Interview with Karen A. Wyle

Author of Closest to the Fire: A Guide to American Law and Lawyers

As a novelist, I write SF (near future as well as alien planets), fantasy, and historical romance. I also write picture books, collaborating with various illustrators. I'm a quasi-retired appellate attorney, and have written one nonfiction book, attempting to summarize American law and legal practice for the benefit of anyone who wants to better understand the American legal landscape.

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Quick description of the book for a new reader - what should they expect?
  • I didn't intend this book to be read from start to finish, although some people have found themselves drawn into doing just that and enjoyed it. The detailed Table of Contents and even more detailed Index (and boy, wasn't THAT fun to produce...) should make it possible to look up topics of interest, from broad subjects like contract law, negligence, criminal law, and constitutional law all the way to much narrower subjects like the history of no-fault divorce and the entrapment defense.
What was your inspiration for this book?
  • This book started life as a series of blog posts. The topic: how writers could avoid making mistakes in writing legal fiction. Indeed, the first edition of the book, published in 2015, had a different subtitle: A Writer's Guide to Law and Lawyers. While I was writing it, and then while I was promoting it, I became aware that it could be of use and interest well beyond that initial context. The target audience now includes lawyers (I sometimes use it myself as a handy reference); students (law, prelaw, and other); visitors to this country; and anyone who has become aware of the many ways that different areas of the law can affect them.
You mentioned a first edition published in 2015. When and why did you revise it?
  • As a lawyer, I often become aware of changes in the law, whether in one or another state (most often Indiana, where I live, or California, where my younger daughter lives) or on the federal level. The book's website included an ongoing series of updates, but I got the itch to include some of them in an updated edition. In particular, some areas of special interest to me, like civil asset forfeiture, have been undergoing major changes in many states, and I hated to see the book get out of date. Also, I had been feeling since before I published the book that I should really have abandoned the idea of a "writer's guide" and given it a broader subtitle. So in 2021, I buckled down and did an updated edition (including, oh joy, an updated index). The website still has a section for updates (at, but I erased all the updates that were now incorporated in the new edition and started afresh.
Is there an ebook edition?
  • Yes (for Kindle). Unlike the paperback, which has a lengthy printed index, the Kindle edition has a linked index and uses hyperlinks for internal cross-referencing.
How have readers responded ?
  • I've had some remarkably favorable reactions to this book, some of which can be found on the book's Amazon page. (My father also gave copies to all sorts of people, whether or not he had some occasion as a pretext.)
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The legal landscape can be a minefield. Here's a map.

Most people don't know all that much about the framework of the American legal system, nor about details that haven't touched their lives or become major news stories. That lack of knowledge can be dangerous, in ways one has to know more about the system to appreciate. This book offers invaluable assistance in understanding, and safely navigating, the often treacherous legal landscape.

Moreover, the legal world -- with its suspense, moral quandaries, and ripped-from-the-headlines subject matter -- provides wonderful material for fiction. Included throughout the book are ideas for stories or story elements based on the content and available for the readers' use, going well beyond the most common homicide courtroom context. This guide will help writers explore these story possibilities, and will assist writers and others who wish to avoid the many pitfalls awaiting the unwary.