FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
New Legal Thriller by former State Public Defender’s Office Chief Attorney Portrays Personal Challenges of Attorney Threatened by Death Row Client
WEIGHING THE TRUTH
by Christine Zilius Mason
Christine Zilius Mason, former chief attorney with the State Public Defender, Sacramento Office, has just released her newest novel, Weighing the Truth, a character-driven legal thriller, set in Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. Ms. Mason draws on thirteen years with the agency, giving her an in-depth knowledge regarding the subject matter of the novel—the representation of death-row and other prisoners in their appeals. She writes with an understanding of the personal, ethical and legal challenges faced by attorneys working in this field.
In Weighing the Truth, 32-year-old attorney Natalya Drummond takes on the demanding job of representing convicted felons in their appeals. At the same time, she must deal with crushing grief over the sudden death of her husband and the difficulties of raising a young child on her own. The novel opens as Natalya travels with her colleague Rick Cropper to visit their death-row client Jared Hegner at San Quentin Prison. Hegner claims he’s innocent and is furious that his appeal is moving along so slowly. When his lawyers inform him that his best hope is to have the death penalty reduced to life without possibility of parole, he becomes even more enraged and threatens Nat and Rick, claiming he has gang connections on the outside.
Bizarre, disturbing incidents follow, leading Nat to believe Hegner’s purported gang members are responsible. She eventually becomes the victim of an attack. Police detective Emily Zhu helps Nat pursue the identity of the perpetrator down a shocking and unexpected path, as Nat comes to question her own assumptions and even her sanity. Testimony of the alleged perpetrator at the dramatic trial hints at a possible clue to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the death of Nat’s husband—a mystery she feels she must solve before she can move on in her personal and professional life. Nat is finally forced to consider whether her fear has clouded her perception of the truth and undermined her passionate belief in the presumption of innocence.
Weighing the Truth explores the devastating emotional impact of violent crime upon its victims, as well as the too-frequent failure of the criminal justice system to provide justice for all.
Kirkus Reviews characterizes Weighing the Truth as “ . . . an emotionally supercharged domestic thriller . . . [E]ven relatively peripheral characters, such as Hegner, are all fully realized and authentic, which makes the emotional aspect of the story feel intense and intimate. As a result, readers will experience the diversity of Drummond’s feelings during her painful but redemptive journey of self-discovery . . . [W]ill have suspense fans turning pages until the very end.”
Midwest Book Review: “Weighing the Truth is more than a legal thriller. It’s a close inspection of morals, ethics, and values in the face of threats, gang involvement, attorney interactions, and a level of professional involvement that suddenly turns all too personal, unexpectedly placing Nat on the other side of the witness stand . . . . [W]ill delight readers who look for more personal touches and protagonist development in their legal fiction.”—D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer.
Weighing the Truth (Hillrow Editions, 9/24/16, $15.99, 323 pp. paperback, ISBN 978-0989795807; also available in hardcover and ebook) For a review copy, or to arrange an interview, please email HillrowEditions@gmail.com
For a recent interview with the author about her latest novel, Weighing the Truth, please go to http://www.goldenstatenewspapers.com/press_banner/community/
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Christine Z. Mason is a novelist and the former chief attorney of the State Public Defender’s Office, Sacramento, California. She live in northern California with her husband. Her previous novels include Boundaries, an East Coast-West Coast family saga, and The Mystery of Nan Madol, a middle-grade adventure story set in Micronesia. She has also published award-winning short fiction. www.ChristineZMason.com/publications/
Boundaries: A Love Story (Robertson Publishing, 2014, ISBN 978-1611701678; $15.95. Also available in hardcover and ebook.)
INTERVIEW regarding BOUNDARIES: CHRISTINE Z. MASON
Q: What inspired you to begin writing fiction? Have you always wanted to write?
CZM: I’ve always loved reading novels, and in college and graduate school, I studied literature and creative writing, so I guess it was my love of literature that got me started. I have always wanted to write, even as early as junior high, when I wrote a few stories and poems.
Q: You used to practice law, specifically death penalty cases; how did you evolve into becoming a writer?
CZM: The practice of law, especially criminal law, involves working with people and getting involved in fascinating scenarios, and I always thought that I could use some of my legal experience in writing fiction. I wrote some fiction before I became a lawyer, but didn’t have that much time to write while I was practicing.
Q: As a writer, do you feel it’s better to write what you know, or otherwise?
CZM: It’s certainly easier to write about what I know, since it requires less research. But I think it would be fun, for my next novel, to research a subject that intrigues me and use it as a basis for the story.
Q: In what way do you feel a good novel can impact its readers? How do you wish your work to impact your readers?
CZM: A good novel should be engrossing, but it can also affect readers by making them think about the complexity and importance of human relationships, and it can lead them to appreciate the written word. Of course I would like my work to impact readers in that way.
