I’m chatting with Liz Lazarus today about her debut
suspense thriller Free of Malice.
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Lazarus is the author of Free of Malice,
a psychological, legal thriller loosely based on her personal experience and a
series of ‘what if’ questions that trace the after effects of a foiled attack;
a woman healing, and grappling with the legal system to acknowledge her right
Georgia, graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree and the Kellogg
School of Management at Northwestern with an MBA in their executive master’s
program. She spent most of her career at General Electric’s Healthcare division
and is currently a Managing Director at a strategic planning consulting firm in
addition to being an author.
debut novel, set in Atlanta, and supplemented by extensive research with both
therapists and criminal defense attorneys. She currently lives in Brookhaven,
GA, with her fiancé, Richard, and their very spoiled orange tabby, Buckwheat.
Welcome, Liz. Please share a little bit
about your debut novel.
to see a stranger standing in her bedroom doorway. She manages to defend
herself from the would-be rapist, though he threatens to return as he retreats.
Traumatized with recurring nightmares, Laura seeks therapy and is exposed to a
unique treatment called EMDR. She also seeks self-protection—buying a gun
against the wishes of her husband. When Laura learns she could have gone to
prison had she shot her fleeing assailant, she decides to write a hypothetical
legal case using the details of that night. She enlists the help of a criminal
defense lawyer, Thomas Bennett, who proves to be well versed in the justice
system but has an uncanny resemblance to her attacker. As the two work together
to develop the story, Laura’s discomfort escalates, particularly when Thomas
seems to know more about that night than he should. Reality and fiction soon
merge as her real life drama begins to mirror the fiction she’s trying to
What inspired you to write this book?
Like the main character, I was attacked by a stranger in my home
in the middle of the night. In order to heal, I started to write about how I
was feeling and what had changed in my life. At the time, I didn’t know about
EMDR therapy to heal from trauma, so used writing as a catharsis. Also like the
main character, all I had for self-defense was a can of Mace. After the attack,
I said to my brother-in-law, if I had owned a gun, I would have shot the guy as
he left. My brother-in-law informed me that I was fortunate that I didn’t – as
the shooting might not have been a clear case of self-defense. That idea
sparked my interest in learning about the criminal justice system and inspired
me to write the hypothetical case portrayed in the book. The ending, which I
won’t spoil, was prompted by a question from my mother. Once you’ve finished
the book, you can write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and
I’ll tell you more about that.
Excerpt from Free of Malice by Liz Lazarus:
Run faster. As much as I strained my legs to move, they were immobile, like I
was waist deep in quicksand.
can’t I move?
tried to scream for help but my mouth was full, like it was stuffed with
cotton—no sound would escape.
felt something clutching my shoulder. No, it was someone. He was pushing me
forward and then yanking me back. I tried to jerk away but he had a tight grip,
like a vice.
have to break free.
tugging got harder, more forceful. He was calling my name— over and over. He
knew my name.
jolted awake—my husband’s hand still on my shoulder.
wake up. You’re having another bad dream.”
I turned over in bed and looked at him—his dark brown eyes were fixated on me.
I could see them clearly as the light from the bathroom brightened our bedroom.
a month now, we had slept with this light on.
could see the small wrinkle on his forehead. I loved that wrinkle though
wished he didn’t have good reason to be so concerned. I was enduring the
nightmares, but he had to deal with my tossing and mumbling in terror.
remember when we first met—ten years ago in chemistry lab at Georgia Tech. He
had walked up to me with those warm eyes and a charming, confident smile and
asked, “Want to be partners?”
years later he took me to Stone Mountain Park, rented a small rowboat and, in
the moonlight, he pulled out a diamond ring and asked me again, “Want to be
had seemed just about perfect.
looked at each other for a moment. Then he propped himself up on his elbow and
said softly, “Laura, I feel so helpless. I know it’s only been a month, but…”
just as bad as that first night. After it happened. Look, I want to make you
feel safe again, but I don’t know how.”
rubbed his eyes and looked away. I waited, staring at him.
isn’t he saying?
know you don’t want to see a therapist, but seeing someone doesn’t mean you’re
crazy. Therapists don’t treat just crazy people. They help people who have been
through traumas and you have. Hell, no one even has to know.”
