Entombed: Linda Fairstein proves not

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Holiday 36

What's with the whole lawyer-turned-bestselling-author phenomenon, à la Grisham, Baldacci, and Turow?

Lawyer-turned-bestselling-author Linda Fairstein offers a theory: "People who are litigators are in some sense storytellers. They're bound by the facts. Lots of lawyers have good verbal skills."

And at legal conferences, she observes, classes titled "Lawyers who write fiction" fill up quicker than those on "How to write a will."

Fairstein always wanted to be a writer. "I had a very loving but practical father who said, 'You have nothing to write about,'" she says.

So she opted for another risky move. After graduating from Vassar, she braved the culture shock of entering law school at UVA in 1969.

"I was going from one of the best all-women's colleges in the country, trained to do whatever I set my mind to do, to a school with no women undergrads and where the law school reluctantly admitted them," recalls Fairstein.

For 30 years, Fairstein put her law degree to good use, prosecuting sex crimes as an assistant district attorney in New York. After cases like Robert "Preppie Murder" Chambers and the Central Park "wildings," she had plenty to write about. She's now on tour for her seventh novel, Entombed– about a Manhattan prosecutor named Alex Cooper.

"I'm one of those absolute idiots who enjoy book tours," confesses Fairstein. And she's thrilled to return to her old stomping grounds to spend a day at the law school, chat with David Baldacci on March 18 about "Lawyers who write suspense" and speak at the Crime Wave luncheon March 20. "I have a more interesting book tour than most," she says.

Fairstein left the DA's office in 2002 to write full time, and has no idea how she pulled off writing a nonfiction book on sexual violence and four novels while pursuing her demanding prosecutor's job. "My husband says I did it on his time," she says of the vacations and free time devoted to writing.

Having grown up in the Kennedy era, Fairstein still feels strongly about public service, in particular, the prosecution of sex crimes and violence against women. In fact, there's one question she's tired of being asked: "How could you have stayed in that job for 30 years? It sounds depressing."

And even now, there are cases that she'd kill (oops, bad choice of words) to be on. "I desperately wanted to go through the TV screen and prosecute Scott Peterson," she admits. "Instead of a soap opera, it was an opportunity to educate people that the leading cause of death for pregnant women is homicide."

On the other hand, "Michael Jackson looks like too much of a circus for me."

Age: 57

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The Lawn and original campus that Jefferson designed. I used to love to sit outside and read on the grass in the springtime.

Least: The hideous strip malls leading north out of town on Route 29

Favorite hangout: Keswick

Most overrated virtue? Maybe it's the prosecutor in me, but I like virtues. Honesty, fidelity, purity– never met one I didn't like.

People would be surprised to know: That the two careers I dreamed of having were either to be a classical ballerina... or a back-up dancer for Tina Turner.

Proudest accomplishment: Helping to change the way victims of sexual violence are treated by the criminal justice system

People find most annoying about you: My efforts to cross-examine them

Whom do you admire: Hillary Clinton, Beverly Sills, Anna Quindlen– strong women in nontraditional roles who've challenged myths and stereotypes and been triumphant

Favorite book: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. It has just about every great plot, motive, characterization– and such brilliant use of the English language

Subject that causes you to rant: Mendacity

Biggest 21st-century thrill? I hope that's yet to come.

Biggest 21st century creep-out? The tsunami

What do you drive? A Mercedes and a Miata

In your car CD right now? Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company

 Next journey? To open our home on Martha's Vineyard for the spring season.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in: I'm a very law-abiding citizen.

Regret? Life's too short. I've missed some opportunities, but I don't believe in regrets.

Favorite comfort food: A well-toasted English muffin

Always in your refrigerator: Ice cubes for my Scotch

Must-see TV: 60 Minutes

Favorite cartoon: The only cartoons I like are political ones, like those featured in the Sunday NYTimes.

Describe a perfect day. I wake up on Martha's Vineyard, have coffee with my husband, kiss him goodbye then stroll down the hill to my cottage and effortlessly write 10 pages of my next novel. Take a walk on the beach and a brisk swim. Go home and find the massage therapist waiting for me. Catch up with my friends on the phone. Have fresh oysters with our cocktails on the deck and a lobster dinner in front of the fireplace– and fall asleep after reading the latest Baldacci or Crais or Lippman or other favorite crime novel.

Walter Mitty fantasy: Performing back-up with Tina Turner

Who'd play you in movie? Annette Bening

Most embarrassing moment? There are so many of these I wouldn't know where to begin. Maybe candor is an overrated virtue.

Best advice you ever got? Follow your dreams. I never gave up on my childhood ambition to write books– and in the middle of a 30-year career in the law, about which I was enormously passionate, I found a way to make the original dream come true.

Favorite bumper sticker: I hate bumper stickers.



Linda Fairstein

PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO

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