Anybody who's been a prosecutor or a cop in a big city for any period of time has unbelievable war stories. Stuff the average person doesn't know, would never see, and might not even believe if they heard about it. Some of it sickening, some of it totally hilarious, but all falling into the category of "you can't make this stuff up."
Like Melanie Vargas, the main character in her novels, Michele Martinez had the privilege of serving as a federal prosecutor in New York City. For eight years she was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York, which covers some of the most drug- and gang-infested areas of Brooklyn and Queens. She specialized in narcotics, and we're not talking about busting high school kids selling pot, either. The Eastern District includes the airports and the ports serving New York City, so Michele had jurisdiction over the biggest narcotics organizations in the world. We're talking Mexican cocaine cartels loading forty or fifty million dollars of cash at a time into tractor trailers to send back across the border. Burmese warlords controlling hundreds of kilos of heroin secreted in seemingly innocent shipments of goods from Southeast Asia. And local kingpins operating massive crack and heroin supermarkets 24/7 on the streets of our cities, pitching drugs to young children as they walked to school. Michele prosecuted all these cases, and more, many of them involving serious violence, weapons charges, even murder. Doing the cases in New York, where everything seems to move faster and happen bigger, she got a whole lifetime's experience of serious crime in eight years.
It wasn't easy for Michele to get there, nor was it at all a sure bet. Like Melanie, Michele came from very modest roots. Her father was born in Puerto Rico during the Depression, the son of a cigar roller on a tobacco plantation and a teenaged mother. His father died in an accident when he was about six years old, and his mother, who couldn't afford to support him, gave him to an aunt who brought him to New York City. He grew up with relatives in the Washington Heights neighborhood, dropped out of high school, joined the military where he got his G.E.D., and eventually, after Michele was born, went to college on the G.I. Bill. Michele's mother was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants in Connecticut, lived modestly and worked hard all her life, and never had the opportunity to go to college. While Michele was growing up, her father worked in the Connecticut prison system running inmate education programs, and her mother was a secretary. Her family didn't have much money. They lived in a small apartment in a tough section of New Haven, and Michele went to inner-city public schools during the height of urban racial tensions and rioting in the late 60s and 70s.
But her parents were great believers in the American Dream, and they taught Michele that she could achieve anything if she worked and studied hard. Michele feels like living proof of that. She made it to Harvard University and to Stanford Law School, clerked for a federal judge, and landed a position at a fancy, high-paying Manhattan law firm. But she'd been raised to believe that there was more to life than being a hired gun in disputes between big corporations. All along, she had her sights set on being a prosecutor, which she felt was the best way to use her skills to make a difference. In 1993, Michele became an Assistant U.S. Attorney, and the next eight years were some of the most thrilling and challenging of Michele's life.
But during that time, some other thrilling "little challenges" arrived. Michele and her husband had two little boys, and for five years Michele juggled her very intense job with being a mommy to two major whirlwinds. Any working parent knows that's a tough situation. When you're trying to give a hundred percent to your children and a hundred percent to your job, the math doesn't quite work out. Michele felt a lot of guilt in both directions, and began to wonder if she should stop working. Yet she couldn’t bring herself to give it up. Being a prosecutor felt too important to her. She needed to find a meaningful alternative that would allow her more flexibility.
Then one night she had a dream -- literally. About a fire in a townhouse that killed a handsome silver-haired lawyer who may have been leading a double life. The next morning, she woke up and wrote it down. That dream became the opening scene in her debut thriller Most Wanted, and pointed the way for Michele to share her insider's knowledge of the real world of crime and law enforcement with her readers.
Now Michele writes every day about the adventures of Melanie Vargas. Even though she still works really hard, her husband and kids are thrilled that she's around more, and totally excited about her new career. She brings to life the same types of vivid characters and intense situations she lived through as a prosecutor. And she pours her other life experiences into her writing as well. The Melanie Vargas thrillers reflect Michele's unique background -- from humble beginnings to the halls of the Ivy League, from the mean streets of Brooklyn to the glamorous environs of Manhattan's wealthiest neighborhoods, from working late to changing diapers. With plenty of sex and violence thrown in for good measure. She hopes you'll have a blast reading them.
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