: Explain the title, Dante's Wood.
Lynne Raimondo: The title comes from the first canto of Dante's Inferno
quoted in the epigram: "Midway in the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost." My protagonist's seldom used first name is Dante, and in the novel he wakes, both literally and figuratively, to find himself in a dark place. Like the historical Dante Alighieri, who wrote the poem while living in exile in Ravenna, Mark's predicament results from some very bad luck, but also because he's lost his moral compass. And like the allegorical Dante in the poem, he has a lot to learn before he can climb out of the hell he's dug for himself.
'Zine: Mark Angelotti is a fascinating character. Despite his more negative qualities (selfishness, sarcasm, some extremely bad choices) he's great company for the reader. Where did he come from and how did he develop?
Raimondo: Mark was originally a lesser figure in a first novel, now gathering cobwebs in my attic. When it came time to write another, I thought he was too juicy a character to abandon, so I began thinking about ways to give him center stage. I've always been drawn to flawed protagonists, so there was never any question that Mark would have some less than admirable qualities. In the beginning I downplayed them to make him sympathetic, with the result that he came across as too nice. That didn't square with what I intended, so I had to go back and flesh out more of his darker side. The toughest part of writing a "difficult" character like Mark is finding that sweet spot where readers can shake their heads over his shortcomings, yet still be rooting for him. If Mark appeals to readers, I think it's because he's a very human character. Self-centered and arrogant at times, but also capable of great empathy, and in his own obstinate way, courageous.
'Zine: Have you a favorite side character from
Dante's Wood? Who, and why?
Raimondo: That would have to be Hallie Sanchez, the lawyer who is thrown together with Mark when she is hired to represent Charlie Dickerson. Hallie is smart, tough, and nobody's fool, but things don't always break her way -- in or out of the courtroom. Hallie is a good partner for Mark because she sees through his posturing and doesn't hesitate to cut his ego down to size. I admit I had the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn movie Adam's Rib at the back of my mind when I was writing some of their interactions.
'Zine: Will any of the players from Dante's Wood show up in future Mark Angelotti novels?
Raimondo: Hallie will continue to be a key player, along with Josh Goldman, Mark's best friend and confidant, and Detective William O'Leary, his cop buddy. The next few installments will also introduce some new characters, including Mark's estranged wife and son, who will play a prominent role in the series. Look for Mark's love life to develop in complicated and unexpected ways as he continues to deal with the fallout from his past.
'Zine: How (and why) did you make the transition from practicing attorney to full-time writer?
Raimondo: I wrote professionally in one capacity or another for twenty-five years, so the transition was easier than you'd expect. I was already used to spending long hours in front of a computer fine-tuning paragraphs. The bigger challenge was shutting down the 'this could never happen' side of my brain so as not to kill off my imagination. Lawyers are trained to be skeptics, which for me sometimes interferes with getting new words down on a page. On the other hand, editing my own work is rarely a problem. The 'why' part is easy: what lawyer wouldn't want to spend their days inventing the kind of cases they wish they could try but almost never get to see? The only thing I miss about practicing are my clients. I had some pretty memorable ones.
'Zine: While Dante's Wood is a mystery, there are certainly scenes that owe a debt to your legal background. Why did you not go the John Grisham/legal thriller route for your first novel?
Raimondo: I'm more of a 'whodunit' than a 'thriller' person. And to be honest, there are so many stellar legal thrillers out there, I wasn't sure I could come up with a fresh take. Right around the time I was thinking about this, I was called to testify in a big civil case. It opened up a whole new perspective for me and led to the idea of crafting a series around an expert witness. Deciding Mark would be a psychiatrist was simple, since it would allow me to explore many of the issues -- like false confessions - that are among the most controversial in our legal system today. I also thought it would be fun to begin the series with Mark undergoing a baptism of fire when he appears on the stand for the very first time.
'Zine: The Chicago setting of this novel is certainly well-realized, right down to the regional lingo like "pop" instead of "soda." Are you a native?
Raimondo: Nope. I grew up on Staten Island and attended college and law school in New York. But I've lived in the Chicago area for thirty years now, enough time to pick up some localisms like lamenting over the Cubs and knowing where to find the best Italian Beef. One of my pet peeves are books and movies that dwell on Chicago's less pleasant aspects - crime, corruption, bad winters - without giving equal time to all of the reasons it's such a wonderful place to live. In my own reading, I tend to gravitate toward novels with a strong regional flavor, so it was natural that I'd try to incorporate some of that into Dante's Wood.
'Zine: Can you give us a sneak peek of the direction you are taking with the next Mark Angelotti novel?
Raimondo: Mark has just enrolled in a drug trial that holds out hope of restoring his eyesight when he agrees to help Hallie in a case that is rocking the Chicago legal community. Prominent defense lawyer Jane Barrett stands accused of poisoning her lover, investigative reporter Rory Gallagher, by feeding him a powerful antipsychotic. Could Barrett be guilty of what prosecutors are calling the "perfect crime?" Or is there something afoot in the land of Big Pharma that Gallagher wasn't supposed to find out? Mark and Hallie will have their hands full sifting the clues, while a killer with a hidden agenda lurks in the shadows -- patiently awaiting their first misstep.
'Zine: Wow! Thank you, Lynn, for joining us!
Lynne Raimondo (Evanston, IL) is a full-time writer who formerly worked as the general counsel for Arthur Andersen LLP and later as the general counsel of the Illinois Department of Revenue.