HelenKay Dimon: How Being A Divorce Lawyer Prepared Me For Romance Writing

Under the Wire, HelenKay DimonAh, divorce! There's nothing more romantic … wait, that's not right. But somehow HelenKay Dimon went from divorce lawyer to romance author — and we're more than thankful she made the journey! Today Dimon, whose romantic suspense Under the Wire, is out next week, is here to share what she learned from her former day job that helps with her writing today. 

My road to becoming a full-time romance writer was not the most logical of journeys. Like many of my fellow romance authors, I was a lawyer. Specifically, a divorce lawyer who specialized in contested custody cases and drafting premarital agreements. Take a second and try to imagine how romantic that work is. Yep, not at all.

When I speak to groups or at conferences these days, frequently someone will say that divorce work must have been great practice for writing romance. I used to hear this and wonder if there was some confusion about the term “divorce” but now I think the comment is really about how doing divorce work teaches you a lot about people. It really does, some good and some not. Here’s a quick list…

1. Male law enforcement types do not walk around shirtless while holding a weapon. I know this is a disappointment. I’m sorry. My practice was in the Washington, D.C., metro area. That meant representing an endless parade of people who worked for the FBI, Secret Service, ATF, and every other government agency that can be identified by an acronym of some sort. Add in the military clients, the first responders and those who held positions in a host of top-secret jobs in offices and intelligence agencies, some of which I’d never heard of before taking this job, and that’s a lot of tough-guy alpha types. None – not one – showed up to my office bare-chested. Admittedly, not many of them looked like hottie romance cover models, so I am secretly grateful we had a clothing-required office.

2. Speaking of alphas … I met some over-the-top jerks. Oy. So many. If you’re writing a jerk and need some inspiration, call me. I have stories. But I also had tough alpha types sit in my office and burst into tears at the thought of getting divorced. Good, decent guys who loved their kids and mourned the loss of their marriages. My point? Alpha dudes are not one-size-fits-all. Complexity is key.

On a somewhat related note, I sold my first romance while I still was practicing law. When male clients figured it out they generally thought it was cool. Some would take on a new swagger. I’m convinced many believed I was using them as a blueprint for the hero. For the record, that was not the case. Ever.

3. This one may be upsetting, so buckle in. Look, I love marriage of convenience stories, too (I really do), but Wills that force people to marry in order to save the family farm are not valid. I’m not going to belabor this point. Just trust me and find another way to write this trope. Then send your book to me because, again, I love a great marriage of convenience story. It’s just that the Will thing makes me weepy, so please don’t.

4. Not all exes are bad. My author friend Bree (one-half of the Kit Rocha writing team) jokingly refers to this as something like People for the Ethical Treatment of Fictional Former Spouses. I am a card-carrying member of this club. Now, I know what you’re thinking. My spouse/friend/neighbor/person unleashed a horror show during his/her/their divorce. I hear you. Really, some stuff is awful, dangerous and totally not funny. I had the cases where one spouse tried to kill another…and some were successful. But other things that happen during a divorce are bad but not really dangerous. Find me at a conference sometime and I’ll tell you about what one spouse put in another’s chili (the judge was not amused), or about the spouse who put dog feces in the pockets of all her soon-to-be-ex’s suit coats. Then there’s the one who carved a particularly nasty comment in the side of her husband’s car about…well, let’s just keep it G-rated and say it was about how disappointing he was when his pants came off. But some exes do get along and aren’t awful to each other. I’m thinking it’s okay to show that side now and then.

5. Too Stupid To Live (TSTL). [Imagine me sighing here] Yes, characters in books often do silly things, fight about nothing, fail to talk to each other and make bad choices. But so do actual people. My bar for imperfect might be higher than average because for 12 years as a divorce lawyer I saw people at their worst. I once sat in an all-day negotiation while two clients paid something like a combined $1000 per hour in legal fees to argue about a pen. Yeah, you read that right. A pen. And not the fancy type. This thing cost about $12. I know because I looked it up while they bickered. The day ended when the husband insisted if my client got the couch then he should get the matching curtains. The husband’s attorney lost it at that point and, really, I wanted to buy him a cheap pen as a thank you. The moral: someone running upstairs rather than out the front door when the serial killer with the chainsaw is right there is probably TSTL. Many other things are just human.

Now when you see me writing a lawyer character you’ll have some clue where the idea came from [legal disclaimer: all of my books are fiction]. I also married a lawyer in real life, so there’s that.

We're a little bereft to learn that will-mandated marriages aren't the thing, but we'll console ourselves with the news that Helen's Under the Wire will be out June 28. You can grab your copy here: Amazon, BN.com, Kobo, iTunes, GooglePlay, AllRomance.