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This reading group guide forLaw of Attraction includes discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Allison Leotta. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION 1. There are a series of plot twists and shocking discoveries throughout Law of Attraction. Which of these developments surprised you the most?
2. Nick’s decision to continue to defend D’marco after Laprea’s murder is one of the main reasons Anna breaks off their relationship. Unlike Anna, Nick asserts that representing D’marco isn’t morally compromising, because everyone deserves a fair trial and representation regardless of their guilt. Whose philosophy do you most agree with? Did your opinion change as the story unfolded? Explain.
3. While driving through Anacostia from downtown Washington D.C., Anna notes that “as a matter of geography, the two neighborhoods were a few miles apart. As a matter of class, race and economics, they were different worlds.” (p. 100) Of class, race, and economics, which do you think is of the greatest consequence to the characters in Law of Attraction? Explain your choice.
4. One of Anna’s primary motivations for her work stems from the domestic violence she witnessed as a child and her first-hand experience with the “cycle of violence.” (p. 187) Do you think Anna’s past positively or negatively affects her ability to work the D’marco case? Why? Would you say it’s an advantage or a disadvantage?
5. How does the trauma from Anna’s childhood inform her relationships? What does Jody’s scar symbolize for Anna?
6. In over 80% of domestic violence cases, the victim soon gets back together with the abuser and wants to drop all charges. If a victim doesn’t want to pursue a case, do you think the prosecution should still seek a conviction? Why or why not? Is it overly paternalistic for the government to protect a victim who doesn’t want to be protected? How does Anna’s family history influence her opinion about this kind of situation?
7. From Nick to Jack, most characters in Law of Attraction cannot be taken at face value, and they break any stereotypes or initial impressions the reader may make. Which character did you find most surprising or interesting?
8. One of Anna’s most controversial actions in Law of Attraction is her decision not to disclose the fact that she had a romantic relationship with the opposing counsel in a murder trial. Do you think what Anna did was unethical? Did her punishment seem justified?
9. Despite its imperfections, do you think the legal system depicted in Law of Attraction was ultimately effective? Do you think the legal system is better or worse in real life?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. Find out how your book group can help victims of domestic abuse in your own community with activities such as volunteering your time at a local shelter.
2. Bring law and order to your book group! Have a court-themed meeting to discuss the book, or have a mock-trial discussion. Get creative!
A CONVERSATION WITH ALLISON LEOTTA
Law of Attraction is your debut novel and quite a departure from your work as a federal prosecutor. What prompted you to start writing fiction?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I probably started writing because of my work—tohelp me process the tragedies and heroism that I see prosecuting sex crimes and domestic violence.
On any given day I might see the very worst—and sometimes the very best—of human nature. Women kidnapped and raped by strangers. Victims sexually assaulted by family members, by jealous ex-lovers, even by church deacons. I’ve prosecuted assaults committed with guns, knives, bedposts, boiling oil, and, once, a hamster cage.
But I’ve also witnessed true heroism. An eleven-year-old boy who testified how he fought off the man who was stabbing his mother, and saved her life. Mothers willing to move mountains to heal their daughters. And I’ve worked with prosecutors who fought for justice even when their own lives, and the lives of their children, were threatened by the criminals they prosecuted.
It isn’t the type of job you leave at the office. Every prosecutor I know has some kind of outlet – running marathons, shoe shopping, Sudoku—whatever works. Me, I’ve always been a bookworm. Writing turned out to be a natural way for me to process this very intense world that I’m part of. By rolling bits and pieces of these real stories into a fictional narrative, I hope that the reader will be moved in the same way I have.
What was your motivation behind creating a story that so closely mirrors your own profession? Are there any elements in the story that were inspired by specific people or events you’ve encountered throughout your career as a federal prosecutor? Does the criminal justice system portrayed in the novel depart in any way from the way it functions in real life?
They say write what you know, right? That was great advice for me, because the world I know is full of incredible stories, hot-button issues, and a rich cast of characters. I didn’t have to look far for ideas. In fact, I had to tone down reality a bit. Some things that happen in D.C. Superior Court are so astonishing, they would seem implausible if written as fiction.
Law of Attraction isn’t based on any single case I’ve had or any particular people I know, but it does incorporate some of the most interesting details from cases and people I’ve worked with. I tried to be as accurate as possible in describing how D.C.’s criminal justice system works. I think people who work in that system will read these details and think, Oh yeah, been there, seen that. But the story itself is fiction.
Like you, your protagonist, Anna, is a prosecutor working in D.C. Besides her profession, does Anna share any other characteristics or personality traits of yours?
My father will be very happy that you asked that question! Poor Dad was so proud when I wrote a book—and then horrified that people would think the father character is him. So, let me take this opportunity to say that Anna isn’t me and her parents are not my parents.
Superficially, Anna and I have a similar resume. We both come from Detroit, were the product of Michigan public schools, and went to Harvard Law School. I became a prosecutor to try to make my community safer and to use my law degree to fight for justice, and Anna shares those motivations.
But Anna’s past is much darker than mine. I had a happy childhood; Anna’s was tinged with violence and fear. I was drawn to prosecuting because I admire my father, who was a federal prosecutor. Anna was drawn to the job in response to her father’s violence. I’m very by-the-book in my work, while Anna is more likely to be swayed by her emotions and passions—which get her into much more trouble than I’ve ever been in!
