Write What You Know: Mystery Series Features Woman Lawyer
When Cathy Anderson was in sixth grade, she knew she wanted to be a mystery writer. She ran home "all a-twitter" and told her mother of her newly identified goal.
"That's nice, dear," her mother replied. "Now, it'll be important to find a way to support yourself."
A very practical Anderson heeded her advice in spades. She became both a lawyer and a tenured college professor. But between preparing briefs and grading papers, Anderson lives her childhood dream. She is a mystery writer. Under the name Cathy Pickens, she has created a very successful mystery series featuring -- what else? A very practical attorney-sleuth.
On Thursday, April 24, at 4 p.m., at The Country Bookshop on Broad Street in downtown Southern Pines, Pickens will present "Hush My Mouth," the latest in her "Southern Fried Mysteries" featuring attorney Avery Andrews.
"Part of what attracted me to the practice of law is also what attracts me to writing: fascinating cases," Pickens says. "I've used real cases as a jumping off place for my fiction."
For instance, cases against drug manufacturers for side effects from antidepressants such as Prozac came together in "Done Gone Wrong," her second novel where Avery helps another lawyer with a case involving a spree killer on an antidepressant and a drug company gone bad.
"Planning trial strategy is much akin to plotting a novel," she says. "The nice thing about fiction, though, is you get to pick the winning side -- though that hasn't always worked out for Avery!"
After completing a bachelor's degree in financial management from Clemson University in 1979, and a J.D. degree from the University of South Carolina School of Law, Anderson became a trial attorney specializing in complex civil litigation such as product liability, medical negligence, and commercial contract disputes.
She is also is a founding member of the Mecklenburg Forensic Medicine Program, "an innovative collaboration of agencies in Charlotte-Mecklenburg: police, fire, medic, crime lab, medical examiner, hospital emergency, and district attorney's office.
One goal of the program is to train and standardize evidence collection procedures by first responders.
For the past 20 years, her working home has been at Queens University of Charlotte, where she holds the endowed Wireman chair in the McColl School of Business.
There "Professor Anderson" teaches MBA students about the legal and ethical environment of business, and "Professor Pickens" teaches personal enrichment classes, "So You Want to Write a Mystery." and "How I Got Published."
"I mostly teach at nights because I prefer the graduate students who are returning to school part-time, bringing their real-world experience with them," she says.
The character Avery Andrews first appeared in Pickens' short story, "Uncommon Law," published in 1994, and twice more in "Cold Morning Murder," and "Edna's Case."
In 2003, her debut mystery, "Southern Fried," featuring the 30-something lawyer, won the St. Martin's Press Malice Domestic "Best First Traditional Mystery Contest" and was named one of the five "Best First Mysteries" for 2004 by Romantic Times BookClub magazine.
Three more books in the Avery series followed: "Done Gone Wrong," "Hog Wild," and the new "Hush My Mouth."
Pickens, who grew up in the small Upstate town of Walhalla, S.C., where her family has lived for 300 years, had to move to Charlotte to make a living, but she has her protagonist Avery Andrews return to the comfortable familiarity of her hometown of Dacus in the hill country, after losing her job with a large influential law firm. There she practices law as a defense attorney and becomes involved in some bizarre situations thanks to her unusual clients.
Pickens knows that "series don't last forever, but Avery's got lots of stories yet, and I hope readers will want to go along with her."
For reservations to the Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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