Mountain Top Woman Draws On Real Life In Her Debut Novel
It’s a thrilling story about a young prosecutor, her prominent judge father and a shocking crime.
While the scenario sounds a lot like Lauren Stahl’s real life, it’s the plot of her new fiction book, “The Devil’s Song,” about the hunt for a serial killer in small-town Pennsylvania.
Stahl, 36, was a Luzerne County assistant district attorney for several years until 2009 when she says she felt pressured to resign after her father, then President Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr., was hit with federal corruption charges in connection with the county’s infamous juvenile justice scandal.
In the years since, Stahl avoided the spotlight doing lower-profile legal work, went back to school for creative writing and worked tirelessly to publish her debut novel.
“For me, a writer is someone who takes snippets of his or her life and expands on it. I was in the DA’s office. I get that line of work,” Stahl said in a phone interview earlier this week. “The judge — that makes a lot of sense to me. I was in the DA’s office when my dad was a judge.”
Ciavarella, 67, was accused of harshly sentencing youths to for-profit detention centers while failing to disclose he
was accepting large sums of money from the builder and a co-owner. He is serving a 27-year prison sentence.
Stahl, of Mountain Top, said she didn’t want to dwell on her father’s fall from grace, but realizes it’s inescapable and is probably the only reason she became an author.
“I felt if I was going to be true to how I got to this place in time, I thought I would be honest. If this never occurred, never happened, I promise you I never would have written a book. The events that happened in my life dictated where I was going,” Stahl said. “But I also hope the book speaks for itself. Maybe when I am on book four, we are just talking about the book.”
The book’s official publication date was Tuesday, but the hardcover was already sold out on Amazon.com and in local book stores due to pre-orders.
“That hasn’t happened to us before,” said Jennifer Jenkins, a spokeswoman for Kaylie Jones Books, a New York-based company that published Stahl’s novel. “The book has generated a lot of buzz. We’ll definitely be printing and shipping more.”
Stahl is slated to promote the book tonight at Wilkes University, where she received degrees in creative writing. She and three other authors who graduated from the school will be taking part in an alumni reading event, starting at 7:30 p.m. in the ballroom of the Henry Student Center. The publisher will have copies of the book available for sale at the event.
“It’s kind of the kick-off for the book,” Stahl said.
An author’s statement included with the press kit for the book details Stahl’s struggle to make a name for herself early in her career instead of merely being known as “the judge’s daughter.”
“My last name carried with it a weight and it gave me a foot in the door, whether or not I wanted it,” Stahl wrote. “If I worried about anything, it was whether I was getting ahead on my own merits or because of who my father was.”
The book mirrors that part of her life as the main character Kate Magda is a young prosecutor and daughter of a powerful judge in fictitious Mission County, Pennsylvania. Magda is tapped to lead a case involving a notorious serial killer on the loose.
“Kate views the case as her chance to show her boss, her family and the public that she is more than just ‘the judge’s daughter,’” the publisher wrote in a summary promoting the book.
The serial killer in the book targets redheaded women and Magda, who has reddish-blonde hair, has reason to believe she’s the next target. She is convinced solving the case “is her only chance for survival,” the publisher wrote.
A Publisher’s Weekly review says Stahl “keeps the reader on a roller-coaster ride with unexpected twists and turns to the end.”
Stahl said the book, which she worked on for several years, was designed to be the first in a series. She has already started writing the sequel, she said. She said she is a little behind, as she and her husband have two young daughters at home and she is still working full-time as a lawyer.
Stahl believes there’s only one specific local reference in the book, Pasquale’s restaurant in Hanover Twp., where she and her husband used to frequent.
“I guess it was on my mind the day I was writing about it and I figured I’d give it a shout out,” she said.
But many other local landmarks inspired her writing, like the Osterhout Free Library in Wilkes-Barre, she said.
“While I don’t call it the Osterhout Library, I’m picturing the Osterhout Library,” Stahl said. “When I’m writing about the prosecutor at the courthouse, I’m picturing our courthouse.”
Contact the writer:
IN HER WORDS:
“While I realized my father was guilty of committing crimes, I witnessed the other side of the law — the way the facts were conveniently twisted, or in some cases, the blatant lies were used to sell a paper or promote a television show. I began to question everything: my father’s lack of morale compass, the law, generally every story I read in the paper and every victim or defendant that appeared in court. My eye-opening experiences led me to a complete redirection of my life. I began writing and developing the character Kate Magda, a female prosecutor who refuses to stay out of trouble, questions everything and is determined to seek justice.”
Events featuring Lauren Stahl and her book, “The Devil’s Song”:
Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Wilkes University Henry Student Center Ballroom, 84 W. South St., Wilkes-Barre
The Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing Alumni Reading featuring Stahl and three other authors. Reading to be followed by a reception. Copies of book, sold out elsewhere, will be available for purchase.
Sunday, Jan. 21, 1 p.m.
River Grille, 670 N. River St., Plains Twp.
Local book launch
Friday, Feb. 2, 6:30 p.m.
58 Warren St., New York, New York.
New York book launch
Saturday, Feb. 10, 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
421 Arena Hub Plaza
Reading, Q&A and book signing