Has Texas influenced your writing in any way?
The main characters in my book are Texans by birth or by career choice. Cathy McBroom, the brave woman whistleblower in my book who first spoke out about a corrupt federal judge, grew up in Channelview. She likes to say she was #metoo before #metoo was cool!
Why did you choose to be a journalist?
I became an investigative journalist because I wanted to make a difference through my writing and reporting – and I hope I have. My investigative reporting contributed to the prosecution of the federal judge in my book. I hope that my book promotes a deeper understanding of why corruption in the judiciary matters to everyone everywhere and what we should do about it.
Where did your love of books, reading, and writing come from?
I learned to read as a small child and visited libraries with my parents. So, my dream to one day write a book that would be IN a library goes way, way back.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
I started writing this book in 2009 when I had a demanding full-time job as an investigative reporter at the Houston Chronicle and two small children – and I didn’t finish back then. I went back and finished this project from 2018 to 2021. I like to think of this book as my third child – only this one went out into the world right away. I didn’t have to pay for college!
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I loved the process of getting into the points of view of all of the characters and telling their stories more deeply than I ever could in newspapers.
In researching this book, did you learn any unexpected, unusual, or fascinating information?
There’s a chapter that I never planned to write! I went to interview a former Galveston County judge to ask about a crazy rumor about how the federal judge in my book misbehaved at a law firm’s holiday party. She told me about that – and another story about meeting a whistleblower in a beauty parlor. Read the book to find out more.
Who would you cast to play your characters in a movie version of your book?
I think the women in my book should be featured in a film – they’re amazing people. The two main Texas characters might pick Meryl Streep or maybe Julia Roberts, who have played tough, beautiful trailblazing women. But I don’t need to be in it!
What did you find most useful in learning to write for publication? What was least useful or most destructive?
During the time I was finishing this book, I was enrolled in a Creative writing MFA program led by native Texan and novelist Rene Steinke (who has written great books like FRIENDSWOOD) at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. That distance MFA program allowed me to hang out with poets, novelists, nonfiction writers, and translators – students aren’t separated by genre – and I learned from everyone. I also got to attend classes in an amazing estate, Wroxton Abbey, in Oxfordshire, England.
Did you first experience rejections when submitting this manuscript for publication?
Of course, everyone does. Don’t let rejections stop you! Keep trying! I’m grateful to my agent Susan Canavan at Waxman Literary who found a great home for CODE OF SILENCE with Beacon Press in Boston. I really loved the Beacon team, including my editor, Joanna Green.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I am working on a new book about another amazing Texan, forensic anthropologist Sharon Derrick, called the SCIENTIST AND THE SERIAL KILLER. Coming in 2023!
Lise Olsen is a Texas-based investigative reporter and author who has uncovered many twisted tales, including crooked judges, an unjust execution, massive environmental disasters, myriad cases of corruption, and unsolved serial killings. Her reporting has contributed to the prosecutions of a former congressman and a federal judge, inspired laws and reforms, helped solve cold cases, restored names to unidentified murder victims, and freed dozens of wrongfully-held prisoners. Her work is featured in CNN’s “The Wrong Man” (2015) about the innocence claims of executed offender Ruben Cantu and the six-part A&E series on the victims of a 1970s serial killer, The Eleven, (2017). CODE OF SILENCE is her first book – the paperback from Beacon Press is out August, 2022. She is at work on a second book: THE SCIENTIST AND THE SERIAL KILLER.