Please tell us a little about yourself and Cold Record.

My parents were both professional writers, and I read compulsively from early childhood, so I was dreaming of writing books by about the third grade. But after I’d dawdled into my thirties, a baby arrived and bills were due, so I suddenly found myself in law school. Then I lucked into a wonderful opportunity as a prosecutor, starting in a colorful desert outpost and later migrating to the city, and realized somewhere along the way that I finally had a topic I could dare to write about. Cold Record took only a decade after that!

How did you choose the genre of your book?

Since the general topic was settled, my main question was tone. Over the years I’ve found most “legal thrillers” exhausting and implausible, full of cynicism, dark motives, and action for action’s sake. So my goal from early on was to write a realistic legal novel where the drama would come from the humanity of the characters, their flaws and choices, and the endless intricacy of the law itself. But I also wanted to build in an element of mystery, which involved time—whereas most courtroom dramas end with the verdict, here there is a deeper truth to dig up, many years later. Above all, though, I hoped for authenticity.

How did you develop your characters?

It was all a fairly organic process—I’m not entirely sure how they changed over time! The primary narrator, John Howland, resembles me in some ways but had to grow a bit through the trial, and then in the years afterward. The victim’s mother and her murdered daughter came to me almost fully formed. The skill and strength of the lead prosecutor and the defense attorney owe a debt to actual lawyers I’ve known and admired, and the defendant evolved along with the story, as the core truth of his life and the murder came into focus. I think the through line was to convey the default decency and good intentions of almost everyone who makes the legal system work, even in harrowing circumstances.

Was your storyline something that you envisioned from the beginning, or did you build/change it as you wrote your novel?

The outline of the story was always there—the location, the defendant, the victim, the lawyers, the trial. But I did have a major insight several years into the project, and a murder case just can’t help being complex, so I was making tiny refinements all through the process. The good news was that over time I truly got to know the characters, which made it easier to decide whether any new wrinkle actually made sense, and by the end I had the wonderful sensation that it did all fit together.

Portions of this Q&A were edited for clarity.