Alumna Boero Turns Keen Eye for Detail into Mystery Novels; Current Book Set at WashULaw
Beginning writers are often told, “Write from what you know.” Mystery write Lisa Boero, JD ’00, would revise that to, “Write from how you think.” Boero also draws her inspiration from the challenges of having prosopagnosia, or “face blindness,” a neurological condition that makes it impossible for her to recognize people’s faces—including her own.
“My moment of inspiration was when I realized that the coping mechanisms I used as a victim of face blindness were just like what a detective has to do—pay attention to the small details that other people overlook,” she says. “I have to work like Sherlock Holmes.”
The result was Liz Howe, Boero’s fictitious alter ego. “Once I had the idea of a detective, Liz’s voice popped into my head,” Boero says. “There’s a lot of me in Liz, but Liz can say a lot of the sarcastic things that I can only think. She’s me, but she’s not me.”
Like Boero, her protagonist has prosopagnosia. Howe goes to law school at Washington University, and she works part time at a big law firm. But unlike Howe, who sleuths by night, Boero writes by night—and in every spare moment the mother of two and general counsel for Security Health Plan in Marshfield, Wisconsin, can find.
Howe made her debut in Beoro’s first novel, Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late. That book was a quarterfinalist for Amazon.com’s prestigious Breakthrough Novel Award. Five more “Nerdy Girls” books are drafted and awaiting publication—Bombers and Nerdy Girls Do Brunch, Kidnappers and Nerdy Girls Tie the Knot, and Villains and Nerdy Girls Tangle with Deception. Boero also has a new series in the works, “Trilogy from Hell,” about a lawyer who sells his soul to the devil. The first book in that series, Hell Made Easy, should be released later this year.
Because the “Nerdy Girl” books are set in St. Louis, Washington University students and alumni will recognize many of the settings, which include not only the campus and Forest Park but also haunts and restaurants in the Central West End, Richmond Heights, and Clayton.
Including her law school career at Washington University, Boero lived in St. Louis from 1988 to 2007. She “noodled around in creative writing” even as a law student, but she had to give it up when she graduated from law school and took her first job at a large downtown firm.
“The big firm was my training ground,” Boero says. “It prepared me to work with a certain amount of intensity with attorneys whose standards were very high. However, I never got too far as a novelist, because I had to focus on being a lawyer.”
While she was working in St. Louis, her husband was completing his residency in neurology at Washington University. In fact, it was her husband who first diagnosed her prosopagnosia. When he found a director-level position in Marshfield, the couple left the Gateway City.
“At that point, I had been doing contract work for about two years, and I needed a creative outlet,” she says. “I was ready to go, and I put everything into it. It took me about a year to write the first novel.”
Still, it wasn’t easy to bring Liz Howe to life. “The publishing industry today is at a crossroads,” she says. “My agent sent the book around to dozens of people and did all he could do, but it just didn’t take—it didn’t have a platform.”
She decided to self-publish the book by creating her own publisher, Nerdy Girl Press. Then she submitted the manuscript to the Amazon contest, which had a 10,000 entry limit. “I uploaded the novel the day the 10,000 limit was reached,” she says, adding Murderers and Nerdy Girls Work Late has been formatted for ereaders and is available in most ebook formats.
Having successfully navigated the publishing world, Boero set about making Marshfield home. She is settled in now, but Boero misses St. Louis. “I’m nostalgic for the heat!” she says, laughing.
By Timothy J. Fox