Our after-work lives are quite different, too. Anna is a single girl exploring romantic prospects in the big city, and she gets to hang out at local hot spots, drinking wine and bantering with other bright young things. I’m married (to another prosecutor), live in the ‘burbs, and have two beautiful, crazy little boys—so a night on the town for me usually involves happy meals, matchbox cars, and handfuls of Cheerios.
Law of Attraction is part crime thriller and part romance story. Did you find it challenging to weave the two storylines together?
The most challenging part of the love story, I think, will be when I show up at the U.S. Attorney’s Office on the day after Law of Attraction is published. I suspect there’ll be a lot of good-natured ribbing after my colleagues read the steamy sex scenes. I might need to wear a nun’s habit for a while.
Seriously, I was surprised to discover that writing the romance was one of my favorite parts of creating the book. The legal scenes are all about my work, so I was able to bring realistic details to them. But the love story was just plain fun.
I also found that, although I had carefully plotted out the murder mystery, the romance blossomed organically, almost of its own will. For the homicide, I knew from the start who did it, how, where, when and why. But I hadn’t planned on Anna falling in love with Jack. She and I both fell for him as we got to know him: slowly and unconsciously at first, finally realizing that he was “the one” shortly after Anna lost him.
Your characters in Law of Attraction are all complex and three-dimensional individuals, with distinct personality traits and flaws. Who was your favorite character to create, and which character do you like the most?
This is kind of strange for me to say, but my favorite characters to write were D’marco and Ray-Ray. In real life, of course, I would much prefer to hang out with the tough-but-tender, single-father homicide chief. As an author, however, it was great fun creating my minor-league thugs.
I’ve prosecuted lots of men like D’marco and Ray-Ray, but I rarely get to know them. I’m not allowed to speak to defendants without their attorneys present, and defense attorneys seldom allow their clients to say anything to prosecutors. So, for me and my prosecutor colleagues, a man like D’marco or Ray-Ray who abuses his wife, sells drugs, or shoplifts is simply “the defendant”—a person defined solely by the crime he committed. Writing about these guys, however, I had to explore them more fully—understanding not just that D’marco is an abusive guy with a serious anger-management problem, but delving into how he got that way, how he lives his everyday life, and what really sets him off. With their criminal proclivities, jailhouse schemes, and prison break, D’marco and Ray-Ray were also great catalysts for the action scenes.
If you could choose any insight or lesson for your readers to take away from the story, what would it be?
Most of all, I hope readers are entertained by the story. But, if they learn a few things about the criminal justice system in the process, that would be wonderful.
First, obviously, is the fact that domestic violence is a real problem in our society— but prosecuting the men (and occasionally women) who abuse their partners cannot, alone, solve the problem. Time and again, I’ve seen smart, savvy women stand by the men who abuse them, when the whole world is crying “leave him.” And the children raised in these families seem drawn to the same types of relationships when they grow up. We have to understand, and address, the reasons why women stay with the men who hurt them if we want to protect these women from their abusers.
On a deeper level, each of the main characters in this book is in danger of repeating self-destructive patterns they learned in childhood. By exploring the results of the decisions the characters make, I tried to illuminate how one can break out of these cycles.
Finally, the book explores the ethical dilemmas that prosecutors and defense attorneys face every day. How does a prosecutor balance the need to bring criminals to justice with respecting the wishes of victims who may not want to press charges? Why might a defense attorney believe that, by helping guilty criminals fight the charges against them, the defense attorney has also fought for justice? The characters in this book struggle with these and related issues, each coming to their own terms with the ethical challenges presented by their roles.
What advice would you give to someone who’s interested in writing but isn’t sure how to begin?
Be persistent and patient. A lot of would-be writers have the ideas and the talent, but they just don’t do it; they’re afraid of rejection, or they keep putting off their dream of writing, or they start and when they hit a stumbling block, they quit. Don’t stress too much about whether the first draft is perfect, because editing is a large part of writing. Just keeping writing, and as you tell your story you can see what works and then delete what doesn’t. My finished novel is about 300 pages, but I also have 700 pages in a document called “False Starts”—vast swaths of text I cut because they were unwieldy, uninteresting, or just plain bad. They never made it into print, but those 700 pages were essential for me to learn how to write fiction.
And don’t be discouraged if the writing process isn’t quick. When I decided to write a book, I took a week off of work and went to a cabin in the country with my husband. I figured that I’d be about half done with my novel by the end of the week. I finally finished Law of Attraction two years later.
What’s next for Anna Curtis and you?
I just finished dreaming up my next Anna Curtis story and, boy, does she have her work cut out for her! She’s a more seasoned prosecutor now, and has moved up in the U.S. Attorney’s Office to focus on the most difficult and dangerous—felony sex crimes. Her next case involves an explosive political sex scandal. Jack will be back, of course, and he and Anna will face some serious challenges to their romance. I’m not sure if their relationship will survive the coming storm, so stay tuned. There will be some interesting new characters as well. I’m excited to see how it all shakes out!
Allison Leotta was a federal sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington, DC, for twelve years. In 2011, she left the Justice Department to pursue writing full time. She is the acclaimed author of Law of Attraction, Discretion, Speak of the Devil, A Good Killing, and The Last Good Girl and founder of the award-winning blog, The Prime-Time Crime Review. Leotta lives with her husband, Michael, and their two sons outside of Washington, DC. Visit her online at AllisonLeotta.com.