paused for a second.
be mad at me, but yesterday I made an appointment for you. I was going to talk
to you about it in the morning if you had another bad dream. I found a woman
who is downtown by my office. She’s been practicing for about twenty years, got
her doctorate from Emory and comes with really good patient reviews.”
looked for my reaction and continued. “I made the appointment for you at 4:00
so we can go to dinner afterward. You know what you always say. You’ll try
anything once, right?”
told you I don’t want to see a psychiatrist,” I pushed back. “I just need more
time. I’ll bounce back. You know I almost came in the house on my own today.
Besides, if I see a psychiatrist, on every job application I complete in the
future, I’ll have to check the ‘Yes’ box when they ask if I’ve had mental
No you don’t. You’re too innocent sometimes.”
gently tapped me on the nose.
can check the box ‘No.’ Besides, if that’s the only thing stopping you, I
think you should give it a try. Her name is Barbara Cole. I’ll take you to
Houston’s afterward,” he added.
ignored the bribe. “But what can she do that you can’t? All she’ll do is listen
and you do that for me already. Psychiatrists are for people who don’t have
friends or husbands to talk to.”
shook his head.
Do it for me.”
tone in his voice was different—more helpless than normal. Chris had been so
understanding, so comforting this past month, especially considering I had
been waking him every night. How could I refuse his request?
sighed. “Okay,” I relented. “I’ll go.”
visit. That’s all I’m asking. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back.
She’s a psychologist, by the way, not a psychiatrist. She does therapy, not
glanced at the clock. It was 3:30 a.m.
grabbed Konk, my stuffed animal gorilla that I won at the state fair by
outshooting him at the basketball game. He had sworn the scum running the game
couldn’t take his eyes off my butt and let me win.
Konk,” he said. “I’m going to finish my presentation since I’m up. I’ll just be
in the office. Want the door open?”
I said as I wrapped my arms tightly around Konk.
we’ll celebrate your first therapy visit and my signed contract, I hope, this
mean you hope my first visit?” I said with a playful smile.
gave me a look—he was in no mood for jokes.
Fine. I’ll go,” I assured.
you’re asleep when I leave, just come by my office after the appointment and
we’ll head to dinner. Try to get some sleep. I love you.”
exciting story are you working on next?
I was pleasantly surprised that readers were asking for book #2 – what a huge
compliment. I have an idea and outline of my next story that will incorporate
some of my signature elements:
A new science or
technology, like EMDR
A twist at the
When did you first consider yourself a
I first considered myself a writer the day I received my paperback Advance
Reader Copy in the mail. That said, I was the editor of my high school paper
and went to the GA Governor’s Honors program in Communications, so I’ve always
had a passion for writing.
Do you write full-time? If so, what’s
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I’m a managing director at a consulting firm full-time, so I took a leave of
absence from work for about 3 months to finish Free of Malice. I’ve been able to maintain my work schedule while
in the promotion phase because most things book-related don’t feel like work to
me – they’re fun, like answering your questions for the blog today.
What would you say is your interesting
I don’t write in order. For Free of
Malice, I used a huge wall calendar to outline the six months in which the
book took place from June to December. I would list the events that occurred on
the calendar which helped me sequence the story and also allowed me to circle
back to clues I had dropped in earlier chapters. I had the great fortune to
work with a certified EMDR therapist (Karen McCarty) and a criminal defense
lawyer (Alison Frutoz) to be sure those portions of the book were accurate.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I thought I would be a teacher, though consulting does have elements of
teaching every day. One of the best compliments I received was that my book was
educational while entertaining. It has a lot of information about therapy, gun
ownership and the criminal defense system, but wrapped into a suspenseful
thriller. I wrote it to be a fun beach read…and maybe a movie!
Anything additional you want to share
with the readers?
My book has a theme song written and
sung by Thomas Barnette. Thomas and I met our first day at Georgia Tech and
have been close friends ever since. I co-produced his debut CD and the song,
“Let Me Breathe,” is featured in Free of Malice. As you may have guessed from the book
trailer on my website, the character
of Thomas Bennett is loosely based on my friend.