PW: You have a lot in common with Juliet Applebaum, the heroine in A Playdate with Death. Like you, she's an attorney and a former federal public defender who gave it up to become a stay-at-home mom. What prompted you to start writing?
AW: Isn't it crazy the way life imitates art? I loved every minute of my job as a public defender, but by the time I got home from work, I was just drained. And I realized that parenting was a choice, and I had to choose my child. But I was so desperate to be doing something other than just taking care of the baby that I started writing the first Juliet mystery [Nursery Crimes].
PW: Your books are delightfully honest about the tedium of taking care of young children.
AW: It's not that Juliet doesn't want to be a mother; it's that she's incredibly bored by parenting. Entertaining someone with a three-and-a-half minute attention span for eight hours is unbearable. I thought I was the only one who thinks this way. But then the people who e-mail me—it's almost exclusively women but I've heard from some men—write something like, "Thank you for saying it," for speaking the heresy that maybe child-rearing is not all it's cracked up to be.
PW: In your work as a public defender, did you find yourself in potentially dangerous situations?
AW: Every single case involved significant work in the field. I've trudged through horrible L.A. neighborhoods tracking down crack-heads who might have had contact with a scary informant or looking for Hells Angels who would admit to being meth freaks. I made some people very angry.
PW: You're married to Pulitzer-winning novelist Michael Chabon. Was it daunting to write a book of your own?
AW: When Michael and I got married, I always said the reason was because I had no literary ambitions whatsoever. And when I started writing, I didn't tell him; it was this big secret. Finally, I showed him about 50 pages and said "I just wrote this thing, and I want you to tell me: Is it garbage? I don't want you to be nice to me; I want you to be honest." The only thing he said was, "Keep going." When I finished the book, I showed it to his agent, and she sold it, plus two others. I've just finished the fourth Juliet Applebaum mystery, and there's a TV series based on Juliet in the works for CBS. Also, I've got a more serious novel coming out in 2003.
PW: So you're not really a stay-at-home mom like Juliet anymore?
AW: Even though I do spend a lot of time with my kids, I essentially have a full-time job as a writer now. I wake up around 4:30 a.m. and work until the kids get up, then I take them to school and I work a couple more hours. I'm also an adjunct professor at Boalt Hall [the law school at the University of California at Berkeley], where I teach a seminar on the war on drugs.
PW: Can you tell us about your more serious novel?
AW: I'm comfortable with the label genre writer, but I resist the notion that there's anything inherently wrong with mystery writings. My serious novel is about a young girl in her early 20s who has a boyfriend involved in a drug deal, and because she's present, she's looking at 10 years in jail. But it's really about her relationship with her mother—about how parenting never ends. I expected to be writing a searing indictment about the war on drugs, but instead I wrote about being a mother. Whatever happens, I will write novels about being a mom.
PW: What about Juliet Applebaum?
AW: I'll be writing about Juliet as long as they let me. It helps that she's so like me. I'm fundamentally completely self-absorbed and I never get tired of myself, so I'll never get tired of her.