Author Stephanie Kane-quiet time, blind spot, new books, book online, book search
 
 
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MY CHECKERED PAST
(Or How I Stopped Worrying and Became a Writer)

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, the product of public schools and a high school in Greenwich Village whose faculty included teachers expelled from the public school system during the McCarthy era. Their passion for learning and the restlessness of the late 1960's inspired me to strike out on my own. Never having been west of New Jersey and needing to put serious mileage between me and all that was familiar, I arrived in Colorado the day before freshman orientation at CU and didn't look back.

I graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in Italian language and literature. My major had nothing to do with my background or ethnicity - but rather, a love for a language whose every syllable ends in a vowel and is best spoken with the hands. Between college and law school, I owned and operated a karate studio in Boulder. My family thought this an aberration, a bizarre urge to purge before I returned to the fold. When I came home for visits, they looked the other way as I tried to show off my kicks and punches.

When I was awarded my second degree black belt and realized I would not achieve the romantic ideal of failing to reach my twenty-first birthday, I began to think about making a living at something that did not involve breaking boards or toes. I took the LSAT - which in those days didn't require math - and applied to law school. Law school is like being a duck in a shooting gallery: you keep your head low and hope the rack rotates fast enough that you make it to the next round. The only class in which I opened my mouth was criminal law.

Stephanie Kane - Author of Blind Spot and Quiet Time - Psychological ThrillersI passed the bar in 1981 and was hired by the premier corporate law firm in Denver. Again my family thought I'd taken leave of my senses, a fear confirmed when I specialized in banking law. Shortly after I made partner - around the time Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait - I went on an expedition to eastern Turkey and climbed to the summit of Mount Ararat. Whether it was the air just shy of 17,000 feet or looking down on the clouds, I had an epiphany: stimulating as it was to research lending limits and draft IPO prospectuses, there had to be more to life than corporate law. I stepped off the path of least resistance once again. This time I took leave of both my senses and my law firm and returned to college to fulfill the requirements for applying to medical school.

On a foundation of ninth grade algebra, chemistry and physics were a nightmare. I slogged through my courses with lawyerly cunning and rigor: suffocating sessions in labs where I wheedled my partners into letting me record data while they dealt with the smelly beakers and cantankerous Bunsen burner, six hours a day in the library memorizing organic reactions and mathematical formulae which explained why, in the normal course of events, the kitchen table doesn't crash through the floor. I retained nothing, but the repetition gouged the grooves in my brain necessary to ensure top exam scores. Physics happily remains a grab bag of magic tricks, as mystical and shifty as pulling rabbits out of a hat.

I applied to medical school, made it onto a waiting list at one place and was rejected by the others. None of my interviewers believed I wanted to do anything but get a leg up on suing doctors. Having resigned a lucrative partnership in order to pursue a medical education only to have the door slammed in my face, in retrospect I could understand why they might think that. (Or worry that every lawyer they met wanted to sue them.) My immediate concern, however, was finding a job. In the carnage following the collapse of oil prices and the real estate market, a corporate lawyer without clients is a professional leper. And so, after some dozen years of civil practice, I was hired by a criminal defense lawyer who was obliging enough to let me start at the bottom.
I loved trial work. Unlike corporate law, where you have all the time in the world (at someone else's expense) to vacillate over whether to insert that comma here - or there? - trial lawyers function entirely in the moment. No second guessing or tying yourself in knots over what comes spilling out of your mouth but somehow makes sense to the jury. Criminal work is as close to trial by ambush as our system allows. I was hooked.

After winning an acquittal for a client charged with bank fraud (nothing learned is ever wasted), I was invited to return to the law firm where I had begun. But the consolation prize for the chaos and angst of real change is that it's irreversible - after a short while back, I struck out on my own once more. This time I discovered just how easy it is to kill a solo practice: unless you cultivate clients, all of a sudden there are none. But I had bought a computer and writing was consuming me. My family still thinks I'm nuts.

Some things never change.

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