Q: If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you want to know?
CZM: I’d like to chat with Kate Atkinson, who has a wonderful British sense of humor that comes out in her novels, and I love the way she focuses on her characters and their relationships as the plot moves forward. She also experiments with completely different types of books, as in her recent novel, Life After Life, involving time travel and historical events. I admire that inventiveness of hers, and I’d like to talk to her about her evolution as a writer.
Q: Who are some of your other favorite authors?
CZM: I love Michael Ondaatje’s novels, especially The English Patient and In the Skin of a Lion. James Salter is another favorite, Light Years in particular. Recently I’ve enjoyed novels by Linn Ullman, a Norwegian author (The Cold Song, Before You Sleep).
Q: What do you plan to read next?
CZM: Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.
Q: What was the inspiration behind your new novel, Boundaries: A Love Story?
CZM: It started out as a very long short story about forbidden relationships, with settings in rural Maine and Berkeley, and grew from there. I kept revising the story, making it longer and longer, and eventually put it aside after several journal editors said they liked it but that it should be developed into a novel. So a few years later, I started out with cousins, Kaia and Mark, who haven’t seen each other in eight years and meet on an idyllic island off Cape Cod during a family vacation. Then I began to delve further into the background of the two cousins to find out why they were drawn to each other. The psychological aspects are always interesting to me in writing fiction, and in this case, there was the workaholic mother who has left Berkeley, supposedly for a high-profile job in Manhattan, abandoning Kaia to her controlling father, a law professor. So that was the premise, and I took it from there.
Q: Did you draw on personal experiences in writing the novel?
CZM: The actual events in the novel didn’t take place, but I relied on my background as a former lawyer in writing about the legal issues, including child abandonment and neglect, and the characters include a law professor, a first-year law student, and a children’s rights attorney. As far as the settings in the novel, I lived in northern Maine one summer while working as a law clerk in a legal aid office, spent time on a beautiful island off Cape Cod, and have also lived in Berkeley.
Q: Is there a target audience for Boundaries: A Love Story?
CZM: I would call it psychological fiction or a family saga, and it involves a mystery, so the target audience would be readers who enjoy the novels of Scott Spencer, Anne Tyler, Sue Miller, and Elizabeth Berg. It’s not a category romance, although relationships, love and passion are central to the story.
Q: Are there messages in your novel that you’d like the readers to grasp? If so, what are they? What do you wish readers to take away from your novel?
CZM: I didn’t write Boundaries with a message in mind, I just wrote a story. But I think there are themes that emerged, including abandonment, societal expectations vs. individual desires, and finding a happy balance between meaningful work and personal relationships.
Q: There is very strong symbolism in Boundaries, first with the stained glass that is mentioned throughout the novel, and the idea of boundaries; there are different images of fences on the hardcover, paperback and ebook editions of your book. Why did you choose to include these particular symbols?
CZM: These are resonating images that developed in the novel, but I didn’t set out to include them as symbols. In the story, boundaries are crossed in intra-family relationships, as well as in the cousin-to-cousin relationship. I’ve done stained glass work myself, and in the story, the stained-glass windows could be seen to represent the artistic side we all need to nurture; they also reflect, I suppose, the integration of the many disparate parts of our lives.
Q: The plot of the novel (involving two cousins in love) is a bit controversial despite the fact that marriage between cousins is legal in several parts of the United States. What are your thoughts on this topic and why did you choose to write about it?
CZM: The idea of two people in love where there are societal proscriptions against the particular type of relationship has always interested me, and I wanted to explore it in some depth. There have always been cultural expectations about marriage that differ throughout the world and even within the United States. In Maine and California, where much of the story takes place, first cousins can marry, but some people still have strong feelings against this, especially when cousins have grown up together. In Boundaries, the two cousins lived on opposite coasts and had last seen each other eight years earlier. I think it depends on each case, as with most moral questions. The readers should come to their own conclusions based on the circumstances presented in the novel.
Q: Did you come across any challenges while writing this book? What was the hardest part about writing your novel?
CZM: It was challenging, and also engaging, to write about the intricacies of the various love affairs in the novel. Even though it was hard trying to get it right, I learned a lot in the process.
Q: In an early chapter, Elisa, Kaia’s bipolar aunt, thinks to herself, “They all knew what they shouldn’t do and did it anyway.” Does that thought have any special meaning for you?
CZM: It’s almost a theme for the novel. Several characters keep doing what others think they shouldn’t be doing, and in some cases they do what they themselves know they shouldn’t be doing. How very human, and interesting, that we all do inappropriate things. But, really, do we always want to be appropriate?
Q: Where can we buy the book?
CZM: It’s available on Amazon and Barnes&Noble, as well as in local bookstores.
ALSO BY CHRISTINE MASON:
The Mystery of Nan Madol (Robertson Publishing, 2011, $9.95, ISBN 978-1611700251)