how it always works, right? Right?!
 
What's your writing life like?
 
If I could, I’d write from early morning to midafternoon, but I can’t always claim those prime hours [because I’m still practicing law]. So I write whenever I can. My work in progress perpetually jiggles in the back of my mind, though. 
 
What's obsessing you now and why?
 
Obsessing is a default mode for me — I could give at least five honest answers here. So as not to scare, I’ll stick to one: the structure of my third book, with which I keep experimenting.
 
What question should I have asked that I didn’t?
 
Because I always enjoy hearing other peoples’ reading lists, I’ll share the last book I finished: Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It’s summer reading for one of my nephews and it was lying in a chair at his house. I picked it up casually — so I wouldn’t sit on it — and glanced at the cover, which is a soothing shade of blue and features an intriguing drawing. I wound up not putting the book down until the next day because it was so emotionally riveting, with such a wonderfully moving message about kindness and inclusion.